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.

Cinematographer Xavier Dolléans Captures New French Series “Mental”

Xavier Dolléans
Xavier Dolléans shot by Fabien Malot

There are so many pivotal contributors that come into play in the creation of a film or television series. While the director envisions the narrative story and the actors become the characters that bring that story to life, it is the cinematographer who directs the lighting and wields his camera in a way that creates the kind of visual story that dazzles our eyes.

A proven master behind the lens, French director of photography Xavier Dolléans knows exactly how to construct the lighting and capture each shot in a way that draws the audience into the unfolding story on the screen.

Xavier is the cinematographer behind the newly released French TV series “Mental” starring Horrorfest Award winner Constantin Vidal (“Mortel”), Marie-Aude Barrez (“A Billion to One”), La Rochelle TV Award winning actress Alicia Hava (“Plus Belle La Vie”) and Louis Peres. 

mental
Poster for “Mental”

Premiering in October on Slash TV, France Télévision’s digital platform, “Mental” has generated quite a buzz among international viewers with its engaging story, which Xavier captured brilliantly.  Revealing truths about what it’s like to actually be institutionalized, “Mental” takes audiences into the lives of four young patients living in a psychiatric ward where their new found friendships with one another prove to be more potent and healing than the medicine administered. 

Working closely with director Slimane-Baptiste Berhoun to determine the best way to capture the story, Xavier skillfully set up each shot sequence in a way that brings us closer to the characters and deeper into their story. From the lighting to the framing to fluidity of the camera movements, Xavier’s work behind the camera endow “Mental” with a visual tone that is raw, powerful and uniquely intriguing. 

Xavier, who shot “Mental” using the Sony Venice, which he chose for its ability to cleanly capture deep low lighting, says that a key aspect in his camera work for “Mental” was being able to maintain a wide angle view whilst getting as close to the actors as possible. He explains that this technique helped “give the feeling that we are in the [character’s] head and at the same time give the viewer the feeling that something weird is going to happen.” 

The story begins with Marvin, played by Vidal, a 17-year-old boy who arrives in the hospital accompanied by police. Over the course of the first episode we begin to understand that Marvin’s criminal issues stem from a mental illness, and as the series unfolds, we begin to see what life is like for young patients living in a mental institution. 

Though the first season is only partly under way, “Mental” has gained extensive industry attention and has already taken home its first award, the prestigious La Rochelle TV Award for Best Television Series from the 2019 Festival de la Fiction TV.

With his career as a cinematographer spanning more than two decades, over which he’s earned numerous awards for his work including the Best Cinematography Award from the 2016 Warsaw Independent Film Festival for the film “Rocambolesque,” Best Cinematography Award from the 2017 Slum Film Festival for the film “Animal” and the Festival Prize for Best Cinematography at the 2015 Festival Alto Vicentino for his work on the film “Mecs Meufs” aka “Guys Girls,” Xavier is well versed in both the creative and technical aspects of capturing the stories that enthrall us on screen. 

With his body of work spanning every genre and format imaginable, Xavier has amassed unparalleled knowledge of what’s needed in terms of lighting, framing and pacing, as well as the technical equipment required to nail each shot, in order to seamlessly bring each story to life in a way that does justice to the story. Whereas directors often become known for the overarching style that connects their body of work, the power of a cinematographer rests in their capacity to adapt their style to creatively deliver the vision and vibe of each production.

For Xavier, it is important to approach each project from a different standpoint as no two stories are the same; and with his seasoned knowledge of cinematography at his disposal, he has the rare capacity to bring a new flavor to each project depending on the director’s vision. When it came to shooting “Mental” one of the unique approaches he brought to the table was configuring the Sony Venice with an extension module that allowed him to detach from the sensor, making the rig light enough that he was able to move with the actors and improvise as they shot each scene.

Xavier Dolléans
Xavier Dolléans with actress Ayumi Roux in “Mental” shot by Thomas Gros

“I think every cinematographer is different. You have different ‘families,’ some more technical, some more artistic, and everything in between. I think my strongest quality as a cinematographer is my sensitivity,” admits Xavier.” My sensitivity to interpret the director’s vision. Then, because of my experience on tv series I know I can be very fast and efficient with minimal equipment and crew without scaring the quality. And I always try to discover new techniques. Reinventing myself is a challenge I want to have every day.”

Xavier is also the cinematographer behind the mega-hit series “Skam France,” which has reached more than 80 million viewers, and is slated to release season 5 later this year. Xavier has shot every episode of the popular series, which follows five teenagers as they traverse the highs, lows and tumultuous dramas of high school and stars Axel Auriant (“Jamais Contente”), Théo Christine (“War of the Worlds”), Lula Cotton-Frapier (“Bula”) and Marilyn Lima (“Hungry for Love”).

As it is with any of the world’s top cinematographers, lighting and color are of extreme importance to Xavier. The way a scene is lit and its dominant color schemes set the visual tone and create an energy the audience can feel, and it’s something Xavier paid quite a bit of attention to for “Skam France,” especially seasons 3 and 4. 

“This show is full of energy… most of the time we are very close to the actors, so it is important to me that they appear at their best. I’m very sensitive about the lighting of the faces… On season 3 and 4 we worked with colors a lot to create a world that suited every character,” explained Xavier. 

“Elliot’s world is tenebrous and he brings Lucas into it…. for every sequence involving Elliot, everything was darker in terms of lighting and set design. With Assa on season 4, things were a bit different. She was very often alone, isolated and at the same time at a school full of people. I decided to use a specific thin full-frame cinematography depth of field to emphasize this loneliness. I really used the lens aperture as a tool to give the viewer the ability to feel the level of loneliness in each sequence.” 

Xavier’s experience shooting hundreds of episodes of hit TV shows, such as “Mental,” “Red Shadows” and “Skam France,” require him to work quickly under pressure while simultaneously ensuring the highest cinematic value of the production, something he is able to achieve thanks to numerous decades in the industry. 

