Videographer Maria Aguado takes us back in time with Button Barcelona

Maria Aguado has always known she was meant to be a filmmaker. Since the age of seven, she wrote screenplays and made movies. At the time, just a small child in Barcelona, she filmed her dolls, editing the footage, unaware of what she was really doing. She grew up holding a camera, and to this day, nearly twenty years later, that remains true.

Aguado’s unique eye has greatly contributed to the success of many brands who seek her services. Just last year, the company Button Barcelona reached out to the videographer to make a promotional and informative video about the brand that would be played at a Button Barcelona event, as well as two other videos to be used to promote the brand on social media.

“I really liked the romanticism that creates Button Barcelona and I wanted to be a part of it. They emphasize how everything worked in the old times, enjoying every step with serenity and a slower rhythm. I was happy to express this through audio-visual,” said Aguado.

Button Barcelona is a company inspired by the way people used to live sixty years before the industrial revolution in a small village in Barcelona. They sell all type of products with one thing in common: bringing back the traditional methods of production and elaboration with hand-made products. As a videographer and editor, Aguado had to transmit this idea to the audience. She filmed and edited three videos for Button Barcelona. The first one was a series of interviews explaining the story of Button Barcelona. The second was the “making of” of the photo shoot. For the third video, she edited the previous two videos together, for the Button Barcelona event. All three were posted and used on social media as their marketing campaign.

“The shooting was really fun. We immediately became a good team from the start. The event was also amazing, my video was screened and we were all there, overwhelmed by the story the video shows and the whole experience,” Aguado described.

While shooting, Aguado filmed the models in different parts of the village doing antiquated activities, such as washing clothes in a bucket of water, going to an antique cinema, and sewing clothes. She truly shows really the audience how these people used to live, emphasizing the essence of the company.

“Button Barcelona is everything that defines us, differentiates us and reaffirms our personality. That’s why I decided to select every single piece that showed a narrative in order to create a story inside a fashion video,” said Aguado. “Through the shooting and the editing, I transformed models into characters. This is the nice and tricky thing about editing, with just one look, a movement, a step, you can create a story, a narrative structure. The tricky part is to know when you are cutting a video and why, it all has to end up making sense in order to touch the audience. Also, remembering all the material in order to be fluent and creative. The brand’s idea is the opposite of frenetic; it’s all about taking your time to produce with love. I showed this by carefully selecting pieces of music and mixing them together. The rhythm plays a very important part too, music and video have to dance together.”

The final video is eight minutes long. It begins documentary style, interviewing the various people at Button Barcelona, and explaining the story behind the company. The final five minutes feature the “making of” from the photoshoots. Aguado perfectly blends the shots to the music, editing the cuts to the exact beat of the song. It does not appear to be a promotional video, but instead an artistic music video, where the models are simply people enjoying their life rather than working. The result is outstanding.

“Maria was given full freedom to create both videos and the result was even better than what we had expected. She is a very hard worker with a positive attitude and creative mind! Her creativity and passion for what she does is what makes her so good at it,” said Candelaria Turrens, CEO and Founder of Button Barcelona.

The three videos were crucial in branding Button Barcelona. They explain the company’s idea, and introduce the world to the members of the brands Button distributes. Without Aguado, the event would not have been the success that it was, and the brand itself could not have achieved what it has today. She captured the company’s essence through the lens of her camera.

“It felt like we were teleported to another time; the times Button Barcelona tries to keep in our lives. The story was clearly shown to the audience, they could feel the essence of the brand and really enjoyed it. The video was repeated every half an hour, people kept asking to see it over and over again. It was amazing,” Aguado concluded. “I believe I showed the value of the simple way people used to live, the romanticism of the old times, enjoying every step with happiness, calm and serenity.”

TRANSFORMING THE SMALL PARTS INTO BIG ROLES WITH AVI AGARWAL

Here’s the secret that many involved in the arts don’t want to tell you; there are two types of professionals in these industries: those who desire esteem and those who just want to be creative. Everyone likes to be respected, that’s completely understandable but some need it more than anything else. It’s up to psychologists to explain the reasons for this. The true believers of the creative world simply want to create, it’s the oxygen to their career. Actors like Avi Agarwal can be seen in films, TV productions, theater plays, and commercials. For him, each of these is simply another opportunity to do what he wants to spend every day doing. These many differing productions not only flex different acting muscles for him but they also reach entirely different sections of the public. A famous and respected director might see his work in a play such as “The Crossover” (the LA production in which Avi performed multiple roles) while old friends on the opposite side of the planet reach out to him in excitement having seen him on a global Amazon Prime commercial. The lack of ego Agarwal possesses is palpable when speaking with him as it becomes easy to comprehend that he is best categorized as an actor who simply wants to spend his life acting. They say that variety is the spice of life and this actor’s commercial work alone attests that he is compiling an eclectic collection of vocational and acting experiences.Headshot 5

