An Early Love for Design Led to Saif Al-Sobaihi’s Celebrated Cinematographic Career

 

Saif Al-Sobaihi
Cinematographer Saif Al-Sobaihi

While many cinematographers find their way into the field through photography and other areas of filmmaking, cinematographer Saif Al-Sobaihi, who’s made a powerful name for himself in the U.S. film industry and abroad in recent years, initially found his way to the craft through a love of visual art and design.

“I used to collect a lot of visual books, especially interior design books,” Saif explains. “I just loved looking at the lighting, composition and the smooth design… At that point I had no idea what cinematography was.”

Growing up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Saif immersed himself in design at a young age, swiftly developing an acute visual eye and an unparalleled attention to detail. His boundless creativity  even led him to be recognized by his country whilst elementary school when he earned the First Prize Award in the Saudi Arabian national painting competition “Homeland in the Eyes of Our Children.”

Constantly collecting photographs and books focused on visual design, those roots eventually taught him to recognize such things as the interplay of objects in a room, how to achieve an aesthetic balance, and the way the light or lack there of sets the mood, have been key to his success in the film world.

As the cinematographer of highly praised films such as “La Calvita,” “El Circo,” “Pinwheel,” “SKEMO” and others, his unique ability to blend the technical and creative sides of his work in the field of filmmaking shine through flawlessly.

“Some cinematographers are more artistic and others are more technical… To me cinematography is a balance that can’t be defined. It’s a field where creativity, energy, personalities, obstacles, and the importance of timing overlap on set,” explains Saif. “Just like the way harmony in music supports the melody and provides its texture and mood, cinematography supports and even creates the texture and mood within the stories we see on screen.”

Saif has earned extensive accolades for his film work, with “Pinwheel” garnering him two Best Cinematography Awards at the Festigious International Film Festival and the Around International Film Festival in Berlin, “El Circo” earning the Southeast Regional EMMY Award for short form fiction, “La Calvita” being screened as one of “The Coming of Age Mixtape” films chosen by the Bushwick Film Festival, and “SKEMO” being chosen as an Adobe Design Achievement Semifinalist.

“El Circo” director Pablo Ramirez says, “Saif understood perfectly what I had in my head and helped me transform those ideas into beautiful images that showed the organized chaos we wanted to portray… Saif has a unique vision, he has the ability to listen to what his directos want and he also has the sensibility to express himself when he has a different opinion. Saif is one of the most professional persons with whom I’ve had the opportunity to work with.”

While he’s been key to the success of multiple narrative films, Saif actually began his professional career as the cinematographer on the music video “We Are” for well-known Swedish popstar Peg Parnevik. The vivid colors, combination of panning shots and close-ups, as well as the pace of the frames reveal Saif’s unparalleled skill behind the lens.

 With nearly two million views on YouTube, the video serves as an impressive accomplishment for even the most seasoned cinematographer, so that says quite a lot considering it was his first professional project in the field.

About the video, which he shot on a RED Scarlet Dragon 6K sensor with Zeiss CP2 primes, Saif says, “I learned a few valuable lessons from this project: lose the ego, keep things simple, and have fun!”

Out of all of his work, Saif marks the 2017 film “La Calvita” directed by Giulia Jimenez as ‘one of the most interesting projects’ he’s been the cinematographer on to date. With the saturated colors, shots of miscellaneous items such as tires, bathroom sinks and other odds and ends riddled through the streets communicating the semi-impoverished nature of the neighborhood, and a storyline that centers on Lupita (Karina Rovira), a young Latin American girl who travels to the Venezuela-Colombia border on a mission to make some money by selling her hair, it’s easy to see from the trailer alone why the film was so interesting for Saif.

In addition to being an Official Selection of the Bushwick Film Festival, “La Calvita” was also an Official Selection of the 2017 Georgia Latino Film Festival and the 2018 San Diego Film Festival.

With an almost surreal visual style, and a transporting latin garage style score composed by Hugo Raúl Blanco, “La Calvita” has a unique appeal that’s reminiscent of of experimental psychedelic films like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “The Holy Mountain” and Vera Chitlova’s “Daisies.”

One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the way Saif takes us into Lupita’s world through close ups on her face that allow us to truly feel the complexity of her emotions. This, coupled with the wide shots he takes to reveal the peculiar nature of her surrounding, make it feel as though she lives within her own world– one removed from the actual environment where the film takes place.

Saif shot “La Calvita” on a Sony FS7 using only the Cooke 25-250mm T4.0 Zoom as his lens for the entire film.

“As a cinematographer in stories like that where the world seems a bit surreal, you get to experiment with different equipment and techniques more comfortably. And that is a lot of fun,” explains Saif.

