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Dancer Ivan Prokhiro talks dancing with Cher at the BBMAs

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Ivan Prokhiro, photo by WanderlustCreatives

When Ivan Prokhiro was just five years old, he saw something that changed the course of his life forever. It was Michael Jackson’s hit music video for Smooth Criminal. At the time, watching the screen, captivated by Jackson’s ability to dance, Prokhiro made the decision that would determine his future. He wanted to be able to do what he saw on screen. He wanted to be a dancer, and he wanted to be on stage. That was his first inspiration, and since that moment, that is exactly what Prokhiro has done: dance.

Now, Prokhiro is an internationally renowned professional dancer, with an outstanding career. He danced on the summer and Halloween shows for Knotts Berry Farm, worked on E-Plus Productions New Year’s Eve shows two years in a row, was Erica Jayne’s back-up dancer in the Fort Lauderdale Pride Parade, and just this year he danced alongside pop-sensation Katy Perry at the Grammy’s one of the world’s largest stages. His talent is evident from the moment he steps on stage.

“I first met Ivan on a project I was assisting on. He was a dancer for a choreographer’s So You Think You Can Dance submission. Since then, I have had the pleasure of hiring Ivan for four productions including: two Hallowe’en spook-tacular’s for Thee Mistress of the Dark herself, Elvira. Elvira’s Asylum & Elvira’s Danse Macabre both at Knott’s Scary Farm were very well reviewed & received shows. In addition to theses, Ivan has performed in the summer circus show that has now run for two seasons at Knott’s Berry Farm, the Circus of Wonders,” said Melena Rounis. “It is such a pleasure to work with an artist like Ivan. He is so professional and hardworking, always willing to go the extra mile which is a choreographer’s dream! He is uninhibited and passionate about his craft and his work. Ivan takes great pride in everything he does and it shows in rehearsals transcending to the stage when he is in front of an audience. He has given so much to the many audience members in the multitude of shows he has performed in and had the opportunity to touch. I look forward to creating on and with him every time I have the opportunity. Ivan’s work ethic, focus and knowledge of various dance styles truly sets him apart from the masses. He is a quality artist and I am fortunate enough to have had the pleasure of working with him on so many diverse projects over the past couple years.”

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Ivan Prokhiro, photo by Oleg Leshonok

Earlier this year, Prokhiro dazzled the world once again when he danced at the Billboard Music Awards with none other than Cher. The choreographer, Denise Faye, had previously met Prokhiro at an audition for a different show in Las Vegas. She remembered Prokhiro from that audition and asked him to be a part of the BBMA performance, knowing Cher needed to be accompanied by the best dancers possible.

“It was amazing to get so huge of a project without any auditions,” Prokhiro described. “It’s one of the biggest awards show. Also, it’s the greatest place to perform, the T-mobile Arena in Las Vegas. And, of course, to dance as a backup dancer for Cher is huge honor.”

The Billboard Music Awards premiere on May 21, 2017, and was watched by millions in America on ABC, and different stations around the world. The cast for Cher’s performance was seven boys and seven girls, but only two dancers were selected that were outside of Cher’s residency Vegas show. Prokhiro was one of them.

“It was a big responsibility to perform in front of this audience, which were mostly celebrities. A lot of cameras around made me excited and a little bit nervous. Working with Cher inspired me a lot. I saw her during rehearsals, she is a great example how humble and hardworking an artist should be. She is an icon of pop-industry, I learned a lot from our week of rehearsals,” said Prokhiro. “All my friends were so jealous.”

Prokhiro and the rest of the dancers accompanied Cher on her hit single “Believe” and were considered to be one of the best performances in the show. Prokhiro’s dancing was a large part of the success. He spent time studying Cher’s performances before the show, and went to her residency show in Las Vegas three times, saying once was not enough. Each time, he learned something new about how she worked.

“I was feeling a huge responsibility because I knew it was a live stream on TV. You do not have a chance to make any mistakes. You know that all eyes stare at you, and you need to be a star as Cher as an equal. I got a lot of feedbacks about this project. My friends and family watched this performance, some of them even didn’t know about it, and saw it randomly on television, which made it more exciting for them,” he said.

The performance was show stopping, and Prokhiro’s commitment and talent were evident to all who watched, as they are with every performance he does. There is no doubt why he has conquered the dancing industry in Russia, and is on his way to conquering the world.

Actress Sunny Koll’s comedic chops on full display in award-winning series ‘Flat Whites’

Sunny Koll always knew she was meant to be an entertainer. Growing up in Adelaide, Australia, Koll always felt at home on a stage. However, from the age of 13, she pursued a singing career. Never did she picture herself becoming an actress, but one fateful day she decided to take acting lessons, and she quickly realized she had a passion for it. Now, years later, she is a sought-after actress all over the world.

Around Australia, Koll’s face is instantly recognizable from both the big and small screen. She has worked on several popular commercials, the award-winning series Traffik, the anti-cyberbullying film Zach’s Story, and many more. She is extremely versatile, going from different genres and perfectly embodying the characters she is playing. In the critically-acclaimed television series Flat Whites, Koll’s skills at playing a comedic role are more than evident.

