All posts by Lorraine Wilder

Meet Jemima Penny, the Costume Designer Behind some of the World’s Most Striking Music Videos

Costume Designer Jemima Penny
Costume Designer Jemima Penny. Photo by Shireen Bahmanizad

Modern music videos are huge productions with many of them having budgets comparable to that of a feature film. From Gwen Stefani’s “Make Me Like You” video coming it at $4 million to Madonna’s $5 million video for “Express Yourself,” and who can forget Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson’s “Scream,” which cost a whopping $7 million back in 1995, millions of dollars go into creating the visual stories and elaborate worlds we see in popular music videos. From expensive lighting to ornately designed sets, a great deal of effort goes into making these stories as memorable and visually striking as possible, and one of the key elements in all of this is costume design.

UK costume designer Jemima Penny is the one they call in to design the wardrobes for many of the high-dollar music videos. Over the years, Jemima has done it all. From working on the music videos for Sir Paul McCartney’s “Dance Tonight” featuring Natalie Portman and Mackenzie Crook, and designing Lily Allen’s “LDN,” Roots Manuva’s “Buff Nuff,” Juliette Lewis and the Licks’ “Got Love to Kill,” and countless others, Jemima has designed for some of the most famous artists in the world.

Compared to film, costume designing for music videos brings with it a unique set of challenges in terms of turnaround time, which require Jemima to work quickly to source the costumes, sometimes even fitting the cast and making alterations on the same day as the shoot.

“Prep periods and the shoot are very quick when working on music promos and commercials, and my team and I need to source and fit costumes within days… As such we need to create an instant vision for the song,” explains Jemima. “There is less emphasis on the intricate details and character work and instead I concentrate on designing a look for the video that immediately captures the audience and tells the story.”

In the same way that no two videos are alike, the wardrobe Jemima designs for each video she works on is completely different from the next; and with well over a decade of experience in the industry, the costumes she’s designed span the gamut. She says, “In some instances, for example the Klaxon’s ‘Golden Skans’ video, these costumes need to be totally fantastical and abstract, and for others, including Calvin Harris’ ‘Sweet Nothing’ it is about creating a complete world in moments.”

 

As the costume designer on the music video for  Calvin Harris’ hit song “Sweet Nothing” featuring Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine, the wardrobe Jemima designed was essential to creating the video’s seedy underworld environment full of strippers, call girls, their pimps and depressing looking clientele.

Directed by Primetime Emmy nominee Vincent Haycock, the “Sweet Nothing” video was a massive success airing on popular music channels all over the world and garnering well over 200 million views on YouTube.

For the costumes in the video, Jemima drew her inspiration from eastern European gangsters, streetwear worn by gangs in London’s poorest and roughest neighborhoods and styles from the 80s skinhead movement, which set the dark and grimy tone for the video’s overarcing story of a woman (Florence Welsh) dealing with an abusive pimp boyfriend.

She explains, “We shot the video on location at an old, rough working man’s club, and the fight scenes over-night in an alleyway in the East End of London, in torrential rain. Often there is not time to fit all the characters in costumes prior to the shoot so I sourced multiple options for the costumes for each character and then my team and I put together looks and decided on what costume feels best for each character on the day.”

Coming up with the final costumes for the cast of the caliber of music videos Jemima designs for on the same day as the shoot is as high pressure as it sounds; however, her background as a fashion stylist for magazines such as Vogue, ID and Dazed has endowed her with the unique ability to come up with killer looks on the fly by mixing fashion styling techniques into her work as a costume designer.

Jamie Clark, the producer behind “Sweet Nothings,” says, “I love working with Jemima. She has a unique talent for producing super stylish costumes. The cast and crew always respond to her really well, and her costumes are spot-on.”

Another area where Jemima’s tried and true talent for blending her fashion styling skills into her work as a costume designer is in the world of commercials, where turnaround times can be just as fast paced. A sought after figure in the industry, Jemima has costume designed commercials for leading brands across the globe including Johnnie Walker, Kellogg’s, Absolut Vodka, Microsoft, Cadbury’s Chocolate, Mastercard, Virgin Media and countless others.

Jemima explains, “My experience pulling together costumes for music videos and commercials together with my fantastic team of makers and buyers, assembled through years of working on different theatre and opera productions, means that I’m able to not only produce creative designs for a brief very quickly and with confidence, but facilitate the entire process from original design, to sourcing of materials and costumes, and oversee full costume makes from scratch.”

