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20 QUESTIONS WITH WRITER SARAH WALTON

You write films which present the plight of modern romance. How does romance differ today from the romantic films of your childhood?

Classic 80’s rom coms like Overboard and Housesitter were much soppier than most modern rom coms. They were more fantasy based, more farcical, over the top and fun. I think audiences found corniness more palatable back in the 80’s.

In the 90’s rom coms became more realistic, more drama based rom coms like Sliding Doors and 40 days and 40 nights, high concept ideas based in reality.  Now rom coms are often quite reality based like He’s Just Not That Into You and Bridget Jones’s Dairy.  Personally I love them all, but I have to admit I’ve not seen many Woody Allen rom coms. They feel too gritty for me, but I know I shouldn’t knock it till I try it!

It feels as if society is slowly becoming more accustomed to violence and graphic, sometimes aggressive sex scenes and becoming less comfortable with cheesy love stories and romance.  I don’t know who decided it was “uncool” to like romantic comedies – I imagine someone or more likely, a group of people who had been through a lot of pain and were angry at the world.  It seems audiences are more comfortable seeing character get slaughtered on screen than they are with seeing true intimacy.  Love definitely feels more natural to me than violence and I’m passionate about making more corny lovey dovey content to counteract the violence and hate spreading like a disease in the world.  Romantic comedies have the power to remind us of the love inside of us.

What is it about romantic comedies that appeals to your sensibilities as a writer? 

Rom coms appeal to me because I’ve always been obsessed with love. I’ve been so fascinated by observing and experiencing the power of love and how it transforms people and their behavior.  I didn’t start out writing rom coms.  I fell for the mainstream view that rom coms were “uncool” and although I loved them I stayed quiet about it.  In the industry they’re most often not taken “seriously” – certainly in Australia – They don’t usually win Academy Awards (although that seems to be shifting). In my 20’s when I was an actor/writer I was the epitome of a tortured artist, I smoked cigarettes, drank too much alcohol, I fit the Hemingway stereotype perfectly. The first feature I wrote wasn’t a romantic comedy and it was horrendous. I was trying too hard to be clever. It wasn’t coming from the right place. It was coming from my head instead of my heart. I threw it all in and decided to write something fun instead – a film I wanted to watch, which I admitted to myself was a cheesy romantic comedy set in my two favorite places – a tropical island and NYC!

As I matured and I cared less and less what other people thought I began to speak my truth.  I decided to do the seemingly impossible, the unheard of, the bravest thing a filmmaker can do – come out of the romantic comedy closet and admit my love for them once and for all! And not just cool Woody Allen rom coms, but the cheesy, soppy ones that make people gag.  It was a shaky road, initially I was embarrassed, but once I embraced my true self as a corny rom com lover and expressed my passion for rom coms with conviction, I found that other people came out of the woodwork and admitted their secret rom com love.  I once dated a guy who lived in a sharehouse with a group of guys who had what they called “Rom com Sunday”! They’d all huddle around the TV nursing hangovers and watching their favorite rom coms (and no, they weren’t gay! I can vouch for that!). Some people have told me I inspired them to uncover the love from rom coms they never realized they had or were too embarrassed to admit. It’s a pretty liberating experience that I’d highly recommend 😉  Rom coms being “uncool” is kind of ridiculous, but what’s more ridiculous is caring whether people think we’re cool after we leave high school. 

Different cultures have their own perspectives on romance. How would you describe your Australian homeland’s unique sensibilities towards romance?

Australian romance can be pretty pathetic. In Australia, the sophisticated method by which a man lets you know he likes you is usually by ignoring you or teasing you.  I recently wrote the joke “You know you’re a true blue Aussie when”: 1. You understand the importance of vegemite to butter ratio; 2. You only know the first 2 verses of The Australian Anthem. 3. You call your best mate dickhead.  Excuse my French there, but you get the point.  Banter is a huge part of the Australian culture.  What we call “giving each other shit” is an endearing process by which us outback simpletons bond.  I lived in London in my 20’s and my experience dating there was that this culture comes from our British roots. Men in London were even more reserved. I find in the US and Europe men are more forthright in asking you out. This was such a novelty for me at first, I loved the confidence and straight shooter method, but at the end of the day I feel that in all cultures there’s too much emphasis on the initial “wooing” period at the beginning of dating which can be fun if you’re just dating around for the experience, but essentially it’s kind of empty and fabricated.  I find when people stop playing games and trying to be something they’re not and really get to know each other as friends, they’re more likely to find a compatible match and then from there true romance and love blossoms and flourishes.

As a screenwriter who lives in Hollywood and is female, you have a very authentic voice for the types of films you create. What responsibility do you feel to your audience in regards to creating films that are based in reality? 

I feel my responsibility is to create more female driven stories as well as smash stereotypes and challenge old unhealthy relationship paradigms. I don’t know about making sure that the films are based in reality, as I like a good farcical rom com that’s more fantasy based. I think it’s important to laugh as dysfunctional relationship patterns if I portray them in films, but I’m conscious not to encourage dysfunctional relationship patterns or promote them as healthy.  At times I’ve taken my responsibility as a writer and filmmaker too seriously and lost the true goal of rom coms for me which is to laugh at our pain and to enjoy the ride and experience love and joy myself within the process – basically to have fun! When I’ve agonized over the kind of messages my films are sending I’ve ended up writing preachy material and losing my true intention.  If I stay centered in my intention to tell stories from love about love, I find that’s when my best work comes through.  When I’m in my head I’m coming from my ego and my writing begins to feel fabricated.

I do take integrity seriously though. It’s important for me to not be swayed by external influences that focus purely on making money.  I have no problem with making money – in fact making money is good – it’s how we make more films – but I’m conscious of staying true to the heart of the story and making sure it isn’t lost in the process. This is where it’s important to have strong instincts and learn when to compromise and when to stick to your guns.