Flat Whites was so much fun. It was my first indie job and I loved every minute. The crew were up for trying new techniques and ideas and it paid off,” said Koll.

Flat Whites follows the lives of best friends Phil and Luc in their endeavors to meet the perfect girl and fall in love, all the while willing to sacrifice their friendship if the chance of romance appears. The show was extremely popular, winning the Producing Award for a Comedy Series, Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, Music Production in a Comedy Series, and Supporting Actor in a Comedy series at the LA WebFest. It also went on to be an Official Selection at the Hollyweb Festival and an Official Selection at the Pollygrind Film Festival in 2012. The show premiered as a web series and then because of its success, went on to air on three TV stations in Australia.

“It’s brilliant that the show has been so successful. Max Orter and the rest of the cast and crew deserve so much success. I’m really very happy everyone’s getting acknowledged for their work,” said Koll.

In the series, Koll played Stacy, the female lead in the episode Phil and Luc. Both Phil and Luc try to pick Stacy up, which causes an altercation with her boyfriend. Her boyfriend injures Luc, which forces Stacy to break up with him. She then takes Phil and Luc back to her place to tend to Luc’s injuries, only to discover it’s all been a ploy to win her over. Finally, Stacy throws them both out of her house.

“It was a very funny script. Two boys want to meet girls but they have the same taste and always end up falling for the same girl. They then sacrifice their friendship in order to win the girl over, only to both lose the girl and end up back at square one. It’s an oldie but a goodie,” said Koll.

Koll was asked to be a part of the show by the Producer, Director, and Co-writer Max Orter. Koll wanted to be involved, as she thought it sounded like a fun production, and contacted Orter. He was very impressed with Koll’s abilities and commitment to the project, and immediately requested she take the role of Stacy.

Working with Sunny is the perfect experience of working with a professional actor. She’s a very warm personality and gets along with all cast and crew. She also has an infectious smile and knows how to have a joke. Sunny is amazing to have on set. She puts in the time and effort to be as good as she possible can. She’s always well prepared and will do whatever it takes to make the production the best it can be,” said Orter.

Koll’s acting was so believable, in fact, that at one point during filming, spectators in the park did not realize there was a television set filming a fight scene, but rather an actual fight. During shooting, four men raced over to protect Koll.

“I still don’t know how they missed the cameras and the sound gear, but it was a very nice gesture on their behalf,” Koll laughed.

Koll’s portrayal of Stacy was extremely popular with viewers, and although the series ended in 2012, it is still considered a great episode. Koll has the ability to remain in the minds of viewers, bringing an authenticity that connects with audiences. This is exactly what she did for Flat Whites, and what she does for every role she takes on. It is no doubt why she is considered one of the best, and why audiences worldwide can expect to see her face on both the big and small screen for years to come.

Photo by Daniel Guerra

Producer Sonia Bajaj talks new film ‘A Broken Egg’

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Producer/Director Sonia Bajaj

Sonia Bajaj was born in the city of Mumbai, India, the birthplace of Bollywood. Living in the film capital, she was exposed to films from a very young age. This interest sparked something in her, and Bajaj knew watching films was not enough, she had to make them. She wanted to tell stories, and share with the world the ones she knew needed to be told. Now, she is recognized not just in India, but also internationally for her talent, and is a sought-after director and producer.

While working on films like Rose, Hari, The Best Photograph, Bekah and Impossible Love, Bajaj has earned the reputation as an outstanding filmmaker. Bajaj always had a talent for producing. Her father is a businessman who has dealt with paperwork all his life. At times, she would help him out and during that process; she began to learn the basics of business, and therefore, the basics of producing.

“I’ve always been a good manager of time, deadline serious, and most importantly a team player as well as a leader. My goals are well defined before me and I seldom deviate from them. My experience handling paperwork, education and a creative mind inclined me towards becoming a Producer,” said Bajaj.

Bajaj’s producing instincts are evident in the new film A Broken Egg. It tells the story of a dysfunctional family that go through varied emotions over dinner due to the recent discovery of their teen daughter being pregnant. The entire film takes place during a family dinner scene.

“This meant that we had no location changes and had to film in a tight space for two days. It was a unique experience to have the beginning, middle and end of a film over the course of dinner. A Production like A Broken Egg is not a traditional style of filmmaking, making the project exciting and different. That’s why I wanted to work on this project,” said Bajaj. “Teenage pregnancy is quite prominent in the United States. Our goal was to make a film that showcases the after effects of teenage pregnancy from the eyes of the teenager as well as the family members, all together under one roof.”

The film premiered in June 2017 at the California International Shorts Festival in Los Angeles, and has since gone on to be an Official Selection at the Barcelona Planet Film Festival, UK Monthly Film Festival, and the Festival de Cannes Short Corner. It was a semi-finalist at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards, and the Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival, and won the Bronze Award at the NYC Indie Film Awards, and the Gold Award at the Mindfield Film Festival. None of this could have been achieved without Bajaj’s producing savvy.