One commercial where these carefully honed skills were paramount to the success of the production was the ITV promo for the hit BAFTA Award winning series “The X-Factor” featuring series judges Cheryl Tweedy, Simon Cowell, Rita Ora and Nick Grimshaw. Set in futuristic science laboratory, Jemima designed original costumes for the entire cast featured in the lab from the bespoke lab coats worn by the celebrity presenters, which featured a splash of gemstones shining from the lapel, to Cheryl Tweedy’s unforgettable ‘Fembot’ costume with the angular neckline.

“I wanted to create an outfit for Cheryl that showed off her great figure, and was futuristic and sculptural,” She explains, “The whole feel had to be poppy, youthful, fashion forward, stylized and work with the feel and ethos of the TV show itself.”

Cressida Ranfield, the producer of the promo, explains, “When I saw the brief for this job, and realized that it was hugely reliant on strong costume aesthetic, I knew that I wanted Jemima to design it. She is a consummate professional, and has that rare combination of being able to deliver excellent costumes and an innate sense of style that means she is able to work with celebrity clients with ease.”

Aside from being a sought after designer for music videos and commercials, Jemima has made a prominent mark in the film industry through her work as the costume designer on films such as “20,000 Days on Earth,” “Minimus” and “In the Dark Half.” She recently wrapped production on the upcoming films “Stella’s Last Weekend” directed by Polly Draper, “Slumber” directed by Johnny Hopkins, and the music documentary “The Quiet One,” which follows the life of Rolling Stone Bill Wyman.

If all that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, Jemima Penny is currently a guest Fashion Editor for the popular fashion-focused publication Luxure Magazine as well.

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GIVING A 50’S LOOK TO SHAKESPEARE WITH RUOXUAN LI

When it comes to revered creative works, there are those who believe that a classic is not to be touched and those who believe that the spirit of creating art is in pushing those boundaries and buttons, to attempt to develop a new piece of art that both pays homage to the original and seeks to place it in a contemporary setting that it might be more accessible to the general public and thereby spur them to revisit said classics. Costume designer Ruoxuan Li has worked with those on both sides of this idea. She feels that her role is not to be the one who is polarized on the topic but to grow through embracing both perspectives. This what me be referred to as a “creatively open mind.” It’s something that would seem to be inherent in the artistic mindset but is not always so. Luckily for those she works with, Li has the pedigree and the experience to enable both factions. When ISC (Independent Shakespeare Company)was presenting a modernized production of Shakespeare’s “The Two Men of Verona”, Ruoxuan was an obvious choice as costume designer. Li cut her teeth in Shakespearean theater at the at Wimbledon College of Art, University of The Arts London. Since then she has worked on countless productions including Distant Vision with Francis Ford Coppola. Intensely familiar with both traditional and contemporary approaches to the look of stage, TV, and film, Ruoxuan worked with director David Melville to place the characters in a modern world for crowds of 20,000 in Los Angeles.

Melissa Chalsma is the artistic director of the ICS production of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” who sought out Ruoxuan and enlisted her into the production team. Melissa describes, “I was first attracted to Ruoxuan’s work because of her outstanding portfolio and the breadth of her experience. She is an inter-continental artist who excels in a wide range of styles, has done excellent work in a variety of mediums, and has wonderful inter-personal skills. Without Ruoxuan “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” would not have looked as good as it did, nor would the actors have even as able to do their jobs. She created an entirely unique world with vastly different styles authentically placing the action in the 1950’s. Each costume piece supported the actors in their work. Speaking personally, the costumes Ruoxuan created were absolutely perfect!”

Early meeting with the play’s director set the tone that the play should be apolitical and be a place of respite for the public to escape the volatile events around them. Melville communicated to Ruoxuan that he was interested in a Rockabilly style that was full of bright and engaging colors. The two primary challenges in this is that Shakespeare is not known for its use of bright colors and, as a native of China, Li does not share the same frame of Americana reference that many might in regards to the 1950’s Rockabilly style and era. Research would begin for her at ground zero rather than twenty or seventy-five percent. To fit the classic Shakespearean sensibility into a new concept of 1950’s, she started by matching the social group status for characters such as the greasers for the outlaws, teddy boys/girls for the naughty ones etc. Li then tracked each character’s change of status and change of their mental/emotional evolution, trying to express the changes cohesively through costuming. She was given some allowance to be not period-dead-on but tried to catch key elements of the 1950’s rockabilly look such as white socks, rolled up hems, pointy shirt collars, circle skirts, etc. These helped to sell the period when it’s not a full-on authentic period show.

