All posts by ewgpress

Graphic Designer Laura Suuronen’s Limitless Creativity

Graphic designer Laura Suuronen’s mastery of expressive, dynamic visuals have made her an international success. While design relies on subtly, balance and rhythm, when effectively executed it has colossal impact. The Helsinki-born Suuronen’s command of and gift for the medium creates a consistently irresistible finished product.

“A graphic designer creates visual communications,” Suuronen said. “The field has expanded and changed tremendously over recent years, as the world’s become more visual and people’s visual literacy has grown.”

Suuronen has built upon that growth with singular alacrity, always displaying a natural skill which guarantees the success of any given assignment and frequently leads to subsequent, ever more impressive achievements. It’s a demanding discipline, but her background provided ideal preparation from an early age.

“In Finland, design is part of everyday life,” Suuronen said. “I grew up surrounded by design furniture, so I absorbed those forms and the sensibility. I learned of design as a profession in high school, as I was taking all possible art classes to balance out my other studies. I was always drawn to making art, yet I wanted to do something more useful, or, I guess, practical.”

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Visualization of branding concept for Finland’s stand at 2017 World Expo

After high school, Suuronen attended the Pekka Halonen Academy, attaining a degree in Visual Expression and continued her studies at Helsinki’s University of Art and Design, earning a BA in Graphic Design, before moving on to the Master’s program.

The gifted Suuronen settled into life as a dedicated professional—and once she did, things began to move fast.Her earliest experience was at cutting-edge mobile software development startup Max Rumpus, essentially developing apps—at a time when the touch screen didn’t yet exist.

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20th Anniversary Book for contemporary art pioneer Galerie Anhava

“The company’s goal was to create ‘good looking text messages’ that didn’t require separate software to download and view them,” Suuronen said. “This was a good first job, as I was able to do a breadth of work across mediums and was never held back. I was doing anything and everything in this startup, implementing and developing branding related projects, like packaging, brochures, manuals and random things like illustrations, expo stands, posters, business cards, interior design for a new office. Their art director was very supportive and a good mentor, with whom I still keep in touch.”

With limited opportunities for pure design at the one-product tech startup, she moved on to a post at the prestigious Hasan & Partners advertising firm. It was a critical step up for the ambitious young designer

“Being in top 3 of Finnish agencies for decades, Hasan was very different from Max Rumpus,” Suuronen said. “I was designing everything from 360 ad campaigns to art books during my time there, a lot of cool projects. Sometimes it was more art work production, sometimes it was about designing press, TV or online campaigns for leading Nordic consumer brands. I designed logos for Italian fashion brands, conceptualized press ads and posters, art directed photo-shoots, created installations, designed interactive technology-pushing websites and oversaw character and animation development. It was a great experience—to learn how the big things are done. And I got to see my work plastered around town, in newspapers and on TV constantly.”

Suuronen was off to an impressive start and her subsequent career path has steadily ascended. Now based in Los Angeles, this energetic, limitlessly creative woman stands at the forefront her field. Whether designing posters or art directing for magazines and web sites, Suuronen excels at her craft in a variety of media—from sophisticated software and computer techniques to old fashioned pen and ink drawing—and she has multiple awards, along with the respect of her colleagues, to show for it.

“Laura’s work never fails to impress,” graphic designer-illustrator Stefan Bucher said. “She pairs clear, powerful ideas with refined aesthetics, and adds just the right dash of eccentricity to keep things interesting. There’s no doubt in my mind that her American future will outshine the considerable brightness of her European past.”

Suuronen refuses to limit herself and the result is a striking roster of professional achievements, both as a designer and art director; Suuronen is adept at strategy and brand development, establishing unique visual identities for her clients, working across the full creative spectrum: books, catalogs, magazines, websites and apps, events and campaigns for a dazzling array of international agencies, including Siegel + Gale, Media Arts Lab, leading Scandinavian museums and art galleries, publishers and record labels.

“One thing that’s stuck with me from my early days at Hasan was the phrase ‘Never Satisfied,’ which was scribbled on a wall there” Suuronen said. “So, I’m always going to be looking to bring fresh thinking into a project. I like to explore new ideas and see where they lead. I’ve never been happy repeating what’s been done before—there is always further to push.”

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Actress Jannike Grut Excels on Stage and Screen

Veteran actress Jannike Grut is one of Scandinavia’s most talented, recognizable players. Whether playing drama or comedy on stage, television or the big screen, the Stockholm-born Grut’s mixture of polish, nuance and emotional involvement creates compelling fully realized characterizations that draw the audience in. It’s an elevated level of skill that many of her colleagues only dream of, but Grut consistently manifests the full dramatic spectrum with dazzling ease.

Currently delighting European viewers with her recurring role on the popular TV comedy series Katsching!, Grut is at the peak of her formidable powers. Grut’s mastery of craft easily translates across international lines—the actress has already been cast in a couple of American features, setting the tone of for a break out phase in her already impressive career. It’s the latest upshift in her reliably steady professional progress, the rich fulfillment of an almost pre-ordained creative destiny.

“My father was a renowned theater and film critic in Sweden, so I saw a lot of movies and plays in my childhood and of course we talked about the art of acting and storytelling all along,” Grut said. “I really got into a good story. I loved a good book, pop songs that told stories in the lyrics, and I really loved to see great plays and movies. I was drawn to stories that told me about life with new angles, new perspectives on things I was unfamiliar with, stories that made me hopeful or challenged my beliefs—I loved that.”

“Growing up, one of my favorite films was “Dead Poets Society” with Robin Williams,” Grut said. “I saw it with a friend, and I was crying when we walked home. I knew I had to become an actress because I wanted make an impact on the world myself, to be a part of changing it for the better. It made me go after my dream and never give up.”

The path was clear and Grut did not hesitate for an instant. After completing high school Grut immediately enrolled in a one year theater course, followed by two years of film school, training in comedy and film acting, a course in script writing and study in London with the acclaimed dramatic coach Doreen Cannon.

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Photos by Oren Godlman

She was working right out of the gate also. At 19, while still in theatre school, Grut was doing standup comedy in clubs and on popular Swedish television showcase ”Släng Dig I Brunnen.” Initially concentrating on stage work, At 23, the ambitious Grut also she wrote and starred in a well-received musical comedy that earned lavish praise in Sweden’s leading newspapers—an auspicious achievement, indeed, but she was just getting started.