He is undoubtedly among the small handful of not only France’s top cinematographers, but those in the world. Aside from being praised with several awards for his individual contributions to the historical comedy film “Rocambolesque,” Xavier’s skill behind the lens helped the film take home numerous other awards, including the Audience Award from the Paris BD6Né and Rouen Film Festivals, and the film “Animal” to earn several other awards from the Slum Film Festival, FEFFS Strasbourg Film Festival, Dublin Sci-Fi Festival, Audincourt’s Bloody Weekend and more.

At the end of the day, Xavier admits, “I think my favorite projects are the ones where I have the most possibilities to express myself visually.”

 

British Actress Liane Grant’s Work Celebrates Diversity and Reflects Strength in Versatility

Actress Liane Grant
Actress Liane Grant shot by Michael Wharley

British actress Liane Grant is a prime example of the direction the acting profession is taking in the 21st century, working effortlessly between stage and screen, taking on commercially-relevant and socially-aware roles, switching between countries, accents, eras and even genders. 

Having firmly resolved to become an actress at the young age of 13, Grant’s subsequent 15-year career has seen her portraying a plethora of diverse characters such as an American police officer, the fictional British madam Mrs. Warren and even the Roman emperor, Julius Caesar. 

I’ve always prided myself on being versatile,” said Grant, reflecting on her more than 30 global credits as a thespian. “I’ve performed in classical, contemporary, all types of comedies, and drama… I’ve done theater, commercials, films… I’ve played young, old, beautiful, ugly, men, women, and I’ve used multiple accents along the way.”

actress Liane Grant
Still of actors Rick Kissack and Liane Grant

Born in Gibraltar off Spain’s coast to British parents, Grant studied acting in the UK and USA, and has starred in several award-winning productions on both sides of the Atlantic such as the dystopian play “Half Me, Half You,” which ran in New York, as well as the UK, and the hit feature film “Gypo” in the UK.

Grant, a British Caucasian actress with blue eyes and blonde hair, wrote and played the starring role of Meredith in “Half Me, Half You” opposite African-American actress Jennifer Fouche, who played the role of Jess, an award-winning production that allowed Grant to not only showcase her acting range, but her writing prowess as well. 

Both actresses received awards at the play’s debut at the Fresh Fruit Festival in New York in July 2018 with Grant scooping up the Outstanding Playwright Award and Fouche, who previously starred in the popular American TV series “Quantico” and “Jessica Jones,” taking home the Outstanding Featured Performer Award.

“Meredith’s complex and messy, funny and cutting, loving and cold, fierce and weak… she and I differ on a fundamental level on some of the deepest things,” said Grant. “As an actor, we crave parts that allow us to show versatility.”

Whilst her starring credits tend to focus more on the theater, Grant first came into her own as an actor with her role in the 2005 British feature film “Gypo” directed by the award-winning female British filmmaker Jann Dunn. With “Gypo” taking home the British Independent Film Award for Best Achievement in Production, as well as numerous other awards and nominations, the project, in which Grant portrayed a key role as a ruthless bully, proved to be a strong acting debut for her.

As an actress who craves versatility, the role offered unique challenges on multiple levels, especially considering her own personal experience with bullying.

“At school I was a very good student and did really well, but I was bullied mercilessly for most of my school years, so I spent a lot of my time feeling quite lonely,” said Grant, who did her formal education in the UK.

“When I was finally able to study theatre in secondary school I found an amazing theatre teacher, and being an actor himself, he really encouraged my choice of acting as a career… this certainly made all the difference, given several other teachers had laughed in my face.”

actress Liane Grant
Robert Frimston, Liane Grant and Jonathan Wooldridge in “Richard II”

In a way, that subtle push from one of her coaches early on, was a gift that solidified the fact that Grant was on the right path; any viewer who has seen her perform since will be grateful that  Grant received that early encouragement as she’s one actress we can’t help but take our eyes off every time she hits the stage or screen.

In her stage career, Grant has built up many credits in plays with all-female ensembles and productions, from playing the title role in William Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar” to “Taken in Marriage” and “Half Me, Half You.”

“Half Me, Half You director Leah Fogo explains, “Liane has a unique ability to empathize with vastly different people which makes her a great asset to any project… she has raw talent but has learned many skills to harness it and bring it to the next level. She is very dedicated in the search for her character.”

Actress Liane Grant
Actress Liane Grant as Meredith in “Half Me, Half You”

Working with an all-female cast and majority female crew, Grant not only wrote and starred in “Half Me, Half You,” but she produced the acclaimed production through her production company, RoL’n Productions, which she founded several years ago in an aim to provide opportunities to females in the performing arts.

“There is a very special energy in the room when a group of women come together to create something, and this unspoken but deep understanding of the additional hurdles we’ve all had to climb to get there,” said Grant. 

“I suppose, especially in the current climate of female empowerment, the connection we have as females from all walks of life, coming together and lifting each other up, sharing our gifts with each other, is really quite special.”

From the classic plays of William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw to those she’s written herself, acting is Grant’s life’s work and passion, and it’s one that she is clearly dedicated to for the long-term with her performing prowess leading her to follow in the footsteps of British acting luminaries like Dame Judi Dench and Dame Emma Thompson.

Emergency LA
Poster for the series “Emergency: LA”

“Acting is not a solo support, it is without question a team effort, and the better the team, the better your performance, and the end product as a whole,” said Grant, who’s next role will be in the US TV series “Emergency: LA,” which will begin shooting next year.  

 “The range of parts I’ve been fortunate enough to play has been enormously helpful, because it has made me capable of accessing whatever part of my skill set I need to, to play any type of character that might come my way.”

 

 

 

 

 

Art Director Corinne Daldorph Utilizes Social Media for Hugo Boss

Corinne Daldorph
Art Director Corinne Daldorph shot by Angeliqa Daldorph

Art director Corinne Daldorph is known and respected throughout her field for spearheading dozens of innovative campaigns for a long list of illustrious brands. Her job demands that she draw attention to her clients, many of which compete for consumers in a saturated market. To that end, Daldorph is remarkably effective. Her expertise covers a broad swath of applications within the creative and advertising industries, including an unmatched talent for the use of social media platforms to reach potential customers in the most crucial demographics.

“Without labeling myself as an Art Director at the time, I think my first art direction position was in my own company,” Daldorph said, describing her early experiences with the enormous array of responsibilities her future career would hold. “I would create concepts, be on shoots making sure the overall idea and execution were in line with the concept, and then oversee the entire edit.”

