All posts by P. L. McGroarty

Eclectic, Radical, Diamond In The Ruff Rough. A puzzlingly optimistic inspiration hunter fueled by all things adventure. Sailing, motorcycles, wake boarding, snowboarding and yoga are a few of my favorite things. Some of the countries I've explored so far include Greece, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Mexico, Portugal, France, Germany, Holland and Honduras; and I'm just getting started. Next on the list are Japan, Morocco, all of South American eventually, Italy, Russia, Spain... I can go on and on.

Abou Traore Makes a Name For Himself in A Performance Sport Akin to Magic

Abou Traore
Abou Traore shot by Inaeei

While many of us have seen famous soccer players break into dance in celebration of a hard earned goal on the field or a breakdancer who weaves a few ball tricks into their act, the idea of a performance sport that intertwines soccer skills and dance at a professional level is relatively new. Those in the know refer to it as ‘Freestyle Football,’ and former Guinean soccer player Abou Traore is among the top performers in this amazing discipline.

Regardless of whether he’s performing for street crowds or in front of the audiences of thousands of people attending Luzia, the hit international Cirque Du Soleil show he’s performed with since 2016, Abou Traore moves with flawless style, stamina and grace, and the smile never once leaves his face.

After spending a decade playing soccer semi-professionally for the clubs ES Parisienne, MFC Montrouge, Paris FC and Paris Saint Germain, Abou took his soccer ball to the streets in 2011 and began experimenting with a new style of performance art. Blending his athleticism and technical soccer skills with fluid movement, dance and astonishing choreography, Abou’s innovative freestyle football performances quickly turned him into an international celebrity.

Though being chosen as a lead performer in the mesmerizing Cirque Du Soleil show Luzia has undoubtedly put Abou in the spotlight, his groundbreaking talent had begun earning extensive attention well before he joined the show.

Some of the tricks that have made Abou so exciting to watch are his signature moonwalk move, where he glides across the floor with the ball on his head, and his windmill trick, which is inspired by the eponymous breakdance move, but brings the added difficulty of gripping a soccer ball between his flexed foot and shin– only to move it around to other parts of his body as he flows through the move. Take a look at the video here to see Abou’s windmill trick in action.

When asked what gets audiences most excited, Abou says “It is when I mix breakdance moves with the ball. “Every time the audience is wowed because they don’t think it’s possible. Some people think I have glue on my feet to hold the ball, so I did it barefoot to prove it.”

From the moment Abou began performing on the streets, fans couldn’t get enough of him; and they made sure to spread the word through social media. With onlookers around the world capturing countless live videos of Abou working his magic, his profile rose exponentially.

In 2013 the social media buzz around Abou landed him his first “professional” job when the entertainment company Brazil Fever discovered him through a YouTube video. They signed Abou on as a part of the act and he began performing at high-profile events across France as a lead member of the Brazilian Samba performance troupe. At the same time, he was consistently being invited to perform regularly on major television shows airing across multiple continents alongside his brother Iya Traore, who is another key figure in the discipline of freestyle football.

Becoming a celebrated figure on the small screen, Abou wowed German audiences when he performed on the popular RTL TV series “Unschlagbar” aka “Unbeatable,” a challenge series that earned No. 1 ratings and averaged 3.89 million viewers per episode. Japan got a taste of his impressive skill when he performed on Nippon TV, and his presence in France grew even more when he was invited to perform on NRJ12’s hit series “Le Mag.”

Moving from performing for street crowds to international audiences through major televised events, Abou’s journey is a rare and inspiring success story. Since 2016 he has continued to impress audiences across Canada, the U.S. and Mexico with his agility and magnetic stage presence through his performances in over 700 shows with Luzia. He even performed in front of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and last year he was invited to speak at Google about the show.

Inspired by rich Mexican culture, Luzia weaves elements of light (luz) and rain (lluvia) into it’s succession of highly stylized acts, and when Abou takes the stage, audiences know something special is coming. The only performer on stage at the beginning of the act, Abou playfully moves around with his soccer ball revealing a little sliver of his skill.

He says, “The audience is very interested because at first, there is no music, and they are not ready to see football in a Cirque show.”

He is then joined by football freestyler Laura Biondo. Together, the two performers enact a scene of a boy and girl playing ball in the street, each inspiring one another to push their skills further, followed by their solo performances. A soundtrack of laughter and children’s voices plays in the background, and a palpable feeling of wonder and joyful innocence is felt as they move across the stage. The 38th show that Cirque Du Soleil has put on since 1984, Luzia has received rave reviews.

In promotion of the show, Abou has performed live on the Toronto morning show “Breakfast Television,” FOX 31 News in Denver, Colorado, “The Late Late Show with James Corden” on CBS, Access Hollywood Live, and more. He’s also been featured in a plethora of popular newspapers and online platforms including Montreal’s Metro, The Chicago Tribune, The Globe and Mail, The Orange County Register, Redmond Reporter, 303 Magazine, and countless others.

Since the beginning of human history there has been a drive to use performance as a means of expression and a way to unite communities, and that’s no different today. Right when we think that we’ve innovated as far as we can, someone like Abou Traore breaks onto the scene and shows us something completely new and previously unimaginable. Though it is safe to say that most people around the world probably didn’t know much about this performance discipline prior to Abou Traore’s arrival on the scene, with all the attention he’s received from media outlets across the globe for his powerful performances over the last few years, he’s turned freestyle football into something that is now recognizable on a global scale.