I think that the lasting effects that films have on audiences emotionally is largely neglected.  There have been many studies on the neuroscience of how film affects our brain and emotions, but it doesn’t take a neuroscientist to observe the effect the media has on our mind and our emotions.  We can experience these effects ourselves simply by observing the way commercials affect us and get into our heads. I don’t know about you, but a commercial has the power to make me cry or crave a chocolate bar so bad that I’ll be sure to eat one after I’ve been exposed to a luring commercial.  The amount of money spent on Super Bowl commercials is ludicrous and speaks to the power of the moving image on our sensibilities.  In the same way that I’m conscious about what food I feed my body, I’m conscious of what I feed my mind – the amount of negative images I expose my mind to.  I rarely watch television and I almost never watch the news.

It’s undeniable that we’re influenced by our environment- thought processes, images, sounds are all embedded in our mind when we’re exposed to them. When we’re repeatedly exposed to a succession of images, we feel the emotional effects this can have an impact on our daily lives and how we interact with others. This is why I’m so passionate about making more films that evoke and spread love, laughter and joy and remind and encourage people to live from their hearts. 

For the film JUMP, an original soundtrack was written that was inspired by 80’s music, as was the tone of the film. What do you love so much about the 80’s and what is it about this era that infers lighthearted fun? 

The 80’s music and films represent the heart and joy of our inner child. It’s fun, lighthearted and most often about love, dance and enjoying life – “dancing in the street”, “dancing in heaven”, “girls just want to have fun” …  you know how it goes.  I grew up listening to love song dedications – songs that come from love have always resonated with me.  In saying that I feel the same euphoric rush, the same joy in my heart when I listen to Linkin Park music as I do when I listen to Whitney Houston belt out a tune. Punk, rock and sometimes even heavy metal music also speaks to my heart. I think it’s about the space the artist was in when they performed the piece of music – I can feel their intention if it comes from love then it doesn’t matter whether it’s rock, pop or country music. 

The main character in JUMP is a 37-year old secretary who manifests her own release from an ordinary life. Presenting a female lead in her late 30’s is (sadly) far from the norm for Hollywood films these days. What inspired you to present Melody at this stage of her life for this film? 

Melody’s age was the most important part of the film for me.  To portray a character who is considered in society “old” as not only facing her fears, taking a risk and chasing her dreams at the age of 37, but also the fact that the odds are stacked against her in terms of being paired with her worst nightmare dance partner who exacerbates her “Stiff Leg Syndrome”. I’m incredibly passionate about shattering ageist attitudes.  Growing old is a beautiful process – ageing should be celebrated! I’m becoming fitter, healthier, more active as I’m getting older and continuing to push myself outside my comfort zone is an important part of growth.  If we’re not growing, we’re not really living.  Life is growth. If we don’t continue to grow we turn into rocks. No one wants to be a rock. 

The Dating Ring is a film in which you had the male and female leads presented in an emotional role reversal.  Are you constantly looking for new ways such as this to twist the romantic comedy template and how difficult is this to achieve? 

Yes, I love exploring gender role reversal and smashing stereotypes.

Although I still relate to the basic ideals I tend to have different views and opinions to mainstream society – tend to naturally think outside the box, so I don’t find it difficult to come up with new ways to twist the rom com template. It’s just the way I think.

In my experience there’s a different kind of love that’s largely neglected in romantic comedies that I’m excited to delve into in my films – what’s most commonly known as true friendship love or unconditional love.  I feel the current definition of romance is false, fleeting, lacks substance if it’s not grounded in true love.  What is romance with someone you don’t really know yet? You get swept up in the romance, but then once that fades away and you get to know the person you may realize you’re not compatible.  Romance without truly getting to know someone is like coloring your hair. At first it looks luscious and shiny, but eventually it fades and your turn colors show you can keep putting dye in your hair and each time it glows again, but after time your hair becomes brittle or the dye builds up and you have to keep treating it.  It’s a lot of work.  Why not just enjoy your hair in its natural state? Why not just be yourself when you’re first getting to know someone and then once you know you’re a good match, let the romance develop naturally from there.

I’d go even further to question the way we perceive the “opposite sex” in terms of attraction and how it can steer us away from creating deeper stronger bonds and platonic friendships with each other.  What if when we had children we didn’t’ tease them when they had a friend of the “opposite sex”.  What if we refrained from saying “oooh is that your girlfriend?” – or is that just me?  It’s harmless and well-intended, but what if from a young age we encouraged kids to see the other gender as equals – as mates.  Relationships based on a foundation of friendship are more likely to last and to grow unconditional love filled with respect and void of fear based love which includes jealousy, control and insecurity. 

Hollywood is still the biggest producer of films in the world. What are the challenges in this modern era for a writer in this current time here in Hollywood? 

I don’t see challenges as a bad thing, it’s an opportunity to adapt and grow. The addition of platforms like Hulu, Netflix etc. is definitely changing the game, there’s definitely a plethora of content being made and it seems there’s more opportunity to get alternative stories made, as these platforms are open to a wider range of ideas and concepts rather than being restricted by the constructs that the bigger channels and studios adhere to.

What’s the average daily routine for a screenwriter like yourself in Hollywood?

Everyone has a different process. I know some writers write for 4-6 hours a day while some write for 2 hours in the morning or late at night. Some work for 8-10 hour days. It depends on the individual. For me it varies. I can work for long periods without a break, but I can also work really well on short spurts.

You present romance and comedy in your screenplays. What is it about the blending of these two genres that works so well and has become such a popular combination? 

Romantic comedies are love and laughter – love and laughter are the two most powerful forces in human nature.

One of my favorite Gandhi quotes speaks to the power of love: “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”

There’s still an overhang of an old perspective that hate and anger are power and that love, vulnerability, kindness and compassion are weak. The truth is the opposite. It’s much harder to be kind in the face of aggression than to bite back. True strength is love and I think people connect to this truth in a good romantic comedy.

Laughter is the most positive and powerful human expression of joy and happiness and can be medicinal in its effects.

Crying as an expression of sadness is an important element in the therapeutic effects of film. Repressed sadness is what causes anger, bitterness, resentment and can lead to damaging behavior. Crying as relief is incredibly transformative and can allow the audience to connect with a film on a deeper level.  

How important are romance and comedy to you in your personal relationships? 

