All posts by Lorraine Wilder

Canada’s Dan Cazzola living his dream with Endemol Shine Group

When Dan Cazzola first stepped onto a studio, he felt a rush like no other. It was at that moment when he fell in love with television production, seeing what a vast world it truly is. He finds it energetic and exciting, his passion for what he does translates directly to his work. As the Vice President of International Development for Endemol Shine North America, he is living the dream he’s had since he was only a child and has had a career that many aspire towards.

Originally from the small suburb of Ancaster, Ontario, Cazzola has travelled the world doing what he loves. Working with Endemol Shine, one of the world’s largest production companies, for the past six years, he has had a vast array of experiences working on internationally successful television shows, such as MasterChef, Big Brother,Minute To Win It and Deal Or No Deal.

“Working with Dan is always a pleasure. Not only does he ensure a healthy working relationship with all of his employees and colleagues, but he is extremely creative. Such a combination creates extremely high morale on every team he is a part of, despite the stresses that come along with such a fast-paced industry. Dan is everything you would want as a leader, and the tremendous results of his work are direct reflections of this,” said Rebecca De Young, Creative Director, Endemol Shine China.

One of the many highlights of Cazzola’s esteemed career came when he first started working with Endemol Shine, back at Shine Group in London. Shine Group was an immense company, with operations in over 10 countries and a large footprint in the United Kingdom. In every territory, each production company had started from scratch and they were doing everything they could to get to number one above all competitors. To do this, each region needed to be on the same path, working at the same speed, achieving the same goals. As the Global Development Executive of Shine Group at the time, Cazzola was the link between all these companies. He made sure to keep all priorities in line and made every connection happen with incredible speed. He brought new ideas and strategies into Shine and helped to map out the integration of the creative business into the newly formed Endemol Shine Group when Endemol and Shine Group merged.

“At Shine Group, I was working with the best creatives in the business. Shine had grown from nothing to one of the UK’s largest production companies in just over five years. It was a huge company but felt small and nimble and everyone in the company felt like they were responsible for its growth and success. The company had an amazing culture and to this day I haven’t found a more talented group of people in one place,” Cazzola described. “I was learning new things and new territories and new markets every day. At any moment we could sell a show to Thailand, or Brazil or Norway and we’d have to make sure that the show fit that market. I learned about all the broadcasters, the key talent in each territory and what makes everyone tick.”

Cazzola first started with Shine Group when he produced MasterChef. Having worked on the show, he knew a fair amount of the executives that worked on the corporate and international side at Shine Group. When the opportunity arose to transition from content producing to a corporate look, he felt he had what it took to make the transition, and he was right.

Cazzola became the creative face of the company during his years at Shine Group. He consistently found the best way to make all of the production companies work together harmoniously. He worked to instill trust, both in him and the company as a whole. From there, he would find the strongest areas to focus the company’s efforts. He made decisions based on both fact and instincts, which with his innate talent and years of experience proved to almost always be fruitful. He always trusted his gut when it came to picking out the next big thing, talking about ten shows in a day but instantly deciding what would become the next global hit. It was this rush that drove Cazzola, and why he looks back at his time at Shine Group so fondly.

“The Shine Group years were the glory years.  I am very proud to have been a part of Shine Group and what was achieved.  The company did in five years what other TV companies couldn’t do in 10 or 20. I can see the results of my work on screen in countries all over the world. And when I see that one of our shows has sold to another territory or won an award I always feel proud,” he concluded.

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Actress Romy Weltman recalls first horror film ‘The Returned’

For Romy Weltman, being an actor means getting the opportunity to not just portray another person, but to become one. She embodies each of her characters with a sense of realism, a passion for the art, and a determination that is unrivaled. It is this dedication that makes her so successful and why she has won over the hearts of audiences all over Canada.

Working in both film and television, Weltman is an extremely in demand actress in her home country. She has starred in successful films such as The Red Maple Leaf and Strike! as well as popular television shows like Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments and the Disney Channel hit Backstage.

“When I worked with Romy on Backstage, her talent and natural ability to display true emotion was evident. We had two scenes in particular that were quite emotional and Romy was nothing but an absolute professional. She raised the stakes for everybody and set a very high bar. I felt like my acting and my overall work ethic was improved tenfold when working with Romy simply because of how professional and prepared she was. Romy continues to show how great of an actress she is in all of her other projects that she has done. She is without a doubt one of the strongest actresses that I know,” said Kolton Stewart, Actor (Some Assembly Required, The Swap).

Weltman’s first taste of international success came with her film The Returned. The horror flick takes place in a world where a deadly zombie virus has infected mankind, and a single cure has been found. The cure, a treatment called the “Return Protein” which stays the effects of the virus in its host. With injections every 36 hours, the “Returned” are able to live as though they were never bit, despite the virus still coursing through their veins. When it is discovered that the protein stock is running low, chaos hits the streets. Returned who run out of the protein turn to zombies and wreak havoc, protesters turn to murderers as they try to rid the streets of the returned, and right in the middle of it all are Alex and Kate. Kate, a leading doctor in the field of zombie virus’ and Alex, a musician with a dark secret, he is a Returned. As death and fear run rampant, Alex’s secret becomes known and his dosage runs low, he and Kate must fight for a chance to live before he becomes a zombie.

“The story of The Returned is very cool, as it gives people a completely thrilling look on life. The story was different to many others. For thriller and horror movie fans, I think this story is super up their alley and I can promise there will be scares,” said Weltman.

