Talha Bin Abdulrahman on watching his passion project come to life for ‘Jellyfish’

In order to succeed as a director in the arts and entertainment industry, it is essential to have more than just a keen eye for story telling, or an aptitude for capturing a vision and translating it onto a screen. It requires a passion strong enough to withstand adversity, grueling competition, and setbacks. It is an extremely competitive profession with a wide range of challenges. For a director like Talha Bin Abdulrahman, it is easy to remain level-headed in the face of an obstacle, for he knows that film direction is his calling. It is his reason to wake in the morning and it is the one thing he enjoys doing more than anything else in this world.

“When I encounter a difficult day on set, I take a moment to breath. I believe that there is always a way to make things work, so if ever I hit a brick wall, I move onto another scene and revisit the broken one afterwards. You have to trust your instincts, and your team. Together, they will help you through anything and you will eventually come out on top,” tells Bin Abdulrahman.

As a director, Bin Abdulrahman has earned himself an unprecedented reputation. His peers in the filmmaking community equate his name with success and he is known for using his profound talents to create stellar films like The Scapegoat, and Served Cold. For the majority of films that Bin Abdulrahman has worked on, he has been approached by a producer or a cinematographer with a compelling script that needs a director to execute its storyline. Other times, he is driven by his own passion to tell important, life-altering stories to the world. This was the case with the music video he shot for Jo Blakenbergl’s emotional song, Jellyfish in the Sky. After hearing Jellyfish in the Sky, Bin Abdulrahman was so inspired that he bought the rights to the song and raised enough money to produce a video that would do the song justice.

“I felt that I had a visual story to tell through the music and the lyrics of the song. They are so moving that I wanted to do something about it. It was like an itch,” recalls Bin Abdulrahman.

Jellyfish in the Sky is about a young, ambitious ballerina who loses both of her legs in a car accident. The story begins after the ballerina experiences a near death experience when she attempts suicide and she finds herself performing one final dance before she departs this life. The story resonated well with Bin Abdulrahman because of the parallels he could draw between the ballerina’s artistry and his own. A ballerina losing her ability to dance is similar to what it would feel like for him to lose his ability to direct, and to tell important stories like the one he was telling in his music video. He was determined to translate the ballerina’s despair into a visual masterpiece and after viewing the video, it is apparent that this is exactly what he did. He worked with highly skilled dancers, as well as a world class ballet choreographer to bring his vision to life and the result was more moving than he could have ever dreamt.

When he originally embarked upon the journey that this project would later become, Bin Abdulrahman was apprehensive about finding dancers and choreographers who would share in his love for both the song and the story he was trying to tell. He needed someone who understood the importance of the story and who would dedicate every fiber of their being to ensuring that the video was a success. To his surprise, he managed to assemble a strong team who all shared in his vision and his dedication to the storyline they were portraying. From dancers, to videographers, to costume designers, everyone involved was determined to tell this story in the best light possible. For costume designers like Oksana Derina, it was refreshing to be able to work with such a director as passionate as Bin Abdulrahman and she was pleased to see all of his hard work and dedication pay off.

“Talha is very talented and professional. He is so creative and it makes working with him very interesting and enjoyable. I find it refreshing that he is open to hearing different opinions and collaborating with other professionals. I’m glad to have had the chance to work with him on Jellyfish,” notes Derina.

For Bin Abdulrahman, the true sense of fulfillment came from the final outcome of his efforts. When he watches Jellyfish in the Sky today, he recalls the pleasure of exploring a new art form, learning about the art of ballet dancing and learning how to synchronize a theatrical performance with music. It required him to exercise his patience in a way he hadn’t ever done before and knowing that he pushed himself to his limits for the better of the video’s final outcome was a reward in itself. In addition to his personal accomplishments, he was even happier to learn that Blankenberg loved what he had done for her song. When he was ready to share it with the world, he was taken aback by the way the public received it and was humbled by the fact that it earned over 100,000 views on his official website alone.

In future, Bin Abdulrahman hopes to uncover more passion projects like Jellyfish and adapt his skills to a number of new genres or art forms along the way. He is a motivated, energized film director and is ready to take on any new project that his industry has to offer. Keep an eye out for his upcoming TV sitcom, which sheds a critical light on the current political climate for Arab Immigrants living away from home.