For decades, her predecessors focused primarily on the artistic and creative side of advertising. In the modern world of social media and big data, however, there are more tools than ever to help advertisers identify who their current and potential customers are and what appeals to them. One of the effects this explosion in the use of “big data” has had is to create a sort of arms race within the advertising industry. The cost of ignoring or misusing these new tools can be staggering. Working as an art director in advertising today demands that Daldorph be as fluent in the high-tech data-driven aspects of the industry as she is with the more conventional creative component.

“I got interested in strategy and worked for a start-up as an influencer marketing strategist, at the time when influencers started to become more and more relevant. I moved to New York, where I continued my career in integrated strategy,” Daldorph said. “The plan was always to return to the creative field once I gained an understanding of how data works, in order to make smarter creative work… Having an understanding of how to work in a social field is crucial not only for advertisers, but for any creator.”

Daldorph stands at the cutting edge of the advertising industry. Not only is she an exceptional creative force in her own right, she’s also capable of utilizing the full potential of social media platforms to deliver meticulously-crafted content to millions of possible customers.

Among her illustrious clients is Hugo Boss, the iconic German fashion company. The Hugo Boss brand has long been associated with its ultra-high-end formalwear, and is perhaps best known for its sleek and stylish men’s suits. In 2018, however, the company began a new venture to reach a more youthful, casual clientele. It would continue selling its classic, more mature formalwear under the brand name BOSS, while offering a new line called HUGO, which embraces a younger aesthetic and audience. Determined to put the best team together to promote the launch, Hugo Boss contracted advertising firm Annex88, where Daldorph worked at the time.

“I, together with Annex88, was tasked to create a campaign to highlight the collaboration and to create hype around the launch event,” she explained. “This was the first big activation for the HUGO brand which allowed me to not only create a multi-platform campaign, but to establish their social presence and legacy.”

Because of her proven effectiveness on similar projects, Daldorph was the obvious choice to head the project. The firm immediately approached her to be the art director for the campaign.

“Hugo Boss is one of Annex88’s clients, and I was assigned to the project as they saw it fit my skill set, as it tied social concepts together with an experiential execution,” she said. “Together with Annex88, I was tasked to create a campaign to highlight the collaboration and to generate hype around the launch event.”

As the lead creative figure, Daldorph was given an immense amount of responsibility on the HUGO release promotion campaign. She headed up the campaign’s social media channels, designed imagery for each of the accounts, and developed promotional concepts that would connect the brand’s roots with its new brand ambassador, Liam Payne. Fans of the enormously successful boy band One Direction will remember Payne as a singer in the group.

“I was the lead creative for the entire campaign, in which I was responsible for creating digital teaser content for HUGO’s social channels including Youtube, Facebook and Instagram,” Daldorph recalled. “By taking inspiration from HUGO’s logo and the Liam Payne campaign footage, I designed the profile pictures for all of the channels. To further our teasing phase, I was tasked to come up with a concept to tie-in Berlin with the overall image of Liam at the forefront of music and fashion.”

Her tireless efforts and brilliant creativity were critical to the campaign’s ultimate success. The amount of work Daldorph did on the HUGO campaign drove a massive wave of buzz around the launch. Those who worked alongside Daldorph on the campaign saw up close just how talented a leader she is. Among those is Reginald Van Nurden, Assistant Creative Director at Annex88.

“I’ve worked on a number of accounts, projects and campaigns with Corinne over the past two years, each one more complex than the last,” Van Nurden said. “Working with Corinne is an incredibly collaborative process driven by both strategic insight and pure creativity. In tandem with her indefatigable work ethic, these qualities contribute to an incredibly strong working experience.”

The HUGO launch was not the only Hugo Boss campaign on which Daldorph worked. She was also at the forefront of the company’s other big launch event for the BOSS line. The counterpart to the HUGO line, the BOSS line was aimed at a more traditional and mature clientele. Daldorph elected to design the campaign around a concept that while the new line was formal, the high-end fashions were versatile enough to be worn in any occasion.

“I was the sole art director on this campaign which included everything from concept, choosing talent and locations, making storyboards and directing on set,” Daldorph explained. “I was tasked to shed some light on what’s possible to do while wearing a suit. I picked athletes from the worlds of BMX, basketball, skateboarding, and freerunning, with campaign content featured on the brand’s website and Instagram. By working with a range of athletes, BOSS is showing consumers there is a place for tailored suits in more adventurous settings.”

 

The BOSS campaign, dubbed Suit Challenge and featuring actor Chris Hemsworth (of Marvel’s “Thor” and “The Avengers” series of films), was an enormous success under Daldorph’s leadership. Olivia Reid Cooper, senior art director at the marketing and advertising firm Laundry Service, worked with Daldorph on the launch event campaign and sang praise of her colleague.

“I worked closely with Corinne on an influencer-driven project featuring Chris Hemsworth called Suit Challenge for the fashion brand Hugo Boss. Corinne created and executed the campaign to shed light on what exactly is possible when wearing a suit, collaborating with athletes from a variety of sports,” Cooper said. “Corinne brought a high degree of craft to both the ideation process and to her directing of the video series for the campaign. It’s by her hand that the project came fully to life.”

Daldorph’s experience leading the campaigns for Hugo Boss granted her a sizable advantage in another of her incredibly successful projects. One of her most effective projects to date, at least in terms of its social media reach and response, is the campaign she ran for the launch of the MAFF.tv website. The site’s name is an acronym for ‘Music, Art, Fashion, Forward,’ fields which comprise the central focus of the media platform’s content.

“The platform highlights new and upcoming artists as well as established musicians, curators and painters to name a few. All of the content lives in the world of either music, art or fashion, the purpose being to bring those worlds closer together, with creativity as the common denominator,” Daldorph said, describing the project’s objectives and how she became involved.

“Lauren Nadel, the founder of MAFF.tv, had seen my work for Adidas Originals and had been to a few events I art directed. She reached out to me and we had a conversation about it, and she immediately brought me on.”