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Director Eliza Brownlie’s Unique Visual Style Captivates Audiences

By Portia Leigh
Director Eliza Brownlie shot by Leonard Smith

It’s impossible not to watch director Eliza Brownlie’s work and not feel something. Over the past few years she’s directed commercials and fashion films for well-known brands including Dove, Canon, Cast + Combed, Top Expert, Angie Bauer Lingerie and many more. Diverging from the bright colors and over the top emotions utilized by most mainstream commercials to grab our attention, Brownlie brings a delicate subtlety to her work that is appealing enough to capture our interest. She doesn’t need to bombard or distract us with bells, whistles and bright lights.

“With commercials you are often working for a brand or a client, so you have to consider their needs and objectives. That’s always in the back of your mind when making directorial choices,” says Brownlie. “At the same time, the client often hires you because they like your filmmaking style, so I try and find a good balance of giving them what they’re looking for and putting my unique spin on it.”

The soft tones, atmospheric visuals and the fluidity of the camera movements present in most of her work gives Brownlie a recognizable style that is feminine, honest and intriguing, not to mention highly cinematic. And it is these aspects that have made her such a sought after director internationally. Though we’ll rarely see a face forcing a smile in any one of her commercials, the emotions of her actors are palpable and authentically human; and as a director, one of her strengths is working with her actors to bring out those qualities on camera.

Brownlie says, “I love collaborating with actors in developing the characters and performance, as well as creating a safe space for them to feel supported and bring ideas to the table. This always makes for a better performance and working environment in general. It can be easy to get lost in making beautiful visuals and forget about performance. I always try to remind myself that story, character, and performance are everything.”

The women featured in Imperfectionists, a series of branded documentary films Brownlie recently directed for Dove’s Self-Esteem Project, are not actors; but that says even more about her skill as a director. With each film focusing on a different artist and exploring how they overcame insecurity and learned to embrace their so-called ‘flaws,’ Brownlie brilliantly captures the story of each woman with a refreshing level of vulnerability.

In order to highlight how each artist turned their ‘imperfection’ into a strength, Brownlie had to create the space for them to open up and allow her to peer into their lives, and the way she captures it is beautiful. Through one on one interviews she manages to elicit the most intricate and personal details about their human experience, and the way she puts it all together combined with sequences of each artist fully involved in their passion makes each film incredibly inspirational.

“I used dynamic camera work to convey the uplifting tone and the joy and power that each of them derived from their art, whether that was painting, dance or music,” Brownlie explains. “I always made sure to direct the women in a way in which they felt as confident and beautiful as they are.”

The goal of Dove’s Self-Esteem Project is to empower young women of every shape, size and color to accept and love their bodies as they are, and to see themselves as strong and valuable human beings regardless of societal expectations.

Brownlie says, “I think for the majority of women, and humans in general, the journey to self-acceptance is a rocky and complicated process. It’s never a straight line. But I know that I feel my best when I’m creating, not when I’m focused on my appearance.”

Through her emphasis on the positivity and self-confidence that emerges through the process of creating, Brownlie nails the mark with the Imperfectionist series. It’s nearly impossible not to be inspired after watching one of these films.

Growing up in a small suburban community by the sea in West Vancouver, Canada, Brownlie was surrounded by natural beauty where the sky remained grey throughout most of the year, bringing a certain level of isolation. For her, the juxtaposition of bucolic scenery and melancholy weather patterns was something beneficial.

“You had a lot of time to think and find your own fun, which I guess made it conducive to creativity. I did a lot of painting, writing and photography, and also played tons of sports,” recalls Brownlie. “Since as far back as I can remember I’ve always loved film. I recall watching Kubrick’s The Shining as a kid and being completely blown away by the imagery, my parents weren’t very good at filtering what my brothers and I watched, which in retrospect I’m grateful for now.”

Though Brownlie studied communications as an undergrad, she started creating visual work on the side during her second year of college. One of her first professional projects was the music video for the Canadian alt rock band The Darcys’ single “Itchy Blood” off their debut album Warring. After reaching out to cinematographer and friend Peter Hadfield (The Basement, Is There a Picture) to collaborate, Brownlie and Hadfield joined forces and came up with a concept for the video and then pitched their idea to the band and their label, Arts & Crafts. Arts & Crafts and The Darcys were immediately on board with the concept, and just like that, Brownlie and Hadfield went to work directing the music video.

Starring Eva Bourne from ABC’s seven-time Primetime Emmy nominated series Once Upon a Time and model Jordan Swail, “Itchy Blood” explores the monotony of money and suburban life through the absurd ways two teenage girls kill time in their mid-century modern mansion.

Brownlie says, “The video is a subtle commentary on the disenchanting effects of wealth on youth, and the things young women do to escape suburban ennui. The song has a soft, dreamy quality about it that gradually builds to a haunting climax. I wanted the narrative and the visuals to reflect that.”

Featured by Vice outlet Noisey, Photogmusic, The Stranger, ION Magazine and many more, the music video garnered major international attention upon release. A rare accomplishment for any director’s first work, the ‘Itchy Blood’ music video was the proverbial gateway that opened the door to the industry and set her off on her way as a director. Even then, the unique style that makes her stand-out today was evident.