Cinematographer Olesia Saveleva Strikes a Balance Between Art and Science

Olesia Saveleva
Cinematographer Olesia Saveleva tests the light on set of “Steady Eddie”

From the strategically selected cameras, lenses and lights to the composition, angles and the pacing of each shot, cinematography is both a science and an art. A great cinematographer knows how to weave the emotional elements of a story into a film’s visual language in a way that makes the audience feel something without even needing to hear the actors’ dialogue. One powerful woman who has made a name for herself as an extraordinarily talented cinematographer is Olesia Saveleva.

“I love the balance between art and science in being a cinematographer. I love working with cameras, I know I can be precise with settings. I just love the engineering part of it,” explains Saveleva. “The artistic part of it makes cinematography addictive. I love collaborating with a director to find different ways to convey emotions to the audience…. And when the audience reacts emotionally to what you’ve done, that is a pure satisfaction.”

With her increasingly impressive body of work Saveleva, who’s originally from Yekaterinburg, Russia, has carved out an impressive reputation for herself as a diversely skilled cinematographer in the U.S. and abroad. Some of the films she’s become known for recently include IFS Award nominee Jorge S. Pallas’ drama “In Girum Imus Nocte,” which won the Award of Recognition from the 2016 IndieFEST Film Awards, as well as the Diamond and Silver Awards from the LA Shorts Awards, the 2015 crime film “Brothers” with James McVan from the series “Britannia,” the dramatic film “Steady Eddie” starring Robert Daniel Sloan from the horror film “Sinister 2,” and more.

Prior to moving into filmmaking Saveleva, who attended the prestigious American Film Institute Conservatory where she received her M.F.A in cinematography, received her bachelor’s in economics and went into real estate, but the draw of the cinema was too strong to ignore.

Saveleva says, “When I started to make movies my life changed. I had an infinite interest in filmmaking. And cinematography was the main part of it… To be able to share people’s personal stories… to capture the right emotion with the right light through the right framing is fascinating.”

Immigrant Brothers
Poster for “Immigrant Brothers”

Earlier this year Saveleva was the cinematographer on the multi-award winning film “Immigrant Brothers,” which had its world premiere at the Atlantic City Cinefest earlier this month where Marlon Samuda, one of the film’s lead actors, earned a Best Actor Award. Directed by Nicholas Joseph Cunha, who won the LABRFF Award for the film “Red Souls,” “Immigrant Brothers” is heart-wrenching drama starring Samuda (“RomCom,” Above Suspicion”), Sean Babapulle from the comedy series “The Millionaires” and Orlando Pineda from the award-winning film “Summer with Alicia.”

The film follows three immigrants, all from different countries, who form a brotherly bond as they struggle to survive on the streets of Los Angeles. As each one chooses a different method to make money– with one of them begging for change on the corner and another stealing from people, the intensity of the film’s story is heightened by third boy’s decision to try prostitution. However, on the eve of his first night turning tricks his ‘brothers’ intervene and beat up his first customer, which enrages the pimp and ultimately leads one of them to be killed.

As the film’s cinematographer Saveleva created a powerful visual language with her use of the camera. Choosing to shoot the film in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio (widescreen), which drives the feeling of emptiness when one of the brothers is alone in the frame compared to when all three brothers are in the frame, which makes the shot feel complete, Saveleva’s strategic decisions in terms of the film’s composition were key to driving the emotional aspects of the story.

The other important thing to us was the angles we used. The characters situation worsens with the progression of the film and the camera angles become more dramatic,” Saveleva explains. “From eye level we go to extreme low angle and to extreme high angle. We either look down on them or we sit low with them and look up trying to make the audience feel in their shoes.”

Saveleva’s seasoned skill in the field definitely shines through in the touching story that “Immigrant Brothers” brings to the screen, something that is proven by the fact that the film took home the award for Best Drama Film from the European Cinematography Awards, in addition to being chosen as a Finalist at the Eurasia International Monthly Film Festival and an Official Selection of the  Sanctuary Cove International Film Festival.

