Experience Chen Xu’s 5-channel surround sound method in hit Chinese film ‘The Wasted Times’

When Chen Xu thinks back to his childhood, he fondly recalls the way in which his admiration for sound shaped his youth and ultimately, his career in sound mixing and sound design. For the highly sought-after sound designer, it is difficult to recall a time where sound design wasn’t his main passion. At the age of 17, Xu watched Forrest Gump and notes the experience as being the first time he ever truly fell in love with a film. It inspired him to focus on a career in sound design and gave him the confidence boost he needed to take the film industry by storm. The now 36-year old, award-winning creative is just as enthused about his art form today as he was back then. His life is enriched by the opportunity to do what he loves day in and day out and he has no desire to stop any time soon.

A typical day as a sound mixer and sound designer requires the skill and expertise to be able to record sound and mix it creatively. Although this may sound relatively straightforward, it is no small feat to achieve on a daily basis. For instance, when Xu works on set, he is required to carefully position microphones in such a way that will capture sound as clearly and concisely as possible. In addition, he must learn a film’s storyline inside and out in order to thoroughly understand the types of sounds that will complement the characters’ conquests. In addition, during the post-production process, Xu must awaken his creative tendencies and use them to apply sounds in the most unique, yet appropriate manner possible. Where Xu truly shines, however, is when he is tasked with location sound mixing for a film’s script. Knowing how to effectively capture sound in a complex location is what Xu does best. He is a master of extracting compelling sounds from a loud, busy location and ensuring that there is nothing compromising the sound in order to enhance an audience’s viewing pleasure.

“When I’m sound mixing, my work is more focused on creativity. I need to design some unique sound effects according to the images and the storyline before me. Then, I need to edit and record some foley and sound effects before I can arrange each sound element to fit perfectly into each moment within the film. All of these steps allow me to help develop and compliment the storyline” noted Xu.

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In 2015, Xu was given a script for a film titled The Wasted Times, by well-known Chinese director, Er Cheng, who was confident that Xu possessed the skills necessary to take his script to the next level. Having already secured a $23.6 million budget and two of Asia’s most accomplished and award-winning stars, Ge You and Zhang Ziyi, Cheng was determined to make this film his most successful yet. In addition, he was intent on making the sound design in The Wasted Times unlike anything his audiences had ever heard before. With that, beyond dialogue alone, he wanted to use as many location sounds as possible and to make best use of live recorded sound effects and foley. Given the film’s budget, cast, and unique content, he needed someone with both the experience and creative edge required to rise to the challenge. Fortunately for Cheng, Xu was compelled by the script and eager to take part.

The Wasted Times depicts the life of a legendary mafia boss in modern Chinese history. Through the use of a biographical narrative, the film follows a violent and betrayal-ridden deal between the Japanese army and criminals in Shanghai. For Xu, working on The Wasted Time presented a number of challenges he hadn’t previously encountered in his career. For instance, due to the fact that several of the film’s scenes were shot inside state- and city-level protected historic buildings, he had to master the ability to capture vocal exchanges in historical settings, as opposed to the more modern buildings he was used to working in. In order to do so, Xu led his team in adopting a pioneering approach whereby he recorded a 5-channel surround sound effect during production sound mixing. In addition, he made use of two additional stereo microphones in order to account for any and all reverberation, echoes, and delay of sounds in real time. This led to Xu having recorded and mixed approximately 80% of the film’s final dialogues and about 50 per cent of the sound effects using his location sound. It therefore goes without saying that Xu proved himself to be instrumental throughout the entire process, being able to provide carefully thought-out solutions to each potential problem the crew encountered. He is undoubtedly a strong contributor to The Wasted Times’widespread success and feels honored knowing that the film went on to receive four award wins and ten nominations from some of the industry’s most acclaimed organizations and festivals, including the Asian Film Awards, China Film Director’s Guild Awards, and the prestigious Macau International Movie Festival.

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For Xu, however, the true highlight of working on The Wasted Times was embedded within the reality that for him, this film was far more than just a sound production process. Being able to film at authentic locations such as the residence of Pu Yi, China’s last empire, as well as in a 1920s car loaned from an antique car museum helped Xu acquaint himself with the type of lifestyle of the individuals depicted in the film. He credits the experience of working on this film as helping build his understanding of people’s lives in that era and helping make it feel familiar to him. It was both a cultural and career-building opportunity and Xu couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome.

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Jason Strong Opens Up about Producing Music in the Modern Age and his Original Composition ‘Loaded’ Being Featured in the Phenoms’ Premiere

Music Producer Jason Strong
Music Producer Jason Strong shot by Alex Winter

From being the songwriter on a long list of hit songs to producing tracks for well-known international artists, music producer Jason Strong has become a sought after force behind the scenes.