Grut quickly became a familiar, popular presence in Scandinavian film and television, and also directed and starred in the collaborative Danish-Swedish national network TV movie “Welcome to our 7-year Itch” (Välkomna Till Vår Sjuårskris). Over the next decade, Grut’s star continued to rise, and she was prominently featured in almost thirty top notch films and TV series, winning several awards both at home and abroad, including the 2017 Best Comedy Kristallen award, Sweden’s equivalent of the Emmy.
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The hit show Katsching! provides a role that’s an ideal vehicle for her deep comedic talent, and Grut is enjoying greater fame than ever. “The series is up and running right now on Swedish National Television, it’s gotten good reviews and the audience loves it,” Grut said. “I am really grateful to be part of the cast, and also fortunate enough to act together with Per Andersson—a brilliant actor and comedian.”

Grut and Andersson make a terrific combination: “Jannike is an incredibly skilled actress and comedienne and to see her working together with the great Per Andersson is really extremely fun,” series producer Niklas Larsson said. “The contrast between her and Pers’ character is terribly funny. It was a pleasure to have Jannike on set and I really hope to have the opportunity to work with her on projects in the future.”

Grut already has two feature films—Garden Lane (already generating buzz as a potential Guldbaggen (the Swedish Oscar) nominee and action comedy The Duck Pond— set for release in the coming months, is also working on the Scandinavian TV series, ‘Finding Your Way Home,’ with esteemed Swedish director Richard Jarnhed, and, as Grut says, “I’m also one of the three leads in a new Swedish TV series, a comedy with strong female leads, but I can’t talk about it yet.”

Grut’s flawless command of English ensures her ability to entertain a rapidly expanding audience, It won’t be long before American audiences get a taste of the Grut genius; she is co-writing the feature “We are Family”, featuring Scandinavian and American actors, with renowned American screenwriter Alvaro Rodriguez (‘Machete,’ ‘From Dusk to Dawn,’), who is also producing, an intriguing combination that’s certain to highlight her natural skill as a writer and actress. .

And there’s still more going on in the actresses’ fast-moving career. “Most exiting of it all I´ve been cast in several American productions,” Grut said. “I´m going to play comedy, dramedy and action, filming in New York and in Hollywood, so, hopefully I have a real adventure ahead of me.”

“I really look forward to working internationally and in America,” Grut said. “Right now, my goal is to keep on getting good roles in TV series, and also good parts in more films.”

“I can bring something special to any part, simply by being my authentic self. As an actress it’s absolutely crucial to be curious. Ask questions, look around in fascination. And always be generous—pay it forward. So, with authenticity, curiosity and generosity, you can’t fail.”

Acclaimed Director/Photographer Liam Cushing’s Mix of Substantive Realism and Ethereal Beauty

With a world-class resume of successful, high-profile collaborations with such famed luxury brands as Jimmy Choo, Valentino, H&M, Sandro Paris and Tommy Hilfiger, director/photographer Liam Cushing is one of the most acclaimed craftsmen in his field. But his extraordinary international renown and impressive achievements came about almost as a fluke, the unlikely result of a loving mother’s thoughtful gesture to her teenaged son.

“I was going on a [student] exchange in Spain and my mother took me to a second hand camera store,” Cushing said. “She bought me a Nikon F5 with 50mm lens and I was hooked right away, but had no real technical knowledge. There was a lot of trial and error after I arrived in Spain, but it really started to shape my eye, knowledge and love for photography. I took photos of everything, anyone and everywhere and I really attribute the growth of my style to my time in Spain.”

An entirely new world opened up for the Toronto-born, London-based Cushing. “My mother had always had a love of photography and it was always a part of my life growing up, but I had never really learned how to shoot,” he said. “She thought it would be great for me to learn on my own camera as I embarked for Spain and as I learned Spanish and adapted to a new culture, my photos deeply reflected this new curiosity. I still own that Nikon F5 to this day, and every once and a while I will use it just too once again have that feeling of shooting for the first time.”

Cushing quickly parlayed that youthful enthusiasm into a dedicated career path. Having completed studies at the University of Toronto with degrees in Art History and Cinema Studies, Cushing’s romance with photography—and his readily evident aptitude—enabled him to gain a foothold in this particularly fast-paced arena.

“After graduating, I applied for an internship where I could learn from the best photographers in the world,” Cushing said. “I ended up at the prestigious fashion photo agency Art Partner’s London office, which subsequently connected me to the highest levels of the industry and propelled me to get a job working for world famous photographer Mario Testino. Mario was famous for shooting the campaigns for brands such as Burberry, Versace, Gucci and Dolce and Gabbana, and who had also shot the royal family, and countless celebrities including Katy Perry, Madonna, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts.”

Testino, of course, wouldn’t hire anyone who wasn’t an absolutely first rate talent, and Cushing really came into his own, developing the visual style which became his very formidable calling card.

“During my time working under Mario, my career really started growing,” Cushing said. “I spent countless days researching, learning about my craft, investing in my tools, pursuing personal projects, chasing clients, all of which helped me get to where I am today in my career.”

“I developed I strong affinity for directing video and while I was hesitant to stop working for Mario, I felt as if I wouldn’t be able to have creative independence if I did not take the jump—I subsequently left and pursued an independent career as director/photographer.”

 

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On his own, Cushing was compelled to make his mark, a feat that required considerable drive and fortitude.

“Finding my own path was difficult as first,” Cushing said. “I was competing with some of the most talented creative minds in the world. In the first year it became apparent how difficult it was to find my place and stand out in a city where I had very little professional connections. Rejection started to feel familiar, but I persevered and began to pursue my interest in video work. My deep passion for video rubbed off on my photography, I felt more engaged than ever, and I really started to hit my stride.”

Cushing’s ace-in-the-hole was a deep passion for a particular type of communicative aesthetics unique unto himself. “I always thought of my work as something like a dream—the imagery can be abstract and ethereal while emotions and tone feel real and weighted,” he said.  “I look at every project as a challenge, so if there is no element of discomfort then I know I am not getting better at my craft. I also really value working with creative professionals at the top of their respective crafts, as it forces me to continuously push myself to higher levels of excellence.”

This creative zeal quickly distinguished Cushing from his contemporaries and his career began to ascend.