Since that first music video for The Darcys several years ago to her recent narrative horror film The After Party, which was an Official Selection of the Williamsburg Independent Film Festival and the Sacramento Horror Film Festival and stars Isabel Dresden (Castle, Scandal) and Tarryn Lagana (Wonderland Ave., Too Far Gone), director Eliza Brownlie has continued to make a powerful name for herself in the industry as an exceptionally talented filmmaker.

Never one to follow in the footsteps of another, Brownlie has channeled her gift for creative expression into a definitive personal style that offers up a unique kind of intimacy accompanied by the underlying feeling that something bad is about to happen. She is definitely in a league of her own and we can’t wait to see what she creates next.

Sonia Gumuchian: One Gifted Writer to Keep your Eyes On

 

Sonia Gumuchian
Writer Sonia Gumuchian

It’s no wonder that internationally acclaimed writer Sonia Gumuchian has caught America’s attention. An award-winning writer with sharp dialogue, hilarious stories and impeccable timing, Gumuchian’s ability to turn real life situations into fun and engaging scripts will leave any person wanting more.

Originally from Vancouver, Canada, Gumuchian has a way with words that is an impeccable blend of both natural talent and deliberately honed skill. With her first novel under her belt before she finished high school, and then graduating from the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Writing for Screen and Television, Gumuchian’s talents were quickly recognized by major powerhouse networks in Hollywood.

Working for respected TV networks such as HBO and FOX, as well as ABC Studios, Gumuchian attended table reads and provided coverage on potential scripts, which helped her learn the ropes of what goes into developing some of today’s most watched shows. Gumuchian even worked with the Hallmark Channel where the ideas she pitched were taken into consideration in the development of the 2016 Kitten Bowl, the nation’s most beloved rescue pet adoption of the year. THE KITTEN BOWL, guys.

Her pilot “Hi Again” has been met with glowing praise and interest. Centering on a young woman who wakes up as an android that’s been built by her ex boyfriend, yikes, Gumuchian’s script for “Hi Again” was awarded as a second rounder at the esteemed Austin Film Festival, an honor that only 15 to 20 percent of almost 10,000 submissions receive.

“At the time, I was inspired by the technology centered around transhumanism and the surge of science fiction content we were receiving,” Gumuchian explains. “After personally visiting AI symposiums and conducting interviews with scientists who are creating the next generation of materials made to simulate human faces, I wanted to write my own spin of the genre. What if someone was brought back to life, but not on their own terms?”

And that’s exactly what happens. The story begins in 1987, when 21-year-old Kat tragically dies from a drunken bowling accident, leaving her friends, family, and loving boyfriend, Toby, behind. Cut to 2018 and Toby, now a successful scientist, finally succeeds in downloading Kat’s consciousness onto an android, only for Kat to break up with him the second she wakes up (something she was meaning to do before she died). Now, faced with a world far into the future, Kat must navigate new waters and become reacquainted with her loved ones. With “Hi Again” Gumuchian pulls at heartstrings while exploring the depths of human connection and making the reader laugh out loud, pretty much all of the time.

One priceless mark of a great writer is their ability to pick up and expand upon a contemporary idea and make it into something more– a throughline regularly seen in sci-fi novels and scripts, but Gumuchian does it with comedy. A a certifiable pro, that’s exactly what she did with her “Good Cop, Old Cop” script drawing inspiration from the series “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” The script, which is only one of several that will leave audiences rolling on the floor laughing, earned her attention once again when, going up against 800 other entries, it made it into the Top 7 in Filmmakers.com’s TV Script Writing Competition.

The story follows Jake and Amy as they go undercover to infiltrate a fake ID epidemic, which leads Jake to the painful realization that he can’t connect to the youth anymore; meanwhile, Boyle distrusts Rosa’s new boyfriend, as Mike and Scully investigate a suspicious Chinese restaurant. The script’s ingenuity lies within Gumuchian’s seamless creation of fresh new material cut from a preexisting cloth, an invaluable asset to any writers room. Honestly, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if she starts writing for Saturday Night Live or the like very soon.

With talents expanding from screenwriting to journalism, Gumuchian has been chosen to contribute as a staff writer to a plethora of popular magazines and media outlets such as The Fullest Magazine, and Neon Tommy.

Covering countless red carpet events and movie premieres for media outlet Neon Tommy, her review of  “A Million Ways to Die in the West” not only gained major traction with audiences, but it was retweeted by Alex Borstein, one of the film’s stars. A gratifying moment for any writer.

Sonia Gumuchian
Sonia Gumuchian covering the premiere of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1”

“On one of my most glamorous nights, I was invited to join the red carpet of the ‘Hunger Games,’ and got to chat with the likes of Julianne Moore, Elizabeth Banks and Jennifer Lawrence” Gumuchian recalls.

The voice found in Gumuchian’s writing is gripping and visceral, hilarious and deliberate, engaging and unwasted. She is an unparalleled and important presence behind a keyboard, a mind behind the pages that continue turn the world of entertainment on its side, in a good way.

She admits, “I’m the type of person where I’ll say yes to nearly any experience, and no matter how dangerous or silly my adventures may be, I usually encounter an interesting story or person along my way, and most of my stories do come that real-life inspiration. I live life as a gatherer of stories. Every new day is an opportunity for inspiration, meeting strangers, and getting whisked off to new locations.”