The film premiered in 2013 and made its way to several international film festivals. At the 2014 Nevermore Film Festival, it even won the Audience Award. Weltman’s work was pivotal for The Returned’s success, as she played the younger version of the main character Kate. Young Kate was a strong character who faces a very difficult challenge in her life when she witnesses her mother being attacked by zombies. Playing the younger version of a character is extremely essential to a story. It is important for the audience to see what the character had been through in their lifetime and why they are who they are. Kate, being the lead, had lots of layers to her story. Playing young Kate gave Weltman the opportunity to bring those layers to the table and show the audience who Kate really was as a child. Weltman was only twelve years of age at the time, but still captivated audiences while providing pivotal backstory required to understand the film.

“This project was so awesome. I had never worked on a horror film or movie set at all yet. At this point of my career, this role was a dream come true. I couldn’t wait to see all the action and how horror movies were really filmed,” said Weltman.

Of course, as Weltman did not have her own life experience to pull from when it came to seeing her character’s mother getting eaten by zombies, her creative juices were flowing to determine how best to portray the child’s horror in such an important scene. She managed to perfectly encapsulate such a difficult emotion, and throughout the filming process, Weltman made sure to take in and connect the thriller ideas to her own life. By doing so, it allowed her to truly get into the mind of her character.

“Even though I was just a kid when I worked on this, it really inspired me to keep working and it made me hungry to be on more sets. I can credit that experience to the success I’ve had since,” said Weltman.

Be sure to check out Weltman in Backstage on the Family Channel in Canada on Fridays at 6:30 p.m. EST.

Go behind-the-scenes of ‘Pumpkin and Fried Noodle’ with Editor Meibei Liu

From the time Meibei Liu was a child, growing up in Shanghai, China, she loved watching movies. They would make her laugh, they would make her cry, and spending two hours enjoying a film became her favorite pastime. But being so young she would only take in the entire production, not appreciating the many roles scrolling past in the credits that it took to achieve the movie that just entertained her. However, this all changed when she was a teenager and decided to try making a movie of her own for fun. Despite enjoying films all her life, she knew nothing when it came to actually making one. It was a much harder process than she could have ever imagined, but she found herself constantly playing, pausing, rewinding, and cutting down parts of the film that she had made. She was a natural editor, and it was then when she fell in love with the art of editing. Now, years later, she has never looked back.

“Although the story was as naïve as it could be, the fun of making and editing the film just aroused my huge interest in filmmaking and also changed my life,” she said.

This past year, Liu has seen a lot of success worldwide. Her work on The Ballerina, The Shoemaker, and His Apprentice,Headshot, Dear Mamá, and Faith Need Not Change Her Gown have been celebrated at many international film festivals. Her first taste of such success, however, came back in 2013 when she worked on the documentary Pumpkin and Fried Noodle.

Pumpkin and Fried Noodleis a short documentary shot in Taiwan. It tells the stories of how two different families make their living as an outsider in a small village. Though tough, they still find their ways for inner peace and happiness. The film was selected for the Golden Sugarcane Film Festival, Taiwan’s first film festival where the filmmakers have to shoot and edit on site.

“I really liked that the documentary showed the culture of the village, and documented that beautiful, peaceful and friendly place, which was very different to the culture I was in growing up. It tells stories of outsiders in the villages and shows how they fight to live a better life and struggle to be part of the society over there. It’s also a story about women empowerment, telling how they managed to support the whole family without any help. Making a documentary about them was important because their way of living life and being in a difficult situation needed to be seen by others,” said Liu.

Because of the circumstances of the Golden Sugarcane Film Festival, only a pitch was submitted in hopes of qualifying as one of the ten slots. Once Liu and the rest of her team were selected, they were invited to Taiwan to make the film. During the week, Liu was with other filmmakers finding the subject to shoot and finding structure and stories. This allowed for faster editing, as she was able to spot what would work while filming. Then she finished each day with the editing. On top of this, she conducted interviews each day.

“Going there to make the documentary without knowing whether it will work or not; finding the story during shooting was like an adventure that needed a great sense of filmmaking, which I liked and wanted to be part of,” Liu recalled.

The film exemplifies how important editing is. Liu and the other nine filmmakers on the crew conducted several interviews with over ten different people, but in the editing room, Liu cut that down drastically, only showing two of the subjects that were interviewed. The film focused on their lives in detail, showing their philosophy of living rather than small aspects of many lives. Liu also made the decision of blending the two stories rather than showing one after the other, which helped lead to the warm and touching climax at the end.

“Meibei is very hard working. She edited our entire film within three days. She was very easy to work with, always there in the pre-production, making sure everything was right and very insightful about the story and production. In the post-production, she sacrificed her own personal time, which made the impossible schedule work in the end. Meibei is an editor who is very insightful and creative about creating story structure. She is amazing in terms of editing skills and at the same time, also very sensitive of capturing emotions of characters,” said Song Huang, Director.

Because of the competition, time was limited when making Pumpkin and Fried Noodle, requiring a fast, hardworking and passionate editor like Liu. On top of this, she was able to connect with the two women’s stories in a way that audiences can instantly see when watching the film, making it a true masterpiece.

 

Aussie Actor Joel Hogan: A Good Judge of Character

Joel Hogan represents part of the new wave of successful young actors reaching their mark via a variety of platforms and mediums. In the past year alone, the trained thespian has served as an official juror for the Annual Los Angeles Diversity Film Festival (LADFF), and appeared in a lead role in the hit mockumentary series Unverified for Funny Or Die, produced by Will Ferrell, as well as a critical role in long-running Channel Seven hit show, Home and Away.

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Joel with fellow “Home and Away” stars James Stewart and Tania Dolan.

These accomplishments, all on top of his other leading acting roles around the world, mark what Joel calls “the result of many years of hard work and determination.”

But before we get to that, Joel sits down with us to talk about how his career has reached such awesome heights. “I’ve been extremely blessed.”