It’s the very nature of a mingling of the arts that they affect each other. This also applies to the costume design; add maneuverability to that as well. The Rockabilly application to this classic Shakespeare play was like an actor itself, taking on the visage of a “greaser” from the era. This meant that the music and style of the 1950’s was inseparable from the look Li created. Watching the rehearsal is a key part of her process in finalizing the costuming. Ruoxuan relates, “When I saw the rehearsal with the band and all of the dancing, I realized that the research I did was not fully matching the energy on the dance floor. There were actors rapping the Shakespeare lines, the duke being the drummer at the same time, one of the two gentlemen acted like a nerdy teenage facing his lover…all these sparkling moments gave me inspiration. I switched my color palette to a much more vibrant and youthful combination of bright pastels and saturated jewel tones. I shortened all the skirt for dancing, added ruffled collars for crab the dog, and asked the attendant rapper turning his bell boy hat front to the back. These might seem minor but they bring everything into focus.”

Broadway World stated, “Ruoxuan Li’s black leather jackets for the outlaws, and circle skirts and preppy plaids for the leading players all lend authenticity to the period and its unbridled optimism.” This statement communicates the concept that the costuming itself is part of delivering the emotion to an audience, an emotion that must be congruent to that of the intent of the director. With this understanding, Ruoxuan takes great care to plan and maintain an aesthetic consistent with her director’s goal. This process begins with a conversation that continues up until the actual showtime. A strong sense of design partnered with an ease of flexibility is what has resulted in so many directors seeking out Ruoxuan to create the look for their productions whether it be stage, TV, or film.

ACTRESS JAEDA LEBLANC IS A LITTLE GIRL ON A BIG SERIES

Actor’s know that when you exhibit your skills on a project this is not only the action of using your talent but also the way in which you advertise yourself to other potential employers. Being of benefit to any production allows directors, writers, and other professionals to envision you in their own creations. An actor can spend a lifetime amassing a collection of performances that will keep them employed doing the vocations that they enjoy so much. It can take decades, even lifetimes to do so. In the case of Canadian Jaeda LeBlanc, it may happen much more quickly…because it already has. While still in her single digits, this young actress was noticed by Gregory Smith, director of the highly successful TV series “Saving Hope.” Airing on Fox in the US, “Saving Hope” joined the lineage that has lasted for decades of popular dramas that take place in the medical field and portray the humanity behind the healers, the afflicted, and their loved ones. When Smith saw Jaeda on “Odd Squad” he understood that her talent and abilities transcended those of youth based stories. Casting her as Aisha Kai in “Saving Hope” not only proved that he was correct but also gave a boost to LeBlanc’s credibility and vetted her as an actress more than capable of working in prime time television.20728338_157108004866208_2853571896937534171_n

The key to being a great guest star on an already popular show, as well as being a great actor, is being memorable without trying too hard. Performance is a requirement; beyond that you can chalk it up to charisma. Robin Williams, Leonardo DiCaprio, countless actors have appeared on prime time TV shows in bit parts that morphed into careers on the small and the big screen. Canadian actress Jaeda LeBlanc has that same magnetism. Although still in her early teens she has appeared in a number television and film productions. She’s appeared in films with such household names as Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, and Natalie Portman. It’s easy to see why her roles have been much more prolific in the past two years when viewing the heartfelt portrayal, she gave in “Saving Hope.” As Aisha Kai, a bossy, sassy, and very intelligent young girl mature beyond her years, Jaeda gives a layered performance. Aisha’s mother died of cancer three years prior and she now lives with her father who is also terminally ill. She has learned everything she can about her father’s illness and takes the doctors to task about it. Dr. Reid (Erica Durance, star of Saving Hope) makes matter worse when she makes a promise to Aisha whose own birthday is derailed by her father’s sickle cell crisis. Aisha (powered by LeBlanc’s portrayal) gives the audience the dual sense that she is very young but has been forced to mature quickly due to her difficult circumstances. She’s a girl who is aware well beyond her years about life’s harshness…but still is a young girl, with all of her concerns and uncertainty. At times irreverent and at other times fearful, the role gave Jaeda the opportunity to convey many subtle shades of emotion rooted in body language as well as dialogue. Gregory Smith, director of “Saving Hope” tells, “On our show Jaeda played Aisha, an insecure stubborn child that is authentic without being annoying or exaggerated.  As a director I know that it is not easy for a young actor to fully immerse themselves into a role but this is not the case here. Jaeda translated her actions and emotions to a believable character that drew sympathy with her realistic yet endearing delivery. Jaeda is an accomplished young actress who commands powerful, nuanced performances, the quality of which exceeds that of many of her peers. She was able to take on and be this child with a sick dying parent, unsure, stress and sad of what could happen.  Jaeda has the ability to know if she is under or over acting and correct her own self, this is an impressive trait.”Photo 2016-05-11, 4 37 09 PM