Though she’s gained international attention for her storytelling capacity in the realm of pop culture and comedy, Gumuchian’s gift extends far beyond that alone. Her ability to speak bravely and candidly about tragedies such as the Armenian genocide in the piece “Coming to Terms with Genocide” has helped to shed light on heavy and hard hitting world events while also giving readers a deeper look into her personal world.

She explains, “One piece that I’m proud of is a reflection I wrote about the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and my personal experience with it growing up. It was a hard piece to write, as I had to explore sometimes painful parts about not just the genocide itself, but my part in keeping the legacy alive.”

Without passionate, honest, and gifted writers such as Gumuchian, we, the human race, would never really know the true impact of incredibly sensitive, and even painful, events our cultures and societies have endured.  Gumuchian’s article about immigration and her family’s personal migration history can be found in the ‘Volume 5’ print edition of The Fullest Magazine.

As a writer Sonia Gumuchian is one powerful storyteller who’s creative genius clearly spans the gamut and she is definitely one to keep your eyes on.

 

Specialist Set Designer Haisu Wang, A Key Figure Behind Some of the Marvel Films’ Coolest Vehicles!

The Benatar Ship
The Benatar Ship in “Avengers: Infinity War”

If you’ve ever been curious about the design process of some of the insanely intricate and high-tech sets in many of today’s blockbuster films, then you’ll definitely be interested in the work of specialist set designer Haisu Wang.

A sought after force behind the scenes, Haisu has been a key counterpart in designing some of the incredibly stylized sets in big budget films, such as the recent and upcoming Marvel films “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” and the 2019 “Untitled Avengers Movie.”

“It is always very exciting to work on films like this… I know that for these types of movies, I can always fully express my creative voice,” admits Haisu. “You work with the best team in the industry to achieve new ideas and hopefully inspire the next generation.”

From designing the Escape pod used by Rocket and Thor in “Avengers: Infinity War” to the cockpit and galley of the Benatar ship, the new spaceship that the Guardians of the Galaxy fly in, which we learned in “Avengers: Infinity War,” Haisu’s unique blend of creative and technical skill have led him to be tapped to work on some of today’s most popular films.

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Specialist Set Designer Haisu Wang

Prior to making his mark as a specialist set designer Haisu spent many years as a leading art director and production designer on indie films with comparably lower budgets; but he says, “The design process of big blockbuster films is pretty similar to my previous work.”

With an all-star ensemble cast, including household names such as Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch and Don Cheadle, and a layered and exciting story that makes it watchable over and over again, “Avengers: Infinity War” pulled in over $2bn, making it another one of the Marvel superhero films to reign at the box office.

While the fact that the frenzied films he works on these days will be watched by millions of viewers doesn’t make a huge difference to Haisu as a designer, that doesn’t mean there aren’t still aspects of collaborating on projects of this caliber that get him excited.

“Now I am more inspired by the level of talented artists and designers I work with more than the actual projects themselves,” admits Haisu.

For “Avengers: Infinity War” Haisu worked directly with Primetime Emmy Award nominated production designer Charles Wood (“Doctor Strange,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron”) to design the Escape Pod and the Benatar Ship’s cockpit and galley.

“As the production designer Charlie has a more comprehensive understanding of the story and how the vehicles fit into the visual arc so he gave me pretty clear set of goals of what the vehicles were supposed to feel like,” explains Haisu. “He gave me enough freedom in terms of designing the form and details of the vehicle and then guided me towards the right texture and color combinations.”

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The Benatar Ship

As a specialist set designer, Haisu’s carved out his niche in designing vehicles and special equipment, an area of focus where his artistic genius has not only flourished, but one where his vast technical knowledge has been integral in the multi-phase construction process of actually bringing the designs to fruition.

Giving us keen insight into his technical design process, Haisu explains, “I use Cinema 4D to block out rough concepts and render them in Octane Render. Sometimes I bring the model to Unreal Engine to set up a VR walk through. I use Solidworks and Rhino during the set design phase mainly because they are designed to work with a CNC machine really well, which becomes very important to the construction department.”

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Designing the Escape Pod

 

Taking something based on a comic book and turning it into a physical form that fits the filmmakers’ vision that can be shot by the film’s camera crew is no easy task. These designs undergo numerous transformations from the initial concept to the actual construction, and the vehicles Haisu designed for “Avengers: Infinity War” are no exception.

He explains, “The early version of the Escape Pod had a really slick form compared to the final version, and the surface detail was much more simple and minimalistic. But Charlie preferred the surface to look more like an insect and for the exposed equipment to look a little more complex to match the personality of ‘Rocket,’ the owner of the pod.”

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The Escape Pod

As a specialist set designer, developing these sets to serve the story is the most vital element of Haisu’s work behind the scenes, and his ability to innovate on past designs taken from ‘reality’ has proven to be a powerful contribution– something that is readily apparent in the impressive pilot’s chair he developed for the Escape Pod.

“I spent a good amount of time designing the Gyro Pilot Chair,” says Haisu. “We thought a lot about how to make the pilot seat to be self stabilized so that the pilot would not spin with the ship and lose consciousness like what happened to Neil Armstrong during his first space flight.”