After moving to Los Angeles to feature as the lead of innovative filmmaker Marcus Mizelle’s film “Actor for Hire, opposite CSI actor JT Alexander, Joel was invited to attend numerous award ceremonies in celebration of “Actor for Hire’s” success. Additionally, he received an award for his acting work from the Orlando Film Festival for his role in the film. The festivals, which also included the Laugh or Die Comedy Fest, and HollyShorts Film Festival (which qualified the project for Oscar-contention), brought Joel in direct contact with key decision makers in Hollywood.

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“Actor for Hire” was profiled right around the world.

“Many people I met along the way were already familiar with my work, so meeting these power players face-to-face I think just gave a more relatable face to my name.” Some of that work with which those power players were familiar include Joel’s leading role in “Dirty Dancing: The Time of your Life,” which brought him worldwide fame to millions of viewers, and the title role in feature “Travis Jenkins.”

Prior to this, Joel enjoyed starring roles in other Australian films like “Bush Boys.” Since its release “Bush Boys” has been continually screened to audiences worldwide and is well known for selling over 50,000 copies in its first 2 months of release – a significant figure in the Australian entertainment industry. The film’s fan base stems from Mr Hogan’s continued success and high profile in other film productions like Actor for Hire and Home and Away, which screen around the world including the United Kingdom where Home and Away is the highest rated show. 1500 Steps has enjoyed similar levels of extraordinary success, reaching millions of viewers around the world through distribution on Amazon Prime.

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Joel Hogan front and centre, with his co-stars, on the poster for Australia’s “Hangover”, Bush Boys.”
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Joel with legendary “Anchorman” actor, Fred Willard, and fellow Australian actor, Myles Forster (“So, You Want to be a Gangster?”) at an event in Hollywood.

Those roles in part attracted the people behind the LADFF, a world-renowned film festival helmed by industry leaders Hollis McLachlan and Sonja Mereu (producer at Flathead Films), to invite Joel to be a judge for their slate of films. Sonja explained that Joel’s vote “specializ[ed] in acting performance and storytelling.”

Joel elaborates on his experience judging at the LADFF. “It was really fun and inspiring – it felt like such an honour to have my opinion about these films valued. One of the films I awarded, For Better, For Worse has gone on to win the Casablanca Award for Best Drama at the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival in Florida, as well as the Audience Choice Award at the DC Shorts film festival.”

Festival founders explained to our editors that judges are appointed based on their accomplishments, and strong standing with respect to a social cause. Joel, they explained, was appointed because of his wealth of acting experience, his position as an extraordinarily successful foreign actor, and his diverse talents across acting, singing and dancing. So well received was Joel’s service, he has since been invited to also judge at the Los Angeles Film Awards, the Actor Awards Los Angeles and Top Shorts, the world’s leading online film festival.

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Joel Hogan and well-known actor, Paul Michael Draper (“Lucid”, “Lemon Drop”)

But judging films is not entirely what has kept Joel occupied recently. In fact, he’s been busy with a slew of acting and industry projects that have reinforced his position as a trailblazer in entertainment. Impressively, he’s been featured on Access Hollywood as part of his role for the Lionsgate hit, “Open Water 3.” Coming up? He notably stars in a leading role in the US films Newave and Caged, as well as the lead role of Simon in the feature film “C.A.M” opposite “Pirates of the Caribbean” actor, Rupert Raineri. “Rupert was fantastic to work with,” Joel explains. “It’s always nice to share screen-time with people who are working hard, and aren’t distracted by the big-budget nature of the project.”

Joel adds, “We’re just there to tell a good story.”

Showing off his talent for exploring a wide range of genres, Joel moved onto playing the lead role of Derek (also spelled Derequé in a hilarious plot point) in the hit mockumentary series, “Unverified.” Distributed by the comedy powerhouse Funny Or Die, from founders Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (“The Big Short”), “Unverified” found awards success at the Accolade Global Film Festival, was given glowing reviews by TubeFilter and Film Ink among others, and co-starred Alex Cubis (“Mako Mermaids”), Courtney Dlugos (“South Beach”) and Landon Merrell (the upcoming “Dumplin’ with Jennifer Aniston).

Up next for the busy Australian?

“I’ve got a number of big film projects lined up, one of which is a collaboration with the award winning director David Tracy. David, alongside his mentor, David S. Goyer, the writer of “Batman Begins”, “Blade”, “Man Of Steel”, have been developing a film for me to star in for the last two years. I must admit, to say I am excited to work with these two influential Hollywood players would be a great understatement.”

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Joel in character from one of his many upcoming film projects.

Copywriter Aahana Pereira teams up with celebrity DJs for Motul Rhythm campaign

Despite always having a love for writing, Aahana Pereira never expected in her youth that her passion would translate into advertising. In junior college, she was studying science and math, but she hated it. She quickly switched to Mass Media, not because of an interest in communications, but simply because it would mean she no longer had to take math. However, those three years changed her life. The more she learned about advertising, the more she knew she would be happy in the field. She would watch old advertisements from all over the world, read long copy print ads and learned a great deal about famous copywriters. She wanted to be like them. Combining her interests in writing and advertising, Pereira decided to pursue a career in copywriting, and has never looked back.

“On most days as a copywriter I follow a brief and write copy with as many options I have time for. It is not every day that we get an exciting brief or a project, so day to day is, so to say, average. That being said, I still push to make average better. Most days we work on small budget campaigns, and I aim to make each and every campaign, whatever the size, achieve greatness and make something I am proud of. Then, once in a while, we do get a brief where we get to showcase our creativity at the highest level, and that is just plain fun,” said Pereira.

