All posts by Scott Prewitt

Costume Designer Spotlight: Claudia Sarbu

Costume Designer Claudia Sarbu
Costume Designer Claudia Sarbu

A passion that courses through her veins and experience far beyond her years have earned costume designer Claudia Sarbu her place at the forefront of her field. Her sheer talent is reflected in her diverse work on films ranging from the epic 2014 blockbuster “Divergent” to the heartwarming drama “20th Century Women,” released early this year. Few in the field are able to move so seamlessly between such wildly different productions, but Sarbu has been training her entire life.

She was born near Bucharest, and growing up she lived just blocks from the film studio where both her parents worked. Her mother made costumes for the studio and encouraged her daughter’s natural talent.

“I remember when I designed my teacher’s wedding outfit, and then my mom made it,” she said, recalling how she got her first taste of design. “It was very avant-garde for that kind of small town wedding, but she looked great.”

Having been immersed in the field for longer than she can remember, Sarbu knows better than anyone how crucial good costume design is to any production that aims to create a believable universe. She proved this on an enormous scale when she served as Costume Coordinator for “Divergent,” the first in a hotly anticipated series of films based on the trilogy of internationally bestselling books by Veronica Roth. As the costume coordinator, Sarbu was responsible for ensuring the film’s costumes were made and prepared perfectly.

Divergent

The cast of the film made raised the stakes for Sarbu even higher. In addition to Shailene Woodley, known for her roles in “The Fault in Our Stars” and in “The Descendants” (alongside George Clooney), the film also stars Ashley Judd (“Double Jeopardy”) and Academy Award Winner Kate Winslet (“Titanic,” “Finding Neverland”).

The events of “Divergent” take place in a dystopian future where every person must fit neatly into one of five factions, each representing a different virtue. Anyone who is unable to assimilate into one of these factions is labelled a ‘divergent’ and faces mysterious but almost certainly deadly consequences. At the heart of the story is one such divergent, Tris (Woodley), who defiantly resolves to fight back against the unjust system.

The world in which the film is set is fractured and extraordinarily complex, which is mirrored in the relationships between characters and factions. It was an indescribably difficult undertaking to create a costume for each and every character that both captures the individual’s personality and visually represents the character’s faction and their station in the world’s social hierarchy.

“The majority of the costumes for ‘Divergent’ were manufactured in Romania by two workshops, and I was in charge of overseeing both. My job was to develop and translate the illustrations into actual garments by choosing fabrics, deciding on patterning and finishing details, as well as overseeing the quality of the manufacturing, aging and distressing processes,” she said, detailing her staggering list of responsibilities. “At the same time, I had to keep up with the shoot schedule’s demands, meaning prioritizing what to ship first while working under very tight deadlines. It was almost four months of intense work, but in the end we’d delivered over 2,000 pieces of costumes.”

All of Sarbu’s tireless work proved well worth it when “Divergent” was released in March 2014. It immediately shot to the top of the box office in its opening weekend as casual moviegoers and longtime fans of the novels piled into theaters to catch the first chapter in the epic trilogy.

20th Century Women
Poster for “20th Century Women”

At the complete opposite end of the spectrum lies “20th Century Women,” the exceptionally moving autobiographical story of two women who help a mother raise her son against the backdrop of Santa Barbara in 1979.

“The script for ‘20th Century Women’ is one of the closest to my heart, and also one of the most challenging ones I’ve read… spinning between past, present and future and mixed with dreams and flashbacks,” said Sarbu. “The costumes were extremely important to the film’s authenticity. We were dressing real life characters whose personalities and vibes needed to be conveyed through their style.”

The film debuted early this year and starred Annette Bening (“American Beauty”) and Elle Fanning (“Maleficent,” “Super 8”). Audiences and critics lauded “20th Century Women” with praise, and the film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay, a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Comedy, and a Golden Globe Best Actress nomination for Annette Bening for her powerful performance.