“Our goal was to create a voice for teenage pregnancy, a film that is relatable to teenagers and families, alike. We’re thrilled with the response the film was received so far and would love to see what happens next,” she said.

With Director Tushar Tyagi and Actor Lainee Rhodes on A Broken Egg Production Still
Actor Lainee Rhodes, Director Tushar Tyagi, and Producer Sonia Bajaj on set of A Broken Egg

Despite some budget constraints, Bajaj made sure there was still high production quality. Due to her experience producing and directing varied short films, she managed to get most of the crew work on minimum wage daily, which helped to secure a great camera and actors, leading to a successful completion of the production. They only had one day of rehearsals and two days of filming available, which meant that Bajaj had to make important decisions quickly, be on her feet at all times, and make sure that there was clear communication maintained throughout. Not many could pull off such a feat, but Bajaj’s ability to take risks and make swift decisions made her perfect for the job. The Director of the film, Tushar Tyagi, knew she would be able to make his film a success, as he had seen her work on the film Rose.

“No matter the budget level, Sonia has always been able to elevate the production to the highest standards. Whenever there’s been an issue, she’s been quick to resolve it without any setbacks to the schedule.  She is enthusiastic, a positive thinker and has a go-getter attitude,” said Tyagi. “Sonia has a fresh take on the stories she directs. Her style of directing is innovative, powerful and thought provoking. As a Producer, she is the foremost leader in every project she takes on. That’s why all her projects have enjoyed a great deal of success in film festivals both in the U.S. and globally.”

There is no doubt that A Broken Egg will continue to have success as it makes its way to more film festivals this year. For Bajaj, however, that is not why she loves what she does. The accolades and the awards don’t matter as much as getting to do what she is passionate about.

“Being a producer requires a lot of patience as you see through a production from the very beginning to right until the end. It gives one a chance to interact with different cultures, creativities and mindsets from all over the world. I enjoy this amalgamation of creative and business, and that’s why I like being a Producer,” she concluded.

Makeup artist Jen Tioseco shows off natural beauty to Saucony shoot

Jen Tioseco is an artist. A face is her canvas, makeup is her paint. She uses her brushes to create something beautiful, or to completely change the way someone is perceived. It takes a certain skill to completely alter someone, making them unrecognizable, or just simply enhancing natural features that someone already possesses, and that is what makes Tioseco so sought-after. She is truly one of British Columbia’s best makeup artists.

Tioseco has worked with many prominent individuals throughout her career, and her work has been seen by millions across not only Canada, but the rest of the world. She has worked with the popular singer Dani LeRose, and did the makeup for two of her recent music videos. Last year, she worked on several editorials for the edgy magazine ION, showing off her innate talent. She even did the makeup for television personality George Stromboulopoulos.

“I am a huge fan of his show, and getting him stage ready and chatting with him about the charity he was representing was incredible. While men’s makeup may not seem creative, it actually is. You are working around stubble or a 5 o’clock shadow, under eye circles and blemishes, all while trying to give the illusion that they aren’t wearing any makeup at all.  Trust me, it’s a skill,” Tioseco described.

Those shopping at Saucony have the chance to see Tioseco’s fine work. Last year, she worked on their newest campaign, which is still in all of their stores. The renowned American athletic shoe manufacturer offers a variety of shoes, such as running, trail running, racing, walking, and a college collection. The shoes are designed for the main purposes of racing, running, and walking. Tioseco was already a fan of the brand, so when she had the opportunity to utilize her skills on their campaign, she was all for it.

“I had worked with the Creative Director, Jessica Law, on a Google shoot earlier in the year.  Having loved working with her and being a fan of Saucony runners, I knew it would be a fun shoot,” said Tioseco.

The shoot required Tioseco to overcome a difficult challenge for many makeup artists: making someone look completely natural while still wearing makeup. This, however, was not a problem for someone as seasoned as Tioseco. While it was not the most creative shoot she has worked on, she always enjoys making someone look their best naturally without it looking like they are wearing makeup.

“Trust me 95 per cent of the time the no makeup look is much more difficult to achieve, making it more fun to execute,” she said.

Jessica Law reached out to Tioseco after being impressed with her work on their previous shoot. Law needed a makeup artist with a high level of professionalism and attention to detail, and she immediately brought Tioseco back on board to work alongside her once more.

“Jen’s professional yet fun attitude is an amazing energy to have on set. She knows how to work in a timely and organized manner, while staying calm and positive. Jen’s ability to adapt to a situation is so refreshing.  If it’s a last-minute look change, or a change in the schedule or location, Jen always stays calm and gets the job done,” said Jessica Law.

The models on the shoot were true athletes, making the campaign more authentic, but causing some problems from the makeup perspective. Both athletes suffered from acne. However, Tioseco was able to cover up any marks so they appear to have no makeup on.

“I was able to cover their imperfections in a way where they didn’t feel like they had a lot on their face, but they could run and sprint for photos with confidence,” Tioseco described.