Tapped to work with artists on major labels such as Capitol Records, some of Strong’s most recognizable work includes producing the song ‘Que Los Mares No Se Enteren’ by Nico Farias, which earned the coveted award for Best Song of the Year from the 2015 Latin Billboard Music Awards and placed No. 1 on the Itunes Charts in Guatemala, and Capital Records’ artist Naïka’s hit single ‘Ride,’ which has been streamed nearly four million times on Spotify and placed No. 2 on the platform’s popular Global Viral & US Viral Chart. He’s also been a songwriter behind a plethora of tracks that have garnered viral fame, such as ‘Wrong’ by Far Out ft. Emilia Ali, Lauren Carnahan’s ‘Criminal,’ ‘No Conversion’ from Thoreau ft. MNYS, and many more.

So how did a 20-something from Johannesburg, South Africa make it in one of the world’s most competitive industries?

The powerful position Strong finds himself in today comes from a combination of the creativity, innovation and skill that he brings to the table, but even more valuable is his talent for producing and writing tracks that defy genre-imposed limits.

“I think the success of a producer in a day and age where technology drives such rapid changes in creative possibilities is determined by their ability to adapt,” says Strong. “My intention is to continually learn from different styles and take from different musical words to create a blend of elements that makes for something unique and interesting. I will however, always focus on making music that is accessible to the masses, i.e. popular music.”

Strong, who began playing music in his youth, earned extensive praise for his skill as a guitarist and songwriter back home in South Africa where he was named the winner of the VIEBZ Music Competition, as well as the First Prize winner for National Eisteddfod Academy in the Best Contemporary Instrumentalist category. Forming the band Vacant Sun, Strong found himself playing alongside South Africa’s most recognizable groups, including Crash Car Burn, DJ Roger Goode, Graeme Watkins Project and others. However, upon earning a scholarship as a songwriter and guitarist to attend Berklee School of Music in the states, his dream school, leaving the world of local fame behind was a no brainer. And it was there that he first discovered his love for working as a music producer for other artists.

“Sitting down with an unproduced song leaves an endless realm of possibilities. The idea that I could dig into that creation and make it into a million different versions to appeal to a million different types of people, all within the comfort of my bedroom was insane to me. I’ve also just always loved sound and having the tools at my fingertips to manipulate sound into the crazy things I imagine in my head, and having the ability to do that got me obsessed.”

Though the numerous songs he’s written and produced for popular artists around the world have gained major attention, the interesting thing when looking at all of his works combined is just how different each one is from the others.

Strong says,“I like to think my journey thus far is unique in that I come from a diverse musical background and have experienced and lived through different cultures with different interests and diverse forms of art, which all influence who I am today and what my taste is.”

‘Que Los Mares No Se Entheren,’ the award-winning song Strong produced alongside longtime collaborator Peder Etholm-Idsoee for Nico Farias, sticks out clearly from the rest with its blend of a classic Latin vibe and an old-school British sound.

With layered instruments reminiscent of popular tracks by The Beatles, the working process Strong and Etholm-Idsoee enlisted as producers, for Strong at least, was quite different than most of his previously produced tracks.

He explains, “I usually program drums electronically as most music does nowadays, but on Nico’s project every instrument was live and played by musicians simultaneously. We would record live drums with over 20 mics on the drum kit playing at the same time as the bass guitar into a recording console in a big studio.”

The success of the song not only speaks to Strong’s astonishing talent as a music producer, but even more vital, to his ability to adapt to the needs of the artists he produces for, which often means taking an alternative approach to the process than one is used to– but that’s how new pathways are created, and it’s one of the reasons he stands out.

“My goal is always to make something that is the perfect combination of familiar and unfamiliar. Unique and unfamiliar enough to catch the listener’s attention, but familiar enough to keep the listener engaged. I love sound and am always hitting the most random objects to see if there’s any sound I can record that will make listeners go ‘woah what was that?’ I think many producers are scared of thinking outside the box, but I try to live outside the box.”

Despite having achieved a rare level of success as a music producer, Strong continues to expand on his already impressive repertoire of work. One of his newest forays is into the world of film and television. Strong’s original composition ‘Loaded’ will be featured in the first episode of the highly anticipated premiere of the FOX Sports series “Phenoms,” which airs May 25 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.

Strong admits, “I’ve done a lot of sync work for social media platforms but in the realm of television this is my first, of many to come.”

A five-part global sports documentary series “Phenoms” depicts the journey of the world’s greatest soccer players as they prepare to represent their respective countries in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Created by award-winning storytellers including Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, Leo Pearlman, David Brooks and more, “Phenoms” gives viewers behind-the-scenes access to iconic players such as Dele Alli, Davinson Sanchez, Marco Asensio, Paulo Dybala, Gabriel Jesus, Ousmane Dembele, Adrien Rabiot, Leon Goretzka, Corentin Tolisso, Hirving Lozano and Marquinhos.

About the composition featured in the first episode, Strong says, “I aimed for something that was uptempo and danceable, with big and aggressive sounds to echo the high energy that you would experience when watching a great soccer game in a stadium.”