Throughout her esteemed career, Pereira has worked on many projects for prolific corporations known worldwide. She has travelled the world doing what she loves, and consistently finds unique approaches to promote a product. This is exemplified with her work on commercials for Palmolive, Colgate, IBN 7, and many more. The highlight of her career came when she was given the opportunity to work on the Drink Up campaign, an initiative by First Lady, Michelle Obama in partnership for a Healthier America that encourages people to drink more water. Most recently, she worked with Falcon Agency in Malaysia on several successful campaigns, impressing all she collaborated with.

“Aahana and I have worked on several projects since we first met in 2017 – Motul Rhythm, Meet the Sydneyporeans, just to name a few. I really enjoy working with Aahana as her ideas are strong and always on brief. I love the passion she has for her work,” said Liz Leow, Regional Account Director, Falcon Agency Malaysia.

Working on Motul Rhythm was a project that excited Pereira. It was one of the first projects she worked on at Falcon Agency as a solo copywriter. Motul, a company that produces high-performance motor oils and lubricants, is not typically associated with music, making the campaign extremely original. The idea was to hold an online contest across the Asia-Pacific area where anybody could submit their original music, made completely from the sounds of their motorcycles. They asked fans to create sounds and upload it to the Motul Rhythm website. The prize for the winners was a chance to co-produce their own music track with Asia’s most well-known DJs, such as Terence c, Idham and Flickswitch. The selected winners were also sent to the MOTO GP event held in Malaysia in 2017, and the music track mixed by the DJs was then launched at an event in Kuala Lumpur.

“I thought the idea was good. A brand like Motul, which is such a low involvement category, was getting its fans excited. The idea was true to the brand values that stands by performance. In this campaign, performance has dual application – performance of the lubricant and oils meets performance in music. It was a synergy,” said Pereira.

Although the idea of Motul Rhythm already existed before, Pereira and her team adapted it. The idea was to get audiences to participate in a competition, where they had to submit sounds from their bike and reputable DJs would take the best sounds and mix it into a music track especially for Motul. However, the challenge was to entice them in a way that would encourage motorbike fans. As a team, they concluded that the hook would be that participants would get a chance to co-produce the music track by submitting their audio clip. This was discussed over a period of discussions. However, Pereira had never worked on Motul before or even the oil and lubricant category, so this meant she had to do a lot of research to figure out just the right way to target consumers. She had a sense of the Asian market but wanted to find just the right way to reach bike enthusiasts. It was more than just making them aware of the competition, it was getting them to participate in it. With the help from the team in Singapore and support from the team in Malaysia, they managed to launch this campaign, and those lucky few consumers managed to have their dream come true by working with DJs to create a track.

Other than launching the Motul Rhythm microsite, Pereira’s team created Facebook advertisements and digital banners to get the word across. This was the first point of communication and a way to generate awareness. It was very important to write copy that would make people stop and click, not to mention character limits in digital ads. Pereira met the task with determination and commitment.

“This project was fun. It incorporated bikes and music. I loved working on it and it was amazing to hear what people could create with the sounds of their bikes,” she said.

The Motul Rhythm campaign is just one example of Pereira’s creativity and determination. She took a unique idea and targeted just the right audience. Such talent is required to be a success in her industry, and for those looking to follow in her footsteps, she offers some important advice.

“One, be persistent. Keep aiming for good work even if they are not the big budget briefs.

Two, watch films, shows, read books that will expose you to different stories and styles of writing. You never know what will inspire you. Three, have a voice in your team. No matter what your title is, say something,” she advised.

 

Photo by Biel Calderon

Violinist Hui Cao brings joy of music to Zhuhai Jinwan while leading the Chamber Orchestra

From the time Hui Cao was just a baby, he would listen to his mother sing. As he grew, he began to sing with her, and his innate musical talents were evident even then. He could easily identify each note, and without any lessons, he effortlessly would carry a tune. The same occurred when he first lifted a violin; it felt like he was meant to play the instrument and has been doing so since he was a child. Now, he is one of China’s most prolific violinists.

With an impressive resume both playing and teaching, Cao’s career as a violinist has been extraordinary. He aims to share musical culture with both his admirers and his students. In 2013, he began teaching violin classes at Pooi To Middle School in Macau, a city on China’s South Coast. The popularity of the instrument rose dramatically when he was there, having such a celebrated musician teaching. He is currently practicing for the 2018 Music String Festival in Zhuhai Jinwan, a large festival in China. Not only will Cao be a soloist at the event, but he is also responsible for inviting other violinists to partake in a masterclass that he will then conduct.

“I feel like I can’t live without music. I like to play the violin to audiences and enjoy every moment,” he said.

Cao’s influence in Zhuhai Jinwan began in 2015 when he started playing in the Zhuhai Jinwan Chamber Orchestra. Founded only the year beforehand, Cao was instrumental to making it the success it is today. He was hired as the music director and concertmaster, in charge of every musician in the orchestra. During the three years that Cao has been leading the orchestra, they have played over 30 charity concerts and educated over 60,000 people in music.

We love to perform right in the community, whether that be in schools or small businesses. It brings lots of fun and music to the local people, and playing for charity is always a good thing. I think, as a musician, you play music that will hopefully help some people in this world. That is a wonderful thing, which is why I think performing for charity is so very important,” said Cao.

When Cao was invited to take part in the orchestra, it was still very new. He was immediately interested, wanting to help spread the joy of music whenever possible, and he felt Zhuhai Jinwan was the ideal location to do so. It is a relatively new city, and therefore music and the arts were not as developed as many other cities in the region. The local government wanted to change this, and therefore created the orchestra as a non-profit organization.

“People who lived in Zhuhai Jinwan did not have the opportunity to experience good, classical music the way that so many others do in the larger Chinese cities. I wanted to be the person to help change that,” said Cao.