Despite being completely unlike “Divergent” in every conceivable way, the importance of Sarbu’s work to the industry at-large is illustrated by the fact that both of these wildly different films needed costumes, and both relied on Sarbu’s talents. For both, and for any other film, Sarbu knows that good costume design starts with understanding the characters and the worlds they live in. In this way, the process she follows for a film set in a nightmarish future is much the same as it would be for a film set in ‘70s-era Southern California. In practice, Sarbu’s process requires the instincts and training that she has honed throughout her illustrious career. When she describes what she does, however, she makes it sound straightforward and almost simple.

“Film and TV are essentially visuals,” she said, “and what people wear is essential to creating that visual.”

 

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Cinematographer Yan Rymsha’s Creative Vision Flows Strong

Yan Rymsha
Yan Rymsha on set of “Zaar” shot by Ibrahim Nada

Yan Rymsha was born into a family of artists in St. Petersburg, the cultural capital of Russia and the historic home and muse to Vladimir Nabokov and Fyodor Dostoevsky, among others. A love of the arts is ingrained in the very fabric of his city and flows through his family’s veins, so it’s little wonder that Rymsha’s creative drive comes so naturally. Since childhood he has been drawn almost magnetically to the camera, a trait which was encouraged and fostered by his father.

“I [have dreamed of becoming] a director since I was 10. Of course, I had very little knowledge about directing craft,” Rymsha said, recalling how his love affair with cinematography began. “I remember my father brought me a video camera and taught me how to make very simple stop-motion films using old school techniques. He had experience with 8mm film cameras when he was my age, so he showed me dozens of awesome tricks with film.”

Rymsha swiftly mastered those first tricks, and in the years since he has mastered the craft and even invented a few tricks of his own. That mastery is evidenced in one of his most minimalistic, yet absolutely striking works, “Emerald Dream” directed by Leonid Andronov, who won the Festival Award at the International Filmmaker Festival of World Cinema in London for the film “The Admired.” The film’s dystopian story is told by an unseen narrator entirely through photographs, which required Rymsha to boil down the visual impact of an entire film and concentrate that into a series of still frames. Rymsha carefully calculated his style of photography for the film to convey as eerie and foreboding a tone as one could imagine.

Set in a dark, distant future, “Emerald Dream” tells the tale of Gary Jibbons, a man whose unusual job it is to extract dreams from donors in much the same way people donate blood. As the narrator’s story goes on, the photographs become more and more mysterious; it soon becomes clear that Jibbons has fallen hopelessly in love with a young woman with the most vivid dreams he’s ever encountered.

It speaks volumes about Rymsha’s skill as a cinematographer that using so little, he was able to create an entire world inhabited by characters whose highs and lows are so familiar they could easily be real. But it takes more than skill alone to create works of the magnitude he has; it demands a level of passion and devotion that Rymsha has in spades.

“You always want to make your current film better than anything you’ve done before. Otherwise you’ll never grow,” Rymsha beamed. “I put part of my soul into my work. It’s more than just time and energy.”

"The Rat"
Film poster for “The Rat”

That philosophy is a defining quality of Rymsha’s work, an excellent example being the 2015 film “The Rat.” Once again he was tasked with making a film that would test the extent of his talents. Rather than a series of photographs however, “The Rat” required Rymsha to shoot the entire film from inside a single car. As events spiral out of control, audiences share the tense, caged-up sensation with the characters onscreen.

“The challenging part of it was that the whole story took place in the car, so the main goal was to make the audience attracted to the visuals. I spent a huge amount of time picking locations,” Rymsha said. “A location must be interesting with some action going around. My favorite was the airport, with planes taking off and landing.”

It was up to Rymsha to leap into action and scout all possible filming locations. A whirlwind tour of the city later, and he had his list.

“When I got a script I was quite surprised because the whole story was happening in the car. It was challenging to figure out how to make the move visually attractive, and the same time follow rhythm and beat of the storyline,” he explained of the process. “The story was gradually intensifying, so the visuals also had to follow.”