In addition to makeup, Tioseco was also responsible for doing the hair on the shoot, something she does not often get to do. Again, simplicity was key, and she had to make a traditional ponytail. This may sound simple, but having it perfectly frame the athlete’s face, and getting it at the right height, is actually quite a challenge. Again, despite not often doing hair, Tioseco’s adaptability shone, and the hair was perfect. She always enjoys taking on extra responsibilities.

“I actually got to do some special effects on this project. I love dewy sweaty skin, so I was very excited I got to break out the glycerine and recreate drops of water on the skin,” she said.

Not only was the work fun, but the location of the shoot also made the project extremely memorable for the makeup artist. Originally from North Vancouver, she travelled further north in British Columbia to Squamish, a stunning town filled with mountainous views.

“There was still snow on the ground and we go to hike the lookout where we shot. It was so beautiful and the team was so amazing, you forgot that it was freezing outside,” she said.

No matter what she is doing or where she is working, Tioseco loves being a makeup artist. And with such talent, it is no doubt why she has seen such success throughout the entirety of her career.

Producer Xueru Tang faces her fears, literally, in critically-acclaimed horror flick Emily

Xueru Tang’s life is making movies, and she loves every minute of it. Her work captivates international audiences, and her name is recognized all over the world. She is an extraordinary producer, and one of the best to recently come out of China.

While working on several esteemed projects, Tang has become an extremely sought-after producer. She has worked on films such as Locked, and Hot Pot Man. Both of these projects have gone on to do very well at several of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. However, what is perhaps the most decorated film of Tang’s career is the award-winning horror flick Emily.

“When I was asked to join the project, I was really interested. I love horror movies, but I always have trouble watching them because they scare me, so I really wanted to know how a horror movie was shot,” said Tang.

Directed by Jun Xia, the film tells the scary story of a woman named Emily. Emily dies giving birth at home after her husband, John, abandons her. However, she will have her revenge from beyond the grave when she returns as a ghost set on killing her widowed husband.

“I liked the script at first, it was short but it was interesting, and once I started working on the film, I began to really like the way the director told the story. He really caught the point at which everyone is frightened. It really made me scared. He really had his style and his visual for everything,” said Tang.

Tang was approached by co-producer Guannan Li to join the project. Li knew he needed a team of the best producers he could find, and having worked with Tang before, he knew she would be the perfect fit. Another producer on the film, Jingming Zhao, could not have agreed more.

“During development of the film, Xueru included her creative input for the film, and helped to polish the script, showcasing her creative abilities. She was responsible for renting equipment, creating and managing our budget and schedule, and making certain that this highly intensive work was made on our budget. Due to Xueru’s preeminent abilities as a creative thinker and a talented producer, she helped us to lay a foundation for the film, without which we would not have been nearly as successful. Of the many producers I have worked alongside, she is the most stand-out talent I can think of,” said Zhao.

Tang’s decisions for the film were very fruitful, as Emily has been a stand out at film festivals. After its premiere at the Los Angeles International Film Festival in August of 2015, it went on to be praised at the following festivals: Winner Best Horror Short Film – Hollywood Horror Festival 2015, Winner Best Short Film – Mad Town Horror 2015, Winner Best Horror Short – Hollywood Boulevard Film Festival 2016, Winner Best Student Horror Short – Hollywood International Moving Picture Film Festival 2016, Winner Best Student Horror Short – United International Film Festival 2016, Winner Best Director – Chandler International Film Festival 2016, Winner Official Selection Award – Chinese American Film Festival 2016, Official Selection London Digital Film Festival 2015, Official Selection International New York Film Festival 2015, Official Selection Full Bloom Film Festival 2015, Official Selection and Screening Big House Invitation Year One 2015, Official Selection Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival 2015, Official Selection Horror Short Video Contest 2015, Official Selection Los Angeles Short Film Festival 2016, Official Selection and Screening Holly Shorts Film Festival 2016, Official Selection AFMA Film Festival 2016, Official Selection and Screening Hanhai Studio 1st Short Film Festival 2016.

“When we won the first festival, we all super happy, and one by one, after like 10, to be honest, we all started to feel like ‘okay, this is normal,’” said Tang. “When we started winning the big festival, we felt happy of course. I felt like it showed how hard we worked and how good we are. When we work it can be a really hard time and not easy for all of us, but we studied from this production and we grew because of it.”

For a film to do so well over such an extended period of time, continuing to impress audiences and critics over a full year, shows just how good it is, and Tang was a big part of that. She dealt with the crew, worked on the budget, and was responsible for hiring a team that she knew could make the film the success it became. One role in particular that she tirelessly searched for was the cinematographer, as the director Jun Xia wanted someone he could work well with and share his vision. Tang spent months searching and interviewing candidates looking for that special director of photography. This effort led to finding the ideal match, and was vital for the film.

The team worked so well together, that they decided to embark on another horror film Inside Linda Vista Hospital, which production companies were eager to be a part of after Emily’s success. The second film has gone on to achieve similar feats at many film festivals, showing audiences all over the world why Tang is so good at what she does.

Peter Lam’s musical genius wins Best Score Award for film ‘Lovebites’

When Peter Lam was a child, he, like most other children, loved movies. He would sneak into his parents’ movie collection, eager at any opportunity to experience a new film. However, unlike most children, who would be enthralled by what they saw on the screen, Lam was captivated by what he heard through the speakers.