After getting in touch with the sponsors, Cao began working immediately. He started with finding musicians for the orchestra and followed by choosing the perfect music. He wanted to select pieces that would excite the locals and allow them to appreciate classical music. When recruiting players for the orchestra, he reached out to the residents of the city, allowing them to get excited at the prospect of the first chamber orchestra in Zhuhai Jinwan.

“We are very honored to have Hui as our music director for the chamber orchestra. He is a talented musician and gives us a lot of support. The first day we met Hui we knew he could help us build this chamber group to a great success,” said Mok Ian Ian, Director of Zhuhai Jinwan Cultural Affairs Bureau.

Once Cao filled every spot on the orchestra, they started rehearsing twice a week. He helped the players practice, teaching them how to perform and offering insight from his many professional experiences. Most of the musicians were not trained, and it was Cao’s responsibility to do so. Under his direction, the entire orchestra went from many individual musicians to one entity, playing seamlessly. He also supported the guest conductor during rehearsals while still planning the music for each performance.

“I really admire the local musicians and their love of music. It was my job to help them become better players and make sure they improved, but you can’t teach passion. Directing these musicians was easy because of how much they enjoyed what they were doing,” said Cao. “I am also very thankful to the government and all the support we received from them. It was the people I worked with that made this such a special project. Everyone wanted to bring music to the community.”

Cao and the orchestra held their opening concert at the Zhuhai City Hall in 2015. It was extremely successful, and from there, they have continued to be recognized and praised by all sectors of society. Now, just a couple of years later, the orchestra is seen as a prestigious group of musicians.

“After three years of work, I saw the Zhuhai Jinwan chamber orchestra get more popular and professional. I am very happy, it has been like watching my kids grow up. I put lots of my time and energy into the group, and the results more than paid off,” he said.

Evidently, Cao is an incredible musician and director. What he accomplished with the Zhuhai Jinwan Chamber Orchestra is just one example of what this talented violinist is capable of. He truly loves what he does, and for those looking to follow in his footsteps, he says that is of the most vital importance.

“As a musician, I have only one piece of advice to those who are looking to pursue a career in music, and that is to love the music and enjoy the music. Music is always a great and interesting hobby, but if someone wants to become a professional musician, the path is very difficult. You have to persist and practice and remain focused on your goal every step of the way. That is why passion is key. If you do not have this, you will never be a true musician,” he concluded.

Actor Ben Prendergast takes up boxing to play Australian icon Jo Sparro

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Ben Prendergast

Ben Prendergast says his love of film is genetic. His mother’s side of the family constantly watched classic “talkies” on repeat, watched Sunday matinees, and had a general love for iconic starlets and stories. His father’s side still had that same love for movies, but there was a passion for science-fiction and action films, with regular trips to the video store. As a child, Prendergast was immersed in all aspects of film from a young age, loving Star Wars and Casablanca before even Mickey Mouse.

“In Australia, the notion of being in the movies is so foreign, but as I got older and started to build a profile it became evident that I could actually make a go of being involved in an industry that I’d loved for decades,” he said.

As an acclaimed film and television actor, Prendergast has many notable projects on his resume. He has worked alongside Hollywood’s best, including Ethan Hawke in the feature Predestination, and starred in award-winning films like The Marker and Post Apocalyptic Man. Australians everywhere recognize his voice and face from many national commercials, and his versatility is constantly evident, ranging from genres and mediums. With every character he embodies, he does not just portray them, he becomes them. This is perhaps most evident when he took on the role of the iconic boxer Jo Sparro in the celebrated film Punch Drunk.

“Punch Drunk deals with a very real issue in Australia: the marginalization of the elderly and mentally unwell. I loved that the main protagonist was a hero in his day, someone that was very much valued as part of society, but after an unfortunate event he’s literally left to rot in an institution until he fights his way out. I wanted to be a part of the project as it dealt with a sport I love and tackled a real issue within the heart of a fantastic story,” he said.

Punch Drunk is the story of the Mighty Joe Sparro, a champion boxer who is cut down in his prime. Years later, he is in a care facility that shuts down and he needs to fend for himself one last time. Prendergast played the younger Joe Sparro, depicting his early career, showing his courage and man-of-the-people charm, and illustrating for the audience what might have been.

“Jo Sparro was a post-war young man trying to make a living to support his wife and child, so in a lot of ways his natural gift for fighting made him a more loving partner. He loves his wife Millie to death, so when they are separated it is heartbreaking. For so long, he has been confused about where he is, but when the film starts we realize he is coming out of an extremely long coma,” Prendergast explained.

Punch Drunk was distributed to a number of festivals, including Telluride and the New York Short Film Festival where it played in Times Square to an estimated 50,000 people. From there it went to the St Kilda Film Festival, where it was nominated for best screenplay, Young at Heart Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award for Best Film, Adelaide Shorts Film Festival, where it took home the Audience Merit Award, Byron Bay Film Festival, winning Best Cinematography, and an Official Selection at Dungog Film Festival, Heart of Gold International Film Festival, Little Rock Film Festival Official Selection, and Woods Hold Film Festival. After its film festival run, Punch Drunk was distributed digitally and has since been viewed millions of times online. The Director, Sam Wark, believes Prendergast’s portrayal of the young Jo Sparro was pivotal to the film’s success.