The crime thriller starred Jonte LeGras (“Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy”), was nominated at the Burbank International Film Festival, and its director Vasily Chuprina has been recognized for his Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking by the Newport Beach Film Festival for “The Boy By The Sea,” among a dozen other awards.

“When I got the synopsis of the movie, the first associations that popped into my head were of postmodernism with a huge element of restrained film noir style,” Rymsha said. “I thought that this combination will perfectly fit to the story of such genre.”

Rymsha also served as director of photography for director Ibrahim Nada’s 2016 “Zaar,” the dramatic story of a would-be suicide bomber who has second thoughts. A philosophical head turner fraught with suspense, the film has the distinction of being one of Rymsha’s favorite projects. The film itself has won prizes at more than half a dozen festivals, including a Best Cinematography win for Rymsha from the renowned Santa Monica Film Festival.

Constantly driven to take on the most challenging projects he can, Yan Rymsha has proven time and again what he can do with a camera and a little imagination. He has dedicated his entire life to the pursuit of cinematic greatness, and it would seem now that there is nothing left standing between him and that dream.

Unstoppable Actress Karishma Bhandari

Karishma Bhandari
Actress Karishma Bhandari shot by Karen Scott

 

The job description of an actor is unlike that of any other professional. With every role an actor must become a completely new person in a completely new world. For British actress Karishma Bhandari, that part of the job came naturally. As the London-born daughter of Indian immigrants, growing up hasn’t always been easy — but her experiences have been an immeasurable asset to her craft.

“I grew up with working class parents… The only time we sat down as a family was to go to the cinema, or watch films on TV. They were really busy working,” recalled Bhandari. “Because I grew up seeing them laugh at the TV, I always just wanted to be on TV to have their attention too. I know it may sound silly, but that’s how it all started and it really pushed me to become a good actress ― into something they would be proud of.”

Now, after devoting years to training and honing her craft, Bhandari has far exceeded her childhood goals. The long list of her credits includes the cult British comedy “The Inbetweeners 2,” Disney’s “The Muppets Most Wanted,” and even a guest appearance on the critically acclaimed series “24,” which starred Kiefer Sutherland and won 70 awards during its nine year run on FOX, including eight Primetime Emmys and two Golden Globes.

But of all Bhandari’s roles, no two better illustrate the breadth of her maneuverability as an actress than the flamboyant Bollywood musical “Club Dancer” and the gritty drama “Six Rounds.”

“‘Six Rounds’ was based around the 2011 London riots,” Bhandari said. “Between August 6th through 11th in 2011 thousands of people rioted in London’s boroughs, and in cities and towns across England.”

At its heart, “Six Rounds” is the story of a morally-conflicted boxer and the trials he faces during a dark week of unrest in Britain. The boxer finds himself forced to choose between leaving everything he knows behind him, or giving up what might be his last chance to make a brighter future for himself. Bhandari’s character is a member of the protagonist’s old street gang, and she serves as a symbol of the harsh life that awaits if he strays from his new course. By setting the story against the backdrop of the 2011 Riots, director Marcus Flemmings created the boxer as an allegory for the divisive choice facing England — stay in the past, or embrace the future.

“She is passionate about being successful and will go to great lengths to achieve what is required of her by others and herself,” said Flemmings when asked about Bhandari. “I can honestly say Karishma Bhandari is one of the most exceptional people I have worked with – both with her professional craft and as an outstanding individual.”

Being brought up immersed in the cultures of both East and West has given her an insight into and an understanding of the human condition that no amount of practice could bestow. For an actor, being able to recognize where cultural differences end and human commonalities begin is key to portraying characters that are not just believable, but real in their own rights.

That insight is what enabled Bhandari to seamlessly transition into the role of a gangster in “Six Rounds,” following her run on the dance floor as Geeta in the feelgood Bollywood musical “Club Dancer.” In the film, Bhandari plays the betrothed sister of a man who bears a striking resemblance to a murderer who has just been killed by police. The film follows the outlandish and hysterical events that unfold as Geeta’s brother works to save up for his sister’s wedding. The role presented Bhandari with a number of challenges, but rather than slowing her down, they only motivated her further.