You’d think that for a young actor the excitement would be finding themselves on set, under the lights with all eyes on them. For some it might be the luxury of having their own trailer with snacks and video games. For LeBlanc it was sitting down for the table read. The formal table read is a staple of all major productions; for Jadea, this was her first and a true indicator that she had made it to the big leagues. Many table readings would follow this one but you always remember your first…like a first love. Without a frame of reference, Jaeda paid attention to how far the other actors “turned up” their performances at the table read and matched them toe to toe. Reading the room and acclimating is a benefit of being an actor. While she received praise for the read, it was the test of being on set that confirmed her abilities when under pressure. LeBlanc remarks, “It was nice to be a ‘Guest Star’ and work with seasoned actors in one of the most popular TV show in Canada. From the first moment I was on set everyone was super nice to me, not only because I was a kid but as another actor. People may not always admit it but, kids can tell when someone is being nice to you because you’re young rather than being honest. It was a great feeling to be treated as a peer by so many great actors. Like my mom always says, I have an ‘old soul’ so for me to be around adults feels normal. It was nice to feel like a peer playing in the same field as all those seasoned actors of this start cast TV show.” When you play a role in a Canadian Screen Award-Winning Series (“Saving Hope” has received numerous awards including: Canadian Screen Awards, Directors Guild of Canada, Leo Awards, Joey Awards, and others) that is watched by most Canadians, you are bound to get noticed. Casting Directors definitely paid attention as proven by the numerous TV and film roles which followed this young actress’s appearance on the series. Jaeda LeBlanc is just embarking on her teen years yet she has already amassed a long list of credits that have set a strong foundation for an already impressive acting career.

With Director

(Jaeda with director Gregory Smith)

DAN WAINER IS LIVING EVERY MAN’S DREAM

For decades, men have wanted to be one of two characters; Superman or James Bond. These icons represent the epitome of masculinity. While the caped son of Krypton generally appeals to mostly prepubescent males, once a boy’s hormones begin stirring there is no one more representative of a real life scenario of having it all than 007. This charismatic, suave, self-assured archetype embodies all the qualities to which most men aspire. He almost always wins and even when he doesn’t, he handles the situation with class and composure…and he somehow always manages to capture the attention of the women he sets his sights upon. The actors who have portrayed Bond are legendary. They number in the single digits but a very select few have joined them in different mediums. Noted Brazilian model Dan Wainer has appeared representing a number of clients and graced the covers of such internationally recognized publications as Men’s Health and others but it was his work appearing in Playboy magazine for a pictorial that celebrated 007 which he counts among his career high points. No doubt Wainer was able to live out the dream, however brief, of millions of males across the globe to become James Bond for the most celebrated men’s magazine of all time. Nothing short of a Nobel Prize, winning the World Cup, or the Superbowl could have elevated his “cool” level among his gender.

When Dan’s modeling agency pitched him to Playboy for the Bond shoot, it was because he shares so many qualities with the book & film character. There’s no waifish quality to the steely stare that Wainer possesses, an it’s one that’s full of gravitas. That’s not to say that this model took the job lightly; he put plenty of time in studying the body movement and attitude of his all-time favorite 007, Sean Connery. The unexaggerated charm, strength, and humor of Connery is clearly seen in this Playboy editorial. The potentially fatal circumstances which Bond frequently finds himself in never causes his emotional barometer too skyrocket, nor does it do so in the many trysts he also experiences. What we love about Bond is that he is always a measured man regardless of the positivity or negativity of his situation, yet he’s far from cold. Viewing the photos of Wainer, this is as natural for him as any of the actors who played the spy.

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There is an emotional component to modeling but it is conveyed primarily through physicality. To create this for Playboy’s Bond editorial, Dan reveals, “This job was actually very different from most in my career because it did involve acting. I’ve done my share of studying cinema, television, and theater…as any good model does. It helps you to become a better professional. I love my job and I want to be the best I can possibly be. I didn’t have a specific Bond film that I was trying to ‘copy’ or recreate. What I wanted to do was to contain and communicate the feelings and qualities of Bond: confidence in critical moments and risk, a charm and kind way of talking to women, he always knows what to do, etc. This is a time when I feel that modeling is like acting because I need to feel these things in myself for the camera to capture them. The biggest difference between the two in this instance is that in a film the action helps you to feel the emotion but in a photograph the emotion must happen at a specific second and be frozen in the photo.”