“Ben is a pro. He is so proactive in finding the way into his characters and has a limitless supply of positivity and fresh ideas. As a director looking to fulfill a vision and shape a story, it’s a joy to have someone who can bring me a hundred different bold choices on any one idea and then go further and further into the rabbit hole as the story unveils itself. He’s an actor’s actor, so he goes way beyond what you’d think an actor should do in order to prepare for a role, not only mentally and spiritually, but also physically. In the boxing scenes, he worked over the course of three months to not only become fit enough to perform the role, but also to perfectly imitate a 1950s’ boxer style, and then also the stunt falls required. The miraculous thing though is he’s able to do all of this while embodying a character and creating the empathy in the audience needed to touch people. Our audiences fell in love with that character,” said Wark.

Wark had the script for Punch Drunk in his drawer for seven years with no real plans on making it. He knew the script was a gem but didn’t know just how to turn such an important story into a film. That was until he sent the script to Prendergast, who was so passionate about the project, the director knew he had something there. Immediately, Prendergast was the only choice for the role of Jo.

“The film needed someone who could play a champion boxer without the arrogance or coldness that we see from boxers in the modern era. He needed to be a people’s champion, and completely likeable, even to his opponents. By doing this, the film could create the payoff needed to touch audiences and make them think about the mentally ill in a new and perhaps impactful way. That is what I kept in mind when preparing, and while filming,” Prendergast described.

When preparing for the film, Prendergast relentlessly trained for three months to not only get in the shape of a professional boxer, but to realistically fight in required scenes. He also took extensive stunt training in order to be ready to be hit and fall on command. In one boxing scene, he chose to fall a lot heavier than he had initially planned and ended up knocking himself out. The shot was so brilliant, it was used in the final cut of the film.

“I was introduced to the sport of boxing in a new way. I always loved to watch, but to participate and continue to practice to this day is something that the film gave me. I was also drawn into the world of past champions and the history of the sport,” said Prendergast.

Punch Drunk depicts an Australian sporting hero that never made it, someone who showed so much promise but was robbed of it, and audiences ultimately see him victorious after 60 years of solitude. Getting to be a part of such a story was truly one of the most satisfying parts of working on the film for Prendergast, beyond all the awards and accolades they later received. The best part for the actor, however, audiences may not have noticed.

“This ended up being a family affair. My Nana was featured as an extra in the film,” he said.

Check out Punch Drunk to see Prendergast’s outstanding performance.

Editor Xiaodan Yang refines artistic story in upcoming film “Summer Orange”

Xiaodan “Christy” Yang was a teenager when she realized she was meant to be a filmmaker. At the time, she and her friends at their high school in China were just having fun with a video camera. They were so excited and curious about the tool and would pretend to interview students during lunch breaks. Quickly, this transformed to casting classmates in small productions, and Yang was the leader.

“The most classic one was a Titanic parody where I picked two leading characters to play Jack and Rose from the “audition”. Then we shot the “I’m flying” scene. Their acting was so hilarious and the whole process was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it and that’s the first time I started thinking that maybe I could be a real filmmaker someday. I wanted to bring larger audiences to tears of laughter and allow them to experience all sorts of emotions through my work,” said Yang.

Despite being in charge of her high school short films, Yang found her way to a more behind-the-scenes role in editing. Now, she is an award-winning editor and is recognized far beyond China for her talent. Through her work on dramatic films such as Kayla, Witness, Sixteen and It’s Not Just About a Film, Yang’s contributions as an editor shape these important stories into pieces of art, and all those who work with her know what an asset she is.

“I worked with Xiaodan on my film, Ashram, as well as a short film called The Review. I directed the films and she was my editor for both of them. To work with Xiaodan is to have a very smart, skilled and sensitive creative partner. She is very thoughtful about her editing decisions, and a very even-keeled and well-balanced guiding creative force for the project. She’s very competent and efficient, but also artistic and intuitive. She has strong communication and learning skills, which make us work efficiently,” said Matt Marlin, Writer and Director. “Xiaodan is a strong creative presence and also very flexible with working with different types of personalities. She often juggled multiple projects when working with me, and still made me feel like my project was at least an equal priority with the other things she was working on. She can roll with any notes I throw her way, and also push back when she believes in a creative decision strongly. She has a great intuition for how to best bring out the story from the footage provided.”

When working on the upcoming film Summer Orange, an artistic story, Yang knew it would be defined by the editing. When she first read the script, she was immediately captured by the characters and could feel the desolation they felt in every word. She instantly said yes to the project.

Summer Orange is about a filmmaker dealing with his real life and the film he’s shooting. As a filmmaker myself, I felt close to him. As I was editing the film, the film also affected me in many ways. I was thinking deeply while working on this one,” said Yang.

The film follows Da, a film student in Los Angeles. During the time shooting his thesis film, his old friend, Lu, comes to visit him. It has been a few years since the two have seen each other, and they both have changed. At the same time, the relationship between Da and Xintong, the leading actress of his film, becomes ambiguous. With so many things going on, Da feels confused about film and reality.

“This is a very personal story for the director. Some plots and details come from his actual life experience. If other films are considered novels, this one is more like a prose. The story is sincere, but also abstract. Although nothing dramatic happens, the tone of the story is attractive. Sometimes life is just overwhelming, and people can’t do anything about it. The best part of this story is the dynamic between the characters. That was also my emphasis during editing,” said Yang.

Summer Orange is directed by Chen Xu, who also wrote the film. He had previously worked with Yang on Witness and It’s Not Just About a Film and knew her extraordinary editing talents would help captivate audiences to his subtle story. As the editor, Yang understood the director’s intentions of this story precisely. When going through the footage, every decision Xu made while shooting made sense to her and she knew just how to approach the editing. She could transform and breakdown the script without disrupting the artistic conception. As it was a calm story, the director chose to shoot the film in an objective way, meaning most of the shots were long takes. When Yang was editing, she watched each shot over and over to make sure she was choosing to highlight the best performances from each actor. After doing this, she still made sure not to cut the long takes, therefore ensuring the dynamic between each character was as close as possible to how it was originally shot, refining every take. She also slowed down her pace while editing and instead of simply thinking about what would be useful, she cared more about what felt right for the atmosphere.