Much of what makes audiences remember scenes from a film or television series comes from the level of emotional attachment they develop from a combination of striking visuals and the music synced up to the unfolding story. Just as the music is key in eliciting emotional responses within viewers and effectively drawing them deeper into the story, it is vital for the composer to know when to hold back.

“Composing for film is humbling in that you have to learn to take a step back and let the visuals do the work. My job is to enhance a very sense stimulating experience, and to over stimulate multiple senses for the viewer is detrimental,” explains Strong.

“Knowing how to keep things simple and find ways to enhance the visual experience is key. This is similar to pop music in that I have to leave space for the song and vocals to speak, but at least in that case it’s only one sense being stimulated and the listener’s attention is less easily diverged.”

Approaching every project with intention, Jason Strong’s knowledge of how much to give and to hold back when it comes to the music he produces for other artists, as well as taking into account the medium the music is being used for is one of the reasons he’s been so successful at his craft as a producer. Make sure to keep your eyes and ears peeled for his work in the premiere episode of “Phenoms” on May 25. He also produced the album for Capital Records artist Naïka, which is due out later this year.  

 

Actor Kevin Dary brings himself into his character with award-winning performance in ‘The Swamp’

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Kevin Dary, photo by Brad Buckman

With every role Kevin Dary takes on, he brings a small piece of himself and merges it with his character. To transform into another person, he puts himself in their shoes, seeing what parts of his own life connect with theirs. He forgets who he is until he hears the director call “cut” and that is what makes him such a captivating actor.

“I see actors as toys for a director. It’s as if the director is this kid using his imagination and playing around, telling a story, and the actors are his action figures,” he described.

Having worked on many esteemed films, such as Pregoand Pandora’s Box, Dary has shown audiences around the world what he is capable of as an actor. His versatility is evident with every project he takes on, spanning across a variety of genres and mediums. This is exemplified yet again with his work on the 2017 drama The Swamp.

The Swamp was the first project where Dary had the opportunity to work with director Wenhao Gao, originally from China. He was immediately attracted to the script because one of the main themes for Gao was the perception of someone and the judgement from others that this perception brings. Dary played the main character, Vincent, who is accused of killing the dog of his neighbor. It is a dramatic and emotional film that encourages audiences to think outside of the box, not just about the story but their actions in general. Have you ever been in Vincent’s situation? Or have you been one of the accusers? This story, while extreme, does make you think, and not just through its shock value of a little girl’s pet that gets killed.

“I worked together with Wenhao, who also wrote the project, to bring a fully fleshed out character and I offered some of my personal experience in dealing with the way people look at you, for this is a subject that I know all too well, and I still face today,” said Dary.

The film premiered to a limited audience in The Burbank Studios, Burbank, in November 2017. The film was awarded an Award of Recognition, category Lead Actor, for Dary’s performance as Vincent, from the Best Shorts Competitions in March 2018, and the Gold Award for Best Short Film from the LA Shorts Awards in that same month. It will be continuing its festival run in June. Such success could never have been possible without Dary’s outstanding performance.

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Kevin Dary as Vincent in The Swamp, photo by Mairi Sõelsepp

“Working with Kevin is very pleasant and a good experience. I was really happy to have him in my project as the leading actor. Kevin not only has good acting skills, but also his nice personality made our cooperation go well. Kevin has very good understanding of a script and his character. When we did rehearsals and polished the details, I felt that he really put himself into the story, not just to finish a job. As a director, it’s really important to be able to get some new inspirations and ways to make the characters vivid through communicating with actors. From his performance and feedback, Kevin showed me more possibilities of who and what his character can be, and how to serve the story better,” said Wenhao Gao, Director of The Swamp.

Vincent is the lead character of this film and the story is told through his point of view. Because of this, Dary knew the importance of his work and made sure to keep the audience guessing. Many scenes cater to this, with the lead character showing a lot of anger and confusion. Dary wanted to push this even further, choosing to yell in certain scenes to show he may be capable of anything, but also exude the emotion behind each action, showing that each reaction was very human.

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The Swamp film poster

“I remember that when I first read about the breakdown of Vincent, I was intrigued by the idea of this guy described as ‘not a slacker, not a bad guy, just has had a really long night’. When I got to take a look at the whole script and found out his motivations and what he was going through. The film is a great story about prejudices and stereotypes, with an ending that goes against the traditional Hollywood happy ending,” said Dary.

What was unique about this story, and Vincent’s character, is that by the end of the movie it is not revealed if he is guilty of what he was accused of. The writer and director however, told Dary he could make that choice on his own and then act with that choice in mind. What do you think he decided? You’ll have to watch The Swampto find out.

“I love tackling the idea of prejudices and preconceived ideas about people. As someone who has a different style than ‘the norm’, I have been prone to judgment from others. You get to witness how far people are willing to take their assumptions, just based on what they heard, saw, or even think they saw. Sure, it made me stronger in the end, but just like Vincent, I still suffer from that today and it can be hard to stay true to yourself when you feel overwhelmed. Getting to do a piece about that issue that is still dear to me felt good. It shows that while there still sadly is a need for such stories, the battle is definitely not lost as long as we stay strong,” he concluded.