I wanted the look of the film to be gritty and authentic… This film talks about real social issues, so I made sure I captured not only the physical performance of the actors, but their psychological processes and inner world as well. ”

Some of the social issues Saif refers to revolve around Lupita’s economic status and feeling that selling her hair is the only option to make money to pay for her mother’s medication, and the concept of beauty promoted by society compared to what it truly means to be beautiful on an individual level.

After having her hair lopped off in exchange for $35, Lupita wanders through town looking forlorn over the messy buzz cut that sits in place of her previously long and beautiful brown locks. As she runs her fingers through her hair clearly trying to make sense of how this new look has changed her, she encounters a billboard where the model comes to life and begins speaking to her as she stands alone in the middle of a grassy field. The model tells her she wants her to feel better and that she needs hair to feel better; and like a fairy godmother, she releases a waterfall of pink flower petals that graze Lupita’s face and like magic, her hair reappears. From the viewer’s perspective the scene is touching and emotionally subtle, but on a technical level it’s easy to see that a lot of effort went into it on the part of Saif and his team.  

“The director wanted the billboard model to be commercially “well-lit” like a 90’s latin billboard commercials kind of vibe. We shot that section in a green screen studio lit with spacelights, Kino Celebs and later on used a Mole Richardson 2K” explains the cinematographer. “My gaffer Dylan Genis rigged the camera on a 12 ft ladder for the high angle shots. For the ‘low angle’ shots, we used baby sticks and hi-hats.”

He adds, “It’s great to have a team who are interested in the project and have good sense of communication and experience.”

Through narrative films like “La Calvita” it’s easy to see Saif’s talent for creating impactful visual stories that draw the audience in and evokes emotion. His attention to detail and his aptitude for blending the technical and creative sides of his work in film make it easy to understand how he got to where he is today, and it all started from his love for visual art and design.

 

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Thailand’s Sasinun Kladpetch showcases nature in charitable Hang Art exhibition

Celebrated astrophysicist Hubert Reeves once said, “Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible Nature. Unaware that this Nature he’s destroying is this God he’s worshiping.” This is Thai native Sasinun Kladpetch’s mantra, and where she gathers her inspiration for her art that has captivated people all over the world. She believes that nature is everything, which translates directly into her work. In her world, nature is her life, her soul and her god.

All of Kladpetch’s artwork explores the beauty of nature and explores the idea that it has been hidden among man made structure. She brought this point home at the 2016 50/50 Exhibit at the Sanchez Art Center, where she created fifty pieces all reflecting natural elements meeting modern development. To celebrate nature, Kladpetch uses organic materials and combines them with industrial elements. With this style, she saw great success at DZINE gallery and Dab Art in San Francisco.

“I love to transfer my idea into a physical artwork that people can experience. I like working with an objective; the ideas are unlimited, and I have to think in every single process. From collecting an idea, analyzing it, sketching, to making the installation, there are an infinite number of things to learn. This just encourages me to keep thinking and working to come up with something greater than what I’ve done in past. That’s what motivates me,” she said.

This artist’s point of view is that there are many natural resources, which have been wasted and neglected throughout civilization. Through her work, Kladpetch creates a voice and a platform for people to see the true beauty of nature and that humans and nature can co-exist beautifully in harmony.

“I always aim to engage my audience and encourage them to think about natural and environmental issues through my work,” she said.

Once again being inspired by the environment and humans and nature coexisting together, Kladpetch has created several installations for Hang Art Gallery. Kladpetch has taken part in several exhibitions for the gallery, including Front Lines 5.0, and Same, Same,butDifferent 5.0. The latter was an annual exhibition that all the artists representative at Hang Art Gallery participated in. Because her work on this project was so successful, Kladpetch was then offered the opportunity to participate in the San Francisco Hospitality House Auction as a gallery representative.

“Sasinun is thoughtful and generous, and thankfully these qualities come through in her creations and business practices. She has a clear vision, but soft touch. Her works combine industrialization and environment with a delicacy that coaxes the viewer to consider these paradoxes thoughtfully, without screaming politics,” said Piero Sparado, who represented Kladpetch’s work at the gallery.

For each of these exhibitions at Hang Art, Kledpetch created small sculptures and installed them in to one large installation; clients then had the opportunity to buy multiple pieces or just an individual one. The uniqueness of this project is all the small pieces could be rearranged to the buyer’s preference. She wanted the audience to essentially be a part of the installation by arranging the artworks themselves. There were no rules or guidelines when it came to installing them, but the most important thing for Kladpetch was that each piece had to work both on its own, as a whole, or with a select few pieces, which is no easy feat. However, Kladpetch made it enchanting.

“I love how art can resonate with so many people. This exhibition challenged me to come up with something unique. I feel more than honored that I was a part of a Hospitality House auction. I’ve donated one of my sculptures through the gallery and the benefits went to the Hospitality House San Francisco,” she said.

Kladpetch’s irreplaceable style caught the audience’s eye, and Kladpetch’s work was sold at the exhibition, the profits of which were donated to Hospitality House and helped the charity raise over $75,000 for their essential neighborhood programs including the community arts program.