Imperative. I love to laugh – I laugh at everything. I can’t have people in my life who don’t make me laugh. But seeing as most people make me laugh, I’m an easy audience. Romance to me means open, regular expressions of love which is one of my favorite things to do. I do it to people I don’t know that well and sometimes strangers which can be awkward, but fun, funny and incredibly rewarding. I much prefer a card with a meaningful message or a cheap thoughtful present than an expensive gift. I guess I see romance as kindness in a way. Random acts of romance should be a thing.  I think because I do it often it comes back to me tenfold. Recently I was having a bad day and I went out for ice cream with a beautiful friend who encouraged me to “let it out” and cry (in public!) and a kind stranger came up to me, opened his arms out and hugged me. We were in Venice, so I thought he was a tree hugging hippy (I hang out in these circles sometimes, so I get it) but it turned out that the stranger was the director of one of my all-time favorite romantic comedies and now we’re friends. 

Are most of your moments of genius (in screenplays) the result of personal experience or imagined experiences? In other words, how much of your writing is based out of first hand experiences? 

My favorite moments in my films spring from a fusion of real life and being connected to the present moment – usually after or during meditation, listening to music, an inspiring conversation or exercise.  I have a vivid imagination and a tendency for exaggeration which bodes me well in comedy, but the best comedy for me comes from the truth and organic moments that pop out in presence.

Studying The Meisner Technique for 3 years as an actress I developed an obsession for organic moments – the magical moments that shoot out of us like lava when we’re in the present moment.  These are gold for both performance and writing.  This is also why I love improv. I like to use improv to help inspire ideas as well as when I direct or perform.

Real life is a huge influence on my work – like all writers I observe and soak up my environment like a sponge.  I see the beauty in everyone, I see peoples pain, their joy, their hidden emotions and stories – sometimes I feel I can see through people – that sounds creepy, but you know what I mean. Don’t you? 

Do you consider the films which you write to be therapy for the audience or how to” instruction?

I see my films as relief – escape from daily life. Have a laugh, take a load off. Laugh at our pain – therapy in that sense.  Laughter and tears are very therapeutic and a good romantic comedy will do both.

Most rom coms shouldn’t be modelled as a how to… more like how not to.  Sex and The City modelled and promoted dysfunctional relationships by making a fairytale out of Carrie and Big’s romance.  There she was, an intelligent, successful, beautiful woman with a group of good friends – a strong support system who chose to be with a man who disrespected her and strung her along for 10 years and left her broken hearted time after time – even on the alter.  This is the kind of love that happen when we don’t have a strong sense of self-worth. 

How does a screenwriter like yourself find romance in Hollywood while pursuing a career in such a difficult field? 

I don’t. Just kidding. I have incredibly fulfilling and nourishing relationships with friends and family.  I’m not interested in the traditional or modern dating structure – I did it to death in my 20’s and it was fun – and then it was painful, and now I’m done with that.

What is the DNA of a great romantic comedy? i.e. the required traits. 

The formula for a great romantic comedy is love plus laughter equals joy. A rom com needs to be relateable even if it’s a fantasy based rom com, there needs to be an element of truth.

I’m interested in exploring a different definition of romance than our current understanding of it in mainstream society. I believe romance should come later rather than at the beginning.  It should start slow and increase as your relationship develops.  The current model shows and abundance of romance in the first couple of months or the “honeymoon period” and then once there’s commitment and safety often people get complacent and the romance fades.  Id’ like to see that turned around. This would make for a long term sustained relationship full of romance.  A higher love is achieved when two people love themselves fully and don’t need or expect the other person to make them happy.  They take full responsibility for their own happiness and merely join together with someone else who is whole and complete.

I’ve fallen into the expectation trap in past relationship, but when I took a 2 year break from dating and focused on me I noticed the ebb and flow of emotion, joy, and love within me and it became clear when I was going through challenges that it came from me – when I no longer had someone else to blame! These themes that surround love are what I’m fascinated in examining further and portraying in my films. 

What film did you not write but wish that you had and why? 

Disney’s Enchanted because it’s a magical fantastical musical with a message of love and believing in wonder and the good in people.  I write music into my films and there’s usually at least one scene where characters sing and/or dance, but I’m yet to make a musical feature. I write songs, so it will happen one day in the not too distant future. 

Describe your idea of a nightmare writing assignment for a film idea. 

Anything on violence or an empty sexualized rom com focused on aesthetics – anything that would contribute to the negative body image content that we already have an abundance of.  Many films are highly sexualized these days – they focus on physical attraction and base the development of love form this foundation of initial attraction or chemistry.   The problem with this is that it fades, it’s not sustainable long terms.  Societies obsession with image breeds insecurity competition and fear which are not compatible with true love which is ultimately what people are searching for whether they admit it or are aware of it or not and what compels people to watch romantic comedies. Enjoying fashion, beauty etc. is totally healthy, it’s the relationship we have with it – when we gain our sense of self and our worthiness from image that’s when we can run into problems. The paradigm – this obsession with superficiality – is flawed and perpetuates itself in a cycle of destruction. 

What is the most avoided topic in romantic comedy films and why? 

I don’t know if there are many avoided topics in rom coms these days. Pretty much anything goes. You hear to steer clear of religion and politics, but I’ve seen some of the best comedic moments on these topics. 

You’re obviously a very creative person; how do you maintain that constant flow of creative ideas over an entire career? What is your personal means for doing this?

 Mediation, yoga, dance, running and spending time with good friends is usually the best inspiration for me as a writer.  The heather and happier I am in myself and my life the more creative ideas flow through me.  I’ve found I’ve still managed to churn out decent work when I’ve been stressed and overworked, but it’s less enjoyable, so I prefer the healthy, happy method!

 Finish this sentence; the best thing about Sarah Walton is….

 Can I say for me what the best thing about “being” Sarah Walton is?