For those in the UK, the film “The Perfect Dinner,” another one of Saveleva’s recent works as a cinematographer, is slated to premiere at St James’s Sussex Gardens on December 16 at 7:30 p.m. accompanied by the Notting Hill Film Orchestra. “The Perfect Dinner,” starring Casara Clark from the series “Thirtysomething” and “Trauma,” and Robert Rice from the series “Moms Anonymous,” is yet another one of Saveleva’s collaborations with director Jorge S. Pallas.

I am a director, but I worked as a cinematographer myself. So I have a strong visual style… Collaborating with Olesia we find new ways to tell my story better, she is like my second pair of eyes, she sees things differently and helps me see them too,” explains Pallas. “She is very creative. She knows without saying if I don’t like something and she comes up with a new solution right away.”

 

Actress Madalein Jackson May Look Like an Angel, but She Plays a Convincing Villain

Madalein Jackson
Australian actress Madalein Jackson

Actress Madalein Jackson began her career back home on the stages of Australia where she quickly became known for her ability to breathe life into diverse characters. Through her roles in high-profile theatre productions such as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Oliver!,” Willy Russell’s “Our Day Out” and the Footlice Theatre Company’s popular “Grubble” series, where she took on multiple roles, Jackson carved out a reputation for herself as one leading actress who effortlessly commands the attention of her audience.

“I am quite versatile, and as a result I’m lucky to have not been typecast,” says Jackson. “I also think I have a pretty keen insight into human behaviour, which helps in effectively conveying emotions and reactions.”

Playing everything from the shy underdog Gertrude McFuzz in the hit production of “Seussical” to the psychotic Clytemnestra in Andrew Coates’ staging of “The Golden Masque of Agamemnon,” Jackson’s versatility has been a driving force in her career, and it’s one that has kept her working non-stop.

While she looks innocent, once she gets into character Madalein Jackson transforms completely, and that’s exactly what she did when she took on the cunning role of Caroline Bingley in YPT’s period drama “Pride & Prejudice.”

Jackson says, “Caroline Bingley is such a great, complex character. Playing the villain is always more interesting than playing the hero, and Caroline is no exception to that. Her motivation is her snobbery and greed, however I always imagined that she must have been damaged in some way in order for her to have such a deep reservoir of pain and hatred.”

In this classic Jane Austen novel adapted for the stage, the Bennet family works to marry off their two daughters Jane (played by Kelsie Allan) and Elizabeth (played by Katy Price) in order to ensure their continued wealth and societal status. While the wealthy Mr. Bingley (played by John Shearman) swoons over Jane, she does not reciprocate his feelings, but that doesn’t stop his sister Caroline (played by Jackson) from inviting Jane over in hopes of creating a bond and furthering her brother’s chances. However, when Caroline realizes the potential match between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, who she wants for herself, her attitude swiftly switches gears. Keeping her exterior composed, Caroline turns into a cunning villainous woman, planting seeds about Elizabeth’s shortcomings in order to boost her chances with Darcy, and Jackson played the part perfectly.

“Caroline mostly keeps her thoughts to herself in polite society, making everyone aware of her opinions purely through knowing looks, however when she is in private with her family she lets fly with contempt and vitriol! Playing someone so manipulative and antagonistic is hard work, but always wonderfully rewarding,” says Jackson.

Madalein has undoubtedly made name for herself in the theatre, but she’s no stranger to the big screen. In 2013 she took on a critical role in the family dramedy film “Wiener Dog Nationals,” which won the Audience Award and the Honors Award at the Newport Beach Film Festival in addition to being nominated for four Young Artist Awards.

Wiener Dog Nationals
Poster for Wiener Dog Nationals

Directed by Kevan Peterson (“Wiener Dog Internationals,” “The Super Holidays”), “Wiener Dog Nationals” follows a family who adopts a dachshund from a shelter and enters her into the nation’s most prestigious wiener dog race, Wienerschnitzel’s “Wiener Dog Nationals.” New to the world of wiener dog races, the family is met with a series of challenges caused by the leading wiener dog champion’s owner Ms. Merryweather and her assistant (played by Jackson), who take unscrupulous measures in order to ensure their dachshund remains the champion. Embodying her character’s cold nature and looking ever-fierce on screen, Madalein Jackson nails the mark as Ms. Merryweather’s assistant in the film.