“It felt great playing this character. I speak Punjabi at home, and the film was in Hindi, so I was faced with a different language and accent I had to learn. I had Bollywood dance training, but to do it on a massive set in front of a lot of people was scary,” Bhandari recalled humbly. “But everyone complimented me after I filmed the song, as that was my first thing I had to shoot.”

The time and energy it took to blend into a totally foreign role is staggering, but Bhandari’s commitment is resolute. That drive is exactly what directors have come to expect and rely on from the gifted actress.

“I believe as an actor you have to be willing to learn, willing to explore yourself,” she said. “Some people get put into brackets and characters because they play them well. But as an actor you should be a chameleon.”

That willingness to step outside her comfort zone is why she’s so respected as an actress. It’s also why her performances in a wildly diverse range of roles have been so successful. Bhandari’s range is unrivaled, her drive is unwavering, and she is blessed with a natural talent that shines brighter each time she steps in front of the cameras.

 

The Story Behind Alon Juwal’s Riveting Films

Alon Juwal
Producer/director Alon Juwal shot by Tom Edwards

Every story ever told, whether carved in stone or projected on a screen, contains within it another, much more subtle narrative — the story inside the story. Just as a trained eye can distinguish and analyze the meaning behind each individual brushstroke on a canvas, so too can observant readers and listeners and viewers catch an intimate glimpse into the mind and heart of a storyteller.

Today, Israeli producer and director Alon Juwal is known and envied throughout the industry for his uncanny gift for weaving together the visual and the cerebral elements of storytelling into his films. But it was when he was just a boy that he first fell in love with cinema, and long before taking his first steps into filmmaking, Juwal could almost always be found seated in the dark rows of his neighborhood’s movie theater. Growing up in Tel Aviv, Juwal saw movies as being like magic portals facing outward from reality; life at home had been challenging from an early age, and his lifelong love affair with cinema began as just an escape.

“My parents got divorced when I was just four years old, and I spent most of my time with my mother growing up,” Juwal said, recounting what may well be the most formative chapter of his life — both as a filmmaker and as a man. “Even though I saw my father quite often we were always pretty distant with one another.”

All he needed to do was buy a ticket and grab a seat, and he’d find himself transported to the far-off places and times projected on the big screen. But it wasn’t long before he realized that films offered him more than an escape; through filmmaking, Juwal gained the ability to deconstruct and illuminate the complex mix of emotions he’d long held within him.

“Ever since I was a child I always found film to be magical. I used to skip school just to get a chance to watch a movie one more time,” Juwal said with a note of nostalgia. “But it wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I felt like I wanted to make movies as well. Being moved by a film was always satisfying to me; but watching people being moved by my own film was a whole other level of experience.”

Alon Juwal
Kei’la Ryan, Alon Juwal, Tim Juliano, and Nick Unger on set of “Visitors” shot by Polina Krasovicka

“The first thing they teach you in film school is to write about what you know, so I always tried to channel these experiences to my work. My latest film, ‘Visitors,’ is about a family struggling through an alien invasion,” said Juwal who, while otherwise known for being soft-spoken and modest, could nonetheless barely mask how proud he felt. “But at its core, it’s really the story of a father and son trying to rebuild their broken relationship.”

Thanks in large part to the raw narrative and emotional power of “Visitors” – which is set against the intense and captivating backdrop of a humanity faced with almost-certain extinction – Juwal was honored at the world-renowned New York City International Film Festival with the prestigious award for Best Director of a Sci-Fi Short.

“When I wrote the film, I tried to channel as much of my personal experience into it as I could. I knew almost nothing about aliens, but I knew a lot about growing up with an absent father,” said Juwal, opening a brief window into the film’s deeper symbolic meaning. “One of the film’s main themes is forgiveness, so when I watch it on the big screen with other viewers I hope that they’ll be thinking about their families, and I hope that they’ll re-evaluate the importance of family.”