Hospitality House’s Annual Art Auction has brought together the local community, gallery professionals, art enthusiasts and collectors, non-profit organizations and local businesses to support our neighborhood artists whose artwork hang side-by-side with nationally renowned artists. I’m proud to be a part of that,” she concluded.

Canada’s Dan Cazzola living his dream with Endemol Shine Group

When Dan Cazzola first stepped onto a studio, he felt a rush like no other. It was at that moment when he fell in love with television production, seeing what a vast world it truly is. He finds it energetic and exciting, his passion for what he does translates directly to his work. As the Vice President of International Development for Endemol Shine North America, he is living the dream he’s had since he was only a child and has had a career that many aspire towards.

Originally from the small suburb of Ancaster, Ontario, Cazzola has travelled the world doing what he loves. Working with Endemol Shine, one of the world’s largest production companies, for the past six years, he has had a vast array of experiences working on internationally successful television shows, such as MasterChef, Big Brother,Minute To Win It and Deal Or No Deal.

“Working with Dan is always a pleasure. Not only does he ensure a healthy working relationship with all of his employees and colleagues, but he is extremely creative. Such a combination creates extremely high morale on every team he is a part of, despite the stresses that come along with such a fast-paced industry. Dan is everything you would want as a leader, and the tremendous results of his work are direct reflections of this,” said Rebecca De Young, Creative Director, Endemol Shine China.

One of the many highlights of Cazzola’s esteemed career came when he first started working with Endemol Shine, back at Shine Group in London. Shine Group was an immense company, with operations in over 10 countries and a large footprint in the United Kingdom. In every territory, each production company had started from scratch and they were doing everything they could to get to number one above all competitors. To do this, each region needed to be on the same path, working at the same speed, achieving the same goals. As the Global Development Executive of Shine Group at the time, Cazzola was the link between all these companies. He made sure to keep all priorities in line and made every connection happen with incredible speed. He brought new ideas and strategies into Shine and helped to map out the integration of the creative business into the newly formed Endemol Shine Group when Endemol and Shine Group merged.

“At Shine Group, I was working with the best creatives in the business. Shine had grown from nothing to one of the UK’s largest production companies in just over five years. It was a huge company but felt small and nimble and everyone in the company felt like they were responsible for its growth and success. The company had an amazing culture and to this day I haven’t found a more talented group of people in one place,” Cazzola described. “I was learning new things and new territories and new markets every day. At any moment we could sell a show to Thailand, or Brazil or Norway and we’d have to make sure that the show fit that market. I learned about all the broadcasters, the key talent in each territory and what makes everyone tick.”

Cazzola first started with Shine Group when he produced MasterChef. Having worked on the show, he knew a fair amount of the executives that worked on the corporate and international side at Shine Group. When the opportunity arose to transition from content producing to a corporate look, he felt he had what it took to make the transition, and he was right.

Cazzola became the creative face of the company during his years at Shine Group. He consistently found the best way to make all of the production companies work together harmoniously. He worked to instill trust, both in him and the company as a whole. From there, he would find the strongest areas to focus the company’s efforts. He made decisions based on both fact and instincts, which with his innate talent and years of experience proved to almost always be fruitful. He always trusted his gut when it came to picking out the next big thing, talking about ten shows in a day but instantly deciding what would become the next global hit. It was this rush that drove Cazzola, and why he looks back at his time at Shine Group so fondly.

“The Shine Group years were the glory years.  I am very proud to have been a part of Shine Group and what was achieved.  The company did in five years what other TV companies couldn’t do in 10 or 20. I can see the results of my work on screen in countries all over the world. And when I see that one of our shows has sold to another territory or won an award I always feel proud,” he concluded.

Actress Romy Weltman recalls first horror film ‘The Returned’

For Romy Weltman, being an actor means getting the opportunity to not just portray another person, but to become one. She embodies each of her characters with a sense of realism, a passion for the art, and a determination that is unrivaled. It is this dedication that makes her so successful and why she has won over the hearts of audiences all over Canada.

Working in both film and television, Weltman is an extremely in demand actress in her home country. She has starred in successful films such as The Red Maple Leaf and Strike! as well as popular television shows like Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments and the Disney Channel hit Backstage.

“When I worked with Romy on Backstage, her talent and natural ability to display true emotion was evident. We had two scenes in particular that were quite emotional and Romy was nothing but an absolute professional. She raised the stakes for everybody and set a very high bar. I felt like my acting and my overall work ethic was improved tenfold when working with Romy simply because of how professional and prepared she was. Romy continues to show how great of an actress she is in all of her other projects that she has done. She is without a doubt one of the strongest actresses that I know,” said Kolton Stewart, Actor (Some Assembly Required, The Swap).