Editor Ran Ro uses fashion as means of storytelling in new video

Born and raised in South Korea, Ran Ro loves being a film and video editor. She enjoys arranging different shots together to tell a cohesive story, especially when a project largely relies on sound and music. As an editor, she gets to create moments between characters and helps the audience feel and see the world from the perspectives of those characters, and that, for her, is pretty special.

“Editing for me is almost similar to speaking in public except I get to trim or cut out parts that aren’t necessary before the speech happens. I’m a terrible public speaker though so editing is a much better way of communication for me because I can then finesse the ‘speech’, so to speak,” said Ro.

Ro has become a leader in the editing industry and recently has worked on many prolific projects, including a commercial for BackBeatRags celebrating their environmentally-friendly clothing line as well as a series of videos for Tastemade, creating culinary travel videos for digital distribution across all platforms, from Facebook to Instagram and everything in between. The highlight of Ro’s career, however, came just last year after her film In Between premiered and was recognized at film festivals around the world.

“It was very meaningful to me since the project was written based on my childhood experience of growing up with my grandmother. I was initially very hesitant to make the film, especially with difficult scenes that were set in otherworldly places and were complicated to execute. But with the help of my crew, we were able to make it happen and it was rewarding to see that the viewers resonated with the story,” she said.

Earlier this year, Ro collaborated with Elite Models to create a teaser video showcasing the new face of the agency. After noticing a lack of videos for the Los Angeles based branch, the director and Ro reached out to Elite Model Management and pitched an idea about making a showcase video for the new models at Elite. Once the project was approved to be made, Ro reached out to a team to get them on board, and the work began.

“It was incredible to work with such a passionate team and help Elite Model Management to showcase the new models by making content with beautiful imageries and a high production value,” said Ro.

Elite Model Management is one of the top agencies worldwide, and Ro recognized the need for a high-production value video for their marketing. The main goal on this project was to highlight the natural beauty of the models. Ro and her team had an idea of building a spacious palace with sheer linens where the sunlight would diffuse through them. She worked on making a visual treatment together with the director, pitched the idea to the management, and also found the music piece that best complimented the video. Also acting as a producer on the project, Ro recruited many that she believed would be a good fit.

Knowing that her editing would be driven by the music that would be chosen, Ro communicated with the cinematographer about the pace of the music, which affected his decision on the use of slow motion effects. She was very specific about the speed of the slow motion and it really enhanced the editing.

By understanding the director’s vision thoroughly while still having a vision of her own, Ro was essential to the project’s success. She was involved from the very beginning, and her commitment is evident in the final piece. She made sure that every detail in the production – from styling to the choice of music – was in line with the concept that was initially pitched. Her deep understanding of the project also facilitated the editing process, as throughout the entirety of filming she had a clear idea of which shot to use and how to structure the video while blending the visuals and music together to tell a powerful story about the agency.

“In addition to the company’s immense success, I really admire Elite’s mission – they embrace diversity, change and inclusiveness – I think those are the values that we need to be reminded of as filmmakers,” she said.

Using fashion as a means of storytelling was fascinating for the editor, and she believes it broadened her horizon as an editor. She knows the importance of versatility in her career and is always looking for new mediums to explore with her talents. She encourages those looking to follow in her footsteps to do the same.

“I think it’s extremely helpful to work on as many projects possible as an editor to find your editing style and what kind of content that you want to edit. I found it very helpful to work on the administrative side of post-production, as I learned and gained knowledge about the business and the post production workflow,” she concluded.

 

 

Liam Casey Sullivan on honor of continuing the conversation about addiction

Most successful actors will tell you that they do not act for the fame or for the fortune, they act for the thrill. They act because their job lets them connect with dozens of strangers, allowing them to contemplate the various aspects of the human condition together. They act because it is their creative outlet and their chance to take an audience along journeys they may never otherwise experience. They act because it keeps them alive. It doesn’t matter if an actor is young or old, new to the screen or a household name, actors act because unlike other professions, theirs allows them to escape reality and explore their souls before the eyes of the world. For these reasons and many more, Liam Casey Sullivan acts and with his rare combination of passion, talent, and perseverance, he is likely to live before a camera for decades to come.

“As an actor, I am required to delve into the bank of my personal experiences and surface the same feelings or emotions that my character is experiencing at any given time. Through respective research and seeking sympathy for the person I’m playing — however challenging that may be — I aim to grasp a complete understanding of their point of view so that I may be able to adopt it. Once I do this, I then embark on understanding their relationship with others by sourcing parallels from people I know in my life and from other stories. Although I may not have shared the same experiences and relationships as my character, I can revert to alternate moments I’ve lived in order to render even the slightest bit of those same reactions and capitalize upon them so I may appear as though I have lived them,” tells Sullivan.

