All posts by Neil Mathew

Mohit Soni Refuses To Slow Down

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Producer Mohit Soni

While there are many international talents that come to Hollywood from across the globe to pursue their filmmaking dreams, few have been able to seamlessly transition quite like Mohit Soni. Having worked on over 30 projects since 2013, the Rajasthan-born producer and director made major headway in the industry in a relatively short amount of time.

A testament to his incredible work ethic and ability to network within the film industry, he has worked on movies starring international celebrities such as action star Paul Logan from the films Code Red, American Warfighter, The Sandman, Circus Kane and more. Soni collaborated with Logan on Loss of Grace, a high-profile film that has been shrouded in secrecy, for which he not only managed day-to-day operations but the overall production.

While there are some producers that strictly handle the logistics of a particular project, Soni is more involved, and is genuinely interested in the motivations of the artists that he works with. He also has collaborated with writers with respect to polishing and writing skills, hiring the right talent for certain roles, and assisting with conflict management and logistics. He has also has negotiated showings in various festivals and competitions with respect to projects that he was involved in, as well.

Hinjews
Mohit Soni’s film “Hinjews”

Soni truly realized his love for production when he worked as a producer on Hinjews, and realized that he loved putting the puzzle pieces together when it came to completing a successful film project. He also loves putting his social skills to use, whether it involves mediating between personality clashes, figuring out the financial breakdown of projects with others, helping to oversee post-production, or marketing the project on a large scale.

Another notable project that Soni was heavily involved in was the 2017 movie Bridging Color, a touching South Korean drama directed by Chang Hyung Park. The movie follows a world-renowned arrogant artist that goes colorblind, and the resulting revelations that he has about his ego, status, and life in general. The touching movie has been widely praised in festivals around the world. The film was awarded at the 2017 Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards, the 2017 Rochester International Film Festival Awards, and the 2017 Short To The Point International Film Festival, and earned nominations from six other prestigious festivals.

Exploring themes of perception and individuality in a meaningful way, Bridging Color,  which was released on Amazon this week, served as Chang-Hyun Park’s first commercial film, and Soni was integral to bringing his creative vision to life. From inception to completion, Soni’s participation as the film’s producer ensured that the production was executed smoothly.

"Bridging Color"
Poster for “Bridging Color”

In addition to his long list of film credits, Soni produced the music video “Ishq Nashila” by actor, rapper and film star, Sapra. Exploring the dangers of substance abuse, the video emphasizes the idea that love is more powerful than any drug, with Sapra conveying a positive message over a hypnotizing, pulsating instrumental. The expert cinematography and lush imagery helped propel the video to over 100,000 views on Youtube. Soni was inspired by the personal connection that Sapra had to the subject matter, considering that one of his close friends had fallen prey to drug addiction. Soni says he was attracted to the idea of creating a musical narrative rather than a typical music video, and the fact that it also had such a positive message.

The collaboration also led to Soni producing Sapra’s music video “Coco,” which explored the idea of how detrimental cocaine addiction can be. Here, Soni was able to experiment more with cinematography while again communicating the idea that passion is more important and real than a drug can ever be, and that drugs are a momentary escape rather than a real solution.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, Soni displays his versatility through his work on Blood and Water, a Victorian-era period piece about love, family, and deception. Soni was able to step in when necessary, adapt to different personalities, manage conflict, and fill in for certain roles for emergency purposes, as well.

Unlike many other producers, Soni is deeply passionate about the products that he is involved in, and enjoys working with other like-minded creative spirits. It is clear that Mohit Soni truly feels rewarded on every unique project that he has been a part of, and his abundant passion will only lead to new projects and broader horizons.

 

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Producer Clara Levy Brings Powerful Stories to the Screen

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Producer Clara Levy at the Deauville Film Festival

Producing a film or television series requires an immense amount of planning, impeccable attention to detail in terms of financing, a unique style of diplomacy and the capacity to work with a plethora of different personalities and the ability to see the overall picture and end result before filming ever begins. While the actors and directors often earn the most credit in the public eye, the producer behind a project is arguably the most instrumental contributor. Without them, a project simply wouldn’t happen.

One of the beautiful things about the film industry is that every once in a while a motivated leader who’s eager to help others tell their story comes along, and that’s certainly the case with producer Clara Levy. Hailing from France, Levy moved to Los Angeles in 2017 where she helped kickstart Blackpills’ US production branch. Helping to place the Blackpills’ name on the tongue of everyone in the industry, Levy has continued to produce award-winning and globally recognized productions for the company, such as the film “Dead Women Walking,” the series “Junior,” “Do Not Disturb,” “Bonding,” “First Love” and more.

Though she is now a highly sought after producer, her entry into the film industry several years ago unfolded after a stint of working in Parisian politics. In 2013 Levy was working at Paris City Hall for Anne Hidalgo, who made history and international headlines for becoming the first female mayor of one of the most well-known cities in the world. There, Levy coordinated press campaigns for the mayor and organized massive campaigns such as the Global Conference Of Locally Elected Women, all experiences that would prepare her for the logistical skills necessary to become a Hollywood producer.