Now, Lam is an internationally sought-after film composer. He has worked on countless successful projects, including the award-winning films The Ballerina, The Shoemaker, & His Apprentice, and (le) Rebound. He recently worked on the score for the TV movie Menendez: Blood Brothers, which premiered on Lifetime earlier this month, with over a million people tuning in to hear what he is capable of. However, what is perhaps the most celebrated film of his career is Lovebites, a 2015 animated film that catapulted Lam to the top of his field, being recognized as one of the best film composers to come out of Hong Kong in recent memory.

“I am always excited to work on animations. It’s a very imaginative genre and music often plays a big part in shaping the ‘sound world’ of the animated world. A composer often doesn’t come on board on a live-action film until the film has been shot. But in animation, I often start composing while the animation is still being developed or rendered alongside. The whole creative process feels very organic, hence it’s always fun to work on animations,” Lam described.

Lovebites is about the praying mantis Cecil, and tells the story of his first date. Lam’s music is vital for Lovebites, as the story is essentially told through music. It is an animated film with no dialogue and minimal sound effects, and the score runs continuously through the film from start to finish. Lam’s ability to capture the emotions of the two mantises is what makes the film so engaging.

“We bounced back and forth about musical ideas and the storyline, and when I started working on the project, I was presented with the initial character sketches and concept art. I scored the entire film based on the animatics (pre-rendered animation). In a way, the material I was working with then was not as detailed or delicate as the final product, but on the other hand, it offered me a bit more freedom for imagination, and encouraged me to be creative,” he described.

Stuck Truck Studios, the production company of Lovebites, had total trust in Lam’s creative decisions. Knowing they needed the best for a film that relies so heavily on the score, the team quickly invited Lam to be a part of the project after hearing samples of his work. Lam decided to create a score that only featured percussion and plucked instruments to create the quirky world of insects.

“Stuck Truck Studio encouraged me to think outside the box in order to create a colorful and quirky palette for this cute animation. It’s always fun to break away from conventions and experiment with new sounds,” said Lam. “I think the approach I used for the music gave the film a unique character, and I had a lot of fun experimenting with wild percussion sounds that, if not for this film, I would never have thought of using.”

This musical approach proved fruitful. After its premiere at the Original Narrative Festival in Dubai in February 2015, the film went on to see enormous success at film festivals around the world. That same year, it was an Official Selection at BFI Future Film Festival, Chile Monos International Animation Festival 2015, Athens Animfest, Tiltshift Festvial, 9th River Film Festival, Original Narrative Dubai, Reel Teal Film Festival, MICE Valencia, and the Vancouver International Film Festival. It went on to win the Audience Choice Award at the Melbourne International Animation Festival, and the Character Animation Award at the ANIMEX International Festival of Animation and Computer Games. Lam was personally recognized at the Short Sharp Film Festival Australia that year, winning the award for Best Score.

“Given that this was one of my first experiences in working with animations, I was very delighted to know that the film did so well in so many film festivals. Lovebites has been screened around the world and has set foot on almost every continent. I guess winning the Audience Choice Award at the Melbourne International Animation Festival and Best Score in Short Sharp Film Festival in Australia shows how effective my music can be,” said Lam.

After its success at so many film festivals, the film was later featured in the acclaimed animation website and channel CG Bros. It has amassed more than 4.2 million views (on YouTube since that time), making it a viral animation. None of this success would have been possible without Lam’s creative ear for the score, knowing its importance in telling the story. Agaki Bautista, the Art Director for Lovebites, believes Lam is one of the best film composers he has ever worked with.

Peter was always punctual in responding and we always felt comfortable having a dialogue with him. Communication was clear across all fronts. Peter is super receptive towards creative collaboration. We started off by sharing references and bouncing off ideas with each other and he was open throughout the process. It is rare to have the level of creative cooperation that we had with Peter,” said Bautista.

Lam’s talent is evident in everything he does. His work on Lovebites shows the world that his creative instincts are spot on, and he is exceptionally versatile. Be sure to check out his work in the upcoming animation film Slippages – Grace in IMAX later this year.

In the meantime, watch Lovebites here and let your eyes, and ears, capture the essence of the story with Lam’s work.

Bassist Yasutaka Nomura talks Smokey Lenses’ new highly-anticipated album

Yastuaka Nomura is lucky enough to love what he does. There is no “back to work grind” that so many face on a Sunday night for him, or dull days filled with no real feeling of accomplishment. His job gives him joy, a sense of purpose, and adrenaline rushes. That is the life of a professional musician.

Having worked with several bands, such as Mammoth, Squanky Kong, and Voodoo Kungfu, Nomura has worked on a wide variety of genres for a professional musician. He enjoys this, not wanting to pigeon-hole himself into one specific type of music. The guitarist and bassist is recognized for his undeniable versatility and talent, which is why when the Indie Rock/Alternative band Smokey Lenses was looking for a bassist, he knew he had to be a part of it.