Sullivan’s remarkable ability to ease in and out of character is arguably his greatest asset, and something he has done successfully for a number of different on and off screen productions, such as for the hit teen drama Degrassi: Next Class and The Girlfriend Experience. What tends to differentiate Sullivan from his competition, however, is his ability to adopt and portray traits that are entirely different from his own personality. Not only does he do so exceptionally, he thoroughly enjoys playing characters entirely unlike him. In fact, he considers playing Dougie in the Canadian film, Mary Goes Round, to be the highlight of his film career solely because he had the opportunity to play a conceited, selfish character.

Mary Goes Round follows the life of Mary, a substance abuse counsellor with a drinking problem. After being arrested for drunk driving and losing her job, Mary returns to her hometown where she learns that her estranged father is dying of cancer and wants to form a bond with Mary and her teenage half-sister that she has never met. In the film, Sullivan’s character Dougie conceals his own insecurities through a mask of obnoxiousness and arrogance. His lack of true friendships and general loneliness cause him to fiend attention and subsequently irritate those around him.

Ultimately, Sullivan’s character proved instrumental to Mary Goes Round’s great success and his performance on screen, in conjunction with his input behind the camera, highlights just how valuable he can be on any given project. After premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017, Mary Goes Round was featured in several other festivals across North America. In addition, it won three prestigious awards, including Best Narrative Feature at the Annapolis Film Festival in 2018 and The Panavision Spirit Award for Independent Cinema at the Santa Barbara Film Festival in 2018.

What Sullivan enjoyed most about playing Dougie was the fact that he was able to explore and portray a personality type that he hadn’t ever depicted before. In addition, the film’s director, Molly McGlynn, was open to experimenting with the script and offering her cast an opportunity to rework and modify their scenes as they saw fit. Under these circumstances, Sullivan was able to allow his creative nature and unique style to flourish and he quickly proved himself invaluable to the production. Ultimately, however, Sullivan was honored to have taken part in shining a light on an extremely prevalent and relatable topic. Knowing that he was able to take part in a broader conversation about addiction left Sullivan feeling fulfilled and hopeful that audiences would be able to look at this social crisis from the unfamiliar, but interesting angle he helped create.

“In all, I liked that this story rings true to how much of an ongoing struggle battling addiction can be. A drinking problem has the power to haunt you for your entire life and this story is unforgiving when it comes to highlighting the truth and the daunting reality of addiction. This story not only spreads an awareness to the public but also gives a healthy sense of hope to those who may be facing similar problems as Mary and it felt great to have played a part in that,” Sullivan concludes.

 

Top photo by Helen Tansey

Yuito Kimura uses unique cinematography style to create masterful pieces of art

As a child, Yuito Kimura always enjoyed watching mystery and crime movies. At the time, he would just watch them as a source of entertainment. Now, he appreciates them from an artistic standpoint, noting how each shot is framed and how the filmmakers chose to tell the story. As a celebrated cinematographer, Kimura’s style was inspired by such films, being dark, contrasted, and stylized, using practical lighting. He carefully pays attention to framing, camera angles and movement depending on the scene and what the character is doing. If there is a scene about a girl crying by herself, he won’t just frame the character without having meaning behind why he chose to do so. His job is to tell her emotions by choice of lens, framing and camera movement. Such attention to detail makes Kimura a standout in his industry and shows just how much talent he possesses.

No matter what project he takes on, Kimura makes sure it is the best he can visually be with his work. The Japanese native has shot everything from music videos, such as “We are Stars” by Snowy Angels, to commercials, like the one for Townforst, to acclaimed films including Star Wars: Amulet of Urlon and Back to the Future?. He consistently impresses all those he works alongside with his commitment to his work.

“Yuito was wonderful to work with – he always showed up on time and when he came to work, he brought his creative suggestions on how to make a scene better. His extensive knowledge about camera lenses and how to angle the camera had a positive impact on many of our scenes in the film. Yuito also put together a hard-working crew who never complained and always had a positive attitude while on set. He has a unique way of looking at a scene and telling a story. He is very thorough and made sure that my vision was being brought to light during filming. The fact that he is willing to take risks when capturing a shot for a scene makes him vastly different than a lot of other DPs who tend to stick to what’s safe and traditional,” said Christina Kim, Director who worked with Kimura on the film Dropping the S Bomb.

Dropping the S Bomb tells the story of the not so book smart Cassie, who, after discovering that the guy of her dreams plans on attending Stanford, does whatever it takes to be accepted, even if it means doing things that may get her kicked out of school if she gets caught.

“I really like the idea of the story. The girl is trying to get into Stanford because the boy she likes goes there. She does do whatever it takes to get into school and I really like those funny and silly decisions and actions that she would do for him. Throughout the story, I’ve learned that nothing is impossible. It reminds me of my school era. It gives me sympathy,” said Kimura.