Nadel swiftly saw how valuable an asset Daldorph would be to the site’s ultimate success. For MAFF to take off, it was critical to spread awareness of the project and to steadily increase the momentum of the growth of its user base. The first step was to constantly keep the site full to the brim with content from new artists, designers and musicians. The next challenge was to reach through the noise and tap into the deep well of ideal potential users. This particular challenge would be Daldorph’s domain, and was yet another opportunity for her to prove herself an unrivaled art director. According to Nadel, she couldn’t have hoped for a more skilled and efficient person for the job.

“Corinne art directed the most beautifully designed site, being a master of Adobe creative suite and understanding the web and its code. Corinne developed from scratch our latest CMS and front interface in a trendy and brilliant way,” Nadel said, explaining how varied and important Daldorph’s work was to MAFF. “Not only did Corinne spearhead the creative direction of the website but she also leads our social channels… She was responsible for the brand’s art direction and graphic design for all mediums, and she contributed tremendously to the success of the design team and marketing program.”

Measuring the success of a campaign like MAFF’s is much more accurate and immediate in the digital age of big data. Upon taking charge, Daldorph immediately set about exceeding even the most optimistic hopes for the campaign’s success. Nadel, who had placed her confidence in Daldorph, was blown away by the results.

“Under Corinne’s direction, MAFF’s social media followers increased by 700-percent in less than three months — improving the engagement and visibility of the brand, as well as the sales,” Nadel said. “Corinne has garnered up nearly a 10k platform across social networks within 3 months. She has strategized and creative-directed our YouTube channel, which has a total of more than a million views.”

The level of growth seen following Daldorph’s work as MAFF’s art director is simply staggering. The number of MAFF.tv site users and social media users sharing posts about MAFF grew to a fever pitch, building a solid foundation for the site’s future. Much of Daldorph’s success with the MAFF campaign can be attributed to her strong personal belief in the project’s importance. Unlike other streaming platforms devoted to a single niche, MAFF offers artists and creators across mediums the chance to be featured in the spotlight.

“When all of the spotlight shines on the musician, it’s usually not visible who was behind the production of the actual video. So with Maff I saw a possibility to bring a greater focus to the creators themselves,” Daldorph explained. “Every single person that we know who was a part of a given production automatically gets their own hubpage on the site that will be populated with all of their content.”

The spirit of MAFF reflects Daldorph’s own beliefs in the power of art to reach the masses. In a saturated industry, she stands out among her peers as one of her generation’s most skilled and successful art directors. Entrusted with the success of hugely-expensive campaigns for brands like Adidas and Hugo Boss, she has never failed to exceed the hopes and expectations of those who seek her out. Corinne Daldorph is an art director capable of maximizing the power and reach of her position far more effectively than any other figure in the industry today.

Creative Director Debo Delivers The Sugar Factory’s Delicious Designs

Debo
Creative Director Debo

For Deborah Magnan, best known by her mononym, Debo, making a scene is a job requirement. As the creative director for a stunning range of clients, Debo has proven herself invaluable as an unparalleled architect of campaigns the world over. Her entire life has been shaped by the enormous influence exerted by those who held the title of creative director before her. Even as a child growing up in Cannes in the South of France, the power and importance of branding and marketing were apparent all around her.

“It was magical to grow up by the beach in that beautiful city,” Debo said of her upbringing in the legendary home of the Festival de Cannes, “and to be able to get an international vision of entertainment and branding from Cannes Film festival, the MTV parties, and TV and licensing conventions.”

That upbringing, immersed in a world where marketing is king, awakened an early passion within Debo. She saw the ways companies would generate massive buzz through all kinds of innovative marketing tactics, and she knew exactly what she was meant to do.

“I began by making my own events in partnership with Barbapapa, an old kids’ cartoon licence… The events became so big that the brand came back very strong both in the market and on TV, so I got a name for that,” recounted Debo. “Then I opened my first nightclub called the Mini Club. I was in charge of designs, fabrics, lighting, floors, the name and logo, DJs and special guests, marketing and PR, and even smell, I did everything, and it was a hit! I was able to cover all the creative aspects of the business, fulfilling the role of creative director.”

Since then, Debo has sharpened her instincts and expertise to become one of the most potent and innovative creative directors in the industry today. Her relentless determination to carry every one of her clients to the absolute pinnacle of their potential makes her an unrivaled figure within her industry.

Far more than simply marketing, branding, public relations or advertising, Debo possesses an uncanny sense for exactly what will make her clients’ brands trend and explode. It’s a product of the unceasing and unwavering focus she’s always devoted to her clients. Before she ever wet her feet with Barbapapa and Mini Club, Debo has always had a keen and intuitive understanding of each of her clients’ unique needs.

“I’m able to cover concept to design, branding to marketing, merchandising to food, beverage to menu and production to show,” Debo said, explaining the vast array of responsibilities with which she is entrusted. “I have a 360 degree approach that few people have in this field. I’m able to take a brand and make it grow in every direction and dimension — where a lot of other creative directors only focus on one side of the brand: either logo, production, or merchandising.”

As a creative director, Debo’s job is to guide her clients through the complex process of establishing and evolving their brands’ identities. To that end, she is an unrivaled force in the industry. Among her illustrious list of clients is world renowned, Grammy Award winning electronic music pioneer David Guetta. Working closely with Guetta, Debo planned and executed a worldwide tour of parties dubbed “F**k Me I’m Famous” to coincide with Guetta’s album of the same name.

“‘FMIF’ went from a party to an international lifestyle… I did all the merchandising and collection design for more than 1,000 different products. I was in charge of production, packaging, show concepts, prop design, marketing, and branding,” Debo explained. “That meant planning everything from the giant neon door to the lollipops giveaway, outfits, handling the full creative direction of performers, as well as the neon swing, onscreen visuals, merchandising, store design and advertising.”

Among Debo’s most inspired work is the remarkable campaign she designed for the Sugar Factory. A restaurant chain headquartered in Las Vegas, the Sugar Factory has expanded to 30 metropolitan locations in major cities around the globe, including New York, Chicago, San Diego, Dubai and Manila. The Sugar Factory relied heavily on Debo in order to reach that level of worldwide market saturation.