For me it’s that I love everyone and this brings me so much love and joy. It’s not that I don’t find people challenging like everyone else, but I always find a way to connect to empathy and love people regardless of what behavior they display. I see people as who they truly are, not their behavior. My upbringing gave me many gifts, but the one I’m most grateful for is having parents that are so different. My father was brought up in a poorer, small town non-religious family with 11 children while my mother was brought up in a fairly well off suburban catholic family.  This polarity allowed me to relate to a wide range of people. I grew up camping and staying in fancy hotels, so I appreciate the beauty in simplicity while also enjoying the glamorous lifestyle without placing any importance on the superficiality of material things.  I was also blessed with enough make or break me challenges in my life to force me to discover self-development and well-being practices that have changed my life dramatically and lead me to explore new ways to find happiness, love and joy in life regardless of external circumstances. It’s an ongoing process and sometimes I’m like – I’m done! I want to go back to how I was before, ignorance is bliss! – but I know it’s not and I’ve found ways of achieving natural highs through dance, meditation, yoga, laughter etc. which is a pretty good incentive to stay on this path!

Bonus:

Finally, what do other writers say about you when you are not listening?

What others say about me is not really any of my business, but I know sometimes people comment on how cheesy and mainstream my work is thinking that it’s an insult, when for me it’s a huge compliment. I enjoy hearing other people’s perspectives. It makes me laugh.

Master Videographer Rosanna Peng Keeps Viewers Engaged

Rosanna Peng
Videographer Rosanna Peng shot by Noah Kendal

 

Living in an age of information overload brands need visual content creators who are able to create images and videos that strike a viewer on an emotional level and quickly tell a story. Videographer Rosanna Peng is one innovative visual storyteller who’s managed to leave a lasting impression on audiences with the stunning projects she’s created for brands such as J.Crew, New Balance, Canon Canada, Etsy, MTV FORA, The Creator Class and many more.

Originally from Vancouver, Canada, Peng’s artistic approach to visual storytelling draws viewers in and elicits an emotional reaction within them. Last year she was hired to shoot and edit the J.Crew on Film: J.Crew X New Balance® 997 Butterscotch video that launched the collaborative J.Crew x New Balance 997 sneaker. Featured on popular online platforms such as High Snobiety and Hype Beast, the video Peng created takes viewers inside the New Balance factory and reveals the making of the new shoe in a way that humanizes the brand and gives personality to the shoe. Through her ingenious videography and editing, Peng managed to make the inside of a shoe factory look visually stunning, something not many people are capable of achieving.

“I was trying to take the viewer through the journey of seeing the shoe being made by real people then worn in an editorial environment. I wanted to show the craftsmanship of the shoemakers,” explains Peng. “I colored the video tones to compliment the shoe’s tones and textures. The pace of the video was intended to build up the excitement for the viewers to when the shoe is revealed in the final setting.”
 


Her methodical approach and visual artistry definitely nailed the mark; and considering the viral success of the video for the New Balance 997 Butterscotch shoe, it’s not surprising that Peng was tapped by the companies once again to direct and edit the video for their collaborative J.Crew X New Balance 997 Cortado, which was released shortly after the Butterscotch. With the term ‘cortado’ referring to a coffee drink made of equal parts espresso and warm milk, Peng connected the process of the making of the drink with the new shoe.

She says, “I wanted to convey the art of coffee-making and parallel the creation of a cortado to the beauty of the Cortado shoe. I did this by capturing every step of the cortado-making in a creative and beautiful way, then editing in footage of the shoe to emphasize the textures and tones to the shoe. The pacing and jazz track for the video is a modern spin to the art of espresso.”


From the rattle of the beans being poured into the grinder all the way up to the desirable and creamy finished drink, the precise shots, angles and cuts she used create a feeling of anticipation, a brilliant strategy that effectively connected the anticipatory feeling elicited within the viewer over the coffee to the upcoming release of the Cortado 997.

Capturing the personality of the brand while making the videos relevant and visually appealing to viewers, Rosanna Peng’s work for the J.Crew/ New Balance collaboration is the perfect example of how a master videographer can make the difference between a brand’s message actually breaking through the saturated digital market and making an impression, or being passed over by consumers without a second thought. Clearly Peng’s work lands on the side of the former.

Aside from being exceptionally skilled when it comes to shooting and editing videos, Peng’s international success as a videographer is due in part to the versatile nature of her creativity combined with her keen knowledge of current trends and the understanding of what will pique the interest of specific audiences.

Rosanna Peng
Rosanna Peng shot by Jennifer Cheng


As a lead videographer for MTV FORA, a hip daily blog from MTV Canada and Clean and Clear that covers fashion, beauty, lifestyle and the best of MTV, Peng created a diverse range of videos focusing on everything from fashion and beauty tips to giving viewers a behind the scenes look at photo shoots.

“I enjoyed the freedom the FORA team gave me. They really trusted my creative vision and gave me the opportunity to expand their potential on their youtube channel,” says Peng.

Thanks to her ability to create edgy visual stories that appealed to MTV FORA’s predominantly female millennial audience, the quirky and upbeat videos garnered thousands of views on the popular blog, as well as their YouTube channel. Accompanied by short blog posts, the videos she created, such as Becoming FKA Liz 101, #WCW: Phoebe Dykstra and Audrey Kitching and Natural Beauty DIY: Pumpkin Facial, add a fun and youthful flare to the FORA site that effortlessly keeps viewers engaged while telling interesting stories.


Peng says, “During shooting and editing, I would capture funny and offbeat moments that would make the video more unique. I was able to draw from my graphic design background and edit each video to pair with the accompanying article’s look and feel. The unique combination of design with videography is the merge of my previous experiences as a graphic design student and a videographer.”

For the 30 Shades Of Lips with Liz Trinnear video Peng shot model Liz Trinnear in 30 different shades of lipstick from makeup brand Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics. While the idea of watching someone try on 30 shades of lipstick might not sound all that interesting, Peng’s shots of Trinnear doing silly poses in each shade combined with her edits and the music she chose made the video incredibly fun and engaging.


She explains, “I laid out the video timeline for every shade and paced the video so the pacing would go from, in regards to Liz’s poses. This spaces out the video and makes it engaging to watch as it has a pulse to it as well.”