“Around this time I was hired to do stills and some video work for a Tommy Hilfiger campaign with world famous models Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer. As my skills sets grew, I felt my confidence and client lists grow as well. I felt very fortunate to have worked with Mario as it opened doors for me and illustrated the standard of professionalism I had to live up to, but also the confidence to find my own path, which I continue to be on to this day.“

An in-demand professional with a sterling international reputation, Cushing’s peerless instinct and ability to wed technology to human emotion in a way that evokes power responses from his viewers—a gift that’s elevated him to the very pinnacle of success. Cushing’s gorgeously rendered evocative visuals have led to assignments in fashion with his highly successful Jimmy Choo/Off White and Sandro Paris campaigns but also in the entertainment industry, taking jobs with Capitol Records and a memorably spontaneous collaboration with UK indie rock band Glass Animals.

“I was introduced to the band Glass Animals when I was hired to be still photographer during a video shoot for the song ‘Black Mambo,’” Cushing said. “There was some downtime during the shoot, and their manager asked if I could take some band shots, so I obliged. The band and the label liked them so much, they commissioned me to shoot the press photos for the release of the upcoming album. The photos were then featured in all promotional materials and could be seen in the New York Times, Billboard magazine, SPIN and many others. I was really encouraged about the success of the images—then, Capitol Records contacted me to have my photo featured in their commemorative, Taschen-published 75th anniversary coffee table book, where the photo would be featured alongside some of the greatest photographers of the last 100 years. The book was distributed globally and elevated my work and name to a worldwide level that I had yet to experience.”

That type of creative serendipity is typical of Cushing’s methodology, a wide open, perceptive approach based as much on instinct as it is technical skill. As one Cushing collaborator, the famed Global Creative Strategist for Facebook/Instagram/Whatsapp Dr. Jane Han, said “Having worked with many producers and directors in my lifetime, it was clear that Liam was on top of his craft with an expert sense of his work both on a technical and artistic level.  In the capacity of director, he ensured the deliverables were at the highest of levels and showed a vast amount of skill in his trade.“

The key to his impressive commercial success is, uniquely, based almost entirely on his need for purely creative expression.

“I gravitate to anything that demands emotion and exists beyond the world of pure aesthetic,” Cushing said. “That is not to say I don’t continually strive to create incredibly beautiful imagery, but it has to evoke some feeling inside the viewer that goes beyond the present physical world. It is why I always have thought of my work as falling between the abstract, ethereal world of the mind and the sheer beauty of the physical world.  Where imagery can be both associative and dissociative as it moves between real and abstract, thus giving the viewer’s imagination the opportunity to run free—where the imagery exists on a level beyond the confines of the superficial and reaches something more human and emotive.”

Cinematographer Alberto Bañares’ Creative Serendipity

ALBERTO-1Spanish cinematographer Alberto Bañares’ unerring eye and passionate involvement with all things visual have won him a reputation as one of the top hands in his field. Bañares’ style—driven by a singular flair for creating evocatively composed shots that deliver a communicative impact—enhances any film, video or television assignment, and is distinguished by a consistency of tone and rich atmosphere that is irresistible to any viewer.

His immediately recognizable, arresting technique seems like the work of a dedicated craftsman with generations of deep experience, but the astute, ambitious Bañares achieved this striking of level of quality while barely out of his teens. At age 18, the Barcelona native was studying Economics when a sudden realization took hold.

“At university, I realized quite early that my future wasn’t behind a desk,” Bañares said. “So I started writing and taking photographs on my own while studying International Business. I did a small 5 day course on script writing, and was completely astonished by what I saw and learned. That gave me the courage to move straight to film academy in 2003.”

“I studied at one of the best film schools in Spain, ESCAC [Cinema and Audiovisual School of Catalonia],” Bañares said. .”It was a very intense experience.  After two years, you had to choose your specialization, and I quickly understood that between script writing, directing and cinematography, I would naturally pick the last one.”

“Suddenly, everything made sense to me,” he said. “I was always very attracted to the camera and highly intrigued by light. Cinematography teachers seemed to me more like wizards than anything else!”

After obtaining his degree, Bañares wasted little time. Working as on-set electrician and in camera and light crews at first, gaining experience and making connections, by 2012, he decided to accept cinematographer jobs exclusively, and in 2013 prestigious talent brokers L’Agence were representing him throughout Europe.

His recent job as director of photography for a commercial from a high-end German auto maker, the striking, effects-laden Audi: The Invisible Man. The spot, promoting Audi’s pilotless vehicles using the famed horror character as protagonist, mixes wry humor with impressive visual effects and epitomizes Bañares’ signature combination of creativity, problem-solving and technical prowess.

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This was no simple task. “As a DP my role started some weeks before the shoot,” Bañares said. “This was a highly technical project for all of us, so starting the preproduction earlier than normal helped us to arrange meetings with Metropolitana, the post-production house, in order to understand their needs and the way we were going to shoot it.”

“It was a highly technical job, for sure,” director David Verges said. “To create an Invisible Man we had to shoot different layers of each shot in order to remove the actor who was ‘performing’ his moves. We used a Motion Memorizer which required us to be very accurate during the shoot as well as having to mentally “compose” the shot in our mind from the different layers we were shooting. Alberto was very helpful in this regard, as his comprehension of the technique was complete. He also has this natural quality that puts everyone at ease and is greatly appreciated by his crew and the rest of us. “

Bañares’ holistic grasp on the assignment’s complex challenges proved invaluable. “We had to be very adaptable during the shoot as we had to bear with constantly changing weather,” he said. “We had determined to shoot the main table scene during the morning but we had extremely grey skies so we had to go inside the house meanwhile the weather improved.”

“After several hours we realized that the motion memorizer shots took more time than initially thought, so we had to be very quick with any shot that didn’t use this tool,” Bañares said. “Being fast on set is something that no one teaches you when you are in film school, but after all these years as a DP I’m very used to have a high-speed on set plus gently pushing everyone in order to keep a good pace.”

The results, thanks to Bañares’ formidable skills, were nothing short of spectacular, and the spot generated significant buzz in professional circles

“Due to the unique creativity of the Audi commercial, it gained a big reputation amongst the family of filmmakers,” Bañares said. “I consider myself to be a useful asset no matter what. I like to help my directors get what they want, but I also want them to know what I like and dislike, which elements could be improved and which ones must be improved.”

His flexibility and instinctual grasp on how best to complete a shoot have allowed Bañares to rack up a spectacular roster of achievements and placed him at the forefront of the contemporary DP community.