Using his knowledge of design and industrial technology, Haisu was critical in designing a seat that could rapidly spin around a mounted axis, making it free to move according to the pilot’s desires despite the changing directions of the ship.

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The Gyroscope Pilot Chair

Beyond the creative talent it takes to design the kinds of sets that grab viewers attention and serve the story, those in Haisu’s particular field of work are required to have an incredibly broad and comprehensive skill set that includes understanding the manufacturing processes for these sets, such as vacuum forminglaser cutting, and using a multi-axis CNC and waterjet, which Haisu say are integral in ‘building sets that are visual effect friendly.’

He adds, “The set design phase and the construction phase are very well integrated. I design the aesthetic of the set with the sense of  fabrication always in my mind. Since the vehicles of this type of movie tend to have a complex forms. The fabrication process is less labor intensive but more automation based. Preparing clean and fabrication friendly model is the key to saving time and money.”

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Constructing the Benatar Ship

Giving him an additional edge over others in the field in terms of knowing how to communicate with the VFX department, which plays a huge part in massive productions like “Avengers: Infinity War,” Haisu also spent several years as a VFX artist at the three-time Emmy Award winning company Base FX before transitioning into his work as a specialist set designer.

Drawing from his experience as an art director and production designer while bringing a refined skill set to the table that allows him to design elaborate and highly technical sets for some of the most watched films today, Haisu Wang has solidified a strong position for himself in the industry.

Haisu is currently working on the eagerly anticipated continuation of the “Avatar” film series. With “Avatar 2” expected for release in 2020, fans of “Avatar” have waited nearly a decade to find out what happens next; however he won’t be the one to disclose any of that information. But he does say, “I am very excited about the world that we are creating and very proud to be part of the ‘Avatar’ team.”

From Behind the Scenes MUA Flavia Vieira Makes Actors Glow On Screen

Diego Fontecilla; Liliana de Castro; Dylan Rourke; Jo Pratta; Paulo Nigro; Flavia Vieira. I don_t know Josh_s last nameFestival LABRFF2017 red carpet
Flavia Vieira (second to far right) and the cast and crew from “Lady Labyrinth” at LABRFF

While it’s the actor job to ‘become’ their character and bring their stories, personality and all of the mannerisms and idiosyncrasies that make them unique to the screen, it’s those behind the scenes, like makeup artist Flavia Vieira, that come together to transform the actor to look like the character in the script. In film and television believability is everything, something Vieira knows all about.

For Vieira, each actor is a canvas waiting to be transformed into someone else, someone we can watch on screen and effortlessly believe that they’re the real thing in a way that helps us get lost in their story.

Most filmmakers that have worked with Vieira call the Brazilian native back to their set for future productions due to her precision as a makeup artist and the diverse nature of her skill. Filmmaker Camila Rizzo first saw Vieira’s power as a makeup artist on the film “Oust,” which led her to tap Vieira to come on board as the makeup artist on her own films.

Rizzo explains, “‘Oust’ needed a lot of makeup work, and I saw how detailed Flavia was and I decided to invite her to work on my film ‘My Two O’Clock’.”

Flavia’s work on “My Two O’Clock” was key in making the film’s stars Nick Larice (“Je T’aime, Au Revoir”) and Henry Mark (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Unusual Suspects”) look the part of their characters, and the film ultimately went on to win the Global Film Festival Award, the LA Shorts Awards’ Diamond Award, the Award of Recognition from The IndieFest Film Awards and was chosen as a Semi-Finalist from the Los Angeles Cinefest.

“Flavia was very effective on set and she did a great job making the right makeup,” says Rizzo, who then hired Flavia once again to come onboard as head of makeup on her newest film “Headway.”

Based on real characters, “Headway,” which wrapped production earlier this year and stars Hayden Currie (“The Mirror”) and Connor Chess (“TMI Hollywood,” “Heartbeat Away”), revolved around the converging stories of two very different characters- an autistic boy (Currie) and an MMA fighter (Chess) facing the end of his career.

Flavia Vieira
Flavia Vieira working on Connor Chess on “Headway”

“She overpassed my expectations. ‘Headway’ had difficult makeup because one of the main characters is a fighter who had just been knocked out. During the pre-production, Flavia and I had some meetings to discuss every detail of the fighter’s wounds and how she would work on the make up during the passing of 3 months time to keep the continuity,” explains Rizzo. “During one of the Headway private screenings a couple of people came to me to say how impressed they were on the continuity of the fighter’s wound and how real it was.”

Flavia Vieira
Connor Chess ready for camera in “Headway”

Second to none, Flavia’s skill in creating the kinds of special effects makeup that ranges from gory fight wounds to using prosthetics to completely transform an actor to look like an otherworldly creature, which she did for the sci-fi film “Bloody Eyes,” has brought the sought after makeup artist quite a bit of attention for her work.

Flavia Vieira
Poster for “Bloody Eyes”

Though the intense transformations she pulls off on set definitely highlight the strength of her craft when it comes to complex looks, the key for any successful makeup artist in the film industry is to understand, from the minor to the monumental, the aesthetic changes the actor needs to best fit the character in the script. And it’s that keen understanding that has made Flavia such a powerhouse behind the scenes.

“I always like to discuss the looks with directors and writers… Especially when I’m creating the looks of the characters. The writer invented the character. The director is bringing him to life on the screen. What I need is to understand the core of the character to be able to translate it into the look,” explains Flavia.