One of the aspects of Peng’s talent that makes her such a rare and impactful videographer is her tremendous editing skill. From the New Balance videos to those for MTV FORA, it’s easy to see the way her edits affect the mood and style of the visual story being told. While her cuts on the New Balance videos are virtually invisible and the shot transitions flow seamlessly creating an almost visceral romanticized feeling, those for MTV FORA are the polar opposite. Her inclusion of bold and brightly colored graphics and the often abrupt and in your face nature of the cuts creates an energizing feeling that perfectly supports the cutting edge style of the MTV FORA brand.

“Video editing is more than just telling a story, it’s using certain footage to make a viewer feel a certain way,” explains Peng. “Anyone can point a camera and start capturing footage, but being able to communicate an idea through video editing is a certain skill not many people possess.”  

In a world where people are bombarded by so much content day in and day out, it takes a videographer with more than just technical skill to cut through the fat and actually touch viewers. It requires someone who is able to tap in and drive home an emotion that resonates with audiences, and Rosanna Peng is definitely ahead of the pack on all fronts.

BIG STUDIO OR INDIE, THEY’RE ALL IMPORTANT TO DIRECTOR/PRODUCER JOHN ALBANIS

Education is a good thing but, consider that education alone is not indicative of the ability to master something; it’s a springboard to jump into the race. Specifically, when it comes to artistic endeavors, vision and mastery of skills easily defeats the knowledge base of how something “should” work. One can understand painting but it doesn’t make you a painter. A knowledge of the complexities of music theory does not make one a songwriter. Film school does not make you an accomplished cinematographer. While scholarly endeavors may get you in the ballpark, they won’t insure that you will make the team. Of all the aforementioned art forms, film is the newest and thus the idea of attending film school was not available until recently. The pioneers who crafted this art form and by whose hands it evolved were the men and women who learned “on the job.” Considering the fact that film has permeated almost every culture and region of the planet, they did their jobs quite well. Following in the footsteps of these giants is John Albanis. This producer/director had not planned on entering the film industry (moving from Calgary to the UK to pursue rock stardom) but made an artistic switch when he discovered he had a natural skill set that lent itself to this medium. With no formal academic film training, John learned from those he worked with; those who recognized his ability for accelerated learning. Years later, he has cultivated quite an impressive career which rests on both huge blockbuster productions as well as carefully and emotionally crafter indie art films. Feature Films, TV movies, music videos, even recording studios make up the eclectic life of this immensely talented Canadian filmmaker.

John Albanis’s work on major studio films is instantly recognizable and is not confined to simply one genre…unless that genre is “successful.” Some films perform well at the box office and also have a second life on downloads and streaming services, as is the case the Hector and the Search for Happiness. As Co-Producer on this 2014 film starring Simon Pegg, John had the herculean task of taking the production across the planet to locations which included: Canada, the UK, South Africa, China, USA, India, and Germany. The Story and its locations are entertaining and seamless, something which Albanis is quite proud of achieving.

Contributing his full range of abilities to the film Psychic Driving, John was director, producer, and writer of this Film Noir. Inspired by the great political thrillers from the 1970s films like Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View, All the Presidents Men and based around the CIA mind control program in the 1950’s called Project MK-Ultra (a secret program that ran experiments on human subjects, often without their knowledge), Psychic Driving’s theme was perfectly suited for the Film Noir genre. It also allowed Albanis to indulge his creative side to great length, exhibiting his multiple talents. Utilizing his connections in the film industry allowed for a quick and impressive production schedule. John relates, “When I work on studio films, I build such great relationships with the crews whom I work with. One thing I quickly learned is that there are so many talented artists who are on the verge of breaking. In the case of Psychic Driving, I had recently completed working on Miramax Films’ Shall We Dance. This was pretty early in my career; I was a director’s assistant at that point. But the director, Peter Chelsom, had me very involved creatively so I worked closely with all department heads. I forged relationships with (main Camera Operator) Peter Rosenfeld and (Art Director) Sue Chan. I had written Psychic Driving shortly after the studio film wrapped and I gave the script to both of them. They immediately signed on as Director of Photography and Production Designer respectively. Since we all have contacts in the studio system, we were each able to bring those resources to this small, indie film. That’s why it has such ambitious production values.”

Not content with Feature Films or Indie Films, John also lent his production talents to a series of highly successful made for TV films (for CBS) starring Tom Selleck. Jesse Stone: Stone Cold, Jesse Stone: Thin Ice, and Jesse Stone: No Remorse were all presented in a period of five years.

As he prepares for the next obvious progression in his career, Albanis confirms, “Los Angeles is still the heart and soul of the film and television industry; it’s where all the main players are and where all the deals are being struck. I’m transitioning from being a hired gun producer/director into developing my own projects from the ground up and Los Angeles is the best place to do that. Last year, I purchased the TV rights to a book called The Mirror Thief, which I’m developing with Peter Chelsom to direct into an 8-hr series. It’s a mind-bending thriller that follows interweaving narratives of three driven men all connected by the alchemical possibility of a mysterious book, and shifts from 16th century Venice, Italy— where famed glassmakers perfected one of the world’s most wondrous inventions, the mirror (an object of fearful fascination)— to the seedy Venice Beach waterfront of the 1950’s, to the glitzy trappings of the Venetian casino in 2003 Las Vegas.”

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BRIAR NOLET HAS TAKEN “THE NEXT STEP”

While the entertainment industry is for the most part based around youth, it’s rare that we see someone truly grow up on camera. Ron Howard, Drew Barrymore, and a select few have come into their own and lasted in the business. In what would appear to be the most recent individual to fill this template is Canadian Briar Nolet. An artist of impressive dance and acting skills, Nolet appears on Temple Street Productions “The Next Step” about a group of young dancers. The Canadian program is equal parts astounding dance and a (fictionalized) depiction of the lives of the characters. As the youngest cast member of this program, Briar began as a member of J Troupe (the in-training group) but was so skilled that she was quickly was moved up to A Troupe and cast on the show. Throughout the several seasons of “The Next Step”, fans from across the globe have seen Briar grow from a young girl into a woman, mirroring the evolution of her acting and dance abilities. As a fan favorite, Nolet has traversed the planet with the live performances that “The Next Step” has toured with including; the UK, Australia, Europe, Canada, and many other destinations.