Undoubtedly, Summer Orange will be a tremendous film and showcase what a formidable editor Yang is. It will premiere this May at none other than the prestigious Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner and will expectedly make its way to several more festivals in the coming year.

“I feel so excited about the Cannes Film Festival, since it’s one of the best film festivals in the world. I believe this is just a good beginning, and more and more will come,” Yang concluded.

Producer Kegan Sant helps TELUS give back with inspiring charitable campaign

It seems funny to Kegan Sant that there was once a time where he thought he wanted to be a director. Many people going into filmmaking initially see themselves leading the film set, and Sant was no different. However, when he found his way into producing, he realized it was exactly where he was meant to be. Sant understands the nuances to the role, that it isn’t just balancing a budget. The producer is responsible for making sure every single aspect of the production goes off without a hitch. That, for Sant, is what makes it so thrilling.

“I like to be busy and being a producer, there is always something to do. No matter how simple a project is, attention to detail is everything to me. I find that fun and challenging. Not many positions offer the flexibility in schedule, opportunity to see the world and ability to employ thousands of people over short periods of time. It’s invigorating to work with different directors as everyone has unique ways of working and dynamic thought processes. It’s incredibly satisfying to conceptualize a project with a director, budget it out, execute it, and see it come to life in post,” said Sant.

Sant’s passion for what he does translates into every project he takes on. He is perhaps most well-known for his work on the Westjet Christmas Miracle, one of the first real people/real time commercials that went viral online. He also made the award-winning Grey Cup flagship commercial for the CFL, What We’re Made Of, and last year, his work on Woods Is There campaign celebrated the company’s 100th anniversary and Canada’s 150th birthday while captivating viewers across the country with stunning scenery. His work extends to film, and his movie The Bear went on to several international film festivals, taking home prizes and impressing viewers and critics alike.

Sant’s creativity is ignited when he believes in what a project represents, and his 2016 commercial for TELUS was no different. The commercial promoted #TheGivingEffect, a campaign to encourage acts of kindness. With every act of kindness, big or small, TELUS encouraged citizens across Canada to share themselves giving back to their community with the hashtag #TheGivingEffect, with the goal of having the entire nation help each other. TELUS would then select up to five individuals who took part in the challenge and award them with $5000 to donate to the charity of their choice.

“I think this campaign is important because it sways social consciousness in the direction of doing something about problems and issues they see. It lets people know that everything counts – small or big and that it doesn’t have to be material or monetary to count. Having more of that in the world is inspiring change in the right direction and I believe this stemmed from the actual employees of TELUS giving back to their own organizations, which inspired the corporation to do the same. Truly the spirit of giving,” said Sant.

The campaign began with a 90-second video with short stories ranging from an informal bottle cleanup on a beach to a young woman shaving off her long hair to support a sick friend. The tagline is “every act of giving inspires another.” The commercial was shot in over five locations in just one day in April of 2016. There was a national TV buy for this campaign and it also lived on an online platform. It was also picked up and recognized by a couple of national marketing magazines.

“I liked that we were able to defy all norms on this project, like shooting in several locations in a single shoot day with actresses that had special FX makeup, and first-time experiences like shaving their head. I liked that this project pushed boundaries and forced me to constantly think on my feet. Being able to produce a job that matched the director’s vision was incredibly satisfying and having a happy production company, agency, client and director means I did my job well,” said Sant.

What is perhaps the most interesting and challenging part of the commercial is the scene with the girl donating her hair for her sick friend. Sant had to find an actress that was actually willing to shave her head for the scene and donate her hair. He vowed that they would make it happen, despite the casting director being confident they wouldn’t find one. The director, Stash Capar, had a vision, and it involved an actress actually shaving their head. Sant made sure to deliver. At the last minute, Sant found an actress who was happy to show her support for the cause, really selling the authenticity of the piece. Because of his commitment to the project, Sant immensely impressed all those he worked with, who he now continues to collaborate with to this day.

“You know you’re in good hands with Kegan. No matter what problems befall the project, he will find solutions and the show will go on. Kegan is the hardest working producer I know.  He finds efficiencies and strategies that other producers later mimic. He is an agent of change in the world of commercials.  An example of this was the Westjet Christmas Miracle spot, which Kegan masterminded. His methods were later copied, spawning an entire genre of copycat “surprise and delight” commercials,” said Stash Capar, Director.

When Sant was given the opportunity to work on #TheGivingEffect it felt like he had come full circle. As a teenager, his first “real job” was working for TELUS in their customer service department. He remembers wondering what it would be like to produce a commercial for them one day. Getting to do so while promoting a good cause and giving back to his community was more than he could ever have dreamed of.

“It’s a great feeling to know that the project was so successful. I’m happy to have delivered a job that met the expectations of everyone involved and was instrumental in reaching people, promoting the idea of giving back. It’s on my reel as a heartfelt piece of emotional storytelling, not only for the final product itself but the messaging it shares,” he concluded.

 

Photo by Kevin Sarasom

China’s Xingpei Shen creates animation masterpiece with ‘Lotus Lantern’

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Xingpei Shen, photo by Rob Chron

Despite loving drawing since he was a child, it took Xingpei Shen much longer to discover he was meant to be in animation. He loved art, but in his late teenage years, he did not know how to turn that passion into a career. However, after attending a presentation from Chinese animator Lei Lei (Ray), he started to become intrigued by the idea of a career in animation. One of Lei Lei’s films, This Is Love, stuck with Shen. It was a candy-colored graphic animation paired with a silly yet sweet poem. It made everyone laugh and reminded him why he wanted to be an artist in the first place. Now, years later, he is an in-demand animator impressing worldwide audiences with his work.