“DPs must dissolve their egos within the director’s ideas,” Bañares said. “Sometimes a DP must be like a medium or psychologist, in order to be able to understand the director’s vision and their original vision of the project. When it’s fiction, I like to talk to the director as much as I need so I can see where everything comes from. Once I get their original idea, I subtly transform it into a light and camera concept. I love to communicate and express ideas using my tools, it’s such a rewarding process.

“Lately I’ve been quite attracted towards creative serendipity and subconscious intuition,” he said. “In order to operate the camera in a genuine way, I’m constantly exploring different, new ways to reach that state. I love that too.”

His rare mixture of technique and aesthetic sense qualify Bañares as a force to be reckoned with. “I’ve known Alberto for years but we hadn’t been able to work together until this one,” Verges said. “I was very happy to have his good taste and discerning eyes in this project. He was very focused and he always brought a creative input to each shot, to each take, in order to improve it. I’m looking forward to collaborate with Alberto on future projects.”

Actor Donald Heng’s Thoughtful Brand of Sci-Fi Storytelling

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If you’re a fan of fantasy/horror, chances are good you know  Donald Heng’s work. The Vancouver-based actor has been seen in a wide variety of settings—comedies, drama, made for TV movies, weekly series, indie films—but in recently, Heng had settled into a shadowy niche in the unpredictable, spine-tingling world of the SyFy television network’s original thriller content. With guest appearances on several different SyFy shows and his recurring Ghost Wars role as the edgy Deputy Larry Foon, the talented, versatile Heng is making dramatic tension his calling card. Tinseltown News Now caught up with Heng between shoots to discuss this latest upshift in an already impressive career

 

Q: You have had some good professional fortune at SyFy — do you feel career momentum is building at the network?

A: Definitely. This whole business is not for the impatient that’s for sure. Someone once told me that acting is a marathon, not a sprint, and that has always stuck with me. There may often be little rhyme or reason in this industry, but if you’re in it long enough and are prepared and constantly working on your craft, momentum will occur.

Q: You have previously appeared in “The Flash,” and “Supernatural,” please discuss these experiences

A: It was a relief to finally get to work on “Supernatural.” That show has been [produced] in Vancouver for 12, going on 13-14 seasons. My entire circle of actor friends have been on it, so it was great to get any kind of part on the show. But my character got to interact with Jared and Jensen and that was incredibly fun. They were really nice and welcoming and the jokes and pranks are non-stop whenever they yell cut. “The Flash” was also incredibly exciting in its own right. I read the comics as a kid and so there was of course that part of me that was freaking about getting my ass saved by the Flash not once, not twice, but three times. Some of the stunts in that show were also the most fun I ever had on set. It was like riding a go-kart down an empty street and my fear was not hard to fake [laughs].

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Q: How did you come to meet “Ghost Wars” creator-writer-producer Simon Barry?

A: I may have met him earlier when I auditioned for “Continuum” but I can’t say that definitively. But I definitely did meet him for “Van Helsing,” and then again later for “Ghost Wars.” He is an incredibly humble, personable human being and, of all the producers I’ve worked with, definitely made the biggest effort of including and inviting the cast to collaborate in his projects. During the table read for the first episode, Simon told everyone that he wanted to build these characters with us and if there were certain lines that didn’t sit well with our characters, to bring it up to him and he would work with us to change it.

Q: Were you cast on “Continuum?”

A: No, I did audition for it a couple times but unfortunately that show ended its run before I had a chance to be in it.

Q: Discuss your experience on “Van Helsing”

A: When I got cast in “Van Helsing,” I was very excited to work with Michael Nankin, who has had a long tenure with SyFy. I had done a couple workshops with him while studying at the Actor’s Foundry, so it brought me a sense of validity to be able to work with him in that capacity.

Q; How did Mr. Barry come to select you for “Ghost Wars?”

A: That’s something you would have to ask him [laughs]. I’m sure the decision didn’t rest solely with Simon, but that is a very interesting question that I wonder about all the time. When I show up on set after every casting, I always have the urge to ask the director/producer ‘why was I selected?’ Truth be told, in this industry, the best actor often doesn’t get the job.

Q: How has it been working on “Ghost Wars?”

A: It was great, it was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my career. The cast and crew were great. We spent some time up in Squamish for the shoot and it was absolutely beautiful. We had dinner with Simon and David (the director) and they told us some of the funniest stories I’ve ever heard in my life regarding their experiences in the industry. I had always wanted to play a police officer so that was a huge checkmark off the bucket list.

Q: Your character is particularly nuanced for a horror/thriller, please discuss
A: My character, along with most of the characters in the fiction town of Port Moore, treats Roman Mercer [Avan Jogia] as an outcast. Roman’s mother was into witchcraft and the rumor goes that she has put a curse on this town. After a paranormal bus accident, my mother is among the dead and I blame Roman for the incident until his supernatural abilities are revealed.

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Q: How do you prepare a characterization like that?

A: I try to find the everything that is relate-able between my character and myself. Fortunately, Deputy Larry is a very human character, much like the rest of the other characters. When it’s boiled down, it needs to make sense behind the horror and the gore, this was a project that really tried to make sense of every nuance, character motivation and plot. So, as Deputy Larry, I had to find in me what it meant to lose the most important person in my life, and what I would want to do to the person who took that away from me. Apart from envisioning supernatural entities, there wasn’t a whole lot else I needed to work on besides those two dichotomies.

Q: The horror/fantasy genre offers limitless possibilities in plot and action, please discuss working in this style

A: Well, it’s always fun because it is, in a way, the epitome of acting. It’s the reason why kids grow up loving Superman and Batman and the Power Rangers—it brings you into a world of fantasy where you don’t need to be yourself, but it is also constantly evolving. A movie about Batman 20 years ago is considerably different than a movie about Batman today. I just watched “Black Panther” and that movie is so good because it successfully ties in so any historical themes and elements into the fantasy. That way, the films are marketed not only to kids who adore the superheroes, but also the teenagers and adults who just want a film that touches them.

Q: The “Ghost Wars” cast also features some other notable talents, please discuss.