Juwal was lauded by critics and audiences for his exceptional work as not only the director of “Visitors,” but as the film’s writer and producer as well. The added advantage of having near-unilateral control over the production allowed Juwal to create exactly the film he’d envisioned — a gamble which could have easily backfired and devastated his reputation, had he been a less talented filmmaker.

Instead, “Visitors” has been praised by critics from Madrid to New York as one of the year’s most innovative science fiction films. And as the film continues to take the international festival circuit by storm, more and more moviegoers are watching Juwal closely with a sense of eager anticipation.

“Only after I finished my military service in Israel I found the will and the discipline to take my film career seriously.”

As the producer of “Visitors,” as well as other award-winning films, like “Castor,” Alon Juwal stands out in the film industry thanks to his unique set of skills. As a producer and director whose talent offers a powerful combination of the business side of making films happen and the creative artistry that makes them worth watching, Juwal is definitely one filmmaker we will be seeing a whole lot more of for years to come.

 

From the Theatre to the Silver Screen: Erika Garces is a Knockout

Erika Garces
Actress Erika Garces shot by Shane Russeck

The famous quote from three-time Tony Award nominee Terrence Mann– “Movies will make you famous; Television will make you rich; But theatre will make you good,” says a lot about the skills of many of the most recognized actors in the spotlight today.

Ecuadorian actress Erika Garces is one performer whose skill on both the stage and screen have ushered her into a prominent position in the international entertainment industry. While her name was already known throughout South America, Garces has been making waves in the U.S. film and television industry since she moved stateside a few years ago. In May, national audiences saw her take on a featured role as U.S. Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s escort on ABC’s hit three-time Primetime Emmy Award winning late nite TV series Jimmy Kimmel Live!.

Garces, has created a dazzling reputation for herself as a diversely talented on-screen actress, but she went through years of classical theatre training before making her way onto the silver screen. In Los Angeles alone Garces has starred in numerous sold-out theatre productions at the Adler Theater, such as “Largo Desolato” directed by Academy Award winner Milton Justice, “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui”  directed by Susan Bonito, “Agnes of God” directed by Tim Mcneal, whose film “Anything” premiered earlier this month and was produced by three-time Oscar Award nominee Mark Ruffalo (Hulk from The Avengers), giving the Adler Theater a greater reputation.

Garces starring role as Agnes in “Agnes of God,” which ran for two months at the Adler Theatre in Los Angeles in 2015, is marked proof of just how dynamically talented Erika Garces is when it comes to taking on challenging characters. Centering on Garces’ character Agnes, “Agnes of God” tells the story of a novice nun who was sexually abused in her youth and struggles to decipher reality from personal delusions. While in the convent Agnes gives birth, which she claims to be the result of immaculate conception, something that causes an uproar among the other nuns and brings much of Agnes’ past abuse to the forefront.

Although Garces has taken on a number of layered and emotionally complex characters in both film and television, she marks her role as Agnes as having been one of her most challenging to date. Garces recalls, “This character, no doubt, expanded my emotional abilities as an actress tremendously. There was definitely no chance, for a second, to lie on stage. It had to be as pure and as powerful as possible. And it was so gratifying to hear the emotional response from the audience.”

She also stood out in 2014 and 2016 with her live performances at the Orpheus Awards from the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival. The first year she beautifully portrayed the young lover Juliet in  “Romeo and Juliet” staged at the iconic Egyptian Theatre and directed by Yorgos Karamihos (The Durrells in Corfu, NCIS), a play Garces also performed in front of Jim Gianopulos and J.K. Simmons. During Erika’s second time performing at the Orpheus Awards where she took the room’s breath away with her portrayal of a 1920s seductress.