For the multi-award winning film “Becoming Lucy” directed by Luisa Novo, Flavia was tasked with doing ‘beauty makeup’ for the majority of the characters, however one character, Lucy, the lead played by Maitlyn Pezzo, required a drastic hair change, one that the overall story relied on. After Lucy’s father leaves her mother for a young blonde, and she discovers her teenage crush likes blondes as well, Lucy decides to dye her blonde in order to attract their attention, but the result is disastrous.

In order to transform Lucy’s look Flavia devoted extensive attention to finding the perfect wig, cutting it to look the actress’ real hair and color testing it until she reached the perfect ‘imperfect’ shade.

Flavia Vieira
Flavia Vieira working on actress Maitlyn Pezzo for “Becoming Lucy”

“[Flavia] was the head of makeup, hair and wardrobe… She was essential in getting the wig to look believable. Get the color and texture right, and adding the style to it that fitted each scene. Without that the story would have failed. She also did an excellent job in adding personality to each character,” explains director Luisa Novo. “Flavia doesn’t accept doing a bad job. She does whatever it is in her power to make each project the best it can be. Her makeup and hair skills are fantastic, and she treats the actor so well that they always want to work with her again.”

Key to the film’s success, Flavia’s skill and attention to detail for the characters in “Becoming Lucy” led her to receive impressive industry praise that included earning the Diamond Award for Best Makeup from the LA Shorts Awards and the Bronze Award for Best Makeup from the International Independent Awards in 2017.

Though she’s made a prominent name for herself as a movie makeup artist, Flavia Vieira is no stranger to leading the makeup departments on popular commercials and music videos. Earlier this year she was the head makeup artist on the Tropkillaz music video for ‘Milk & Honey’ featuring Aloe Blacc, which has nearly three million views on YouTube.

For the Tropkillaz music video, as well as the commercial she did for McDonald’s Brazil, which featured Tyler James Williams from the hit series “Everybody Hates Chris,” Flavia aired on the side of minimalism, using her artistry to highlight the natural features of those on screen.

Flavia says, “An actor, man or woman, wouldn’t feel comfortable in front of camera without makeup, or even without knowing a makeup expert took out the shininess out of their skin and took care of unwanted hair flyaways.”

As a makeup artist Flavia Vieira’s knowledge and seasoned skill behind the scenes keeps her working on set more than most. In addition to several upcoming films and television series, she says she is also excited to be a part this year’s 48 Hour Film Project, which takes place in August. With a production team of all women, Flavia says “We’re in it to win it!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Brazilian triple threat Rita Shukla is an indomitable force on stage

Rita Sjukla
Brazilian Performer Rita Shukla

You may have seen performer Rita Shukla on stages across Los Angeles as a lead singer with the classic rock band Lloyd Moss & The Rock Collective, singing jazz-style Brazilian bossa nova with the Electrobossa band, or heavy rock n’ roll with Redemptrix. Her strength and dynamic range as a vocalist coupled with her lively and magnetic stage presence has made her a go-to performer for a number of bands in need of a strong lead singer.

As part of Lloyd Moss & The Rock Collective, Rita is a vocalist alongside Andrey Tsvetkov Nazarbekian, who made it to the semifinals on the incredibly popular TV series “The Voice Russia” season 2, and was also a contestant on the 8-time Primetime Emmy Award winning “American Idol” season 15.

“Working with Rita is a constant exchange. Her vast knowledge in music and her stage experience are the factors that give all of our band members a new perspective on the way things should be done, how harmonies should be written and songs should be sung,” explains Nazarbekian. “What really makes her good at what she does is her natural gift for music supported by the education and training she acquired in Brazil ”

Rita began cultivating her talent as a performer at the age of 4 whilst growing up in Campinas, Brazil where music and performance are a vibrant part of the country’s colorful culture. First immersing herself in music classes, Rita immediately fell in love with the way music made her feel.

It’s just like being in nature for me… I feel joy when I sing. it brings me so much peace and happiness, as if I don’t think of anything else. I’m just there present in the moment,” admits Rita. “For you to be able to sing well, you first need to breathe well… the whole process of singing is just therapeutic and healing.

Knowing the competitive nature of being a lead singer, Rita didn’t rely solely on her natural vocal strengths as a high soprano. Instead she devoted herself to perfecting her skills by training with some of the best in the industry internationally, including vocal coaches such as Molly Rocklind (who’s shared the stage with the likes of Stevie Wonder, popular classic rock band America and Chaka Khan), Dawn Bishop (who’s performed with household names like Brian McKnight and the Black-Eyed Peas,) Brazilian soprano Lucila Tragtenberg and maestro Thiago Gimenes, among others.

It didn’t take long for Rita to be tapped to begin performing on stages across Brazil. By the age of 16 she was playing starring roles in popular theatre productions such as “A Receita” by Jorge Andrade, followed by “Um Cadillac Para as Estrelas” and “Quero a Lua” at the Tao Theatre.

With many of her major theatrical projects back home in Brazil utilizing her talent as an actress and singer, she quickly stood out as a rarely gifted performer capable of flawlessly executing both with equal pizazz. But there’s another area of Rita’s ‘gift’ as a performer that has made her so unique amongst others in the industry– and that is her skill as a dancer.