Appearing in the Amazon Prime commercial titled “Speed. Selection. Underwear for your hands. Get it all with Amazon Prime”, Avi was seen by more than three million viewers. This advertisement was presented through one of the most ubiquitous of all formats in the world, Facebook. Due to the extremely brief length of commercials, directors of these productions cast memorable and charismatic actors, the type of individuals who stick in your memory. Director Steve Mapp stipulates that both Agarwal’s appearance on camera and his ability to not over-perform made him effortless to work with. Avi comments, “It’s proof that you can’t try to make sense of this business, you just take each situation on its own merits. I’ve done plays where I rehearsed for more than half a year to perform and films where it was months of preparation. When I was cast in the Amazon Prime commercial, I simply showed up, had a conversation with Steve [Mapp] and then did a few takes. I had people from places as far as London reaching out to me with excitement when they saw me. It’s funny and it makes you thankful that people are excited about your career.”

It’s this humble perspective and staunch work ethic that have made Agarwal appreciated and desired by many professionals in the production industry. Director Justin Bookey confirms, “I hired Avi Agarwal for my production company’s shoot of an online commercial with a widespread management industry audience. His professionalism and skill made him shine in this role and the video garnered industry awards with his help. His great attitude and flexibility on the set also made him a valuable asset. He’s got a unique blend of quirkiness, timing, and expressiveness that will serve him well in a variety of comedic and dramatic roles. I feel lucky to have found him.”Headshot 6

This commercial is a sort of an innuendo on how not to run an agile meeting. It’s a comic take on the most common mistakes made by the employees and employers. Such occurrences as when an important topic is being discussed and someone interrupts with the silliest of questions, people being on their phone instead of paying attention, insecurity about their job resulting in hoarding information, people lying about their work, over enthused employees, etc. Avi portrays a nerd at an office meeting where everyone is quirky and the team leader pays more attention to his own interests than creating a cohesive team. The production was created for industry outreach and was shown at the Global Scrum Gathering in San Diego where it received enthusiastic praise and reactions.

In a bit of a stretch that called upon his heritage, Agarwal used his knowledge of Indian Culture to portray the character of Pastor Sanjay in “The Great Controversy.” The scene is set in a church where the younger pastor (played by Agarwal) is more inclined to understand and compromise to the senior pastor but we also see the senior pastor bending his rules to adapt to the younger generation. Avi appears as the same youthful pastor happily dancing to music in his office. In “Are You My Mother” Avi is seen in a tale which depicts how the older and younger generations are struggling to adjust to each other’s ideas and tastes. It’s displays the impact on two insanely big generation gaps. This commercial is all about how all single people are always pestered by the older women around them about finding a partner and getting married. It’s based on an Indian single man being imposed on by an elderly Indian woman whom he is not even related to. The goal of both commercials is to promote the idea of diversity in the church. This actor admits that he was more surprised than anyone to be given the role but concedes, “I was thrilled to be a part of such a commercial which is different because it is promoting diversity in the world. I mean, honestly…before this work, I did not know that people made commercials to invite different cultures to churches and these two were especially targeted towards the younger members of society. I feel blessed to do such a commercial. It promotes the fact that people from different cultures can be pastors at a young age and in most cases can be funny.” That would not be as possible without Agarwal and the director of the two projects, Philip Sherwood notes, “It’s so obvious that Avi takes great joy in his craft. He is a great actor and has the ability to lift everyone’s spirits on set…which is exactly what his character was doing in the action of these commercials. To this day I don’t know if that was who Avi is or if he was so deep in the character that he never left it. That’s a testament to just how truly great he is.”Headshot 3

WHY NICKY MARTIN LOOKS SO FUNNY

Comedy feels a certain way and it looks a certain way. There are not specific parameters which define this but it easily recognized. When you feel something is funny or see something that is funny, you know it. It’s a characteristic older than cinema itself. Before there was sound in films, comedy was more accurately conveyed than any other sentiment. Xing-Mai Deng displays this concept exceedingly well in Andrew Elliott’s “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar.” As a cinematographer with a highly diverse list of award-winning film credits (including this one which received an LAIFF award for Best Comedy/Dramedy and a Jury Award at the Melbourne Indie Film Festival), “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar” is yet another example of Deng’s ability to visually achieve the intent of the writers and directors he works with in an exception manner. With the ubiquity of the pursuit of fame, often via social media these days, the film’s story reveals the all too common hopes of someone who wants to be famous almost solely because they desire fame.