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Even though this 007 editorial is shown in a series of still pictures, there is still a story communicated. The series of less than a dozen photos transports each of us to our favorite Bond film, proof that the template is something that so many of us hold dear and admire. Photographer Sasha Hochstetter’s images are truly cinematic and rival any of the cold war era films, with Dan perfectly placed as the centerpiece. Through the series we see Wainer and the 007 accoutrements of guns, beautiful women, and bad guys played by Aline Samie and Michel Serdan a well-known wrestling fighter in Brazil. The ubiquity of Bond includes Brazil and the trio were all well-versed in the character’s lineage. Each member of this combative trio gleefully threw themselves into the archetype characters they were embodying. Dan relates that there were some intense physical moments that were painful but all a part of being Bond. In typical 007 fashion, the final photo saw Wainer getting his in the last chapter of the story. He explains, “The last photo in the editorial was also the last photo that we shot. It shows myself in an inflatable raft in the ocean, alongside four very beautiful women while there is an explosion in the background…obviously my nemesis meeting their just ends. I have a sly smile on my face and have lost my jacket and tie but am still composed and relaxed. While everyone looks relaxed and at ease, it was far from the reality of the situation. It was the most difficult photo of the day. We had been working for more than 8 hours in several different locations in the city. Everyone was very tired but we still had to make the last epic photo. There was a small boat inside the studio, but the hull of the boat did not allow stability, even more with 4 people moving inside it. The photographer was far up on a ladder, taking the photos from top to bottom. Everyone had to be well positioned. As the boat moved, it was difficult for everyone to be balanced and still have a happy face because they had been victorious. It was certainly the most time consuming and tiring picture of the whole day. But in the end everything went well and it was a beautiful job, very rewarding.”

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The James Bond editorial caused quite a stir and resulted in greater acclaim for Wainer. This specific editorial was cited as one of the reasons he was chosen by Nova Cosmopolitan as the “Gato de Nova.” Simply being chosen by an iconic men’s publication like Playboy to portray their view of all things a man should be in James Bond, it’s an award in itself. Dan definitely thinks of it as such. He concedes that he often was stopped for months following the publication of this issue of the magazine, by men and women alike, with congratulations and recognition. While he finds it flattering, the real compensation is being able to know that if just for a little while, he became the one and only James Bond. Dan Wainer is a proud member of a very select group.

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BEBO’S CIRCUS IS ANIMATOR SOYEON YOO’S MESSAGE OF HOPE

Animator Soyeon Yoo wants to achieve something with her creations. She’s not focused on becoming rich or get millions of “shares” on social media. She wants to create stories that touch those who view them. It’s important to Soyeon that she create empathy between the stars of her animated films and everyday people. By witnessing the struggles and accomplishments of the characters she presents, it’s her hope that she’ll create some tenderness that the public can retain from the experience. Yoo’s film “Bebo’s Circus” is a delight to the eyes and brings tears to them at the same time. While the story is exceptional, it’s far from what she originally had in mind. She explains, “I wanted to make heart-warming and dramatic animated film. Originally, I had the idea of a bunny that has big teeth saving other bunnies when they were in danger but I wanted to make a film more relatable to people.” This is when the idea of an older clown who has fallen on hard times and forgotten about his passion. Soyeon wanted everyone to understand that even the most joyful of us experience trying and depressing moments in our lives. Recalling the struggles of her time in art school and how she had lost the enjoyment and curiosity of creating art, Yoo formulated the idea of a clown who struggled and then reignites his own joy…with help from a friend.

Bebo is an older clown who still performs to audiences. He reminisces about the old days when things were easier for him as an entertainer. The crowds were larger and more accepting. When he makes mistakes on stage these days, some individuals react very rudely and this disheartens Bebo. The sad clown flashes back to one particularly enthusiastic girl who loved Bebo’s act. Inspired, he returns to the stage with new vigor. Upon completion, Bebo hears a lone fan applauding. He strains to see who it is and finds the same little girl, now grown up and still holding a juggling ball from his clown act all those years ago. The woman throws the ball back to Bebo as if metaphorically returning his love of performing and being a clown to him.

The story is touching and endearing but Soyeon needed a look that would enhance the message and tone of her story. The style of the animation she used for this film is 2D traditional animation, which is all done via computer using the tablet called ‘Cintiq’.  Using computer 2D animation software called ‘TV paint’ for the animation required drawing every frame to create each sequence for the film. Soyeon would first draw a test animation to see how many frames would be needed for each sequence and then move on to drawing the entire main key poses. Following this, in-between drawing for the characters were created and then a final clean-up of all the animation. A few sentences are all it takes to describe but many weeks to manifest.

Her malleable skills were also required in regards to art direction because this was Soyeon’s self-produced animation film. One of the main uses of this was in making the “Color Script” for the film. Color script is the early stage of mapping out the color, lighting, and emotion for the story of the film. Choosing different colors according to story arc are essential to delivering the emotional impact, especially in animation. For example, Yoo decided to apply de-saturated green/grayish tones for the first arc when the main character was having a hard time and then later placed warm brown/yellowish tones gradually toward to the end of the story to convey a happy ending.