After her stint at the Mayoral Office, Levy embraced her love of film, and joined Canal+, where she helped with marketing critically-acclaimed series such as The Bureau and Spiral, and was also instrumental in creating unscripted content and documentaries.

Soon after she was hired on as a creative executive at the Blackpills office in Paris, which eventually led her to Los Angeles where she was the lead producer on the critically-acclaimed film Dead Women Walking, a film about women on death row directed by Hagar Ben-Asher. Hagar Ben-Asher had previously been nominated at the Cannes Festival for The Slut.

Dead Women Walking received standing ovations at some of the most respected film festivals in the world, including the Tribeca Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, and dozens more, which has led to many discussions about a distribution deal with various major studios. The production featured an almost all-female cast and crew, including well-known actresses such as Ashton Sanders (featured in the Oscar winning-film Moonlight), Dot Marie-Jones (Glee), and Lynn Collins of X-Men fame.

"Junior"

Since entering the film and television world as a producer, Levy has continued to work with the best of the best. In 2016 she began working closely with Zoe Cassavetes, daughter of the legendary John Cassavetes, on the Gotham Award nominated series Junior.

Junior is one of the first projects that Levy worked on as part of the Blackpills team, and it is special in that Zoe Cassavetes had such as specific vision for the film. Centering on the theme excitement and danger of adolescence, Junior follows a 16 year-old whose mother’s new boyfriend tempts her to explore a darker side of herself. Zoe captured the coming-of-age experience in a fresh and modern way, and Levy helped bring Zoe’s subtle genius to life.

“[Junior] tackles adolescence in a way that we can all relate. It makes you travel in time and go back to this place when you are still exploring who you are and discovering it slowly,” says Levy. “I loved being so close to an auteur such as Zoe. Her directing is very special as it brings so many additional layers to her story. It’s something very hard to achieve and she mastered it.”

Levy recently worked on the soon-to-be-released anthology series Do Not Disturb, which marks the directorial debut of internationally-known actor Jude Law. The upcoming series was chosen among thousands of series for the Cannaseries Festival, which takes place before the Cannes Festival, one of the most well-known film festivals in the world.

Do Not Disturb takes a unique look at the private lives that we hide from the world, and is unique in that the series isn’t loyal to a specific genre. Starring celebrated actors such as Monica Belluci (The Matrix Reloaded), Jack Huston (Kill Your Darlings), Ralph Ineson (The Witch) and Edward Holcroft (Vampire Academy), Do Not Disturb brings to life the wide array of experiences that take place behind the “Do Not Disturb” signs on hotel rooms. The series is dedicated to telling personal stories that incorporate different genres and unique characters that hail from all over the world, and explores the more private and dark aspects of human nature in general.

“Do Not Disturb is really an unidentified artistic object ! It brought together so many talent and artist on such an intimate theme,” says Levy. “The theme of the project, looking into how people deal with their secret life and their dark side was amazing to tackle, and it felt that the anthology format gave us the opportunity to really explore so many side of this human problematic.”

"Bonding"
Poster for “Bonding”

As if all of this wasn’t enough, she has also been working diligently on the upcoming series Bonding, which was co-produced by Anonymous Content, the production company that was instrumental in such critically-acclaimed series as True Detective, The Knick, and Mr. Robot. Netflix purchased the series and the series is expected to launch sometime this month.

Levy’s curated and managed several writer’s room in Tel Aviv, all while developing and producing an astonishing portfolio of award-winning series during her time at Blackpills, which has been praised as “the future of TV” by French newspaper Le Monde. She has proved quite instrumental to Blackpills’ success, most notably because of her motivation, work ethic, and discerning eye for talent. That is why it is no surprise that in March 2017 she was promoted to Director of Development at Blackpills, where she works in her present capacity. Levy is responsible for signing talent of all kinds, including writers, directors, and digital talent to help create compelling content and grow the company. She now builds and maintains partnerships with all major US agencies and management companies.

Clara Levy is not afraid to sign new talent, shake up the status quo, or introduce new ideas to the companies that she works for, so she often proves to be a much more incredible asset than they first realize. She consistently stands out as being able to help true visionaries tell important and relevant stories, and it’s very clear that Clara Levy is not stopping anytime soon.

 

Storytelling for Social Justice

Ishita Srivastava
Digital Content Producer Ishita Srivastava

Human beings have been reminded, time and again, thanks to history, that they haven’t always thought and acted in the best interest of society. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are in the world – there’s a good chance that the country that you live in might have a history of violence and injustice that still affect the way it operates today, from an individual to a systemic level. However, thanks to media, technology and the overall awareness it’s led to, more people today are focused on social justice than ever before.

One of the individuals at the forefront of this movement is Ishita Srivastava, who is a major influencer in the world of culture change. Art and entertainment are becoming more and more deeply intertwined with social justice efforts. We need not look further than examples such as the Time’s Up movement against sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood, led by actors and creatives like Reese Witherspoon and Shonda Rhimes, and Jay-Z’s work against mass incarceration, including helping to finance a documentary about Kalief Browder, a Bronx high school student who was imprisoned for years without ever being convicted of a crime.