“The Next Step” has won many awards (Canadian Cinema Editors Award, BAFTRA, Canadian Screen Award, etc.) and received numerous nominations, but that’s not what made the show an international success. Fans from different cultures connected with the young cast members, the stories, and their struggles to pursue their dream. Frank Van Keekan (Creator of “The Next Step”) confirms that Briar was a focal point of this reaction and the show’s success. He states, “Briar Nolet burst onto the scene of The Next Step as a member of J-Troupe. J-Troupe was the junior troupe in the dance studio. We specifically designed J-Troupe to be a training ground for new actors, getting them ready to move into A-Troupe once they were old enough and if they showed enough talent. Briar was one of the few actors that made it through the ‘system’. Her dancing and acro abilities were unparalleled. We were continually gob-smacked by her performances. After a couple of seasons, we quickly had plans to grow her into one of the main cast members. As soon as she arrived there, Briar excelled, becoming one of the show’s regular cast members. During that time, and with very little effort, she grew a massive fan base and quickly became one of the stars of The Next Step. She has gone on the live tours which travel the world over. Briar is easily one of the show’s most beloved cast members and one of the show’s most in-demand characters. It’s been amazing to see how she has gone from a young J-Troupe member, to being one of the show’s stars. It’s all due to her amazing work ethic, her immense talent, and her star quality.”

Briar’s role on “The Next Step” is Richelle, a feisty and talented dancer who is singularly focused to become the greatest dancer she can. Possessing more attitude than friends, she exemplifies determination. Nolet describes, “Playing Richelle on The Next Step, really grew my skills as an actress. I have similar characteristics to Richelle; however, she does have an edge that I don’t really share with her. In saying this, it’s fun to experiment and portray emotions that are different than how I [as Briar] would react to certain things.” It is notable that one of the reasons Richelle has become such a favorite to fans of the show is for this unique personality. Richelle doesn’t fit the mold of the status quo, which many of the show’s admirers appreciate in both the character and Briar’s portrayal.

Something that Nolet does share with her character is the sacrifices which a dancer must make to pursue this passion. The life of a dancer, whether real or fictional, is one of giving up time with family and friends to hone your craft. The same cause and effect applied to Briar’s work as an actress. Richelle was perhaps communicated so well by this actress because she could completely empathize with the character.

The immense talent of Briar’s dance abilities is well documented and displayed on “The Next Step.” Pushing the limits of where dance stops and acrobatics begin, her performances on screen were often unbelievable. Briar is more than amused to share as she states, “I would say something that sets me apart from everybody else is that I have no fear. As a dancer, I will always take risks and try different things that sometimes nobody could even think was possible. It’s a shock to everyone that such a little body can do that. I also have a crazy amount of energy and determination and I think that helps separate me from other people. I am one to of course be safe but at the same time just go for things. Sometimes I honestly throw my body somewhere and hope that I find my feet. Ha. A lot of my tricks that not many people can do come from just trying the impossible. These are moves I have been doing for a long time and am very comfortable with, to the point that sometimes I don’t even have to think about it. The difficulty level is the same no matter where I do them. Obviously, on camera they can edit if I mess up a trick they can make it look like I didn’t but,  on stage you can’t do that so you’ve just gotta go for it. I get super pumped up and excited when I am doing these things, I absolutely love it.”

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Briar’s fans will be happy to know that the upcoming season of “The Next Step” shows Nolet (as Richelle) to be one of most focused upon leads for the new storyline. As Briar Nolet’s star continues to rise, admirers of her acting and dancing can be certain that this talented young woman will be pushing herself to the surprise of all who watch.

PERUMAL BRINGS A NEW SLANT TO A LONG RUNNING HIT REALITY SHOW

We’ve all spent time (maybe too much time) surfing the internet and looking at random videos. While it is admittedly a time snatcher, compared to channel surfing it’s much more expeditious. This ubiquity of videos is often used by those of us who are looking for new entertainment or as an addition to our favorite programs. You can’t deny that you have found yourself on a social media platform or YouTube going down the rabbit hole which would eventually lead to you programming your DVR, downloading the season of a show, or heading to your local theater. These videos are promotion; we know it and the producers of these videos know it. There’s a science to making such a brief production interesting enough to capture and hold our attention. Editors like Vishnu Perumal are master of this. They have an algorithm in their genetic code which allows them to create a cut that will make us follow them right down the path. Vishnu was in charge of the social media operations for “COPS” where he edited numerous promos and interviews for the four time Emmy Award nominated series.

As a decades long production, “COPS” is a guilty pleasure for many, Perumal included. As a longtime fan of the show, he admits that it was a surreal experience to be working and seeing the iconic logo and the song (everyone knows it) on his computer screen. Vishnu was tasked to cut selected scenes from each week’s episodes. His audition for the production would be the template for his role. Karen Hori (Head of Production for Langley Productions, “COPS”) was impressed by his reel (specifically on “Sexcapades”), invited Perumal to meet and spontaneously asked him to cut a quick 3-minute interview of a Police Officer narrating and explaining his process as he arrived at a domestic disturbance call. She was immediately impressed with the spot and offered Vishnu the editing position.

One might assume that “COPS” producer and show runner (Zach Ragsdale) would want sensationalized content to capture the attention of viewers. Vishnu reveals that this was not the goal. He remarks, “I would approach the edits in the promos and interviews generally the same as I would for all my other projects in that I would first and foremost focus on the story and making it the most interesting piece of content that I could possibly create. The show is primarily focused on the police officers, so each web cut had to convey the entire story in a one to two-minute sequence. The focus was on telling the story in the way it always has; the way that audiences/fans have always watched it and enjoyed it. There was a sort of template, but a template that made sense. The show was all about the cops and it was important to focus on them and their duties. We didn’t want to stray away from that formula.”