One of the most pronounced characteristics of her style is Soyeon’s use of music with animation. The two seem intertwined in a dually productive correlation in virtually all of the productions in which she has created and is involved in. It’s obvious that she feels that music and the visual aspect of animation are twins. She describes, “The role of music is one of the most important elements for this film. The music was definitely a huge part of the film that helped to enrich the story. It helps to imprint and translate the mood for the film. Instead of dialogue, the music represents old clown’s emotions. The cornet part sounds like old clown singing. I wanted the music to lead the story like a narrator.” Yoo worked with composer Steven Van Betten to create the sonic landscape that complemented her visuals. Betten declares, “I am honored and proud to have composed the score for Soyeon’s film Bebo’s Circus.  The film takes a simple and universal theme of overcoming challenges and presents it in a compelling, genuine, and heartfelt manner. I was Inspired by her creativity and ability to take artistic challenges and turn them into fuel for pushing through her creative boundaries. The finished product of the film is both strong technically and artistically inspired. I sincerely hope that I have the opportunity to collaborate with Soyeon again in the future.”

“Bebo’s Circus” received great recognition including inclusion as an official selection at the Golden Bridge International Film Festival, the Mindfield Festival (Los Angeles), in addition to receiving the Best Jury Choice Award at the Direct Monthly Online Film Festival and the Best Animation: Diamond Award at the LA Shorts Awards. While these are all appreciated by Yoo, the most important to her is that of the person who first gave her the idea of the clown…her own brother. Soyeon explains, “I’m so happy that many people in the industry enjoyed the film. While that means a great deal to me, I really created it for regular viewers to find inspiration. My brother suggested the idea of a clown. His enjoyment was so important to me because I hope it will prove to him that you can have an idea and literally create something from that idea that other people will be positively affected by and will be inspired by. That’s the real reward and my original intention.”

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From Trailers to Long-Form Projects, Editor Ge Zhai Draws Viewers in with her Work

Editor Ge Zhai
Editor Ge Zhai

After all the production meetings, castings and lengthy shoot days are finished is when the story we see in a film or series really begins to come together. Naturally the writers and director have a strong idea of how they want their project to play out, but nothing is ever fully set in stone until the project makes its way onto the editor’s desk. It’s there that the best footage is identified and methodically pieced together into the unfolding story we enjoy as viewers.

Editor Ge Zhai, who is originally from Beijing, China is one of those genius editors who manages to turn hours of footage into a seamless story that grabs the attention of viewers around the world and keeps them watching.

Since moving stateside six years ago, Zhai has made a huge impact in the industry with her work as an editor. She got her start working as an editor for KO Creative, an LA-based creative advertising and strategic marketing group that creates audio/visual and print campaigns for domestic & international theatrical motion pictures, television and more. As an editor at KO Creative Zhai served as the lead editor on over 30 film trailers.

As the editor of the theatrical trailers for films such as multi-award winning director Chris Mason Johnson’s (The New Twenty) dramatic film Test and Coury Deeb’s ( The New Sudan) documentary BBOY for LIFE, Zhai managed to streamline each story into a concise and intriguing snapshot that made audiences want to go out to watch the films; and her success in cutting each trailer needs little further proof than the international attention received by both films upon release.

She was also the lead editor for the online trailers for several films including those for the Dutch film Boys, a coming of age tale about a homosexual teen and his budding relationship with a fellow teammate on the track team, which won the Golden Calf and Dutch Critics Awards from the Nederlands Film Festival and was nominated for an International Emmy Award; and, the Image Award nominated film drama Life of  King starring Oscar Award winner Cuba Gooding Jr. (Men of Honor, Selma).

Editor Ge Zhai
Editor Ge Zhai

In addition to sifting through hours of footage, selecting the most revealing and powerful moments, and creating a streamline story that would enthrall viewers, Zhai’s work cutting trailers at KO Creative meant she had to understand the divergent audiences each trailer catered to– something the value could be seen as no more integral than when it came to cutting sales trailers, as those are the visuals that actually sell the film to distributors and ensure the project actually reaches audiences. Without a strong and appealing sales trailer, a film may languish alone and unnoticed in a filmmaker’s library and never see the light of day. Thankfully for films such as Oscar Award nominee James Franco’s 2014 film The Sound and the Fury and Adam Levins’ horror film Estranged, Ge Zhai cut strong trailers that attracted the attention of distributors and helped each film make their way onto the big screen.