In the same way that her impressive vocal range and natural rhythm has led her to lead bands with musical styles ranging from jazz and bossa nova to classic and hard rock, her skill as a dancer has given way to a multitude of dance performances ranging from flamenco and belly dancing to jazz and tap for musical theatre.

Beginning flamenco dance training at 11 and belly dance at 13,  Rita explains, “First, I fell in love with flamenco, for its strength, rhythm, passion, and history, but dancing in general makes me feel good as I feel the energy of the music and the beat flowing through my body.”

The way she translates music into her movements as a dancer, embodying the rhythm in human form on stage, has not only been a highlight for the audiences who watch her, but a draw factor for those who cast her in their shows. Whilst in Brazil, she was cast as a lead dancer in numerous shows such as “Noche Caliente,” “Bombardeio de Dança” and “Noite Flamenca” with leading Brazilian flamenco dancer and choreographer Karina Maganha. She also made a name for herself as a lead dancer with the Jimena Lourenço Dance Company, starring in shows like  “A Arte Milenar Da Dança Do Ventre,” “1° Festival de Dança Do Ventre,” “2° Festival de Dança Do Ventre,” “Clip” and many more.

By college Rita had not only perfected her individual skills making herself known among the country’s best young performers in each area, but she had blended all of these talents, making her an undeniable triple threat– an asset that boosted her reputation within the world of musical theatre.

About her beginnings, Rita explains, “Growing up studying and doing theatre [in Brazil], and feeling on my skin the importance of embodying the character as a dance, the music as a text and the acting as music, made me a very open, strong and vulnerable actress and singer.”

After completing her bachelor’s in drama at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo, scholarship offers began rolling in from schools in the U.S. for her to continue her education in the performing arts. And in 2013 she packed her bags and relocated to California on a scholarship to study Musical Theatre at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.

As a singer she’s quickly became a lead member in several bands in the states, while also writing her own songs and embarking on many other fruitful collaborations. After being recognized by music producer and songwriter Ted Perlman, who’s known for his work with renowned stars such as Whitney Houston, Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan and Diana Ross, the two collaborated in writing a praise and worship rock tune.

Perlman recalls, “As soon as she sang one note, I knew she was special… Rita is one of the most soulful white girls anywhere! She has everything- talent, beauty, brains, and joy. She’s as close to perfect as it gets.”

In the states her seasoned skill as a performer coupled with the fiery nature of Brazilian culture pulsing through her veins, led her to be viewed as a unique talent in the industry.

Last year Rita was personally invited to perform as a singer and dancer alongside some of the most recognizable Broadway stars in the world in the production of “Broadway to the Rescue.” A concert gala for charity, Rita shared the stage with the likes of Tony Award Winner LiLlias White and Tony Award nominees John Tartaglia and Sharon McNight where she gave a memorable performance in numbers from the hit Broadway shows “Hair,” “Memphis,” “Hairspray” and more.

“Training and performance skill once you reach a higher level is not hard to find in Los Angeles. But one thing that I look for in performers, and Rita is one of a few that has it, is personality and unique instinct,” explains Rodrigo Varandas, one of the choreographers behind “Broadway to the Rescue.”

“I feel that her Brazilian culture makes her unique already. But she is able to incorporate American culture in her performance as well and that is just impossible to find. She mesmerized me every time she sang and danced.”

Rita Shukla is one performer who’s managed to excel as singer, actress and dancer, and while she spent years training in order to get where she is today, the natural and vibrant energy she brings to the stage is something that just can’t be taught– and it’s definitely something that has set her apart from the pack.

 

Staying True to Their Roots: NYLON Magazine’s “To The Authentic” by Jessica Pantoja

Upon shutting down their print magazine at the tail end of 2017, NYLON Magazine wanted to remind readers that despite moving into solely digital-based content, their founding roots wouldn’t waver. With their focus moving more towards engaging with their audience through striking video and digital content, it made total sense to release a commercial that spoke to their continued dedication to the diversity of their audience despite the change — so they joined forces with cinematographer Jessica Pantoja to create “To The Authentic.”

“As NYLON is currently evolving from a print to a digital publication it was important to state that regardless of the change they would continue to be true to who they are and who they have been,” explains cinematographer Jessica Pantoja.

“‘To The Authentic’ had the intention to express NYLON’s commitment to the audience and the bond between the publication and the readers… NYLON is part of the audience as the audience is a part of NYLON, they both influence each other.”

In creating “To The Authentic,” Pantoja captured 25 models, influencers, dancers and actors, essentially asking them to come as they are, with the ultimate goal of revealing their authentic selves on camera. Using such a culturally and aesthetically diverse cast that collectively blurs the lines of traditional gender ‘norms,’ which are so yesterday it’s not even funny, not to mention the broad range of personalities brought together in the commercial, Pantoja nails the mark with her creative vision for “To The Authentic.”

From the minimalistic yet bold bubble gum pink opening frame featuring the words “BE YOURSELF” followed by the hashtag ‘#Benylon,’ to the progression of models who hit the screen, the commercial flows seamlessly and expresses what the brand stands for. DIVERSITY.