Her undeniable skill in the theatre has definitely carried over to her work in film and television with her giving one knock-out performance after another. Some of her film and TV credits to date include the films Accidental Muse where she acts alongside David Aranovich (Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol), One Day of Freedom, the California Film Award-winning family comedy Social Norm, the dramatic series Sangre Negra starring Oscar nominee Eric Roberts (Inherent Vice) and award-winning actor Danny Arroyo (Richard III, Saints & Sinners), and many more.

Earlier this year she also earned the Women’s Film Challenge Award from the Audience Awards in Los Angeles for her work as the lead actress and co-producer of the film City of Dreams. This popular and successful film produced by Freedom Way Films first premiered at the Action on Film Festival in September 2016. About working on the film, Garces says, “It was such an interesting experience for me to play this part because at one time or another, we all get a feeling of being trapped in a situation, at a job or in a relationship and you start thinking to yourself, what if I just left?”

Garces spot-on performance has been integral to the impressive reception City of Dreams has received to date, which includes being chosen as an Official Selection of the Nova Film Festival, Action on Film Festival and BAFICI in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Before that, Freedom Way Films had hired Erika to be the lead in a romantic thriller titled The Perfect Plan. This fast-growing production company has been gaining popularity in the recent years. In fact, we’ve heard rumours around town that the actress and the team at FWF have created such a tight collaborative and artistic communication (such as the one with director David O’Russell and actors Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro and Jennifer Lawrence), where Munalula, the CEO at Freedom Way Films has hired Garces once again for their upcoming motion picture set to be released in 2019.

As a highly skilled actress whose body of work stretches across every platform, it comes as no surprise that Erika Garces has been invited to judge the work of other actors. Earlier this year she was invited to judge the prestigious English Speaking Union’s annual Shakespeare competition, where she helped determine the six finalists who would go on to compete at the ESU National finals at New York’s Lincoln Center. In the past Garces was also chosen to judge the Premios Colibri competition, which is held in Ecuador.

One of the things that has made Erika Garces such a unique and successful actress is the diversity of her work. In addition to being in countless high-profile theatre productions, award-winning films and hit television shows, she’s also been tapped for several commercials over the years, such as those for leading hair brand Wella and the car sharing app Maven, which have led her to become an even more recognizable talent in the industry.

Last year Garces starred in a commercial for the Dos Equis beer, which you can check out below. Her fun loving attitude and facial expressions throughout the ad are definite highlights, and the judges at the 2016 MOFILM competition thought so too, as the commercial took home the 3rd Place Award out of thousands of submissions.

Garces early theatre training has been tantamount to the actress developing the dynamic skill she has become known for today; and thanks to her relentless drive to keep growing as a performer, we know that she will continue to impress fans around the world with her flawless performances on both the stage and screen. Up next for Erika Garces is the dramatic film The Change of Heart from director Ronnie Ashury, which is slated to wrap production this summer, the premiere of The Hudson Case and the filming of two features: Dozen Roses and Look Ahead.

Making a Dream a Reality: Venezuelan Actor Pedro Flores!

Pedro Flores
Actor Pedro Flores (left) and Laverne Cox from “Orange is the New Black” at the 2014 Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, CA (photo by: Inez Veronica Chavez)

His entire life, Pedro Flores dreamed of becoming an actor. But growing up in the small town of El Tigre, an eight hour drive from the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, meant achieving that goal required him to defy the odds. With endless dedication, commitment, and a talent that out shined the competition, Flores has reached his dream. He’s become an inimitable figure in the industry, a go-to actor capable of assuming any role in any genre.

In addition to his extensive work in films like “Match” and television series like “What’s The Norm?,” Flores has also been featured in a number of successful commercial advertisements.  Among these were a commercial for Universal Studios’ “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter,” as well as an ad for Volkswagen’s Jetta and Beetle models earlier this year.

 

Pedro Flores
Pedro Flores on the far left in a poster for the new Harry Potter campaign

 

Flores recently wrapped filming on the first episode of the upcoming series “What’s The Norm?,” a hip new comedy which breaks down stereotypes about race and relationships. The series stars Kerry Rhodes as Norm, Nicky Whelan (“Hall Pass,” “The Wedding Ringer”) as his wife Chloe, and Flores as Pelo, a suave dancing coach with a record of seducing his clients.