As any fan of the TV series would expect, viewing countless episodes is both a shocking and oddly amusing experience. The program depicts both the sobering and ridiculous elements that occur day to day in the careers of these public servants. The temperament of the show is carefully crafted and is a major component of why “COPS” has been so successful. The news presents these types of stories but lacks the emotional quality that “COPS” so adeptly delivers. Editing these smaller productions, Perumal needed to assimilate to this tone while viewing the uncut and raw versions of them. Creating these presentations for social media platforms gave Vishnu deeper insight as to what the public finds so enticing about the program. “I think social media has had a huge impact on the entertainment industry, allowing fans and viewers a sense of community for their favorite shows. Managing the website, Facebook group and the YouTube channel, I discovered that there are many people out there who are huge fans of the show and will genuinely interact and show their support whenever they can. Social media provides the immediate feedback that there are genuine fans out there and it keeps a show relevant. Before social media, the only way to really figure out if a show is popular was through the ratings system. But now with social media, it vocalizes the popularity of a show directly through its fans, which is beneficial in having a show run for so long.” states Perumal.

 

Duarte Figueira Pushes Artists to the Next Level

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Music Producer Lhast (left) & Production Coordinator Duarte ‘Duda’ Figueira (right)

When it comes to the world of art and music, turning one’s creativity into a profitable career is no easy task. There’s a reason that so many talented artists and musicians throughout history have toiled away working odd jobs only for their work to be discovered posthumously. The business side of becoming a successful artist is imperative for someone to actually make a living from their work, but for most of the world’s wildly creative people, business and art just don’t line up.

Thankfully for those in the music industry however, there are people like production coordinator Duarte Geraldes Figueira, founder of the imprint agency, DGF Agency, and co-founder of one of Portugal’s leading booking agency, Bridgetown Talent Agency. Hailing from Lisbon, Portugal, ‘Duda,’ as he is known widely throughout the music industry, began his career coordinating projects for some of Portugal’s most recognizable musical acts back in his teens. After starting the incredibly popular sound system Fyah Box Sound back in 2007, Duda began production coordinating the careers of Richie Campbell, Lhast, Regula and many other well-known artists.  

“I think the fact that I did everything available in the work field allowed me to learn from all perspectives. With Fyah Box Sound I was in charge of being the creative input for the new campaigns, marketing director, booking agent, MC, promoter, event producer, and all other business aspects of it,” explains Duda.

As a production coordinator, Duda handles everything from planning the image of the artist and their musical approach, to organizing their events, releases, PR and much more. What makes him such a uniquely talented individual that artists around the world want to work with is the versatile nature of his skill and his ability to organize their careers in a way that actually brings a profit.

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Duarte ‘Duda’ Figueira (right) & Regula (left)

In 2012 he began coordinating the career of famed Portuguese rapper Regula. The two started working together just before Regula’s hit album “Gancho” was about to be released. Duda invited him to come on board and release some of his tracks through Fyah Box Sound and that’s what really got the word out about the artist’s upcoming album.

Duda recalls, “After doing a collaboration with Fyah Box for the song ‘Casanova feat. Leftside,’ and releasing the single ‘Berco D’Ouro,’ people were just expecting the new album like nothing else we have ever seen before. The streets were hot for it.”

Knowing that he had a winner on his hands, Duda went to the biggest CD retailer in Portugal and convinced them to put “Gancho” on the shelves. Not only did the album sell out within hours of making it into the store, but it sold more copies than those of Rihanna, Beyonce and Tony Carreira had sold in a week! Next Duda went to work paving the way for Regula to reach a wider audience by coordinating several shows across Portugal. He got Regula on the bill of some of Portugal’s biggest concerts, including a 2014 show at Semana Academica de Lisboa, Campo Pequeno with Valete in 2012, headlining for a hip hop festival at Coliseu de Lisboa in 2013, as well as the Sudoeste Festival in 2014.

“Working with Duda is, and has been, a constant learning process. The success that I have obtained during these times, is due to the teamwork that we built, where Duda is an essential element because of the commitment that he assumes,” explains Regula. “His innovative spirit and vision that he transmits, his effort and dedication that are characteristic of him, and the responsibility that we both took to the process.”

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Richie Capmbell (left) & Duarte ‘Duda’ Figueira (right)

In 2010 Duda began working as the production coordinator for multi-award winning artist Richie Campbell. The two have continued to work together ever since, and the collaboration has been beyond fruitful for both of them. As Campbell’s production coordinator, Duda has handled the A&R side of practically every album Campbell has released as a solo artist.

Duda says, “My journey with Richie towards the beginning of his career as a solo artist. I was part of every aspect of his career. From the music, to the brand, to the shows, to the personal life… me and Richie are friends and work partners. I’ve worked with him as A&R, as driver, as fashion advisor, as event producer, PR, marketing planner, counselor, and anything else you can imagine. It has been such a long journey that I can’t even remember all the stories.”

Over the years Duda has played a major role in the release and success of several of Richie Campbell’s albums, such as “My Path” (2010), “Focused” (2012), “Live at Campo Pequeno” (2014), “In The 876” (2015) and the EP “Richie Campbell” (2010).

Aside from coordinating a plethora of major international events for Campbell, Duda was also the A&R man behind the artist’s hit 2016 single “Do You No Wrong.” The song topped the charts earning a Gold and Platinum Award on the Portuguese sales charts and was a major viral success garnering more than 10 million views on YouTube. Earlier this year Campbell released the single “Heaven,” yet another hit production coordinated by Duda. The song was an immediate success and garnered more than two million views on YouTube in a little over a month after its release.

“I love being around the creation. I feel like we are always leaving a legacy, anytime that we develop something. It’s a joy to see the results of our work connecting so deeply with people. The creation and the way we put it out is a beautiful experience as a human being,” explains Duda.

“A moment that made it really clear for me was during a Richie Campbell performance watching every fan going crazy over the song ‘Piece of Bread.’ We went to Berlin to record a couple of songs for his album Focused, and that was one of them. I remember the amazing days that we had and the recording process in detail. I remember how important it was for the vibe to be right. Those conversations, those laughs, those moments, everything that happened is why I work as a production coordinator.”

While his work involves coordinating for highly-acclaimed artists, those are not the only professionals he represents. Through his meticulous planning, ingenious sense of how to form powerful artistic collaborations and ability to manage a team, Duda has been hugely influential in the career of Portuguese music producer Lhast. Over the years Duda has connected Lhast with a long list of artists and coordinated collaborations that have been invaluable for both Lhast as a producer, and the artists, whose songs have gone on to become major hits.