This is ultimately one of the key reasons tens of millions of readers look to them as a source of information on everything music, fashion and pop culture each month — they’ve never covered what every other glossy on the newsstand does, and they’re not going to start now. Their mission is furthered by the audio narration that accompanies the visual content, which adamantly reassures: Through media changes, political changes, cultural changes — you keep true to yourself. We see you. We are here for you. Always have been. Always will be. NYLON.

Pantoja says, “The meaning behind [To The Authentic] lay on the changing social climate… we were just trying to express the belief that diversity is beauty.”

Capturing each model (moving around to their own tune) in front of various backgrounds that visually fit their individual aesthetic, style and personality, Pantoja’s selection of backgrounds, which include recognizable murals, architectural structures and other interesting locations across Los Angeles, also speak to the magazine’s ceaseless attention to design and local culture, something they’ve covered in extensive detail since their alternative beginnings back in 1999.

She explains “We asked all the models to play a song they liked so they would feel comfortable showing us who they are. They could dance or just stare at us. It ended up being super fun because they would feel really comfortable and share their personalities and style with us. Each person brought something completely different.”

From the way she fluidly pans her camera across each model as they grace the screen and creates an engaging flow from frame to frame, it’s easy to see the seasoned nature of Pantoja’s skill on a more technical level in terms of her work as the cinematographer behind the project. Key in eliciting the authentic personalities we see from each of the talent featured in the commercial, Pantoja manages to capture model after model through her camera lens in a way that never gets boring.

“It’s never easy to photograph 25 models and build and light more than 20 different sets, to pull off 25 different outfits and looks in a 12 hour day. The team was amazing and thankfully we had very talented and professional people with us. At the end I think that it’s all about having the right people as your team,” explains Pantoja. “In film you are only as good as the people who stand by you and they are only as good as you help them be. It’s a very collaborative industry and if you fly solo you will never be able to make it.”

Some of the models Pantoja shot for the commercial include influencer and beauty blogger Katie Joy, model Matt Jones, actress and poet Portia Bartley from the six-time Los Angeles Film Award winning rom-com “You Have A Nice Flight,” actor Ido Samuel from the Carlo di Palma Award winning film “Fill the Void,” dancer Stacy Gaspard and other notable pop-culture figures and influencers.

It’s not at all surprising that NYLON chose to lean towards featuring social media influencers rather than supermodels, A-listers and red carpet frequenting celebrities in the commercial. The content is all about being authentic, and featuring unique in-the-know creatives is what they’ve always been about. The plethora of music, beauty and fashion collaborations they’ve executed over the past two decades have influenced millions, in the same way that their relationship with their incredibly diverse audience has influenced the content they release.

At the end of the day, “To The Authentic” really does scream to viewers at the top of its lungs: Be yourself, THAT is what’s beautiful.

“Being you is ok. No matter what that means, you should always be true to who you are in order to achieve the better version of you,” adds Pantoja about the overall message of the video, and her personal feeling about the kind of self love and acceptance each and everyone should focus on cultivating.

With the concept of beauty being one that has remained in flux over the ages, what more and more people around the world today are coming to regard as ‘beautiful’ is reserved for those who remain true to themselves, those who unapologetically expose their strengths and flaws with fearless authenticity. And this is something that directly connects with the attitude and voice of NYLON and their readers.

Cinematographer Jessica Pantoja
Cinematographer Jessica Pantoja

Aside from being the cinematographer for “To The Authentic,” Pantoja, who’s originally from Queretaro, Mexico, has made a strong name for herself as a cinematographer in the film industry, something she’s dedicated herself to for the past decade. She’s earned extensive international acclaim for her work as the cinematographer behind countless films including “Mute,” “Cold Night,” “Harvest Moon,” “Evanescent,” “The Wind Outside” and many more.

“Jessica and I have collaborated on many short films and commercials in the past… Nylon was a very special project where I saw and experienced great energy and drive from Jessica, as a DP and as a leader,” explains “To The Authentic” production designer Clarisa Garcia Fresco, who production designed the 2017 WorldFest Houston Platinum Award winning film “Clarity,” as well as “Evanescent” and “Harvest Moon” where Pantoja served as DP.

“I enjoyed our teamwork efforts as we were striving to create an image and identity for the project. Her enthusiasm and drive for film and storytelling are truly an inspiration to me and everyone around her.”

In 2017 Jessica Pantoja also earned a nomination for the Best Cinematography Award at the 2017 Camerimage Etudes Competition, arguably one of the world’s most prestigious competitions in the field of cinematography, as well as nominations for the Best Cinematography Awards at 2017 VIZIO + DOLBY filmmakers Challenge and the 2017 Cine Gear Film Competition for her film she as well as the film “Manners of Dying.”

In a way, “To The Authentic” marks her foray into creating branded content, and it’s a powerful one at that.

“‘To The Authentic’ was the first project I created for [NYLON] and it opened the door to build an ongoing collaboration with the magazine,” explains Pantoja, who has since created the videos “True Beauty. By NYLON” and “Fashion as Art. By NYLON” featured below.

With NYLON magazine being revered for their bold colors, in-your-face graphics and the kind of cutting-edge style and groundbreaking pop culture that appeals to Millennial and Gen-Z audiences, the video really does embody the brand’s unique attitude and their commitment to readers. It’s definitely the perfect commercial to be featured on their About Nylon page; and we can’t wait to see the next collab from cinematographer Jessica Pantoja and NYLON Magazine.