While shooting this film, Kimura made sure to always stay focused despite a fast shooting rotation. This is what he enjoyed most about working on the film. With such a fast-pace, he had to come up with ideas quickly, and he was given a lot of freedom to do so. He needed to think about more than he usually did and deeply understand the story compared to other projects.

The film was then screened at Action on Film International Film Festival 2016, Nice International Film Festival 2016, Action on Film International Film Festival 2016, Hollywood Dreamz International Film Festival 2017, and Phoenix Comicon Film Festival 2017. Kimura is proud of what they could achieve through hard work and a great story.

Most recently, Kimura shot a commercial for Townforst Slip Resistant Shoes for both television and online. It follows an Asian businessman who encounters an unexpected event after he goes back to his office at night. It is a sexual comedy, and although it is a commercial, Kimura knew the importance of telling a good story.

In this project, Kimura used two kinds of contrast styles to achieve a mysterious mood and add to the comedy. He used one style for the visual, and another style for the story. From the beginning shot to climax, all shots are contrast. When it hits the climax, he then used a more flattering lighting style to show what was truly going on. The moment he read the script, he came up with this idea to help enhance the story, knowing that as a cinematographer, he is vital to telling it.

“Yuito is an extraordinary cinematographer. He works really hard and focuses on his profession, treating every detail so seriously. He is also a very creative cinematographer who always has new ideas and concepts to make the films better. He has a unique eye and is an asset to every production he works on. He really loves what he does. His passion is totally on this field,” said Phenix Jiangfu Miao, Director and Production Designer.

Watch the Townforst Slip Resistant Shoes spot here, the winner of Best Commercial at the Los Angeles Film Festival 2018.

Production Designer Elisia Mirabelli creates make believe to explore fundamental aspects of reality

When Elisia Mirabelli was a young child, she found learning to read to be a challenge. Because of this, she found herself stepping inside the experiences of other people through film, rather than books. This began a lifelong passion for the medium, teaching her empathy and the certainty that every single person has a story to tell.

Mirabelli’s first filmmaking experience came when she was just a teenager when she was the production designer of a short film that made its way to the esteemed Toronto International Film Festival Kids. It was then when she realized she could turn her passion for filmmaking and design into a fruitful career. She has since dedicated her life to creating the “make believe” and yet using her talent to teach audiences the most intimate aspects of reality.

“Sometimes I can’t decipher the difference between a personal memory and something that happened in a film. For me, they are one in the same. Working in film feels like I’m part of a community of magic makers fueling one giant empathy machine,” said the Toronto native.

With her contributions on the film Let Me Down Easy and the acclaimed web series Night Owl,Mirabelli shows audiences around the world just what she is capable of as a production designer. In her home country of Canada, she continues to impress with her work with Bell Media and DHX Media.

Another highlight on Mirabelli’s resume came back in 2013 with her film Pretty Thing, telling the story of an elderly man reflecting on the lost moments and broken truths surrounding the butterflies that escaped from the mouth of the girl who got away. Pretty Thingrelied heavily on production design as the film is influenced by a blend of magic realism and classic fairy tales. Although the film is rooted in a contemporary setting, the film’s protagonist looks back on moments shared between him and a lost love with a romanticized, dreamlike luminosity. These flashes of time spent together were filmed in tailored sets and locations designed to reflect the magical, surreal quality of falling in love. These sets included a stage equipped with a hand painted pastel arch and mock vintage floor lights situated in a field with wildflowers and plunging hills, a bathroom with a clawed footed tub surrounded by a sea of antique champagne bottles and a bedroom lined with teal baroque wallpaper chock-full of wilted floral bouquets and arrangements.

Pretty Thing follows the memories of an old man who is fixated on the narrative of ‘the one that got away’. As the film continues we learn that his estrangement is less of a romanticized, fairy-tale like parting and is in fact an outcome of his possessive and controlling behavior. For him, she is merely a pretty thing, an entity he wants to pin down and have for himself. There is an exploration of the way women are objectified in film. The method in which they have been traditionally objectified through the male gaze, their form sliced up in close-ups, their appearances gussied up and painted, filmed with a soft light like some angelic plaything there to be gawked at, won, saved or, if they’re in control of their autonomy, shamed, tainted, slandered, destroyed, ‘not the keeping kind’. It is an important story, even now, five years later,” said Mirabelli.

After premiering online with The National Screen Institute, Pretty Thing carried a successful festival tour, which included The Seattle International Film Festival, and took home several awards across North American festivals. However, the highlight for Mirabelli came when the filmed was screened at Cannes and was then handpicked to represent Canadian talent at the festival by Telefilm. Seeing the film at such a prestigious setting and knowing it had been selected to represent her country was one of the most surreal and fulfilling experiences of Mirabelli’s career.

Pretty Thing is a project rooted in the storytelling aptitude of production design. Each frame of the film is like a painting, not purely its splendour, but also in the sense that each piece of film the is open to interpretation, where meaning is altered by the perception of those that look upon it. Being able to disentangle a film purely through an aesthetic lens was a production designer’s dream, and an opportunity Mirabelli took full advantage of.