“I was responsible for creative direction, food and beverage concept, and the entertainment concept,” Debo said, describing the wide range of her responsibilities. “I did some branding, such as the Gummy Bear World logo, Foodgod candy box logo… I designed a full museum of candy, 20 rooms full of sweet experiences. I did a lot of food, beverage and entertainment concepts.”

It was Debo who conceived Sugar Factory’s greatest claim to fame, the Rainbow Slider Burger. A favorite of both kids and adults, the Rainbow Slider also proved immensely popular with the celebrities and influencer patrons who love Sugar Factory. The long list of big names who’ve helped make Sugar Factory wildly popular includes Kylie Jenner, Kendall Jenner, Britney Spears, Drake, Nicole Scherzinger, Kim Kardashian, Eva Longoria and Rupert Grint.

“The client was looking for a branding signature, and that’s what I did with Rainbow Sliders,” Debo said. “The sliders perfectly match the Sugar Factory logo.”

As it turns out, Sugar Factory was an absolutely perfect client for an innovative creative director like Debo. Most of her peers could only dream of successfully promoted a brand by creating a product that appeals to every age group, in addition to being wildly popular among some of the world’s biggest celebrities. For Debo, Sugar Factory provided the perfect opportunity to express her true talents.

“I love the fact that it’s a family business. They care about every detail of the company and are very open about creativity,” Debo recalled. “Sugar Factory will always give you a chance to test a new recipe.”

No matter who the client, where the venue, or what the brand, Deborah “Debo” Magnan’s innovation and tireless dedication put her miles ahead of her peers in the industry. For clients determined to stand out in the crowded arenas of hospitality and hospitality, there isn’t a shred of doubt that Debo is the best, most driven, and most innovative professional to have in their corner.

 

“The Way We Get By” Star Francesca Ravera Prepares for NYC Premiere of “Espresso”

Francesca Ravera
Italian Actress Francesca Ravera shot by Mario Buscaglia

Italian actress Francesca Ravera, who has made a huge mark for herself in the U.S. film and theater industry over the past few years, recently brought her talents back to her home country where she wowed audiences with her lead role as Beth in the acclaimed production of “The Way We Get By.” 

After a hugely successful run at the Urban Stages Theater in New York earlier this year, “The Way We Get By” embarked on an Italian summer tour with performances in Milan, Turin and Genoa. 

Written by American playwright Neil LaBute and directed by Kim T. Sharp, “The Way We Get By” revolves around Beth, played by Ravera,and Doug, two young attractive singles who meet at a drunken wedding reception and end up having sex at the apartment Beth shares with her control freak roommate. However, the intimacy that commences between the two is far from organic, and the underlying root of that is one of the main complexities of the story that makes it so intriguing. 

“Beth is a sweet and sensitive girl who has been hurt by fleeting flings with boys who only wanted her for her body. Used to being seen as an object or a trophy, Beth tries to connect with Doug the only way she knows how- through seduction,” explains Ravera. 

“I enjoyed exploring her needs, her desire to connect with Doug and be free to love him. I dug into her dreams, fears and contradictions.” 

After waking Beth up with his insomniac fidgeting, Doug deflects her sexual advances and she reveals that they share a surprising bond from the past. Beyond this startling discovery, we also learn that Beth is dealing, or in the moment, not dealing, with a riddled sexual history where, having been previously objectified by men, she’s learned to rely upon her sexuality as her only way to connect.

“The role [of Beth] called for an actor who could commit to the moment while still having a complicated, conflicting history she needed to access as the action shifted,” explains director Kim T. Sharp. 

A sexy and fast-paced rom com about love, lust and life, there’s no doubt about it, Francesca Ravera was the perfect actress to play the starring role of Beth in the production.

“It was fabulous to see [Francesca] unlock one moment after another as she found the foundation of Beth. When the action shifted and Beth was faced with her past it was both surprising and, yet, understandable. Francesca brought Beth’s two worlds together in a richly satisfying way.”

Francesca Ravera
Actress Francesca Ravera shot by Giada Lefebvre

“The Way We Get By” depended heavily on Ravera, and her performances in both Italy and the U.S. did not disappoint.

“In addition to her talent and commitment, she possessed a presence on stage. ‘Presence’ is an elusive quality that keeps the audience engaged even when the actor is not talking, moving or doing business; the audience is simply drawn to the character,” says Sharp. 

“In my experience as a director, it is a rare and intriguing quality that even very talented actors don’t have access to. Francesca’s presence was an essential part of the success of the project.”

For Ravera, who moved to the States a few years ago, where she has little expectations other than to complete her training and become a better actor, coming back to Italy with the production of “The Way We Get By,” which was performed in English, is like coming full circle.

“When I moved to New York I was focusing on what I had to give and offer, as a person, and as an actor. Little did I know back then that so many offers would come my way here in the U.S.,” admits Francesca. “‘I began feeling, every day, overwhelming gratitude, which translated into an urge to give even more. It was about then that this amazing opportunity opportunity came my way, and I was able to bring my work, and the work of an incredible American Playwright, to Europe, and perform it in its original language.”

In addition to illustrious list of powerful theatrical performances, Ravera has been praised internationally for her film work. She recently took home numerous Awards for Best Actress from the Oniros Film Awards, Care Awards, the Diamond Film Awards, Best Actor Award, Milestone Worldwide Film Festival, Mindfield Film Festival Albuquerque, Five Continents International Film Festival, and Los Angeles Film Awards for her titular role in the dramatic film Claire. 

Actress Francesca Ravera
Actress Francesca Ravera shot by Claudio Catania

Directed by Andrea Silvestro and produced by Adrama, which  Ravera previously worked with on the film Ulysses: A Dark Odyssey, where she shared the screen with four-time Primetime Emmy nominee Danny Glover, Claire tells the story of a young woman who is trying to hold on to a failing relationship despite knowing deep down that her fiance no longer loves her.

Claire screened in July at the at the Venus Italian Film Festival in Las Vegas, where Ravera took home yet another Award for Best Actress, as well as the at the Chain Film Festival last month. 

Up next for the actress is the production of Canadian playwright Lucia Frangione’s “Espresso,” which is slated to run in New York in 2020. 