Some of the hit song collaborations that Duda has production coordinated for producer Lhast include Diogo Picarra’s “Historia,” which has over five million views on YouTube, Regula’s “Tarzan,” Profjam’s “Xama,” Plutonio’s “Nao Vales Nada,” and Valas’ hit songs “As Coisas,” “Alma Velha” and “Acordar Assim.” Duda is also the one who connected Lhast as the producer of Richie Campbell’s award-winning hit “Do You Know Wrong.”

“I’ve worked with Duda for a long time on a bunch of different successful projects, since the beginning he has always pushed me to deliver the best and stay focused,” explains Lhast. “I think he strives in this industry because of his great understanding of both the artistic and business side. He always finds a strategy that fits the artist concept and always executes it with ease.”

After making a name for himself in Europe, Duda moved to the United States where he has continued to lead the way as a production coordinator for many well-known artists. As a production coordinator at Rebeleon Entertainment, he is currently working on the upcoming releases for artists that include La Santa Cecilia, Gloria Trevi, Mon Laferte, Latin Grammy Award winner Alejandra Guzman, Enjambre, Mitre and several others.

“Being around the creation, and then seeing it come to life, and then watching people singing out loud the words and harmonies that you saw being created is what brings me joy to be a project coordinator,” says Duda. “The passion for being behind the scenes and seeing everything happen out of nothing is what lights my career.”

A decade after his career first began, Duda has come fully into his own as one of the most sought after production coordinators on an international scale. When it comes to overseeing an artist’s career and taking them to the top, Duda has proven himself to be a driving force behind the success of some of the music industry’s best-known talents. With his keen sense of business, timing, meticulous planning and knowledge of what audiences are looking for, Duda’s role is a rare gift that allows the artists he works with to stay focused on their creativity, while he manages everything else.

Editor/Colorist Liang Xia Expertly Combines Technical Precision and Nuanced Emotion

The film industry is home to an army of specialty craftspeople and technicians, each working in distinct specialized niche disciplines. These widely varying duties abound in the post-production field and while many seem almost esoteric in their limited scope, some actually have a critical impact on the finished films emotional appeal and ability to directly reach an audience.

Chinese born Editor/Colorist Liang Xia is a prime example of this. His is a uniquely demanding position, one that requires a masterful sense of nuance and subtlety, balancing the aesthetics’ which a production’s setting and style requires while subtly enhancing the film’s overall mood and emotional appeal. Xia achieves this with a both comprehensive attention to minute detail and an overarching perspective on the sweep of the entire film.

“There are three different things that a colorist does,” Xia said. “First, I adjust the exposures of the footage. A lot of things, such as lighting issues, weather, location and cause the cinematographer to get incorrect exposures. In most films, there will be several shots under or over exposed and colorists fix those issues in post-production, making sure each shot is the correct exposure and matches other shots.”

“Second, Colorists need to correct unnatural colors or unwanted colors. Sometimes, color temperature of the lighting is not accurate, or if the camera setting isn’t right, the color in footage will not be correct. Even when every setting is right, the camera sensor will receive more light and colors than we can see, and there will be some unwanted colors, or the contrast will change. Colorists fix all these problems during the process of color correction. And after this process, the color will become very accurate and satisfying to audience.”

The third aspect of the colorist’s job is the most important, and also where Xia excels.

“Color can also express emotion,” he said. “As we know, red means passion or blood, blue means cold or peace. Colorists can also use color theories to emphasize emotions in scenes, chapters or even whole films. A subtle change of color tone is not very obvious to audiences, but when they watch the film and see the color, they will have a natural, almost subconscious reaction to the color tone. In this way, a colorist enhances the film, allows it to further express subtexts and emotions.”

His work on the recent feature film Strawman exemplifies Xia’s perfected mix of vision and expression. A gritty look at a youth forced into a life of petty crime to support his siblings after their parents abandon them, Xia’s atmospheric approach and attention to detail further burnished director Tian Xie’s impactful drama.

Xia is driven by a fascination with the human condition and the inescapable drama of common life. It’s a combination of sensitivity, aesthetics and technique striking an unusual balance between meticulous technical precision and broad emotional strokes. For Xia it’s almost therapeutic and this unusual artistic perspective enhances every project undertaken and has, in a few short years distinguished him as a professional force to be reckoned with.

Strawman was the first time I worked with Liang,” director Tian Xie said. “Besides his editing concepts and skill, Liang has very good vision and a feeling for color, so his color correction is excellent. Liang had a five-year experience in studying paintings, including traditional Chinese painting and watercolor. I think that’s an important reason for his excellent sense on color. When we worked on Strawman, I told him the story takes place in summer, a hot summer. Liang did some adjustments on his color panel and created an ideal overall look, immediately. That color tone was what exactly I want, and I said, ‘that is the one.’”

Xia’s lifelong affinity for both art and film created the perfect combination for his profession. “I’ve loved film since my childhood,” he said. ”After high school, I studied TV and film directing in college. After I came to U.S. to study film, I found my logic and patience gave me a strong advantage and decided to work on editing. Then, during my post-production study, I found I am sensitive to color, so I started to study color theories on my own and also took some class about film color grading.”

And it’s working. Strawman took Best Foreign Feature at 2016 Los Angeles Independent Film Festival and Best Feature Film Diamond for director and editor at the 2017 NYC Indie Film Awards, and led to an on-going collaboration with he and director Tian Xie, most recently on the short Promise. In fact, Strawman and Promise each won a Gold Remi Award at 50th WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival. Additionally Strawman officially selected in the 19th San Francisco Indie Film Festival, the 6th Richmond International Film Festival and 23rd New Jersey Film Festival.

“I love editing and doing color,” Xia said. “My goal is to keep working on indie films. In my opinion, indie films more focus on humanities and society. I want to have more chances to edit more indie films. It not only provides me editing or color jobs, but also makes me connect to the real world.”

*I like dramas that focus on people who are often ignored or marginalized by society, and these give me the chance to using my post-production skills to build complete characters—and to build a complete me.”