The most extraordinary aspect of the production design was the film’s opening and closing scenes which had a live butterfly flying out of the mouth of one of our characters. To achieve this, the butterflies had to be kept at 4° C which left them in a sleeplike state. The temperature of the actors; mouths would then awaken the butterflies, creating an incredible result far superior to any visual effects done in post-production.

Mirabelli’s work helped convey the films reference to the way many refurbish an agonizing memory to suit the narrative they tell themselves about what kind of person they are. Shaping the films design meant creating two dissimilar, nonetheless linked, worlds. Sets were first captured in their most striking, glittering almost fairy-tale like forms followed by the practice of withering them down, skinning their facades, peeling away all the layers that make them shine. Without the films production design, there really would be no Pretty Thing, and without Mirabelli, it may never have been the visual masterpiece that it is.

“The unconstrained ability to construct art that supported the story so heavily was amazing. To create a gleaming, intricate and elaborate succession of worlds only to place as much importance and thought on knocking them all down. Obliterating your work and seizing the bones of that ruin on film felt like a gift that few production designers are given,” she concluded.

Be sure to check out Pretty Thing to see not only the outstanding production design from Mirabelli, but also an impactful and relevant story.

Actor Ryan Davies Comes into His Own

Actor Ryan Davies’ fast moving career has encompassed just about the entire dramatic range in a short decade’s time. The charismatic British-born Davies’ roster of experience includes everything from playing Hamlet and Chekov’s Uncle Vanya at prestigious London proving ground the Workhouse Theater to commercials, music videos, television and feature films, a trove of professional achievements which have placed Davies very close to the apex of the acting world.

Surprisingly, the intense, blue eyed Davies had little interest in the field, until fate intervened. “I grew up in Wells in the West of England, a rural city with few artistic opportunities,” Davies said. “I spent most of my youth working on a building site but knew it wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

“I was staying with a friend in London for a week and he was taking a 4-day audition course at [drama academy] The Poor School,” Davies said. “And since I was at a loose end, I thought I’d go along and try it too, just something to alleviate being on my own in a strange city. I didn’t intend to pursue a career in acting, but at the end of the 4 days I was offered a place on the course.”

From that unlikely start, Davies entire life was redefined. “I immediately quit my job on the building site, moved to London and the rest, as they say, is history. I trained at The Poor School in London between 2008 and 2010 and I continue to train at The Actor’s Centre, London.

Subsequent high-profile assignments include a memorable turn as the corrupt villain of producer Adi Shankar’s “X-Men” prequel “Grey Café,” a recurring role in the STARZ/BBC Worldwide original series “DaVinci’s Demons” and an upcoming role in another historical period piece, the forthcoming “Fall of the Templars.”

One of the key moments in Davies’ sure, steady rise to prominence was his performance in director-writer Maria Balduzzi’s acclaimed 2016 short “Wolves,” a nuanced drama in which he excelled as the troubled teenaged protagonist’s father.

“’Wolves’ is a lovely film, about a boy who has a very strained relationship with his single parent father,” Davies said. “The boy uses the woods next to their home as a daily escape from the realities of his life. One day he comes across another boy running away from his own problems, their burgeoning friendship allows him to eventually reconnect with his estranged father.”

“It was an interesting and very challenging role,” Davies said. “It required me to convey the whole spectrum of emotions, and as the relationship between father and son was the emotional heartbeat of the film, it was integral that the audience connected with and cared about both of them.”

Davies’ signature combination of subtle restraint and deep involvement served him well, and elevated the film to an impressive level of dramatic craftsmanship.

“’Wolves’ revolves around the complicated relationship between a father and his son and Ryan was able to give the role the emotional gravitas it required,” Balduzzi said. “It’s very much a film about love. I wanted the film to represent the way we experience life and memory in our most intimate moments and much of the film’s success is due to Ryan’s performance.”

The film was well received in the UK, where it was nominated for Best Short Film at the Iris Prize Awards 2017, and was also selected for screening at the prestigious London Short Film Festival. Balduzzi herself went on to pick up the ‘Horizon Award’ for Most Promising Filmmaker at the 24fps Festival in Texas, where the festival organizers characterized it as “an exceptional piece of work.”

“Wolves” was an important step in the Davies career, one that initiated a new professional momentum. “I came into the industry relatively late, so I’m keen to make up for lost time,” he said. “There’s been a real buzz about ‘Wolves’ that opened up some doors and led to many other opportunities for me and I’ve gone on to be cast in a wealth of other projects, so I’m very fortunate in that respect.”

For Davies, timing has been critical, but his steady reliability and dedication to creative expression practically guaranteed the series of successes which he has enjoyed. With a palpable momentum building, the actor is poised for even greater accomplishments, but he always maintains his own coolly authoritative, resolutely professional methodology.