“I wanted to work with Smokey Lenses because I liked the songs, but also because the music they play is something I usually don’t get to play, even though I always liked listening to that kind of music and I always wanted to play it with a band with original material. I was very excited when they asked me to play in the band,” said Nomura. “I usually don’t get to play the kind of music that Smokes Lenses plays so I was inspired to do a completely different musical approach than I usually do in my other projects. I was definitely a new challenge for me.”

Initially, Nomura had heard the band was looking for a new bass player for their album recording through his friend Aliyar Kinik, the drummer of Nomura’s band Mammoth. The band’s drummer needed a substitute and Kinik was filling in. He mentioned to the band that he new a good bassist, and after hearing Nomura, they knew they had to have him.

“Recording the album was great. We recorded total of 12 songs and I’m happy with all of them. The songs were already great before arranging but I think the work of the band is making the songs sound even better. I can’t wait for the album to be released and to listen to it,” said Nomura.

When recording the album, they did all the basic tracks live at once, with everyone in the same room. This is not a common way of recording. Because of using this style, the tracks have a lot of energy and organic feeling, according to Nomura. Recording like this allows there to be more energy, with better dynamics and conversation between each band member, just like a live show.

“It was awesome. I barely knew the band members at first but we got along very quickly. Everyone in the band was very easy to work with and fun people. We always had a great time at the recording sessions. I cannot wait to work with them again,” said Nomura.

The album is expected to be released later this summer, which is highly-anticipated due to the release of the first single Candle Glow, which was released May of last year. The single received positive reviews and was featured by popular music blogs like Speak Into My Good Eye, That New Jam, and Revolution Tunes.

Candle Glow is definitely one of my favorite songs from this album. It has a nice catchy melody and lyrics. I’m really happy with the recording too,” said Nomura. “The success it has seen since being released is great. We started off the album recording with this song. It was the first time I could even play with the band since our schedule didn’t match before the first recording session, but I think we were already locked in at the first session.”

As a guitarist and bassist, Nomura typically plays progressive rock, metal, funk, R&B, jazz, and fusion. He says progressive rock and metal require a lot of technique, with the sense of odd meters and solid timing. Funk and R&B require a nice 16th note time feel and a good sense of call. Jazz and Fusion require great skill with improvisation, nice swing, 16th note feel, pocket and of course sophisticated technique. The music that Smokey Lenses plays is far different from these genres. It doesn’t require either an amazing technique or the skill of improvisation but a good time feel/pocket on mostly 8th note beat, importantly the skill to stay on the groove and not overplay, technically speaking. Many musicians so familiar with other genres would have found themselves overplaying and not staying on the groove, which would interfere with the vocal melody. This was not the case for Nomura. He even tried to sing on everything he played on bass. His adaptability was appreciated by the band, who may not have been able to make the album or see the success that they say with Candle Glow without Nomura.

“Yasutaka is very professional and easy to work with. The work process went smoothly and he produced exceptional results. Yasutaka is a professional musician, so he understands the importance of being excellent at his craft and has a dense knowledge of music theory. He is respectful, focused, observant and learns extremely quickly,” said Singer and Guitarist Adam Oberst.

With talent like this, there is no doubt Nomura will continue to come through our speakers for years to come. Listen to Nomura’s work and Smokey Lenses’ song Candle Glow here.

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Model Francois Angoston travels the world doing what he loves

Francois Angoston has always had one dream. It never was what he would do when he grew up or who he would be with, it was where. He wanted to travel. The Guadelopian native spent his childhood dreaming of seeing the world, and eventually he realized the best way he could live his dream and work hard: modeling. Since that time, he has never looked back, and now is an leader in the industry.

Throughout his esteemed career, Angoston has represented some of the world’s largest stores and brands. He has worked with the world-famous department stores JC Penney and Macy’s, as well as Belk, Bon-Ton, and brands like Pendleton, SanMar, Bonobos and IZOD.

“As a model, it’s a lot about being flexible and ready, to fulfill the client’s wishes and expectations when it comes to how they want you to highlight their clothes. The best way to promote a product is when you can relate to it. I love what I do,” said Angoston.

Angoston’s charisma comes through every photograph he takes, and he has contributed to the success of many campaigns. While working with the iconic shoe company Skechers, Angoston showed what he can do to the world, allowing all to see why he is considered one of the best.

“It’s always been a great experience working with Skechers. When I began to work for them, I met the director and I have to tell you, that she was quite a bit intimidating at first. She even got me a little bit shy,” said Angoston, laughing. “She is a fire ball of energy and she never stops. But you know, when you get to know her way of working through observing, you see that strong, ambitious and big-hearted woman with other eyes. She knows what she wants and there is no way around, but she would always make sure that everyone is happy in the end. I really admire her for being so tough and ambitious.”

Angoston represented Skechers through many different mediums, including television Commercials, print campaigns, catalogues, billboards, and in-store advertisements. He held the leading role of sole model for a print ad campaign the company ran in 2015. He could be seen across the country showing off the Relaxed Fit Footwear collection.