Earlier this month “Espresso” had its first NYC premiere via a staged reading at Urban Stages Theatre in NYC directed by Kim T. Sharp, who directed Ravera in “The Way We Get By,” where it earned powerful and positive reviews. 

UK media outlet The 730 Review writes, “Clever banter and meticulous metaphors abound in Ms. Frangione’s bold and brilliant script, yet no word ever feels misplaced, forced, or indulgently included for the sake of ostentatiousness. The actors confidently give convincing performances, no matter the role they are playing in any given moment.”

Francesca Ravera
Jesse Koehler & Francesca Ravera in the Staged Reading of “Espresso” by ACV Photography

“Espresso” revolves largely around Ravera’s character Rosa Dolores, a first generation Canadian, and her Italian family. In fact, Ravera takes on three pivotal and starkly different roles in the production, the first as Rosa, the co-narrator of the story and the daughter of the now hospitalized patriarch Vito, her grandmother Nonna, and her stepmother Cinzella. 

Ravera says, “This story is inspired by the playwright’s life, and I could feel this. ‘Espresso’ is a generous and beautifully written gift, filled with humanity and passion. It makes you laugh, and cry, and ache and think, and hope. It’s a blessing for me to have been cast in it.”

Ravera plays opposite Jesse Koehler, who interchangeably takes on the roles of Vito, Jesus and Amante, who serves as both the Holy Spirit and a symbol of Eros.

A passionate story about family values, religion, oppression and transformation centered around three women very different women in need of deep healing, “Espresso” is definitely one production theatre goers won’t want to miss. 

 

Guitarist in the Spotlight: Agam Timor of the Barns Courtney Band

Agam Timor
Guitarist Agam Timor shot by Monika Wilczynska

While the frontman in a band usually gets most, if not all, of the media’s attention, the bands we love would not be what they are without the integral contributions of the rest of the members. When it comes to the guitar stylings and overall musical contributions of Israeli musician Agam Timor, his are ones that deserve exponential recognition.

You may know Timor as the lead guitarist for the Barns Courtney band, whom he’s been touring the globe with for the past year. Signed to Capitol Records, the band has skyrocketed to international acclaim in recent years with sold out shows and several of their singles topping the charts.

“After so many gigs together, almost every night, it creates a really warm environment, like a family,” says Timor.

Timor’s rhythmic fluidity, precision on the guitar, and mesmerizing stage presence have proven to be a powerful addition to the Barns Courtney band, just as they have for a long list of other bands over the years. While Timor’s talent has helped bring him into the spotlight, his success didn’t just happen overnight. It’s the result of years of dedication and an inexhaustible passion for what he does.

Growing up in Tel Aviv, Israel, Timor discovered his love for music at the budding age of 6. Quickly picking up the violin, piano and saxophone, his passion for music grew, but it was upon discovering his connection with guitar that he found his true love.

“Since I was 12 I never put the guitar down,” admits Timor. “I immediately fell in love with it.”

Most Israeli citizens living in Israel serve in the military at some point in their lives, and while Timor is no different, he served the country in a rather unique capacity. During his three year military service he was the guitarist and arranger for Israel’s military band.

Timor says, “I enjoyed the fact that although people from different places can be very different, love different things and going through different experiences in life before joining the army . They can still go through a similar experience while watching the show, at the end of the day, people want to feel something. They want to feel the energy and forget about the tough day they had on the base”

After completing his military service Timor was free to take his musicianship to new heights and it wasn’t long before he became a national sensation in Israel. He would go onto share stages with some of the country’s most idolized talents, including singer and actress Ruthi Navon, Momi Levi and Moran Mazor, who competed in Israel’s Eurovision Song Contest, Chen Aharoni, who appeared on The X Factor UK, The X Factor Israel and Kokhav Nolad (Israel’s version of American Idol), vocalist Meital De Razon, and many more. Timor would also go on to perform as the house guitarist on the hit series The X Factor Israel, in the hit musical “Mary Lou,” as well as on Sports Channel 5 Israel, where he played the morning show hosted by Slutzki and Dominguez. Timor actually played the morning show on more than one occasion, often being called in to  play a few songs each time with a new rising artist, and then chatting with the hosts on air about life and music.

Agam Timor
Agam Timor shot by Arielle Kassulke

“I assume that any musician that keeps practicing and listening to music eventually would play great. The difference between being a professional and an amateur is pretty much the attitude and the amount of dedication one has to the project, always aim higher and keep evolving your craft,” says Timor.

Though there is definitely substantial truth in the age old saying ‘practice makes perfect,’ few will make it quite as far as Timor has over the span of his short life no matter how much they practice. At age 26, he has already proven himself to be among the world’s top guitarists. With his virtuosic talent, it’s not surprising that Timor was accepted to the Berklee College of Music, one of the most competitive music schools out there. Not only was he accepted, but he was given a scholarship, a rare award that few receive, and in 2018 he went on to graduate Summa Cum Laude.

While Timor’s strength and versatility as a guitarist has led him to be tapped to play with a pretty long list of heavy hitters in the music industry, it’s not the spotlight that drives him to perform. Behind the scenes, he is a powerhouse when it comes to writing and arranging music, and he’s used his talents in that area to create music for other artists over the years. In 2014 he worked alongside legendary producer Luis Lahav on the album for artist Or Colenberg.

“For this project I recorded all the guitars and arranged the album with my colleagues Amit Shtriker and Tom Lahav. I will never forget this project and how much we felt involved in the recorded music,” recalls Timor. “The most incredible thing is to add your own personal taste to someone else’s music and watch it become something whole.”

Another project that Timor holds dear to his heart was when he recorded the album Beit-Aba with the artist Doron Raphaeli, the founder of the popular music group Tararam.

“We spent days in the studio working on this album, I especially remember the day when we recorded the guitar solo for ‘Aguim’ that it was so late at night and Doron fell asleep in the control room while the engineer and I finished recording the song.”

With a plethora of cultural influences and experience playing diverse genres such as pop, funk, r&b, blues-rock, gospel, middle-eastern, fusion and jazz, Timor brings the full-package to the table as both a guitarist and arranger.