Shen has had an expansive career as an animator, working on solo projects and group endeavors. His first independent film, Good Game, Bad Time, and Killer Sportsmanship, went on to international acclaim at several film festivals. This pattern continued with his work on the Huffington Post project What It Means to be Muslim in America, where Shen was one of only nine animators who were invited to make a short animation based on an audio anecdote provided on the topics of Muslim experience in America. He was also one of seven video artists featured in the traveling show Internet Yami-Ichi on December 9th, 2017at the renowned Tate Museum, where he has two animation pieces in the show.

“As a queer Chinese artist, I find my work often looks at overlooked boundaries of existences, the places of in-between, and the sweet vulnerabilities of outsiders,” said Shen.

This is exemplified by Shen’s latest film, Lotus Lantern. Lotus Lantern is a tribute to late Chinese singer Zhou Xuan, a missing link between filmmaker’s queer identity and Chinese heritage. Shen wrote, directed and animated the film entirely on his own. He had a vision in the very beginning that he wanted to make a lush and dreamy film that talks about his queerness and Chinese heritage, and he worked intensely hard to realize the goal.

“I think Lotus Lantern is important, because for one, it is a personal story about both queer experience and Chinese heritage. In the media nowadays, there is a tendency to homogenize queerness and overlook the intersectionality of different facets of identities. I believe Lotus Lantern is a genuine and vulnerable film that resists that tendency,” said Shen.

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Still from Lotus Lantern

After months of work, Lotus Lantern premiered on July 30th, 2017 at BAMcinématek in Brooklyn for the 14th Animation Block Party. It then made its way to dozens more festivals and is still continuing its run with three upcoming festivals in the next few months. It was featured as Vimeo Staff Pick and Shen was also invited to talk about his process on Animation World Network.

“It feels surreal how far Lotus Lantern has gotten after I finished the film not long ago. I am still currently processing and trying not to go over my head with all the good news. I am very proud and happy, because this film is incredibly personal and vulnerable. It gives me a lot of encouragement to carry out future projects,” he said.

Shen had three main inspirations when creating the concept for his film. The first was to create a tribute for Zhou Xuan, whose music was a large part of Shen’s childhood. Growing up queer in China, Shen did not have many icons in the media that he could look up to or relate with, but he was always fascinated by the singer and related her to a goddess. When he looked back on these pivotal years, he realized his sentiments towards Zhou Xuan all tied into his understanding of his own queerness, ultimately shaping his life. He wanted to reflect that through his art.

Second, he took the visual style from his grandmother’s praying shrine. His grandmother has a shrine that she prays to daily. When Shen was a child, he was always fascinated by the strange aesthetic of all the artifacts where a gorgeous antique brass double ear incense bowl paired with a cheap oversized disposable lighter she bought at a drug store and crackling chants pour out from a lotus-shaped electronic Buddhist mantra box. The sensibility extruded from his grandmother’s shrine table inspired the campy aesthetic of this film.

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Still from Lotus Lantern

“Wow, I am mightily impressed by Xingpei’s work on Lotus Lantern. It’s a steadily emerging style of film that I’m seeing more and more of and this one goes close to top of the class in that style. One of its strengths really struck me as being the very restrained and almost understated way he managed its pacing even as it poured in more and more and more visual elements – in lesser hands the temptation to wind up the tempo would have been succumbed to,” said Malcolm Turner, Animator and Director of the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Shen’s last source of inspiration for his film was his friend and former employer Suzan Pitt, an animator who created the 1979 short film Asparagus. A few years ago, Shen emailed the filmmaker and told her what an inspiration she had been to him. She responded and invited Shen for coffee at her home and a screening of Asparagus, where they had a long conversation about the art of animation. Throughout his entire time making Lotus Lantern, Shen kept the idea and style of Asparagus in his mind. He was haunted by the intricate psychedelic interior space of sexuality and desire in the film. He wanted to create something that was as complex and captivating.

“I really enjoyed Xingpei’s film Lotus Lantern. It seemed to be a deliberate homage to Suzan Pitt’s Asparagus, and it was really great to see an animation refer to another (great) animator’s work in a thoughtful and considerate way rather than just ripping off their style or film for effect. The deep underlying reference to Asparagus opens up ideas about identity, beauty and self, the state of reverie, but Xingpei takes them into new and compelling territory. We are made to think about the common ground of each film and the differences too. It was beautifully made and very thought provoking,” said Artist and Animator, Edwin Rostron.

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Still from Lotus Lantern

One of the more outstanding aspects of Lotus Lantern is that Shen made the film with a combination of digital tools (3D software like Maya, and 2D software like Photoshop and AfterEffects) and traditional animation techniques (hand-drawn and rotoscope). It balances two different methods creatively to achieve a lush painterly quality, which is very unique in current animation. The use of these methods exemplifies why Shen is such a formidable animator.

Despite all the critical acclaim and recognition Lotus Lantern has received, the greatest accolade came at the 41st Ottawa International Animation Festival last year. On the last day of the festival, Shen was sitting alone after his film’s second and final screening. A woman from South Africa approached him and told him that Lotus Lantern truly struck her, especially when Shen talked about the influences of women in his family to him as a queer artist. She put her hand on his chest and told him she was touched before tearing up. The women then left in a hurry before Shen could get her name or her story. He calls the experience the highlight of his career.

“It was an incredibly sweet moment. I have never gotten such a genuine and strong response for my work. It reminded me of the reason why I wanted to make films and tell stories in the first place,” he concluded.

Watch Shen’s moving work on Lotus Lantern here.