In an ironic turn, this written story necessitated studying reality TV productions in order to accurately be presented with authenticity. The look of the film needed to bring out the absurdity of the story while spoofing the standard reality TV show. The film’s director and Xing-Mai researched several American reality TV shows to study their lighting, framing, and documentary-like camera movement. The blocking and camera angles were all decided before the filming to achieve a deliberate chaotic appearance for the shots.

Much of the look of “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar” required Xing-Mai to use his extensive knowledge and talent to appear as if he did not possess these attributes. It’s an aspect that took him some time with which to relax. Constant second guessing and reassessment of going too far was required. He explains, “I purposely moved the camera in an amateur way in order to make the film look absurd. High-key lighting and amateurish camera movements brought the feel of a valid reality show to our film. There wasn’t any dramatic lighting. The camera movements followed the actors in a passive way rather than anticipating the characters’ actions as compared to a scripted production. We wanted to have the reality TV feeling but we also wanted some cinematic moments in the film. Some of the reality productions I researched were not lit at all. I added contrast for most of the scenes to give a cinematic touch to it but used it sparingly. Most of the reality TV shows I studied were not comedic so the usual reality TV look would not serve ‘Nicky Martin’ as it still desired to look funny. We did not want it to look like normal mockumentary as that look has become fairly common and we wanted something that stood out.”

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The improv nature of the film and the actor’s performances kept Deng on his toes and required a fair amount of improvisation on his own part. As different cast members spontaneously changed and evolved their parts during the actual filming, Xing-Mai was required to essentially collaborate with them in terms of lighting and framing the scene, accepting what he could get away with in terms of these parameters. With knowledge of this potentiality in advance, he created general lighting schemes based on the blocking and devised a plan that would give the widest coverage possible while achieving the largest part of his goal. Because the film is a comedy, Deng used a wide warm color palate.

“Nicky Martin: Country Superstar” is a spoof comedy about a man who wants to be a country music star but doesn’t know how to sing or play guitar. He wants to be a cowboy but he’s afraid of all four-legged animals…so he rides on stools. Upon hearing about a singing contest at the County Fair, Nicky gathers his cohorts and prepares for what he believes is the chance of a lifetime. Numerous efforts towards achieving his goal of becoming a legitimate cowboy fall short. In a scene which drives this failure home and yet endears the audience to his tenacious drive, Nicky and his close friend Mickey reconcile by riding their stools together into the sunset as they have learned that being a cowboy is not about being famous but rather about possessing the cowboy spirit.

Andrew Elliott, the mastermind behind “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar” communicates, “I honestly had always planned to convince Xing-Mai to be the DOP for this film, since it’s very inception. Xing-Mai’s insight was invaluable to the success of the shoot. He was able to quickly and efficiently form a great crew and was always present with ideas and suggestions on how to make thing flow more smoothly. His work ethic was unquestionable on the shoot. Nicky Martin went on to success in the festival scene the following year, winning awards at several of these. Xing-Mai’s understanding of the story and unique ability to shoot the film played an integral part in winning these awards and in the success of the film as a whole.”

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Immersing one’s self in an industry that contains some of the most skilled and creative minds and then attempting to shed the abilities you have come to rely upon as second nature in order to move you forward in said industry is disconcerting at best. Shakespeare often depicted the person who appears as the fool to often be the cleverest of all; communicating the idea that the misdirection of the depth of one’s knowledge and abilities is often the most difficult task of all. In “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar”, Xing-Mai Deng proves that he’s no fool but he knows how to convincingly present the appearance of one to the laughter and enjoyment of his audience…and does so as a master.

Cinematographer Yan Rymsha’s Creative Vision Flows Strong

Yan Rymsha
Yan Rymsha on set of “Zaar” shot by Ibrahim Nada

Yan Rymsha was born into a family of artists in St. Petersburg, the cultural capital of Russia and the historic home and muse to Vladimir Nabokov and Fyodor Dostoevsky, among others. A love of the arts is ingrained in the very fabric of his city and flows through his family’s veins, so it’s little wonder that Rymsha’s creative drive comes so naturally. Since childhood he has been drawn almost magnetically to the camera, a trait which was encouraged and fostered by his father.