“Norm is a baseball player, a legend now in the final stage of his career and about to retire. Chloe is an actress whose career is finally taking off. I play Pelo, Chloe’s dancing coach, and we’re competing in a dancing competition on TV,” Flores explained. “Pelo is the sexy, Latino dancing instructor who makes a move on Chloe — but he pretty much makes a move on all the girls he dances with.”

Though “What’s The Norm?” is a comedy at its core, it smartly examines the profound number of issues facing couples, particularly couples of different races. Pelo’s failure to woo Chloe is just one of his character’s hilarious moments, and it serves to show viewers just how strong Chloe and Norm’s love for one another is.

Flores starred as the Boyfriend who is at his wits’ end in the 2016 film “Match,” a film that revolves around the vapid and materialistic mindset that makes dating apps so popular. In the film, Flores is driven to madness when his girlfriend won’t stop staring at her phone while the two are on a date. Set to debut at the Los Angeles Brazilian Film Festival in September, “Match” is a scathing critique of so-called smartphone addiction and mobile dating apps.

“It’s an excellent film because it shows how technology, specifically cell phones, are affecting our interactions and relationships with other people,” Flores said. “My character is annoyed at his girlfriend, who’s taking selfies while they are in the restaurant and giving all of her attention to the phone and how many likes she’s getting. So he just gets upset and leaves the restaurant.”

Last year, Flores also starred as Truce in the TV comedy “Jay Rocco.” “Jay Rocco” follows titular character and famous fashion designer Jay Rocco, who’s changing his entire collection based on the advice of a stranger he caught breaking into his house. Rocco sends his secretary Sibilla out to the Malibu Hills, where she finds herself stranded after a drunken night of partying. That’s how Sibilla and viewers meet Truce, a man whose wanderlust led him to give up his old life and explore the globe on a spiritual journey.

“Truce left his home in Venezuela, his family and his perfect job and just went out traveling the world in order to create his own path and discover the mystery of life,” Flores said, describing the nuances of Truce. “He likes the feeling of freedom and he loves to meet new people. He knows that he’ll always learn something from someone, no matter who they are.”

In a way, Truce has a great deal in common with Pedro Flores. Before he left Venezuela, Flores had attained a degree in engineering and could have easily settled for an easy life with a good job. But much like Truce, that life was not for Flores. Years of dedication and unquantifiable talent have allowed him to not only pursue his dreams, but to make them a reality.

 

Setting the Visual Tone with Electrician and Camera Operator Ekaterina Doldjeva!

DSC03033
Camera operator and electrician Ekaterina Doldjeva

 

At the core of any good film or series is a good story, and just as with any story, the tone and mood are key. In a book, an author can simply tell the reader that the night is dark and stormy. In film, setting that tone takes a lot more nuance. Rather than relying on written words, filmmakers must use dialogue, ambient sound, curated scores and above all, meticulously orchestrated lighting. That’s where Ekaterina Doldjeva’s expertise becomes invaluable. As both a camera operator and an electrician, Doldjeva knows better than anyone just how important a role lighting plays in the storytelling process.

Born and raised in Bulgaria, Doldjeva found a passion early in her life for the film industry. Fascinated by the craft of cinematography, her seemingly limitless skillset covers the spectrum from the creative to the technical. As a lighting technician and electrician she is responsible for overseeing the proper and safe setup of lighting, and for ensuring that when the cameras roll and the cue is given, those lights work flawlessly. As a camera operator, she works closely with the cinematographer to ensure each scene captures the full essence of the director’s vision for the production.

“For me, every time I am lighting a set, it feels like I am painting with light,” she said, describing how her work lies at the confluence of science and artistry. “However, being a camera operator is a true passion of mine. In order to be a cinematographer you have to be able to translate words from the script into visuals.”