Weltman’s first taste of international success came with her film The Returned. The horror flick takes place in a world where a deadly zombie virus has infected mankind, and a single cure has been found. The cure, a treatment called the “Return Protein” which stays the effects of the virus in its host. With injections every 36 hours, the “Returned” are able to live as though they were never bit, despite the virus still coursing through their veins. When it is discovered that the protein stock is running low, chaos hits the streets. Returned who run out of the protein turn to zombies and wreak havoc, protesters turn to murderers as they try to rid the streets of the returned, and right in the middle of it all are Alex and Kate. Kate, a leading doctor in the field of zombie virus’ and Alex, a musician with a dark secret, he is a Returned. As death and fear run rampant, Alex’s secret becomes known and his dosage runs low, he and Kate must fight for a chance to live before he becomes a zombie.

“The story of The Returned is very cool, as it gives people a completely thrilling look on life. The story was different to many others. For thriller and horror movie fans, I think this story is super up their alley and I can promise there will be scares,” said Weltman.

The film premiered in 2013 and made its way to several international film festivals. At the 2014 Nevermore Film Festival, it even won the Audience Award. Weltman’s work was pivotal for The Returned’s success, as she played the younger version of the main character Kate. Young Kate was a strong character who faces a very difficult challenge in her life when she witnesses her mother being attacked by zombies. Playing the younger version of a character is extremely essential to a story. It is important for the audience to see what the character had been through in their lifetime and why they are who they are. Kate, being the lead, had lots of layers to her story. Playing young Kate gave Weltman the opportunity to bring those layers to the table and show the audience who Kate really was as a child. Weltman was only twelve years of age at the time, but still captivated audiences while providing pivotal backstory required to understand the film.

“This project was so awesome. I had never worked on a horror film or movie set at all yet. At this point of my career, this role was a dream come true. I couldn’t wait to see all the action and how horror movies were really filmed,” said Weltman.

Of course, as Weltman did not have her own life experience to pull from when it came to seeing her character’s mother getting eaten by zombies, her creative juices were flowing to determine how best to portray the child’s horror in such an important scene. She managed to perfectly encapsulate such a difficult emotion, and throughout the filming process, Weltman made sure to take in and connect the thriller ideas to her own life. By doing so, it allowed her to truly get into the mind of her character.

“Even though I was just a kid when I worked on this, it really inspired me to keep working and it made me hungry to be on more sets. I can credit that experience to the success I’ve had since,” said Weltman.

Be sure to check out Weltman in Backstage on the Family Channel in Canada on Fridays at 6:30 p.m. EST.

Go behind-the-scenes of ‘Pumpkin and Fried Noodle’ with Editor Meibei Liu

From the time Meibei Liu was a child, growing up in Shanghai, China, she loved watching movies. They would make her laugh, they would make her cry, and spending two hours enjoying a film became her favorite pastime. But being so young she would only take in the entire production, not appreciating the many roles scrolling past in the credits that it took to achieve the movie that just entertained her. However, this all changed when she was a teenager and decided to try making a movie of her own for fun. Despite enjoying films all her life, she knew nothing when it came to actually making one. It was a much harder process than she could have ever imagined, but she found herself constantly playing, pausing, rewinding, and cutting down parts of the film that she had made. She was a natural editor, and it was then when she fell in love with the art of editing. Now, years later, she has never looked back.

“Although the story was as naïve as it could be, the fun of making and editing the film just aroused my huge interest in filmmaking and also changed my life,” she said.

This past year, Liu has seen a lot of success worldwide. Her work on The Ballerina, The Shoemaker, and His Apprentice,Headshot, Dear Mamá, and Faith Need Not Change Her Gown have been celebrated at many international film festivals. Her first taste of such success, however, came back in 2013 when she worked on the documentary Pumpkin and Fried Noodle.

Pumpkin and Fried Noodleis a short documentary shot in Taiwan. It tells the stories of how two different families make their living as an outsider in a small village. Though tough, they still find their ways for inner peace and happiness. The film was selected for the Golden Sugarcane Film Festival, Taiwan’s first film festival where the filmmakers have to shoot and edit on site.

“I really liked that the documentary showed the culture of the village, and documented that beautiful, peaceful and friendly place, which was very different to the culture I was in growing up. It tells stories of outsiders in the villages and shows how they fight to live a better life and struggle to be part of the society over there. It’s also a story about women empowerment, telling how they managed to support the whole family without any help. Making a documentary about them was important because their way of living life and being in a difficult situation needed to be seen by others,” said Liu.

Because of the circumstances of the Golden Sugarcane Film Festival, only a pitch was submitted in hopes of qualifying as one of the ten slots. Once Liu and the rest of her team were selected, they were invited to Taiwan to make the film. During the week, Liu was with other filmmakers finding the subject to shoot and finding structure and stories. This allowed for faster editing, as she was able to spot what would work while filming. Then she finished each day with the editing. On top of this, she conducted interviews each day.