“I [have dreamed of becoming] a director since I was 10. Of course, I had very little knowledge about directing craft,” Rymsha said, recalling how his love affair with cinematography began. “I remember my father brought me a video camera and taught me how to make very simple stop-motion films using old school techniques. He had experience with 8mm film cameras when he was my age, so he showed me dozens of awesome tricks with film.”

Rymsha swiftly mastered those first tricks, and in the years since he has mastered the craft and even invented a few tricks of his own. That mastery is evidenced in one of his most minimalistic, yet absolutely striking works, “Emerald Dream” directed by Leonid Andronov, who won the Festival Award at the International Filmmaker Festival of World Cinema in London for the film “The Admired.” The film’s dystopian story is told by an unseen narrator entirely through photographs, which required Rymsha to boil down the visual impact of an entire film and concentrate that into a series of still frames. Rymsha carefully calculated his style of photography for the film to convey as eerie and foreboding a tone as one could imagine.

Set in a dark, distant future, “Emerald Dream” tells the tale of Gary Jibbons, a man whose unusual job it is to extract dreams from donors in much the same way people donate blood. As the narrator’s story goes on, the photographs become more and more mysterious; it soon becomes clear that Jibbons has fallen hopelessly in love with a young woman with the most vivid dreams he’s ever encountered.

It speaks volumes about Rymsha’s skill as a cinematographer that using so little, he was able to create an entire world inhabited by characters whose highs and lows are so familiar they could easily be real. But it takes more than skill alone to create works of the magnitude he has; it demands a level of passion and devotion that Rymsha has in spades.

“You always want to make your current film better than anything you’ve done before. Otherwise you’ll never grow,” Rymsha beamed. “I put part of my soul into my work. It’s more than just time and energy.”

"The Rat"
Film poster for “The Rat”

That philosophy is a defining quality of Rymsha’s work, an excellent example being the 2015 film “The Rat.” Once again he was tasked with making a film that would test the extent of his talents. Rather than a series of photographs however, “The Rat” required Rymsha to shoot the entire film from inside a single car. As events spiral out of control, audiences share the tense, caged-up sensation with the characters onscreen.

“The challenging part of it was that the whole story took place in the car, so the main goal was to make the audience attracted to the visuals. I spent a huge amount of time picking locations,” Rymsha said. “A location must be interesting with some action going around. My favorite was the airport, with planes taking off and landing.”

It was up to Rymsha to leap into action and scout all possible filming locations. A whirlwind tour of the city later, and he had his list.

“When I got a script I was quite surprised because the whole story was happening in the car. It was challenging to figure out how to make the move visually attractive, and the same time follow rhythm and beat of the storyline,” he explained of the process. “The story was gradually intensifying, so the visuals also had to follow.”

The crime thriller starred Jonte LeGras (“Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy”), was nominated at the Burbank International Film Festival, and its director Vasily Chuprina has been recognized for his Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking by the Newport Beach Film Festival for “The Boy By The Sea,” among a dozen other awards.

“When I got the synopsis of the movie, the first associations that popped into my head were of postmodernism with a huge element of restrained film noir style,” Rymsha said. “I thought that this combination will perfectly fit to the story of such genre.”

Rymsha also served as director of photography for director Ibrahim Nada’s 2016 “Zaar,” the dramatic story of a would-be suicide bomber who has second thoughts. A philosophical head turner fraught with suspense, the film has the distinction of being one of Rymsha’s favorite projects. The film itself has won prizes at more than half a dozen festivals, including a Best Cinematography win for Rymsha from the renowned Santa Monica Film Festival.

Constantly driven to take on the most challenging projects he can, Yan Rymsha has proven time and again what he can do with a camera and a little imagination. He has dedicated his entire life to the pursuit of cinematic greatness, and it would seem now that there is nothing left standing between him and that dream.