“I think in today’s world, there are so many choices as to video content, you got Netflix, Hulu, Youtube, with hundreds of thousands of films/tv/videos. So for an audience, why do they spend 2 hours on this specific film? The trailer is the first step to involve your audience visually following the poster. Trailers have to grasp their attention in 20 seconds and leave them wanting to see more,” explains Zhai.

“My strength is noticing details in a shot and maximizing them to convey the intimate emotion without relying on explanatory dialogue. I’m very good at telling the story of a film in a different way that is condensed, rhythmic, gripping, while remain true to the film. Plus, I have a good sense of music, which is super important to trailers.”

Though Zhai got her start as an editor in the industry cutting trailers for massively successful film projects, which is impressive enough in itself, she quickly moved on to cutting longer form projects, such as season 4 of the series Being featuring celebrities like three-time Grammy Award winner Erica Atkins Campbell and singer & movie star Tyrese, the comedy series According to Him + Her with Monica Collier (The Watermelon Heist), the poignant documentary Just Extensions and many more.

“Ge has the magic power to make ordinary materials look stunning. It was a blessing to have Ge on our team when we expanded from a trailer house into a full service post-production facility,” explains KO Creative CEO Kristi Kilday. “She was not constrained by her past experience when facing the challenge of editing long-form content like ‘Just Extensions’ and ‘Being.’ All the storylines and characters charged with emotion reflected her talent in editing.”

Zhai’s ability to breathe life into the characters we see on screen coupled with her ability to move each story forward with her natural (and virtually unnoticeable) cuts is one of the unique assets she brings to the table, and one of the driving forces behind her success that separates her from others in the industry. She doesn’t approach her work from a mechanical, step by step process devoid of emotion– instead she allows her creativity and emotional connection to the work and to the characters to guide the process. This is one of the reasons why the end products of those she’s lent her editor’s wand to have been so successful.

When it came time for the creation of season 4 of the series Being, Centric, the show’s network, which is a cable channel owned by BET,  wanted to appeal to a more specific audience and embody a different vibe than that of previous seasons– that is where editor Ge Zhai came in.

Zhai explains, “‘Being’ previously had three seasons, but in totally different tone. For the new season they wanted to shift styles to better fit the rebranded network, which was catered towards educated African American women. I had worked with the same producers on the series ‘According to Him+Her,’ so they were aware of my skills, and at the end of the day that led to hire me to edit their number one show.”

Being series
Poster for the series “Being”

Zhai’s storytelling skills as the editor of Being season 4 served as a massive asset in creating the season’s unfolding story in a way that touched audiences. Her ability to identify the tiny, but impactful moments that a lesser editor might miss, such as the expression of K.Michelle’s (Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta) eyes while sitting in church in season 4 episode 1 or six-time Grammy Award nominee Tyrese Gibson’s (Furious 7, Fast & Furious 6, Ride Along) joyful look as he revisited his childhood school in season 4 episode 4, were all tantamount to creating an emotionally touching story that drew audiences in and kept them engaged as the season played out.

Zhai’s work as an editor is proof enough itself, so much so that she’s climbed the ranks much quicker than the majority of her peers in Hollywood. Most recently she’s been working on the viral marketing video content for the sequel of the Chinese smash-hit Monster Hunt where her work has embraced millions of viewers.

 From beginning her career editing trailers that have been integral to drawing audiences and selling films to buyers, to serving as the editor on highly-watched long form projects that have aired on major networks, Ge Zhai’s seasoned skill as an editor combined with her unique power as a storyteller have been integral to the success of a great many projects. This is one editor we know we’ll be seeing a whole lot more from as time progresses, so keep your eyes out for her name as the credits roll.

 

A FAMILY OF FRIENDS HAS MANY FORMS IN “PARKED”

There’s something romantic and endearing about a group of people coming together to support each other’s attempt to bring out the best in themselves and their dreams. It might be possible to make it on your own but when you do it with a trusted group of confidants it’s so much more enjoyable. “Parked” is a Canadian production which tells the story of five men who attempt to navigate the highs and lows of life. It’s a theme that is synonymous with the writers who created this show. In a small writers’ room, Gorrman Lee, Executive Producers Adam O. Thomas, Tracey Mack, Siobhan McCarthy, and Actor/Co-Producer David Lewis spent many long nights together writing what ultimately became a season of six full webisodes and twenty-five interstitial videos. The struggle that artists take on to test themselves, to aspire to create something which binds viewers together, it’s just as touching as the obstacles and experiences of the characters in “Parked.” Great things are achieved in life when people work together to support each other’s dreams, whether in real life or the stories which resemble it.