A:  The best part about working on this show was definitely the cast. I didn’t see the cast list until a week after I had been cast the project and I was floored when I saw that Vincent D’Onofrio and Meatloaf were involved in it. It was also nostalgic for me to be able to work with Avan Jogia because he was in the first project I’d ever auditioned for (“The Gym Teacher”). I didn’t end up getting that one but it was still a nostalgic feeling to be able to work with him.  But D’Onofrio—man! I have a story. We were in the midst of a break while crew was turning over the cameras and Vincent and Jesse (Deputy Norm) are walking by me about to go outside for a smoke. Vincent turns to me and asks “do you want one?” as he’s pointing to his box of Cohiba cigars. I responded, “uh…uh..yeah… I’ll do some.” And Vincent goes, ‘Do some?, it’s a cigar, it’s not drugs.’ I laughed sheepishly and followed the up to the rooftop. The thing is, I never smoked a darn cigar in my life and I inhaled my first bit before being told I wasn’t supposed to do that. I didn’t care, I just couldn’t say no to being able to tell people I had a cigar with Vincent D’Onofrio!

Q: Does SyFy feel like home to you now?

A: I definitely feel comfortable with the science fiction genre. I know what to expect when I do work on it and it makes me all the more excited when I have the opportunity work on that type of show. Though like I mentioned before, all shows are constantly trying to find the best way to connect with their viewers and the core of all good shows are the same, they have to respond with a story that’s human at its core.

 

Executive Producer Ed Egan talks reviving his childhood favorite “Catchphrase”

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Ed Egan

Ed Egan has been a television addict all his life. Ever since he can remember, he has loved watching television, and knew from an early age that he would work in the industry. Now, he is an executive producer working on some of the world’s biggest game shows. He is not only an industry leader in Britain, but internationally as well.

Ever since he began working in the industry, Egan has had ideas for new formats and ways to tweak current ones. Starting from the bottom, he worked his way up to executive producer and showrunner, now being able to create the shows that he has always wanted. His work on ABC’s hit 500 Questions was then recreated in Germany and the United Kingdom after its success in the United States, and he developed the concept for ITV’s 1000 Heartbeats, which went on a very successful run for the network. He started Tipping Point at its inception, which now has hundreds of episodes, and his newest series, Genius Junior starring Neil Patrick Harris, premieres this Spring on NBC.

Despite this success, however, the British native says the highlight of his career came when he revived the classic game show Catchphrase. The original was a childhood favorite and was one of the shows that gave birth to his love of television. Being able to bring it back to air, and film it in his hometown where the show first began, was a special moment for this seasoned executive producer.

“I had been a massive fan of this show when it was on TV when I was young, and so I jumped at the chance to bring it back to our screens so that people could watch it again, or discover it for the first time. The show is perfect. It is the ultimate play-along show, which I love, as people can’t help but try to shout answers out when they are watching. It is a game show that anyone can play and is suitable for the whole family which is quite rare these days. It appeals to people from 8 to 80,” he said.

In the original series, two contestants, one male and one female, would have to identify the familiar phrase represented by a piece of animation accompanied by background music. The show’s mascot, a golden robot called “Mr. Chips”, appears in many of the animations. In the revived version of the show, the same format remains, but there are three contestants and there is no particular attention paid to gender.

Egan’s thorough understanding of the original format was essential to bringing the show back and making it a success. He knew just what was important for the new version to be a hit again. He was able to bring on board some of the best game show producers and production staff in the country, and together they knew the right type of contestants to cast and the right level to set the gameplay at. Not only did he update the format, but he got a younger generation interested in the show, applying to be contestants and also watching each week. The casting producer of the show, Helen Finnimore, was extremely impressed with his talents when they worked together.

“I have known Ed Egan for many years as both a television production professional and a friend. Without doubt, he is one of the most respected executive television producers in the industry. Prior to being head-hunted to relocate and work in the United States, Ed had worked on many internationally recognised programmes here in the United Kingdom and has maintained his position at the forefront of the entertainment business through these incredible accomplishments,” said Finnimore. “I had the pleasure of working closely with Ed on the Catchphrase revival series here in the UK in 2013 and again in 2014. Ed is a rare talent, one of the few executive producers I have met who truly understands the British and American audiences. He’s fantastic to work alongside, maintains a level of professionalism throughout and moreover, has an unparalleled ability to develop and adapt new and exciting formats. This unique flair has become his trademark in the industry both sides of the pond.”

When STV was looking to revive the hit show, they approached Egan knowing of his reputation as a tremendous showrunner. At their first meeting, they offered him the job. Egan wanted to keep as many parts of the original format as possible, but he knew the necessity of updating the show to bring in a newer and more modern audience. The show is very graphics heavy, so he knew that one of his main roles was developing the new look for the animations, as the technology had moved on so much since the original series. Egan wanted to keep up with what people were used to seeing in the modern era of apps. To do all this, he put together a team that not only worked together well but formed a strong bond.

“I loved the fact that the team who I put together all became great friends, and it was a real pleasure to work on. It is a fun format and we had great fun making it. I became good friends with our host Stephen Mulhern, who is the nicest and most professional host a producer could hope to work with,” Egan said.

The relationship Egan forged with his host meant that they were able to be very open and honest with each other, which Egan says is essential to get the best performance from on-screen talent. It also helped calm his nerves about reviving a cherished show for so many people, but once the show aired, his worries immediately evaporated.

“I was nervous about bringing this show back as it had been such as huge show back in the 80s and 90s and I wanted people to like our new, updated and modernised version. I was so pleased that it did so well on its return and I’m very proud that it’s still doing well today,” he said.

The revival began airing in 2013 and Egan produced its first three seasons. The show is now on its sixth season, and since Egan brought it back, it has been the top-rated Saturday night show on ITV. His production and development work with Catchphrase and ITV, as well as such well-known production companies as BBC, Endemol, RDF Television, STV Productions and Warner Horizon in the United States, confirms his reputation as one of the industries go-to executive producers and a highly sought-after talent. He’s achieved a level of prominence rivalled by few in the industry and continues to build upon his achievements.  

Be sure to check out the revival of Catchphrase to see how Egan modernized a classic.

 

Showrunner Séamus Murphy-Mitchell dons Red Nose to raise millions for charity

Séamus Murphy-Mitchell has always loved television. As a child, he would constantly flick through the only two channels his family received, tuning into his favorite shows. Now, he makes his favorite shows. As an executive producer, Murphy-Mitchell is involved in the entire creation process, from beginning to end, and has a say in every aspect of a production; that is what he likes about being a showrunner. He gets to be creative whilst still being collaborative, and work alongside him have the same passion for television that he does.