“I approach each role, no matter how big or small, in exactly the same manner,” Davies said. “I look for characters I can get under the skin of, and I try to bring my individual stamp to each role—and I make sure to have fun along the way.”

Graphic Artist Vinita Bakhale contributes to important scene in Academy Award-nominated Feature Film

The Big Sick (2017) Children's Playground Theatre Graphic Art by Vinita Rachel Bakhale Property Of Lionsgate
Vinita Bakhale working on artwork for “The Big Sick”

Although Vinita Bakhale grew up in the small town called Oakville, Ontario, located just out of Toronto, she was often inspired by her great-uncle, Diwakar. Diwakar Karkare was a famous Film Poster Artist in the Indian Film Industry. For nearly 30 years, he hand-painted official film posters and key film art for theaters, massive billboards, and building signage. As a child, Vinita really looked up to him, and he inspired her to pursue an interest in the film and television industry. Now she is a working Graphic Artist for Film and Television, where she is often hired early pre-production and is responsible for helping visualize sets and provide her skills in graphics based on the Production Designer’s vision.The Big Sick Poster

Vinita has many celebrated projects on her resume. She worked on the television series shows, Happy, as well as Damien and the Netflix hit Riverdale. She still finds herself surprised at the good fortune for getting to work on such interesting productions.

A year and a half ago, she was hired to create the visual imagery for an important scene on a small indie film with a low-budget of five million dollars. Since then, that indie film, whose name happens to be, The Big Sick went on to gross 55 million dollars in revenue, as well as gain international fame when it was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay this past February 2018.

Co-Produced by Judd Apatow, The Big Sick tells the story of Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani), who is in the middle of becoming a budding stand-up comedian when he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan). Meanwhile, a sudden illness sets in forcing Emily to be put into a medically-induced coma. Kumail must navigate being a comedian, dealing with his girlfriend’s tragic illness, and placating his family’s desire to let them fix him up with a spouse, while contemplating and figuring out who he really is and what he truly believes.

“I love how Kumail and Emily as screenwriters took the story of an immigrant’s journey and made it humorous without overwhelming the audience with any slapstick comedy or bombarding them with euphemisms. They made the movie relatable and personal with an amazing and humorous script,” said Vinita. “I am a fan of Judd Apatow, who has produced so many hilarious and memorable films and television shows. When I read somewhere that he was going to be one of the co-producers, I was so excited.”

TheBigSick (2017) Playground Theatre Graphic Art by Vinita Bakhale Property of Lionsgate
Playground Theatre Graphic Art by Vinita Bakhale Property of Lionsgate

The Production Designer hired Vinita to provide her technical skills as a Graphic Artist and visualize an important scene in the film, when the lead character Kumail performs his one-man-show in front of his future wife, Emily and her friend for the first time. The Graphic Artist did a good job matching the location photographs and created relevant graphic imagery of the Playground Theatre set so that the Production Designer could utilize the imagery to show Producers how the scene would play out.

As a general rule, while working on productions as a Graphic Artist for Film and Television, Vinita’s first point of reference is the script.

She goes through the script and makes notes of all the relevant visual and imagery graphics that would be required of her to produce. After this, she goes about researching specifics. Vinita consults with the Production Designer and coordinates with the key visual departments including, the Props Department, Set Decoration Department, and Costume Department to see what other support they may require of her as the Graphic Artist. Once she consults with everyone, she begins the creative process. This is where her instinct as an Artist comes into play. She creates imagery relevant to the script, and most importantly, by designing an aesthetic that flows with the Creator/Producer’s vision.

“Although it’s always a new experience working with a new script, new design aesthetic, new design references etc., the design process itself is rather pragmatic and structural” according to Vinita. 

“Working on The Big Sick was a short and sweet experience. Knowing that I was going to be creating visual imagery for a scene that would be seen by so many talented members of the production who I actually grew up being a fan of and still to this day admire was pretty cool,” she said.

The Big Sick (2017) The Playground Theatre Graphic Art by Vinita Bakhale Property of Lionsgate
The Big Sick (2017)  “The Playground Theatre”  Property of Lionsgate

This July, Vinita’s latest work, Freaky Friday The Musical, will be premiering on the Disney Channel. Once again, the Graphic Artist puts her style and artistic touch on an endearing story by creating visual imagery for the protagonist, Ellie’s Bedroom.

“I’m drawn to vivid colors and on the contrast, muted tones and textures. As a Designer though, I’d have to say I am now quite versatile. It’s important to be flexible because no one production is the same. On a recent production I was responsible for researching children’s toys and blankets from a specific time period. On another production I was required to research turn-of-the-century telegrams and textural paper. It’s very important to be authentic with whatever you are creating. Film and Television productions are multi-million dollar ventures. With a lot invested, production companies expect to get the best and most authentic version of whatever they’re producing.  Although we aren’t supposed to be a moving picture museum of imagery and graphics that are all historically accurate, because that would be impossible, we strive to be at the very least in the ballpark of the impossible,” she concluded.