Jackson says, “I loved the challenge of playing a villainous character in a family film; there had to be a balance between meanness and humour. The character was torn between supporting Ms. Merryweather and helping with her evil schemes, and struggling with working for such a cruel, mean employer. She knows what they are doing is wrong but feels she has to support her boss or face the consequences.”

Acting alongside award-winning actors Jason London (“Trafficked,” “All Roads Lead Home,” “The Rage: Carrie 2”), Alicia Witt (“Urban Legend,” “Dune,” “Cybill”) and Morgan Fairchild (“Days of Our Lives,” “Freaked,” “Flamingo Road”) Jackson definitely holds her own in the film.

Up next for this diversely talented actress is the film “All Our Yesterdays” from writer and director Emily Price. In the film Madalein Jackson will take on the starring role of Dianna, a successful young woman whose death is ruled a suicide, but she knows she was murdered and she’s out to prove it, even if she has to do it from the other side.   

 

Ana Lossada perfectly honors ‘That’s so Raven’ with awesome opening to ‘Raven’s Home’

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Ana Lossada

Ana Lossada, a leading motion graphics designer, loves what she does. She doesn’t wake up with that feeling most know all too well on Monday mornings. She doesn’t feel her week is a monotonous blur until Friday night. She is eager to go into work every day. For her, every day is different, and she has the ability to share her gift with the entire world.

Lossada’s work has impressed international audiences. When working with The Walking Dead, Lossada worked on The Journey So Far, a two-hour special summarizing the first six seaons of the show, as well as the virtual reality experience, a 360 teaser for their upcoming season. She captured the feelings of the main character of Netflix’s Atypical, a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome, with her work on the opening for the show. Working with Disney Jr on the spots Be Inspired with The Lion Guard and Be Your Best with Miles, she worked to encourage young kids to live healthy, active, lifestyles. Her career has been formidable, and nd now, her most recent work on the opening sequence Disney’s new series Raven’s Home, based off the old classic That’s So Raven, has generated quite a lot of attention.

“Disney Channel wanted the main title for their new upcoming show to be as catchy as the old one. As a fan of the old show, I could not say no,” said Lossada.

Raven’s Home is Disney Channel’s new spinoff from their major hit TV series in 2003. Lossada was in charge of creating the live action set that was used for the main title. She had to plan how the talent could interact with the set as well as how they could place the talent next to their names as they appear in the opening credits. She created several different mock-ups for the set using 3D software (Cinema 4D and Octane Render) as well as Adobe After Effects. The selected set had a LED wall that displays animated graphics that Lossada designed and animated herself. During post-production, she oversaw the selection of typography and animation by the interns, as well as adding visual effects to certain shots that needed it.

“Ana’s graphics and visual effects knowledge made her an instant asset to our design team and clientele. Her willingness to constantly go above and beyond her normal call of duty has shown through all of the projects that she’s worked on throughout her tenure with us. Not only has she been a key member of our post-production process, but has now been working with our live-action productions team, lending her talents to assist in shoots and constantly growing in all areas of television and film production. You just know that if she’s involved you don’t have to worry about her giving 110 per cent and whatever is assigned will be done thoroughly and to the best of her ability. You simply can’t ask for much more than that with any employee and we are so thrilled she’s a part of our team,” Mike Greggs, who worked alongside Lossada on the project.

The main title was released in July of this year, and has already reached over 1.2 million views on YouTube alone, as well as being shared through social media and various websites. It has been featured in Buzzfeed, E! Online, and TV Guide, to name a few, with articles praising the opening for its creativity and the way it honors the original content.

As a motion graphics designer, it is not often that Lossada actually gets to go to a set, despite being a vital part of the filmmaking process. More often, she works behind the screen of a computer. However, with the Raven’s Home opening, she worked on the pre-production and production side. Everyone she worked with had the opportunity to see what she was capable of, and just how well-rounded she is for any task. All of her skills were put to use, including designing, illustrating, animating, and even producing. She put everything she had into this project to ensure it resulted in perfection, and it did.

“I rarely get to go to sets, because I usually can’t due to work, but they needed extra help. While on set, I was able to aid with live-animation for the LED wall, and also helped out on the production to ensure it ran smoothly,” she said.