“When I was a kid, I was once sent to a child psychologist to evaluate my lack of attention in class. Her final analysis was that I shouldn’t continue to watch Aaron Spelling serial dramas late into the night before school the next morning,” he joked.

This Irish-native has made a name for himself internationally, leading not only his country’s industry, but abroad as well. Having led shows such as hit BBC America series Almost Royal and the multi-award-winning BBC talk show Friday Night with Jonathan Ross to great success, Murphy-Mitchell has shown the world what he is capable of. His work on The Adam Buxton Podcast and 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy show audiences just how versatile this executive producer is, and he is always looking for new challenges. This is exactly what he got when he decided to run the very ambitious, live broadcast of 24 Hour Panel People.

“Working on 24 Hour Panel People was very challenging, but in many ways illustrated all the best bits about working in television. We were working as part of a large team to deadline on a ground-breaking project. I’ve probably never been so sleep deprived as I was when we finally came off air, but we still went out and had fun afterwards to celebrate,” said Murphy-Mitchell.

24 Hour Panel People was a 24-hour, live broadcast to raise money for Comic Relief and run up to the United Kingdom’s famous “Red Nose Day”. Since its launch in 1988, Red Nose Day has become something of a British institution. It’s the day, every two years, when people across the land can get together and do something funny for money at home, school and work. There’s a fantastic night of TV on the BBC, with comedy and entertainment to inspire the nation to give generously. Comic Relief spends the money raised by Red Nose Day to help people living tough lives across the United Kingdom and Africa, tackling issues like poverty, hunger, and mental health.

“Comic Relief is a huge charity that raises an enormous amount of money and does a huge amount of good around the world. 24 Hour Panel People was a great example of how this charity always embraces new ways of engaging with an audience, and for that reason it was a great success,” said Murphy-Mitchell.

Taking on the network’s first 24-hour broadcast was a challenge Murphy-Mitchell was more than up for. Live from BBC Television Centre, from midday March 5th to midday March 6th, 2011, the epic event featured comedian David Walliams front and center alongside a revolving door of eminent comedians, sports stars and actors as he took on the challenge of hosting a mammoth and constant succession of the UK’s greatest panel shows past and present.

Including such beloved panel show institutions as Blankety Blank, QI, The Generation Game, Call My Bluff, Have I Got News For You and Whose Line Is It Anyway, Murphy-Mitchell produced the live show nonstop and seamlessly throughout the night, single handedly running autocue and the floor and ensuring Walliams was mentally alert, focused, funny and robust as he persevered throughout the night. He also brought a considerably younger audience to Comic Relief, ensuring the broadcast would succeed for years to come.

“Once the live broadcast came to its finale, Séamus then edited the entire 24 hours into 5 half hour compilation specials which were broadcast nightly on the BBC over the week of the Red Nose campaign. 24 Hour Panel People went down in charity history as a seminal, ground-breaking occasion which not only raised millions of pounds for Comic Relief but set the bar for future fundraising events across the globe, all with the help of Séamus,” said Suzi Aplin, executive producer of Comic Relief and 24 Hour Panel People.

When Aplin was looking for a showrunner to produce the show, which in the end amounted to 22 different comedy entertainment formats in 24 hours, she knew she needed an experienced executive producer to lead the broadcast to a success. Having worked with Murphy-Mitchell in the past, she knew he not only had the talent, but would be up for the challenge. Once he was approached, Murphy-Mitchell knew he wanted to produce the show. The BBC had never attempted a 24-hour broadcast before, and he knew he could help lead the inaugural broadcast.

“It was a really exciting project from the very beginning. I had worked for Comic Relief in the past and I was very keen to work for the charity again, particularly on a project so unique and unprecedented,” he described.

From the moment pre-production began, Murphy-Mitchell and his team were frantically busy. They had to secure the format rights for the 22 different shows they were going to have on the show, and once they achieved such a feat, they had to then break them down and figure out how to adapt them into a 24-hour time period.

“Securing rights was a big part of the project’s success. I spent a long time convincing Sir David Frost that we wouldn’t destroy his Through the Keyhole format. In the end, he was delighted with its contribution to the success of the night,” he said.

After achieving this, they had to book tickets and fill the chairs for each of the shows. Murphy-Mitchell had three teams assigned to this Herculean task, as hundreds of people were needed to fill all the chairs. Each team looking after an average of five formats, along with three directors to work eight hours each throughout the night.

“Most of us didn’t sleep at all for 40 hours or so as we were all up at the crack of dawn on the morning of the broadcast. David Walliams was completely heroic. The point of the show was that David would appear in all 22 of the formats over 24 hours. At some points he was so tired that he was incoherent, but he still managed to be funny in every single show,” Murphy-Mitchell described.

In 2011, Comic Relief managed to raise a whopping £108,436,277 (over $150 million USD) for Red Nose Day, and Murphy-Mitchell’s 24 Hour Panel People was a large part of that. Not only does this showrunner entertain his audiences, but he also gives back, and that is what makes his work so enjoyable.

Sijia Huang shows the importance of music in animation

When Sijia Huang animates a film, she sees herself almost like a choreographer. She aims to make every movement as seamless and fluid as possible, almost like an infinite tide. This is her priority with every project she takes on. She always ensures she has the perfect balance between tension and looseness, generating the ideal rhythm for all of her films. She does not limit herself to one type of animation, and as long as the audience is moved by her work, she is happy. It is this mantra that makes her one of China’s best animators, and why she is taking the industry by storm.

Huang’s style is evident in every one of her films and is perhaps best displayed in her award-winning film Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil, a film conveying the struggles of humanity. Since then, Huang has seen continued success. Quitting Brave Victory, a film about warrior who begins a journey to find his strongest opponent, has over 2.6 million views online. BoxHome, is a story of a couple who live in a box, went on to win several awards. Breakfast, a fun film about a child’s imagination, made its way to several prestigious international film festivals.

“As an animator, I work for a variety of fields including film, television and commercials. I animate characters based on designs and stories. I would like to say animators are like magicians who bring things to life,” she said.

Huang’s flair for animated choreography is exemplified in the collaborative film for the event Measures & Frames. A partnership between a group of filmmakers and a group of composers, Measures & Frames featured the internationally renowned Pendrecki String Quartet performing five pieces of contemporary classical music paired with original visuals projected against a three-screen display for an unforgettable pairing of image and sound.