Doldjeva’s first big step into the field came when she began work on the critically acclaimed NBC series “Chicago Fire.” Centered around a tight knit band of firefighters in Chicago, the series honors the brave men and women who risk their lives everyday to protect their city and its people. Starring Jesse Spencer (“House”) and Taylor Kinney (“Zero Dark Thirty,” “Shameless”), the brilliantly written series features themes of fraternity, courage, sacrifice — and a whole lot of fire.

“It is breathtaking to see how a certain scene is done, especially on a show like ‘Chicago Fire,’” Doldjeva said. “Most scenes include lighting buildings on fire and heavy stunt work, but helping and contributing to create those scenes, and afterwards seeing it on TV when the episode comes out, it repays for all the hard work I have done. I feel grateful that I am able to be apart of the crew at such a high level.”

In the few short years since her work on “Chicago Fire,” Doldjeva has gone on to work on an array of star-studded productions, such as the upcoming film “Office Christmas Party.” Doldjeva worked as the electrician on the film, which is directed by Josh Gordon (“Blades of Glory,” “The Switch”) and scheduled for release just in time for the holiday season this December. Starring Jennifer Aniston (“Friends,” “Cake”), Jason Bateman (“Arrested Development,” “Horrible Bosses”) and Olivia Munn (“The Newsroom,” “X-Men: Apocalypse”), the riotously hilarious film is guaranteed to be a box office smash.

Filming on “Office Christmas Party” provided a laundry list of challenges and obstacles, which Doldjeva was uniquely qualified to overcome. While shooting on the streets of Chicago she found herself in a battle against the elements. Despite a nonstop barrage of complications, Doldjeva kept her cool and saved the day from what could very well have been a disaster.

“Throughout the day, we experienced short blizzards, rain and clear skies — all within 30 minutes. A rapid weather change like this is never good for a lighting setup. At times I had to separate from the crew and follow the weather every 10 minutes, so I could tell the gaffer if there would be a lighting change,” Doldjeva said, recalling just how many fires she had to put out. “We had lights on every intersection… we were shooting at, and inside buildings and along trees. I had to stay close by to… decrease or increase the lights every time the sun changed, and to let everyone know so they could tell production. This was crucial for the lighting continuity within every shot and scene.”

Doldjeva has earned a reputation as one of the most sought after professionals in her field, a fact proven time and again by the illustrious list of projects she is credited on. In 2015 she served as the electrician for the hit Fox series “Empire,” starring Academy Award nominee Terrence Howard (“Hustle & Flow”) as a hip-hop artist and recording mogul whose legacy is placed in jeopardy after being diagnosed with ALS.

A much different project than any other she had previously worked on, the logistics of shooting a series as thoroughly original and unprecedented as “Empire” proved to be an exciting challenge for Doldjeva. In particular, the show’s frequent use of musical performances kept Doldjeva on her toes.

“I often had to navigate a spotlight and follow the singer across the stage,” she said, explaining the high expectations and higher stakes involved. “Sometimes there would be a long shot where the performance might get interrupted when the singer would go off stage or dance. A small mistake on a giant production like this could be inexcusable.”

Doldjeva’s myriad projects have also seen her working alongside Academy Award nominee William H. Macy (“Fargo”) on the Showtime series “Shameless,” directors Lana and Lilly Wachowski (“The Matrix Trilogy,” “V For Vendetta”) on the Netflix Original Series “Sense8,” and Academy Award Winner Charlize Theron (“Monster,” “Mad Max: Fury Road”) on the upcoming film “American Express,” scheduled for release next year.

It isn’t luck or coincidence that has made Doldjeva such an omnipresent figure in some of the biggest productions over the last few years. Countless productions have relied not only on her expertise behind the camera, but on her unrivaled ability to turn lighting into an artform in its own right. With her years of experience, vast understanding of her craft, and a knack for quick action and quicker thinking, it’s no surprise that experts throughout the film industry have come to think of Ekaterina Doldjeva as the beacon that guides them when the waters get choppy.