“When I work with artists, I first try to understand their character and what I can add from my perspective that would complement their music. When I succeed in doing that I feel that’s when the artist is being satisfied the most. Add your flavor to the same field.”

Last year Timor made another huge mark in the Israeli music industry when he was tapped to compose the intro for Omer Adam’s show, which was the first concert to be performed at the Sammy Ofer Stadium and was a sold out success. Having competed on the series Kokhav Nolad, and releasing four hit albums over the last few years, Omer Adam is arguably one of Israel’s most famous contemporary artists.

Timor admits, “I got amazing comments about the musical intro to his show and how much it enhanced Omer’s character as an artist.”

Though playing in shows such as the celebrated Israeli musical “Mary Lou” have led Agam Timor to become a celebrity in Israel, and his role in the Barns Courtney Band has led him to play in front of hundreds of thousands of fans across the globe, what Timor enjoys most is the simple art of creating music.

Guiding his life and career by the famous quote, “Do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life,” Timor is an inimitable pro at doing what he loves and doing it in a big way.

South African Producer Ricky Cruz starts Production on Horror Film “Night of the Macabre”

Producer Ricky Cruz
Producer Ricky Cruz

When award-winning filmmaker Taylor Paluso (“Unholy Night”) of Standard Motion Pictures  was looking for a strong producer to join forces with on the upcoming feature film “Night of the Macabre,” South African producer Ricky Cruz instantly popped into his mind. Though Cruz has only been in Hollywood for a few years, he’s quickly made a noteworthy impact– the proof lay in the 15 or so awards he’s earned from festivals around the world in a relatively short amount of time.

In search of a producer with a celebrated track record of award-winning films and a strong grasp of the film’s concept and desired tone, the production team behind “Night of the Macabre” didn’t need to look further than Cruz. Having collaborated with Cruz on several occasions before, such as the film “Red Christmas,” which was chosen as an OFFICIAL SELECTION of the Horror Haus Festival last year, director Taylor Paluso knew Cruz was the perfect producer to bring on board his new horror film.

Paluso says, “I have had the pleasure of collaborating with Ricky on previous projects. He is a hard working, results driven individual who would be a valuable asset to any production. Plus we collaborate extremely well together so it was imperative to have him onboard Night of the Macabre.”

The upcoming horror film “Night of the Macabre” centers on a despondent traveling nurse who finds herself in an increasingly dark and menacing situation after accepting an invitation to spend the holidays with a colleague.

“The sinister and creepy atmosphere of the film sets the stage for a powerful narrative following one woman’s journey to find the will to live again,”  explains producer Ricky Cruz. “‘Night of The Macabre’ played directly into the current preferred genre I was looking to explore. After reading the script, I also realized I had an ideal location available and in mind to be used for the film, which production was still looking to secure and access to and some potential name talent who were a great fit for some characters in the script.”

With an upcoming slate of horror and thriller films on deck, such as the film “AntiHero” directed by Screen Actors Guild nominee and 48 hour Film Project Award winner Michael McCartney, Cruz felt that “Night of the Macabre” was the perfect addition to his creative roster.

“I have been a fan of horror films for as long as I can remember and have always wanted to contribute to the genre I hold so close to my heart. There’s something so wonderfully twisted about the juxtaposition of a holiday like Christmas, which is typically associated with joy, filled with horror and terror,” says Cruz. “With the recent success of the short film ‘Red Christmas,’ I was eager to return and creatively explore the horror genre. Horror films have time and again proven their commercial potential and repeat viewership and ‘Night of The Macabre’ is a horror film that offers the opportunity to produce a terrifying film with the interesting backdrop of Christmas.”

Last year Cruz dazzled horror fans with his performance in the starring role of Rico in Paluso’s film “Red Christmas,” which revolves around a serial killer’s plan to dispose of his most recent victim on Christmas Eve and the mishaps that ensue with the arrival of an unexpected guest.

“You don’t have to speak a certain language to get scared or appreciate the powerful contrast present in a Christmas horror film,” says Cruz.

Without giving too much “Night of the Macabre’s” plot line away, we can say that the film’s main character, the nurse, finds herself in a dark situation where ill-intentioned individuals work to overpower her through the use of ancient rituals– an element of the story that Cruz found particularly exciting.

He says, “The script explores a personal area of interest in the form of pagan rituals and sacrifices, that I have long considered to be a great fuel for suspense and horror films, with some of my favorite films in the genre centering around cults and their respective terrifying practices.”

Set to begin principle photography early next year, Cruz and the team behind “Night of the Macabre” are already fully involved in the planning phase of the production. Cruz is currently handling the pre-production logistics for the film, such as location scouting, facilitating communication between film departments, acquiring permits, insurance and scheduling the actual day to day flow of the production’s filming schedule. Once filming begins Cruz will also be an active member of the production team as a multi-faceted coordinator taking care of the film’s talent management, general production office and unit management.

“The opportunity to demonstrate my versatile producer abilities excites me not only because of my love for the genre but because of the opportunity to bring and implement my signature brand of off beat character humor into the genre,” says Cruz.

Through the plethora of award-winning projects he has brought to the screen over the years as an actor, director and producer, such as the films “Foible” and “The Neighbor,” which were awarded at the 2018 IndieFEST Film Awards, and “Pigeon Hole,” which took home the Jury Prize from the Lisbon Film Rendezvous, Cruz has become revered for his offbeat style. With more than 15 awards under his belt, all of which lend themselves as proof of his extraordinary talent and unique creativity, Cruz brings a special flavor to the modern film market.

“I love a hybrid blend between outlandish characters and awkward and uncomfortable humor because not only was that the humor I grew up on, but I think it is the most honest depiction of life,” explains Cruz. “I am attracted to real and relatable stories told through the perspective of a dynamic character. The projects that I produce differ from on another in very extreme ways but they all share a root in that the message being conveyed is being told through and/or by a quirky and unconventional means.”

With several projects on deck, such as the upcoming film “Anti-Hero,” a hand full of music videos that are yet to be announced and now, the film “Night of the Macabre,” Cruz is busy doing what he loves and bringing exciting stories to the screen.