Ishita Srivastava understands the valuable intersection of pop culture and social justice, and how all scale and influence of Hollywood on people’s attitudes and beliefs make it an effective conduit for creating a discourse about important social issues. Through her work as a digital storyteller, producer, and culture change strategist, Srivastava is dedicated to challenging society’s traditional ideas about caregiving and  gender roles and helping audiences understand that in order for us to live in a more equal and just world, these norms need to evolve.

During her seven year stint as a digital content producer at Breakthrough, a human rights organization based out of both the United States and India, Srivastava helped challenge norms and attitudes around gender by leveraging a powerful range of storytelling media and tactics.

While working as Breakthrough’s multimedia producer and deputy director, Srivastava tirelessly created content ranging from satirical films to documentaries, such as Mansimran, which was featured on MTV, and Deport The Statue, a satirical short film that was featured on globally-known media outlets such as CNN, Huffington Post, and BBC.

She was also instrumental in creating the #BeThatGuy campaign that urged men to take a concrete stand to interrupt gender violence, also a key theme of Breakthrough’s “Ring The Bell” campaign. She makes no secret of her ambitions and optimism, stating in an interview about the campaign: “We believe that it is especially important that men act as leaders and allies in what we call The Breakthrough Generation: the generation that will reach a critical mass and trigger a global tipping point that makes violence against women unacceptable in this lifetime.”

The “Ring The Bell” campaign was an incredible success, and it included sports star and former NFL quarterback Don McPherson, in addition to the critically acclaimed Colombian poet, actor, and author, Carlos Andres Gomez, who recently won the Atlanta Review International Poetry Prize. With an entertaining edge and poignant message, several of the videos went viral and one of them was even shown during the NASCAR Speedway Championship. Another example of innovative, edgy content that she produced  for Breakthrough was the Breakthrough U Puppet series conceptualized by Srivastava herself for a college-age audience, it addressed pertinent issues such as domestic violence, sexual harassment, hypermasculinity, and non-consensual image sharing. She was able to create and present the content in a manner that was relatable to college students nationwide, and the series even included such notable puppeteers as Paul McGinnis and David Bizzaro of Sesame Street fame.

Ishita Srivastava
Ishita Srivastava with puppets form the “U Puppet” series

Ishita Srivastava has an incredible and unique set of skills that she is now utilizing as the Director of Culture Change at Caring Across Generations. She is a key founding member of Storyline Partners, a collective of some of the most well-known social justice organizations in the U.S, collaborating with the entertainment industry to seed and influence stories and increase the visibility of those who are either misrepresented or underrepresented in pop culture. In her role at Caring Across, her most recent campaign was inspired by the film On The Basis Of Sex, which focuses on the early career of legendary Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and features well-known Hollywood staples such as Kathy Bates, Armie Hammer, and Felicity Jones. The campaign, titled #WeKnowYouCare, has already gained a tremendous amount of traction, and aims to reimagine the idea of masculinity in the context of male caregivers, urging a wide range of people, especially men, to understand how important the issue and work of caregiving truly is to society as a whole. The #WeKnowYouCare campaign has been featured in notable media outlets such as Bustle and PopSugar, as well.

Those who have worked with Srivastava have pointed out that she is simultaneously “generous and mission-driven,” and the fact that she has been behind so many successful campaigns is certainly proof of that. There is no doubt that storytelling has been an effective way to challenge and transform cultural norms throughout history, and Srivastava understands the need to use all the resources at her disposal to help create change.

“Ishita’s greatest strength is her ability to tell stories that have the power of transforming cultural norms. She knows how to identify which stories will resonate with an audience, and work closely with the subject of the story in order to ensure that their experience is represented authentically and in the most compelling way possible,” explains digital strategist Mihika Sapru, who worked closely with Srivastava at Breakthrough.

“She also has the unique ability to take heavy subject matter and convey it in a way that drives positive action, making her work effective and valuable in the social change space… She’s also not afraid of taking risks and creating edgy and provocative multimedia campaigns that reach beyond the usual suspects and spark important conversations with non-traditional audiences.”

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Ishita Srivastava Speaking at the Story Movements Conference in LA

As an experienced digital storyteller, producer and someone whose work has been at the cutting edge of culture change strategy, it’s not surprising that Srivastava is often invited to discuss her work at forums and conferences about leveraging media for social change. Most recently she was asked to take part in the prestigious Story Movements conference hosted by the Center for Media and Social Impact at American University. During the conference, which was held on March 1 and 2, Srivastava gave a powerful talk about her cultural change work at Caring Across Generations and the #WeKnowYouCare campaign, for which she leveraged partnerships within the entertainment industry and the film, “On the Basis of Sex to engage men who are caring for family members in the U.S..

It’s clear to see that Srivastava’s instinct, intuition, and skills for visual storytelling are valued by many, she understands how to tell effective stories in a way that engages people, and most importantly, she’s using those skills to uplift the voices of those who are the most invisible or marginalized in pop culture.