Measures & Frames aimed to create a conversation between the pictures and the music. They made something more like a painting: a world that embodies a story-like idea or emotion. It’s an audio-visual experience that gives the audience a new entryway into the music. Suddenly, audiences see structure and form that we couldn’t see before. What seemed impenetrable and unfamiliar can suddenly become inviting and enjoyable, especially with a very conceptual, sophisticated piece like Arcadiana, the film that Huang worked on for the event, which was a main part of the entire production. Music is a large part of Huang’s life, and this project gave her the opportunity to showcase this passion. It was also her first opportunity to animate to the music of a strong quartet.

“I was so happy that I could be the animator for this project. It made me want to make more music related projects. If an opportunity comes up to work on a music video in the future, I will jump all over it,” she said.

When the Director of the project, Michael Patterson, was looking for an animator to bring such a unique film to fruition, he thought of Huang’s work on her film Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil and knew she was just who he needed, knowing she was capable of choreography, which was very important to Arcadiana. He invited her to take part, and she immediately said yes. Patterson is famous his work on the animation for the famous A-ha music video “Take on Me” as well as creating the characters Stray Mob and MC Skat Kat, who appeared in Paula Abdul’s music video “Opposites Attract”.

“Music is abstract and invites the audience in—the visuals have to do this too,” said Patterson when speaking of why Huang’s animation was vital to the project. “The multi-sensory experience invites the audience to understand the form of the music in an expanded way. If you’re depicting the music too literally, you’re limiting the freedom to personally engage.”

Huang designed the main character that was used in the film and did the stop-motion animation. At the beginning of the production, she wanted to shoot the animation using the down shooter with paper cut puppets. When she showed the director her work, he asked me if she could also try to animate another 2D version using After Effect. In order to create a more defined looking for the skeleton puppets, she used the latest character pin and created the dance for two skeletons. With each revision, Huang got closer and closer to their vision, until finally she achieved perfection.

“I had the opportunity to collaborate with Sijia on a project titled Measures & Frames Sijia created the portion of the show that featured two skeletons dancing with one another. This part of the production was crucial to Measures & Frames, and Sijia was the only animator capable of combing choreography and animation to make our vision a reality. Her mastery of a variety of animation techniques made her indispensable to the project. Specifically, her utilization of Adobe After Effects, a digital visual effects, motion graphics, and compositing post-production application, was key to finishing the animation on the project. Sijia’s high skill level in using the latest animation techniques, as well as her remarkable versatility and distinct style, vastly elevated the visual portion of Measures & Frames,” said Michael Patterson, Grammy Award-winning filmmaker and Director, specializing in TV spots and music videos.

Huang stands by famous composer Veronika Krausas, who once said, “For some audiences not familiar with new music and it’s their first time hearing not one but five new works, it’s tough. I think that the added dimension of the video helps smooth that out a bit. This is a way for audiences to actually experience the music more and become more familiar with it. The video helps acclimatize people to the sounds, and then they’re more able to appreciate them.”

Those who attended Measures & Frames on March 28th, 2015, were wildly impressed with both Huang’s animation and the event as a whole. Experiencing music in a visual way was captivating, and Huang thinks it is of great importance.

“If the diverse crowd that delivered a standing ovation at the evening’s conclusion is any indication, this type of visual music experience has opened the doors of classical composition to a newer, younger crowd than the form has seen in quite some time,” Huang concluded.

Filmmaker Shaan Memon celebrates the holidays in commercials for Dickens Fair

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Shaan Memon

As far back as Shaan Memon can remember, his family had a VCR player at their home in Ahmedabad, a city in Gujarat state in India. Every Sunday, he would watch all of his favorite cartoon shows, and his father used to help him record the shows on video cassettes. When his father would travel to Bombay for work, he would return with movies for Shaan and his elder sister. It was then, in his living room in his childhood home, that his love of film was born.

Now, Shaan is an in-demand Screenwriter, Director, and Editor. He first impressed international critics with his work on the horror The Unreal and continued to do so with his films Fitting In and Bullied, as well as the documentary Purpose Driven Study for Dharoi Canal Command Area. He is extremely knowledgeable in every aspect of filmmaking, from pre-production to post-production, and using this knowledge to expand his skillset. At the end of last year, his work on a commercial for the Dickens Christmas Fair showed that in addition to Director and Editor, this versatile filmmaker can even take on the role of Videographer and achieve tremendous results.

“I found Shaan to be reliable, assiduous, hard-working, and intuitively creative – as well as being extremely patient in performing multiple re-cuts of the material. Shaan impressed me so much that I recommended him for other work and hope to engage his services next year on a separate video for the Dickens Fair,” said David Hakim, Producer/Director who worked alongside Shaan on the commercial.

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair is a one-of-a-kind holiday adventure into Victorian London and is an elaborate party with around 800 of costumed players performing and interacting with patrons in over 120,000 square feet of theatrically-lit music halls, pubs, dance floors, and Christmas shops. It’s a twilight evening in Charles Dickens’ London Town – a city of winding lanes filled with colorful characters from both literature and history. Enticing aromas of roasted chestnuts and hearty foods fill the air. Cries of street vendors hawking their wares ring out above the bustling crowd. Dozens of lamplight shops are filled to overflowing with Christmas gifts. The Dickens Christmas Fair is a treasured Bay Area tradition since 1970 and a splendid way to celebrate the holidays. Thousands of people attend this event every year.

“I had never visited the fair before, so the first time when I visited it, I was spellbound. They have created a different world in itself. One can never imagine what would it be inside until they visit it, and that is exactly I wanted to capture. I therefore insisted on not visiting the fair before shooting, as I wanted to feel like a traveler who is experiencing it for the first time and I captured those moments,” said Shaan.

Shaan is a multi-talented filmmaker with an outstanding about of expertise in writing, directing, editing, videography and sound design. Because he has so much experience in such a variety of roles, he is a one-man army who can execute a project as clearly and as nearly to how it was conceived during the consultation. Having thorough knowledge of different fields makes him a force to be reckoned with and proved vital while shooting this commercial.

“Every filmmaker works hard with his/her sweat and blood to make a project the best it can possibly be and make their name in the industry. I had huge responsibility as Diane Baker put trust in me and suggested me to work on this project. I’m happy that I could reach her and David’s expectations,” said Shaan.