Here’s something that any true artist will tell you, greatness is found in the idea and the manifestation of it not necessarily in the execution of it. There’s a reason that songwriters receive a larger portion of the income generated by a song than those who perform it. Creative individuals understand that the idea itself is the keystone. The modern presentation of this is the fact that many of the productions that are presented on the web rival, and sometimes exceed, the stories presented on more traditional platforms. When writer Gorrman Lee saw the pilot for “Parked” shared on Facebook he thought “They’re doing this on the web? It’s so good!” The show’s pilot is so well produced and funny that it stands as a testament to the excellence of work being created outside the traditional system in today’s marketplace. When Lee had the chance to meet Siobhan McCarthy at a pitch event, he made it his mission to convince her that he could be of benefit to the show as one of their writers. He recalls, “I was very professional about it. I told her how much I enjoyed the pilot and asked if they were looking for people to join up; if so, I’d love to have a coffee with her to discuss. Asking people to coffee in this industry is a great, low-pressure way to get an in.” To Gorrman’s delight and the shows benefit, it worked.

Parked with EP Siobhan McCarthy

“Parked” is about a group of 30-something dads, plus their one non-father pal, struggling with their late coming of age. While at first glance the characters might seem homogenous, each one has their own story to differentiate them in the group. The same can be said for the writers. As the youngest in the writing room and the only non-parent himself, Gorrman related most to the character Josh (the burnout, non-father of the group). While Lee and Josh vary greatly in personality, being of a certain age and place in your life naturally presents a shared perspective. Josh is found to be somewhat abrasive by the audience of “Parked” but Gorrman enjoyed the exercise of finding the sympathy/concealed soft side of Josh. The dichotomy of Josh was as entertaining for Lee as a writer as it was for the viewer. In episode #5, “Waiting for Kiddo”, Josh appears insufferable as he enters the scene complaining about how lame kids’ birthday parties are and how he’d much rather spend the day getting stoned. Lee’s writing shined a light on Josh’s humanity by showing just how hard he’s willing to work to get a child to attend this party with him. It looks creepy from the outside but Josh’s unawareness of this ultimately comes off as sweet because he just wants to hang out with his friends.

In a similar way to Josh’s willingness to step out of his comfort zone to keep the group together, Gorrman took on a writing assignment for “Parked” that was well outside his wheel house. Adam O. Thomas (Executive Producer of “Parked”) notes, “Gorrman was a key member of our writing room. He helped find the humor and really had a strong handle on how to shape a scene. If we were going off on a tangent, he was always the one to help bring us back around. He also made sure we never took the easy way out. I loved him for that. We broke down episodes and then assigned each writer some. Gorrman had a couple of the toughest. One was a musical episode and the other had to dance around the theme of child abduction to find the comedy in a dislikable character…. not an easy task. When he turned in his episode, I laughed out loud. It was perfect!” The musical episode referred to was entitled “Master Baker” and required Gorrman to create a Rap video. While most people think of writers as professionals who create based on something which they already know and actors as professionals who educate themselves/research about things they don’t know, Lee’s situation with this episode seems to indicate that writers are much more like actors in their approach. He was given an outline and lyrics for the song but the rest of creating the scene was up to Gorrman. He states, “I’m not really a Rap fan, my wife is though. I’m a writer of color. I’m Chinese-Canadian. It was important to me to research enough that I wasn’t being offensive or inappropriate in satirizing rap with three white, and one Indian actor. I think we pulled it off because of how silly our characters looked. The joke was on them, and not at the expense of rap.” The writer admits to feeling a great sense of accomplishment standing on set and watching the rap video sequence being filmed with Davinder/Sean Amsing is in his hot tub alongside Jimmy Z /Colin Foo. The entire cast and crew seemed to revel in the ridiculousness of the scene which Gorrman had concocted. It was obvious to all that the cast was living out the same fantasy that their characters connected with. “Parked” actor/writer David Lewis confirms, “Gorrman’s voice was definitely a distinct one. His episodes were some of our strongest. His understanding of character and story structure was invaluable. I’ve been working in this industry for over 25 years and have seen both good and bad writing. Gorrman’s writing is very good!”

Parked at Leo awards

Part of success is accepting both achievement and disappointment with grace. “Parked” received multiple nominations at the Leo Awards (Canadian based awards) in 2016 and a win for best actor (David Lewis). It was an instance of public affirmation in the industry for this production. With equal measure Lee describes, “It was a wonderful moment for all of us. While I remember that easily, I also remember the many long days and nights churning out ideas and breaking stories. I wish we could’ve come up with a way to shoot our original idea for the season finale. It was about Josh realizing that he had drunkenly donated sperm to a local sperm bank and convincing the other dads to help him break into the bank and steal it back. It was our take on a ‘bank heist’. Thinking back to this pitch still makes me chuckle. There’s always something to work towards.”