“Going there to make the documentary without knowing whether it will work or not; finding the story during shooting was like an adventure that needed a great sense of filmmaking, which I liked and wanted to be part of,” Liu recalled.

The film exemplifies how important editing is. Liu and the other nine filmmakers on the crew conducted several interviews with over ten different people, but in the editing room, Liu cut that down drastically, only showing two of the subjects that were interviewed. The film focused on their lives in detail, showing their philosophy of living rather than small aspects of many lives. Liu also made the decision of blending the two stories rather than showing one after the other, which helped lead to the warm and touching climax at the end.

“Meibei is very hard working. She edited our entire film within three days. She was very easy to work with, always there in the pre-production, making sure everything was right and very insightful about the story and production. In the post-production, she sacrificed her own personal time, which made the impossible schedule work in the end. Meibei is an editor who is very insightful and creative about creating story structure. She is amazing in terms of editing skills and at the same time, also very sensitive of capturing emotions of characters,” said Song Huang, Director.

Because of the competition, time was limited when making Pumpkin and Fried Noodle, requiring a fast, hardworking and passionate editor like Liu. On top of this, she was able to connect with the two women’s stories in a way that audiences can instantly see when watching the film, making it a true masterpiece.

 

Aussie Actor Joel Hogan: A Good Judge of Character

Joel Hogan represents part of the new wave of successful young actors reaching their mark via a variety of platforms and mediums. In the past year alone, the trained thespian has served as an official juror for the Annual Los Angeles Diversity Film Festival (LADFF), and appeared in a lead role in the hit mockumentary series Unverified for Funny Or Die, produced by Will Ferrell, as well as a critical role in long-running Channel Seven hit show, Home and Away.

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Joel with fellow “Home and Away” stars James Stewart and Tania Dolan.

These accomplishments, all on top of his other leading acting roles around the world, mark what Joel calls “the result of many years of hard work and determination.”

But before we get to that, Joel sits down with us to talk about how his career has reached such awesome heights. “I’ve been extremely blessed.”

After moving to Los Angeles to feature as the lead of innovative filmmaker Marcus Mizelle’s film “Actor for Hire, opposite CSI actor JT Alexander, Joel was invited to attend numerous award ceremonies in celebration of “Actor for Hire’s” success. Additionally, he received an award for his acting work from the Orlando Film Festival for his role in the film. The festivals, which also included the Laugh or Die Comedy Fest, and HollyShorts Film Festival (which qualified the project for Oscar-contention), brought Joel in direct contact with key decision makers in Hollywood.

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“Actor for Hire” was profiled right around the world.

“Many people I met along the way were already familiar with my work, so meeting these power players face-to-face I think just gave a more relatable face to my name.” Some of that work with which those power players were familiar include Joel’s leading role in “Dirty Dancing: The Time of your Life,” which brought him worldwide fame to millions of viewers, and the title role in feature “Travis Jenkins.”

Prior to this, Joel enjoyed starring roles in other Australian films like “Bush Boys.” Since its release “Bush Boys” has been continually screened to audiences worldwide and is well known for selling over 50,000 copies in its first 2 months of release – a significant figure in the Australian entertainment industry. The film’s fan base stems from Mr Hogan’s continued success and high profile in other film productions like Actor for Hire and Home and Away, which screen around the world including the United Kingdom where Home and Away is the highest rated show. 1500 Steps has enjoyed similar levels of extraordinary success, reaching millions of viewers around the world through distribution on Amazon Prime.

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Joel Hogan front and centre, with his co-stars, on the poster for Australia’s “Hangover”, Bush Boys.”
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Joel with legendary “Anchorman” actor, Fred Willard, and fellow Australian actor, Myles Forster (“So, You Want to be a Gangster?”) at an event in Hollywood.

Those roles in part attracted the people behind the LADFF, a world-renowned film festival helmed by industry leaders Hollis McLachlan and Sonja Mereu (producer at Flathead Films), to invite Joel to be a judge for their slate of films. Sonja explained that Joel’s vote “specializ[ed] in acting performance and storytelling.”

Joel elaborates on his experience judging at the LADFF. “It was really fun and inspiring – it felt like such an honour to have my opinion about these films valued. One of the films I awarded, For Better, For Worse has gone on to win the Casablanca Award for Best Drama at the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival in Florida, as well as the Audience Choice Award at the DC Shorts film festival.”

Festival founders explained to our editors that judges are appointed based on their accomplishments, and strong standing with respect to a social cause. Joel, they explained, was appointed because of his wealth of acting experience, his position as an extraordinarily successful foreign actor, and his diverse talents across acting, singing and dancing. So well received was Joel’s service, he has since been invited to also judge at the Los Angeles Film Awards, the Actor Awards Los Angeles and Top Shorts, the world’s leading online film festival.