Artist Marie Peter-Toltz and Psychotherapist Tracy Sidesinger to Present at the Art and Psyche: The Illuminated Imagination conference

“Tristes Tropiques” Acrylic and spray paint on canvas 55 x 55 inches 2018
Marie Peter-Toltz’s ‘Tristes Tropiques’, Acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 55 x 55 inches, 2018. ‘Tristes Tropiques’ is currently on view at Show Gallery’s (Los Angeles)

Beyond its aesthetic appeal, art gives viewers insight into the inner workings of an artist’s mind, their values, desires, culture, the society they live in, and so much more. Along with the ability to shed light on the artist’s world, art also reveals a great deal about the inner psyche of the viewer in the way that they personally experience it.

The deep connection between art and the psyche is one that renowned painter Marie Peter-Toltz and esteemed New York psychoanalytic psychologist Tracy Sidesinger will be exploring next month at the University of California, Santa Barbara during the Art and Psyche: The Illuminated Imagination conference, which runs from April 4 – 7. Sidesinger and Peter-Toltz will be presenting their ideas on Friday April 5 in the workshop “Constructing a Life of Jouissance from Feminine Desire: Voices from Psychotherapy and Painting.”

Marie Peter Toltz Olivia Fougeirol
Artist Marie Peter-Toltz photographed by Olivia Fougeirol, Los Angeles, 2019

Artist Marie Peter-Toltz explains, “Jouissance is reclaimed as ecstatic, sacred development of the individual fostered by collaboration between psychotherapist/patient and artist/viewer, requiring desire over its inhibition.”

Discussing their work from the standpoint of desire, the two women, both respected figures in their fields, will cover the psychoanalytic history of desire and its inhibitions, develop conflict theories while also drawing attention to relationists and French feminists. Sidesinger and Peter-Toltz propose that desire is ‘accessed through the imaginary, on an individual level but also co-experienced with others.’ They will dive into the way desire manifests in practice within the realm of the creative space and through artistic expression.

Tracy Sidesinger
Psychologist Tracy Sidesinger in New York, 2018. 

“To speak about desire, we also have to speak about what inhibits it. This is particularly true for women who are still much more understood as the objects of desire, than as those who also have their own desires,” says Sidesinger. “Yet the tension between desire and inhibition is psychologically present for everyone, to the extent that desires are seen as culturally disruptive, dangerous, or limited by the traumas of life.”

Peter-Toltz says, “I think a lot of the artistic impulses and desires or lack of desire are embedded in our psychological state of mind. A lot of the creative process and/or the work in the studio is about each individual’s psychology, one doesn’t exist without the other one.”

Bringing together experts from the art and psychology worlds, the Art and Psyche Conference is designed to engage the imaginative processes of psychotherapists of all kinds alongside members of the art community in order to creatively expand one’s understanding of depth psychology.

Peter-Toltz is known throughout the art world for her intimate and expressive paintings, many of which weave in biblical and mythological themes with a heavy emphasis on feminine sexuality. Though the natural evolution of her work reveal a marked change in her subjects and the way she has portrayed them over the years, it is near impossible to look at any one of Peter-Toltz’s paintings without experiencing an emotional response.

“Each artist has different methods of working, each series has a different purpose, the way our cells are constantly renewing themselves, the creative process is in constant ‘mutation’. I want the paintings to make me feel a particular way which often is completely opposite to what comes out as paint,” admits Peter-Toltz.

“The sadder I am the brighter the colors become. I am interested in this dichotomy, how sadness, frustration, fear can be expressed with bright happy colors and how bright happy colors can be fueled with despair and hopelessness.”

Marie Peter-Toltz
Marie Peter-Toltz’s ‘de Toi à Moi et de Moi à Toi’, Oil on canvas, 52 x 48 inches, 2018. ‘de Toi à Moi et de Moi à Toi’ is currently on view in the Sydney CBD at the UBS/ Chifley Tower (Courtesy of Nanda/Hobbs Gallery), Sydney, Australia

Since childhood Peter-Toltz has immersed herself in the arts with the unceasing courage to allow her inspirations to come out through creative expression. However it is in the past decade that she has really come into her own. The presence of desire is clearly apparent in Peter-Toltz’s paintings and with desire being a cornerstone of the presentation she will give alongside Sidesinger next month, she’s the perfect art expert to talk about its unignorable presence in the creative process.

“I have been asked to participate in diverse conferences, although this particular one, is very specific and will mainly relate to the divine feminine and the illuminated imagination,” explains Peter-Toltz. “I am thrilled that our proposition was accepted, and it will be the first conference that I will give on this particular subject of third wave feminism, human psychology and creative process.”

Sidesinger has practiced clinical psychology for over a decade, emphasizing unconscious processes in healing and creativity. When asked why she focuses on desire, she says “returning to the emotions of what one desires is to enter the true space of loss, creativity, and being. What we think of as feminine desire is particularly suited to healing because it is more comfortable with the unknown. It takes us to what remains yet in possibility.”

Earning widespread recognition for her work as an artist, some of the accolades Peter-Toltz has accrued in recent years include praise for her “Tonight Think of Me” exhibit at Australia’s renowned Nanda/Hobbs gallery in Sydney, as well the most recent Artist Award from the University of California (Santa Barbara) for the “Art and Psyche” upcoming conference, the  LCU Award for Women, the New York Studio School’s Concordia and Fellowship awards, the National Association of Women Artists Membership Award, and more.

Marie Peter-Toltz
Marie Peter-Toltz’s ‘Le Monde Retrouvé’, Oil on canvas, 52 x 48 inches, 2018. ‘Le Monde Retrouvé’ is currently on view at the UBS Bank / Chifley Tower (Courtesy of Nanda/Hobbs Gallery), Sydney, Australia

Peter-Toltz’s voice as an artist is one that strikes a chord with international audiences, so it’s not at all surprising that galleries across the globe such as those in Paris, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles have chosen to exhibit her work.

“I believe we are all born artists. Every child is born a natural artist, a creator, a maker. The only difference is that some of us – as we grow and become adults – continue to make art and others stop. There are so many factors and reasons that come into play as to why one person becomes an artist and another person moves away from it.  Maybe this could explain why people are so drawn to the arts, because art is in each and everyone of us.”

 

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.

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.