“I liked the fact that working with Skechers offered me a lot of exposure in different sources such as magazines, billboards, TV commercial, catalogs and so on.  On set, I worked with a lot of interesting people,” said Angoston.

One of those people was Lindsey Clarke, Vice President of Creative and Advertising at Skechers. Clarke believes Angoston’s talent is one-of-a-kind. She says he has the unique ability to look totally natural and at ease while consciously modeling, a skill that is not easily found. After his first shoot, Clarke was so impressed with Angoston that she invited him back for the 2016 and 2017 campaigns, as well as the television campaigns after seeing the success of the print ads.

“Having worked closely with Francois, I can attest to how commercially invaluable he is. His dashing good looks and extraordinary modelling abilities have established him as a highly sought-after model who brings immediate prestige to any publication, brand, or production he models for. Francois’ stature in the fashion and modeling industries is monumental,” said Clarke. “Though Francois undoubtedly looks exceptional no matter what he is wearing, he is able to combine his professional-looking clothing with the Skechers in such a way that the images emit a strong sense of poise and sureness that few models could pull off.”

This unique talent transcends to all of Angoston’s work. While working in London with the brand Express Gifts, Angoston was able to show a different audience what he is capable of. Express Gifts had seen Angoston before, and knew they wanted him to represent their brand. After meeting him, they were immediately convinced, and he has been working with them for years now.

“I worked a lot already for this client and we are always having a good time. Working with Express Gifts is easy for me, as I exactly know what the client expect from me on how I represent their brand. I shoot E-Commerce content and TV commercials with them. The TV commercials are always a lot of fun. Also I became their ‘Polo Guy‘. They love to shoot Polo Shirts on me, from Superdry to Ralph Lauren,” said Angoston.

Express Gifts is a company based out of the United Kingdom. They have many different brands, ranging from clothing, to greeting cards, gifts, and home and garden items. They are an extremely popular personal shopping service. But most importantly, working with Express Gifts once again gives Angoston that chance to live out his dream.

“At the shootings for Express Gifts, the team is always super nice and we’re always having a great time and good laughs. I get to travel all over Europe. Sometimes I really miss Europe, and especially the food there,” he concluded.

Production Designer and Art Director Katsuya Imai brings life to ‘The Next Generation Patlabor’

Patlabor2_by Eri Kobiki
Katsuya Imai on the set of The Next Generation Patlabor

Katsuya Imai is more than an artist. He is a storyteller. His passion for art that started as a child, painting and building models, transformed into something much more as he grew. His love for movies became more prominent; not just watching them, but observing them, noticing the craft and skill that took place behind the scenes. With interests like these, it is no wonder why Imai became a production designer and art director. However, it is his talent that has made him the success he is, and recognized as one of Japan’s best.

Throughout his career, Imai has had the opportunity to work on projects that he was already a fan of throughout his life. As production designer on the film Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger: 10 Years After, he was able to design for his childhood heroes. While working on the films and television series The Next Generation Patlabor, he was able to do the same.

“I have loved the animation in the original Patlabor films since I was a student. I watched these so many times and have some books about the art setting and method of directing in them. I have knowledge of these background, so it was very helpful to design it,” said Imai.

The Patlabor franchise includes three films and a television show. Therefore, The Next Generation Paltabor has many background stories that do not need to be mentioned in the script. Imai has worked on many different aspects of The Next Generation Patlabor, including the film The Next Generation Patlabor: Tokyo War.

“It was very exciting. I was so happy that I could read the new script of the film. The script was connected to Patlabor: The Movie 2. That is my favorite film. I really enjoyed designing it. I thought it was one of my dreams coming true,” said Imai.

As a fan of Director Mamoru Oshii’s films (Ghost in the Shell, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, and the original two Patlabor films). Imai also wanted the opportunity to work alongside one of his filmmaking heroes. He immediately impressed all those he worked with, and contributed greatly to the film’s success.

“Katsuya had years of experience and was very skillful, so we could leave the shooting to him. He is very serious and calm as art director. He always directed surely to the other crews,” said Supervising Art Director, Masato Ando.

The film tells the story of an attack that takes place on Rainbow Bridge in Odaiba, Tokyo by the fighter helicopter `Gray Ghost`. Two days earlier, the Gray Ghost was stolen. The perpetrators are followers of Yukihito Tsuge. Yukihito Tsuge planned a coup of Tokyo 13 years earlier. The leader of Special Vehicle Section 2, Keiji Gotoda, sets out to stop the terrorists. It went on to be an Official Selection at the Montreal World Film Festival.

Patlabor3_by Hitoshi Ohta
Katsuya Imai on the set of The Next Generation Patlabor

“I was very happy to hear that. It’s always an honor that the film I worked on is watched by many audiences,” said Imai.

As Art Director, Imai went to location scouting, trying to find the perfect set for the film. His knowledge of the Patlabor series were designed elaborately and rated highly by the fans. This made him an asset to the television series The Next Generation Patlabor as well.

“Normally working on a television show, we shoot each episode at a time. We are given the next script during filming the previous episode. The production has to reflect the review and reaction from the audience to the script. However, this project already has all 12 episodes scripted in the pre-production. This made it easy to plan and design the whole project,” said Imai.