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Joel Hogan and well-known actor, Paul Michael Draper (“Lucid”, “Lemon Drop”)

But judging films is not entirely what has kept Joel occupied recently. In fact, he’s been busy with a slew of acting and industry projects that have reinforced his position as a trailblazer in entertainment. Impressively, he’s been featured on Access Hollywood as part of his role for the Lionsgate hit, “Open Water 3.” Coming up? He notably stars in a leading role in the US films Newave and Caged, as well as the lead role of Simon in the feature film “C.A.M” opposite “Pirates of the Caribbean” actor, Rupert Raineri. “Rupert was fantastic to work with,” Joel explains. “It’s always nice to share screen-time with people who are working hard, and aren’t distracted by the big-budget nature of the project.”

Joel adds, “We’re just there to tell a good story.”

Showing off his talent for exploring a wide range of genres, Joel moved onto playing the lead role of Derek (also spelled Derequé in a hilarious plot point) in the hit mockumentary series, “Unverified.” Distributed by the comedy powerhouse Funny Or Die, from founders Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (“The Big Short”), “Unverified” found awards success at the Accolade Global Film Festival, was given glowing reviews by TubeFilter and Film Ink among others, and co-starred Alex Cubis (“Mako Mermaids”), Courtney Dlugos (“South Beach”) and Landon Merrell (the upcoming “Dumplin’ with Jennifer Aniston).

Up next for the busy Australian?

“I’ve got a number of big film projects lined up, one of which is a collaboration with the award winning director David Tracy. David, alongside his mentor, David S. Goyer, the writer of “Batman Begins”, “Blade”, “Man Of Steel”, have been developing a film for me to star in for the last two years. I must admit, to say I am excited to work with these two influential Hollywood players would be a great understatement.”

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Joel in character from one of his many upcoming film projects.

Maria Venturini’s Style Reminds Viewers of the Creative Power of Cinema

Maria C. Venturini
Maria C. Venturini on set of “Waiting for Adams”

Throughout cinematic history, the most exalted and iconic filmmakers have been those who’ve had the vision and audacity to defy convention and blur the line between narrative and art. Italian director Maria Chiara Venturini is reminding audiences of cinema’s origin as an extension of the imagination.

Through her films, Venturini lovingly channels a nostalgic, avant-garde aesthetic that’s been absent from the silver screen for too long. Among her productions is the 2015 film “Ancien Régime,” an ode to the French New Wave and a thinly-veiled critique of vapid materialism. The film captured critics’ attention at festivals around the globe, and was chosen as the winner by judges at the Sprockets Film Festival in Toronto. At the heart of the sophisticated send-up is the iconic brand Chanel and its instantly recognizable style of highbrow black-and-white advertising.

“This was my first approach to black-and-white 16mm film. I liked the idea of creating something that would fit the look of the media itself — a dystopian world where a fashion dictator imposes his fashion rules on society seemed perfect,” Venturini described. “The film takes place in a classroom where the only word that people are allowed to say and teach is ‘Chanel,’ and the only solution for arithmetic problems is ‘N°5,’ like the perfume.”

To the untrained eye “Ancien Régime” is virtually indistinguishable from any of Chanel’s countless ad campaigns. Stark black-and-white cinematography, minimalist mise en scène and a strong focus on physical acting and borderline absurdism are defining characteristics of both “Ancien Régime” and the perfume giant it satirizes. To a great extent, however, Venturini’s affectionately ironic admonishment uses the iconic brand as a synecdochic catch-all for the kind of fanatical devotion many high-fashion brands elicit.

“We live in a society where sometimes we [confuse] real priorities with what’s [secondary]. Fashion… for some people comes before many more important issues. I wanted to pay homage to such a great brand, but also shake that part of the audience that behaves this way,” explained Venturini adding that, “with a smile you can make people understand the concept better too.”

Drawing inspiration from the surrealism of Salvador Dali and the eccentricity of Henry Selick, her 2015 film “The Laboratory of Dr. Enerd” offers a brilliantly dreamlike glimpse into the director’s mind.

“‘The Laboratory of Dr. Enerd’ is made with a stop-motion technique called pixelation that merges animation with human characters,” Venturini described. “I was exploring this new part of the world of animation but I still wanted to make a piece that will make the audience feel the same way I feel when I see other pixelation projects.”

Using the experimental new technology in combination with her years of experience in fine art photography, Venturini created a film which can only be described as simultaneously stop-motion and live-action. What may sound like a contradiction in terms is actually a mesmerizing, almost magical film about a young scientist and the outré experiments she conducts in her laboratory.

“Dr. Enerd is trying to follow her mother’s recipe to make something a little unusual,” explained Venturini. “Also bizarre are the ingredients and tools she decides to use in this preparation: unicorns, gummy bears, syringes and a stethoscope.”