ARROW MAKES A BOOMERANG OUT OF ALISON ARAYA

Art can run in cycles or periods of fashion. As one of the most ubiquitous art forms, TV is as susceptible as any to being a part of this. It’s no news flash that we are in the heyday of superhero entertainment. Marvel, DC, and many independent comic book/graphic novels have been featured in production after production. There’s a good reason for this; these larger than life characters depict who we want to be, the stories are epic and provide an excellent form of escapism. When it comes down to it, people truly enjoy them. These Omni-present produtions provide many actors with opportunities to utilize their skills as well as live out some personal fantasies. How many times do you get the chance to save the world in tights? While Alison Araya’s character on Arrow (distributed by Warner Brothers Television) might not be Oliver Queen (based on DC comic’s Green Arrow), her recurring role places her in the “universe” as the fans say. Her continued presence comes with the fans and attention that the show and the genre are well known for. It’s not a new source of attention for this actress who has appeared in films based on comics (Avery has appeared in both X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Watchmen). Being a part of a fantasy world that is also grounded with a large dose of reality suits Araya just fine. By her presence throughout multiple seasons (Arrow is completing its sixth season), it appears that it suits the producers of this CW series as well.

With several seasons under its belt, “Arrow” is a vetted hit in the CW line-up. Exploits of these types of heroes are among the most popular of all action hits and “Arrow” is happy to be part of this movement. What drew Alison to the program is what most fans appreciate about it; the darker element of the story. This non-genetically enhanced hero who has earned his abilities through somewhat mysterious circumstances and is tenacious in the pursuit of criminals gives a realistic quality to “Arrow” that is part Batman, part Robin Hood, and a hint of LA Confidential. Flawed characters abound in the story but not in an overly defined moral sense. As a member of the SPCD, Araya’s character Officer Lopez was originally written as a more peripheral role but Alison’s on screen charisma quickly altered this. Lopez has continually appeared throughout the last three seasons of “Arrow” and has been a part of some of the most pivotal storylines in “Arrow.” For Araya, an accomplished actor with roles in action films, there was still a learning curve to playing a police officer. She somewhat hesitantly tells, “It was much harder than I thought. In my first scene I was arresting and handcuffing a perp…there was some fumbling on my part. No one would say I’m a natural when it comes to being a law enforcement professional. I even dropped the gun several times, but I was determined to see the scene through. Shortly after that first experience my agent called to say they had booked me on another episode and that was the beginning of the development of Officer Lopez.”images (3)

In the show’s world of superheroes and super villains, Lopez is a reality anchor for the show’s fans. A stoic member of the police department, she searches for the truth and is a more relatable element for the audience to connect with and bridge the gap with the more extraordinarily powered characters. Araya portrays this character with a calm demeanor which comes off surprisingly well considering Lopez is charged with enforcing the public safety in a community of such epic parameters. Even with the somewhat hyperbolic scenes, Lopez approaches her work as any urban officer would treat an everyday disturbance.

It increasingly becomes a required skill for the modern day actor to be comfortable working with what is not actually there but will appear later in post. Alison’s work on a number of feature films and TV productions has given her ample experience to master this craft. Actors are required to use their imagination but this modern technological facet takes the idea to a very literal place. Araya states, “It definitely makes for an interesting day on set. As actors we are asked to use our imaginations and drop into the reality of our scenes but days with VFX require big imagination. I love the challenge, I really have to work to create the world around me and say yes to it. You have to simply commit fearlessly!”

Alison concedes that the development of Officer Lopez into a character that would appear throughout numerous seasons of “Arrow” was as unexpected to her as anyone. Still, it’s something for which she has been continually thankful. It’s a perfect balance for the actress who has been able to accept roles in feature films, independent films, made for TV movies, and other productions simply because of the fact that Lopez is not a central part of every episode of “Arrow.” Her character’s recurring presence keeps her in the eyesight of fans of the show and gives her the freedom to pop up in other productions simultaneously. It’s the entertainment industry version of Johnny Appleseed. The situation can create a somewhat welcome growing pain for Alison who notes, “Working on the show is such a wonderful experience for me. Everyone involved is very kind and they truly interact like a family. Because I’m not there every day, I make sure to watch the show and stay on top of the story so it will make sense when I am on. That can be difficult sometimes when I’m trying to immerse myself in preparing for another role…but I’m not complaining; I’ll accept this kind of problem anytime I am fortunate enough to have it.”images (2)

These superheroes that we love to watch are exciting and inspiring to watch. They make us all feel that we are capable of doing great things and working for the common good. As Officer Lopez, Alison Araya reminds us that there are those among us who bridge that gap, that we all have the potential to aspire to service of others…and she is just plain ol’ fun to watch in the world of “Arrow.”