When Diane Baker and David Hakim were trying to find someone who could make a captivating commercial for Dicken’s Christmas Fair, they immediately thought of Shaan and approached him to take the lead on the project. Initially, Hakim had planned on creating a competition to decide who would create the commercial, but after seeing Shaan’s work, he knew he no longer needed to find someone to take over.

Working closely together for the entire shoot, Shaan consulted Hakim regarding what kind of shots, pace and feel would be required. After brainstorming, they decided on getting more front faced shots of the visitors, showing how happy they were and enjoying their time. Getting the best shots of artists performing, vendors selling beautiful products, the decorations, the grandness of the fair and much more. Shaan then attended the fair with his assistant to get as many shots as possible. During the editing process, he consulted with Kevin Patterson, Executive Director of Dicken’s Fair. He edited the best possible 30-second commercial. He is now working on the 90-second advertisement after the success of its predecessor.

“This is what I love about filmmaking. I never get bored of being a filmmaker. I enjoy working every time I have to go through this process of starting a new project, working on it and at the end looking at its result. Every project takes me on a whole new journey. In this one I met around hundreds of artists working together at same place. Watching Dickens’s characters alive and performing in front of you was a treat! This project was great to work on and entertaining also. David was very supportive throughout and I’m happy that he trusted my creativity and I could deliver up to his expectations,” Shaan concluded.

Check out Shaan’s work on the commercial on the Dicken’s Fair website.

Actor Yifan Luo channels his teenage years in ‘Talentik’

Yifan Luo knows what it takes to become a sought-after actor. The Chinese native recognizes the importance of patience; success does not come over night, and acting isn’t easy. You have to study and constantly be looking to improve yourself. He knows that even the most renowned actors spent years not hearing back from auditions but never giving up. That is exactly what he did, and now he is a leading actor in China’s film industry and has begun making headlines around the world.

“During some difficult times, you may not get a chance to work for months. Under this circumstance, will you still be sure that you want to be an actor? Can you be patient enough to go for auditions one after another with the best performance you can give although none of them gives you a callback? Will you be as passionate for some work that might give you $200 in total as those big things that you have done before? If the answers are no, then you should not be an actor,” he advised.

Those days are now long gone for Luo, but he constantly remembers them and remains humble despite what he has achieved. Just last year, he was recognized for his portrayal of a schizophrenic psychopath in the thriller SAM, and even received an Honorable Mention for Best Actor at Festigious 2017. He has many exciting projects upcoming, working alongside some of Hollywood’s elite. He also is incredibly versatile, exploring different genres and mediums. Just last year, his film Talentik was released online, allowing audiences to stream the film when they chose.

“Yifan played an important role as one of main characters in our production Talentik. He is such an energetic actor while everyone can see his talent and profession on set. Yifan always spends lots of time on his character and script before shooting, so it’s easily worked with him, saving time and money for our production. Also, his attitude and enthusiasm are often infectious to the other actors and the crew. We are so fortunate to have had Yifan in our production,” said Steven Li, Director.

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The cast and crew of Talentik

The movie is about three Chinese college freshmen who get accepted by a United States Ivy League school. They arrive in the US without anybody helping them and get a text message telling them to look for any possible clues that can lead them to finding the school. While looking for clues, a strong relationship is gradually built among the three characters. One day, one of them gets kidnapped by the villain. The remaining two characters try very hard to find her and save her from the bad guy. Finally, they realize that everything has been set up by the school in order to help them to learn how to work with each other. At the end, they find the school and all get accepted.

“The story tells us the importance of cooperation. Nobody can succeed without the help of other people. Individualistic heroism no longer works for society. We all need to help each other. This movie gives a very good example of how three spoiled kids finally learn how to trust and rely on each other in order to reach the same goal,” Luo said.

The movie tells the story of the three characters on their journey, and Luo plays one of those three characters. Everything happens around the three of them. Luo plays Luke, a college freshman. He initially failed the college entrance exam in China, but happens to be accepted by a college in United States that comes out of nowhere. He comes from a rich family in China. His parents love him so much and they want to control everything in his life. This is why he finally decides to go to the US, so that he can break away from his parents. And interestingly, he is a mind-reader. His favorite thing is to read other people’s mind and make fun of them. The character is quite a few years younger than Luo, who was ready for the challenge of taking on a different generation.

“It was amazing to work with such a professional actor like Yifan who always came prepared and donates himself into the character. The film wouldn’t be such a success without Yifan’s participation. He is a true artist who concentrates on his goal and is in the character with all his heart. It was such an honor that we worked with Yifan in the film and will definitely keep working with him again in the future,” said Olina Wang, Producer.

Wang approached Luo to work on the film, knowing he is an extraordinarily talented actor, and playing comedy without overdoing it and simultaneously having to act 8 years younger than you actually are can be challenging for many actors. Luo was eager to try something different, and immediately accepted the role.

While shooting Talentik, Luo decided to method act, and stayed in character at all times, not only in front of the camera, but also when he was waiting, getting ready for makeup, having lunch, taking a break, etc. He tried to really become the character. He did funny things that he normally would not have. He forced himself to eat twice as much food as he really needed, just like a growing teen. He joked around on the set, making everybody laugh. All these things were to help get himself into character.

“Working on Talentik was awesome. Everyone liked each other. The set was full of laughter. We helped each other with whatever we could. There was no conflict nor any argument during the whole shooting process. I believe that’s the most important thing in a film shoot. Once there is an argument going on, everybody stops and tries to deal with the argument, which delays the process a lot. With good relationships between all the casts and crews, we didn’t have to think about too much and could focus on making the movie good,” he said.

They definitely achieved that. After shooting the film in 2016, the film was released on Sohu Video, one of the largest online distributors in China. It quickly received over 10 million views and is still going strong almost a year later. At the time, Luo was not expecting such a response, as he had so much fun making the film that he considered that enough.

“I have to say that I was deeply surprised. I didn’t know it was getting so many views until one of my friends called me and told me about it. At the beginning, I thought he was lying. I didn’t believe him until I went online and checked it myself. I still feel proud of what I did, what the team did. We brought something to the public and got realization. That’s enough for me. The only thing I ever want is for people to like what I have done and for people watching my work to have fun,” he concluded.

And that’s exactly what viewers feel when watching Talentik. Be sure to watch Luo’s performance in the film on Sohu Video.