The film is a meticulously calculated spectacle of imagination. From costuming and set design down to the finest details of every prop in the whimsical lab, every frame of “The Laboratory of Dr. Enerd” was crafted and vetted by Venturini with enormous care. That level of attention to color and design are perhaps what most distinguish the director as an artist first, filmmaker second. It’s also what earned the film the honor of being an official selection at the Citizen Jane Film Festival, as well as enabling it to reach audiences as far away as the Chinese festival circuit.

Venturini built on some of the stylistic eccentricities of “The Laboratory of Dr. Enerd” with her 2016 film “Waiting For Adams.” A much less vibrant film in comparison, “Waiting For Adams” instead takes on a more dreary aesthetic in its focus on a mysterious waiting room that seems disconnected from time and reality.

“‘Waiting for Adams’ is so far the most ethereal piece I’ve ever done. The whole project could be seen as just a dream,” she described. “People gave me lots of different interpretations of the story, and I felt like a psychiatrist that shows those inkblots to his patients.”

The film opens on a nun signing in at the reception desk of an indescript doctor’s office. As she takes a seat, keen-eyed cinephiles will recognize that she and the other waiting room patients are all characters from films that were nominated-but-snubbed at the Academy Awards.

“Only a movie geek could possibly know that all those characters are from movies that were nominated for an Oscar but lost. Thus, a desire for redemption brought them to consult one of the craziest plastic surgery doctors in order to change their look and have a second chance,” Venturini explained “Dr. Adams, inspired by Patch Adams, has no real surgery skills and ends up transforming everybody into monsters.”

One-by-one, a string of familiar characters enter the office of the insane Dr. Adams, and one-by-one they return as horrific beasts that would seem right at home in a Tim Burton movie. Meanwhile, the characters in the waiting room engage in awkward banter and show off their idiosyncrasies. The entire film is delightfully unusual and thoroughly original. Every detail is deliberately and painstakingly crafted to be like a dream — ethereal and open to interpretation. With “Waiting For Adams,” Venturini once again proved herself both a visionary director and artiste. Critics in Venturini’s native Italy rallied behind “Waiting For Adams,” choosing the film as an official selection at the Scrittura e Immagine Corto Film Festival.

More than a century ago, cinema began as an exciting new medium for artistic experimentation. Every few years since then, some brilliant mind will break through the mundane and familiar, uncovering for the first time some virgin territory in the limitless expanse of cinema’s artistic potential. In this generation of filmmakers, there are few figures as likely to follow in those revolutionary footsteps as Maria Venturini.

 

Samantha Van Der Sluis moves from Composing for the Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra to Feature Films & TV

Samantha Van Der Sluis
Samantha Van Der Sluis recording violin

Great cinema is far more than just the images projected on the screen. When a film’s score is truly exceptional, it can often tell as rich a story as the film itself. While moviegoers fix their gaze on the characters and places they see, it’s what they hear that often sets the tone and subtly guides their imaginations. Few people understand the relationship between sight and sound in cinema as well as film composer Samantha Van Der Sluis. Fueled by an early love of storytelling, Van Der Sluis strove to find a medium perfectly suited to the tales her mind would weave.

“I was 15 years old when I started learning to play songs on the piano,” Van Der Sluis recalled. “I started venturing toward other instruments like the violin, French horn, bass guitar, and choral singing.”

As she developed an understanding over an array of instruments, her mind became filled with countless unwritten scores desperate to see the light of day. She found the outlet she needed when she began her work as a composer.

“Once I discovered I could perform music, I realized I had the potential to create it too,” she said. “Music is meant to be shared and listened to, and I believe the best form takes place in visual media like film, where music works together with the visuals.”

Samantha Van Der Sluis
Samantha Van Der Sluis conducting an original composition

Before she began her work as a film composer, Van Der Sluis received critical acclaim for many of her orchestral compositions. One of her pieces, ‘Searching For Home,’ was chosen by the Dublin Philharmonic to be performed as part of their world tour in 2015. Soon after, composer Jeff Russo collaborated with Van Der Sluis as part of his team; and she was given her first big opportunity to shape the musical soundscape of an array of hugely-anticipated television titles. The wide-ranging list of projects Van Der Sluis worked on included the Golden Globe and Emmy-winning FX series “Fargo,” the CBS All Access series “Star Trek: Discovery,” and Netflix’s dystopian thriller “Altered Carbon.”

In 2017, Van Der Sluis composed the score for the tensely claustrophobic and relentlessly terrifying feature film “Landfall.” The film centers on a pair of young lovers as they barricade themselves inside their beach house, desperate to keep out something much more sinister than the impending cyclone.

Though “Landfall” was completely unlike any project she’d worked on before, Van Der Sluis’ meticulous and immersive approach to scoring the film was exactly the same as it had always been. She wrote every note of the score around what the characters were experiencing. But because suspense was a major component of the film, she was careful that the story her composition told didn’t tip off audiences to any of the story’s secrets.