The show is a story of a world where giant robots are built and used for labor, a special police force of robots is created to handle crimes relating to these machines. Imai built two full-size robots. Each one was eight meters high. This made the series a bit conspicuous.

“While we were filming, fans were not aware of a Patlabor revival. However, we had to do shooting at the location with a full-size robot. It was impossible to hide it because it’s too huge. Some people noticed that robot and posted the photo to Twitter. All the Patlabor fans were excited on Twitter,” said Imai. “We ended up using the full-size robot for the promotion. It’s huge and attracts people. The Patlabor fans said the film became reality.”

Episode 10 of the series went on to be screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2014. Without Imai’s keen eye while designing the set and special props, such as the iconic robot, the show may not have achieved what it has. Fans of the original series were immediately enthralled with The Next Generation Patlabor, enjoying how true it kept to its base story. Imai, as a big fan of the show, knew exactly what was needed to win over the hearts of other fans, and he definitely succeeded.

Producer Albee Zhang doubles as Hometown Champion

Many people don’t realize they have a dream until they have already achieved it. This is just what happened for Albee Zhang. The Shanghai native always knew she wanted to make films, but it wasn’t until she realized she had made a career both in China and the United States that this was always what she wanted. She shows the world her culture through her work, and allows audiences to see both where she comes from and where she is now, as an internationally successful film and television producer.

This is exactly what Zhang achieved with the film Bride: Shanghai, I Love You. As a producer on the film, Zhang was essential to its success. She provided creative ideas for story meetings, prepared pitch materials, created and managed the production budget, scouted locations, recruited the crew, oversaw the art department and post-production teams to ensure deadlines, and cast the film. Without her, the film could not have been made.

“The cast she put together, the people that she put together for this project, it was really quite amazing. Albee is the master of multitasking, but never skips out on the small things. She has more drive and passion than anyone I have ever met. She is definitely a go-getter,” said the director of the film, Lian Xin.

Bride: Shanghai, I Love You is a film made for the 15th Shanghai International Film Festival, hosted by SIFF and the Information Office of Shanghai Municipality, as part of city promotional videos during the festival. It’s a story about a young photographer who meets his long-lost ex-girlfriend on her wedding day. Originally, he accused the fast pacing city life of changing them and made them break-up, but he finally realizes without all the tough times in his life, he wouldn’t be who he is right now. He moves on with relief and looks forward to the future with deep love in this city, Shanghai.

“It’s such a compelling life changing story. Any dream seeker in the big cities would find similarities to the character. The release date was in a summer, same as the graduation season in the story, which made the whole story resonate with more people. I love the idea that we started from an ordinary person’s point of view to reveal the beauty of this city,” said Zhang. “It’s a light-hearted and inspirational story to motivate the young professions to following up their dreams. We had a very young team making this film. Although they may lack of professional experience, they brought so much energy and joy to the crew. They gave us lots of ideas of how to capture a city wanderer’s life. And in return, we were trying to give these young professionals an opportunity to work on this film. All they needed was an equal chance, just like everyone else.”

Zhang wanted to share her love for her city through the film, and that is exactly what she did. She worked on the project from start to finish, from the development stage, casting, accountings, getting equipment deal and transportation, to its premiere at the festival. She was working at MT media at the time, and the director, Lian Xin, reached out to her to be a part of the film, knowing he needed the best to make the film a success.

“Lian Xin is a very hands-on director. He likes taking different jobs at the same time while making his films. He directed, wrote, filmed, and even gave lighting directions on our film set. In the editing stage, he would prefer to have a director’s cut. By looking at his works, you would know what’s a ‘Lian’s style’ movie. He was calm and quiet person off-set, but as long as the camera was rolling, he would rule the set. We had worked on few other projects before, so I knew from my heart that he had the capability to do multiple jobs on set. If it was another director, I wouldn’t let him do that. But it’s all about trust and mutual understanding. When he was in charge, I had nothing to worry about,” said Zhang.

The film was a non-profit project, and therefore had a very small crew. This required Zhang to wear many hats at the same time to ensure the production went smoothly. As a producer, she is known for her commitment to her work and to each project she works on, which is why they have gone on to see such success. Her more recent work on the film Caged has gone on to be an Official Selection at many festivals, and win several awards. She knows what it takes to achieve greatness, as that is what she continuously does. Having Bride: Shanghai, I Love You, premiere at a prestigious film festival such as The Shanghai International Film Festival was nothing out of the ordinary for this producer.

“It was a great honor to be part of the film festival program. Producing my own hometown promotion video for SIFF made me think about what my home town means to me. I was born and raised in Shanghai, and lived there for the majority of my life, but I never thought about what impression does this city leave the world, until I started brainstorming ideas for this project. It’s a place you will easily lose yourself in a materialistic life, but after all the struggles, you will eventually be deeply in love the city with and understand how inclusive this city can be,” said Zhang. “Since I am purely from Shanghai, that was a great chance show the world how great my home city is. I am proud that I can become part of the production.”

BRIDE