Lossada’s design and visual effects knowledge made her an instant asset to the design team and clientele. Her willingness to constantly go above and beyond her normal call of duty has shown through all of the projects that she has worked on. Not only is she a key member of Big Machine’s post-production process, but she has now been working with their live-action production team, lending her talents to assist in shoots and constantly growing in all areas of television and film production.

“I’d suggest to students entering the creative industry, they should open their expertise not only to design, but conceptual thinking and execution skills. Especially today, where there is always something new (interactive for example), they need to be able to adapt fairly quickly to the evolving technology and software updates, and be able to execute an idea based on the rising technology,” said Lossada.

Watch Lossada’s outstanding work in the Raven’s Home opener here, and watch Raven’s Home on the Disney channel to see it on a regular basis.

Cooking for the stars: Chef Salvatore Meo

Salvatore Meo always wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father. He wanted to have his own restaurant, making authentic Italian dishes for the locals to appreciate. What he didn’t expect was to become an international success, cooking food for presidents, filmmakers, celebrities, and more.

While growing up in Lecce, Italy, cooking was Meo’s one passion. He always felt that cooking was a way to express creativity. While making classic Italian food, he found a way to express himself. However, unlike his father, he decided to expand his horizons beyond the borders of Italy, and moved to Germany to bring his food and share his culture abroad. He has shared his knowledge with his employees and his customers, always achieving success.

“I’ve learned from Salvatore to always be conscious of your surroundings. Make sure you always carry your chef’s vision when making first class dishes,” said sous chef Carlo Centonze, who worked alongside Meo at Trattoria Fornaretto.

Meo has owned and operated a series of popular Italian restaurants in Germany, including Trattoria Fornaretto, Ristorante Rossini Bischoscheim, Restaurant Zum Nudeldunker, and Ristorante Rossini Floersheim. There is little he cannot achieve.

“Experience, dedication, and the ability to handle a fast-moving industry are the most important aspects of starting your own restaurant. Overall though, I think it’s your origin of where you are from that allows you to take that wherever you go. My origin is why I like cooking,” said Meo.

As owner of the restaurant Restaurant Zur Ratsstube, Meo was in charge of every aspect of the cooking and management. He hired the staff, took care of payroll, and created the menu with his own original recipes. He also had the freedom to choose what products he wanted to work with, so he was able to build and create the menus he wanted to serve. He wanted to work with fresh products that he was able to purchase locally and farm grown or raised. The good quality had a very positive improvement to the dishes he cooked and purchasing local products helped stimulating the economy. At the time however, despite vast experience cooking, it was his first time actually owning a restaurant.

“Naturally it was exciting and scary at the same time. It was in a different country, I didn’t speak the language very well and I already had a family to support, but I fell in love with the area it was in. The Rhineland in Germany is known for its many wineries and the wine it produces. It had a very rustic ambient with a good quality kitchen and accommodations that allowed me to run my restaurant and have my family nearby,” said Meo. “The area was interesting because it resembled the part of Italy I came from with the wineries. Local wineries and wines was the foundation and the inspiration to create German and Italian Dishes that I was able to pair with the local wines. People enjoyed that because they were able to enjoy good food that was cooked and prepared with local products and paired with wine they already knew and loved.”

Building Restaurant Zur Ratsstube from the ground up did not come without its challenges. With a friendly and family style and a German and Italian country mix, Meo was bringing Italian cooking to Germany, and wanted to build a good reputation in community. He achieved his goal, as Gimbsheim was a small town that really had no Italian restaurants. Meo was bringing something new and exciting to the well-established community. People enjoyed the southern Italian food and frequently came back.

In working the new country, Meo learned a lot about German culture and cuisine. It helped him improve the way he ran a business and how he cooked.

“Learning what German people appreciate in food helped me improve the quality of my food,” he said.

Because it was new and unique and one of the first to be established in the community, the combination of a rustic German kitchen mixed with a Mediterranean kitchen was extremely interesting, and people responded well what Meo had to offer. For his first restaurant, he achieved what many do in a single lifetime, and it set up the base for his now esteemed career. Despite such success, however, it is no longer just his passion for cooking that motivates Meo.

“My kids made me realize that working hard and doing what you love to do for a better quality of life is important. Although my kids chose a different profession, they both work hard to achieve their dreams and I have passed down my passion for Italian cuisine, which both of them incorporate at home in their kitchens,” he concluded.