“Over the duration of the film, a lot of questions the audience may have at first are answered,” she explained. “Because of these mysteries, I had to be very cautious of the score not to give away the unexpected twists in the plot.”

Directed by Travis Bain, “Landfall” stars two-time Melbourne Underground Film Festival Award winner Kristen Condon (“The Beautiful and the Damned”) as Maisie and Rob Stanfield (“Windscreen Watch”) as Dylan, the film’s main characters. A testament to the power of the film and Van Der Sluis’ work as a composer, “Landfall” was recently purchased for distribution by industry heavyweight Archstone Distributions.

“Landfall” director Travis Bain says, “Thanks in part to Sam’s terrific score for ‘Landfall’, we’ve now secured a worldwide distribution deal, which will see the film be released in multiple countries around the globe… Samantha brought plenty of enthusiasm plus a willingness to help me fulfill my directorial vision… Her professional scores really help elevate all the other elements of my films. Her music adds so much production value, and for international audiences and distributors who expect a certain level of quality, production value is everything.”

Samantha Van Der Sluis
Poster for the upcoming film “Landfall”

As the film progresses and more is revealed about protagonists Maisie and Dylan, it gradually becomes clear that neither is the person they initially seemed to be. In the same way, Van Der Sluis’ score evolves dramatically between the first introductions to the characters and the tense final moments of the film.

“I had to compose themes for the characters dependent of their situation and not who they were, because in Landfall, this has a very different meaning,” she said. “I created tense cues around the main female character, Maisie, utilizing chromatic melodies, atonal harmonies, a variety of rhythmic passage to achieve inconsistency, and cadence that never resolved… Later in the film, when the audience starts to understand the character’s situation, this music turns into something more tonal and warm.”

Masterfully, Van Der Sluis captured the film’s characters not as they were, but as the audience was meant to believe. Together with the action onscreen, her score lulls viewers into a false sense of security and sets them up to be shocked by the film’s big twists.

“For the duration of the film, until the last 20 minutes, we assume Dylan and Maisie are completely innocent — turns out they aren’t,” Van Der Sluis said, careful not to reveal too much. “The music in the last 20 minutes starts to reiterate themes of what was heard previously. The theme used for the bad guys are now being played when Dylan and Maisie are seen.”

As the storm closes in and the main characters’ true natures are seemingly unveiled, Van Der Sluis continues to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. Her score takes on a more sinister tone, building in urgency until the storm makes landfall and at last the full truth is revealed.

Prior to her work on “Landfall,” Van Der Sluis composed a much different score for a much different story. Soulful and nuanced, the 2016 drama “Day Off” is a tragic drama from director Stephen Hall that tells the story of a middle-aged couple whose lifelong love is being taken away by an insidious disease.

“A 50-something year old man is struggling with dementia and having trouble remembering things. He vanishes from his caretaker,” Van Der Sluis described. “His caretaker calls the man’s wife, Laura, explaining that he has walked off and she can’t find him. Laura leaves the cafe she was sitting at with her friend and runs around the city to find him.”

The film follows Laura as she desperately races to find her husband, Brendan. She’s frantic and alone, yet her determination is unwavering. Her search leads her to places from their past, when their life and future together seemed perfect.

“The most important scene was when Brendan wanders around, having flashbacks of his wedding day,” Van Der Sluis explained. “Although these are happy memories, he’s still frustrated because he feels like he’s forgotten something, and therefore, [like he’s] losing something.”

Van Der Sluis’ score for the film is poignant and resonant. The music of “Day Off” perfectly echoes the deeply-nuanced emotions felt by Brendan and Laura. Her compositions tell the same story as the dialogue and images on-screen; they ring with lows every bit as devastating and highs just as euphoric as those of the film itself. Without uttering a single word, it was with “Day Off” that Van Der Sluis proved herself a master storyteller.

“It starts off delicately with a lone piano, which gradually increases in size with strings, winds, and rhythm section. It begins with a sparse, minimal texture and evolves into a more orchestrated, thick texture, which constantly repeats itself,” she explained, before revealing just how meticulously she considered every detail of the piece. “The act of repetition is a little ironic, due to portraying a character who is having trouble remembering certain life moments. But because one of his important memories is still there, his wedding, the repetitive music pieces seems to work.”

Every note of every piece she’s written has been guided by her philosophy that cinema is at its most powerful when the two are weaved together. Her adherence to that guiding tenet, together with her unrivaled skill, earned her quite a bit of attention for “Day Off,” including a nomination for the Best Score award by the Underground Film Festival.

The full breadth of Samantha Van Der Sluis’ work is staggering, yet each of her projects is linked by a common thread. Regardless of how different any two films may be, Van Der Sluis’ defining quality as a composer is her ability to visualize a project from the perspective of a storyteller. That skill, together with a meticulous attention to detail and a virtuosic understanding of music on an instinctual level, are what make Samantha Van Der Sluis an unrivaled composer in modern narrative cinema.