All posts by Lorraine Wilder

China’s Zanda Tang talks love of animation and the importance of research

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Zanda Tang

Hailing from Dalian, a coastal city in Northern China, Zanda Tang has made quite a name for himself both in his home country and around the world. With a unique style, he has become a leading Animation Concept Artist. He adopts a variety of painting techniques, always adapting to what each new project requires to best tell the story. He is constantly learning, staying up-to-date with the latest styles of painting, allowing him to jump out of his comfort zone and bring innovative ideas to whatever film he takes on.

“Animation is the least restrictive tool for spreading your ideas. It can be more exaggerated and imaginative than a movie. Compared with the words in books, it can more accurately convey your design and details. Now more and more movies use animation to help with shooting, which makes me more confident in this industry,” he said.

Tang has worked on a number of award-winning films alongside decorated colleagues. His film Lion Dance took home nine awards and was an Official Selection at over 30 international film festivals. He saw similar success with Diors Samurai and Baby and Granny, captivating audiences around the world. No matter the project, Tang makes sure to extensively research all aspects of the story, leaving no detail left behind.

“For example, if I were to design a kettle in an animation project, I would put in the work required to make it more than just a simple kettle. First of all, I would collect a lot of information about the kettle based on the story background and character information of the project. I would collect information from various fields, such as screenshots of illustrations on the ancient painting network, pictures of movies, pictures of goods online and even descriptions in books. When you have a lot of information elements, then the really interesting part starts. You can put all these different elements together and eventually you can design multiple designs based on the identity of the owner of the kettle and the environment. Each object becomes its own character, and that’s when the creativity of animation really shines,” he said.

This determination and talent is exemplified time and time again throughout Tang’s career. Last year, he had great success with many projects in China, from promotional campaigns to informational material. Early in 2018, he began working on Completion of the Compilation of the Chinese Dictionary for Baidu, the popular Chinese search engine. Tang’s work was similar to the Google Doodle, and was seen by millions.

The dictionary was compiled by more than 300 experts and scholars from Sichuan and Hubei provinces on March 9, 1968. The list includes about 56,000 words. It is the largest Chinese dictionary in the world with the largest collection of Chinese words and the most complete definitions. It is a large-scale Chinese special reference book for the purpose of explaining the shape, sound and meaning of Chinese characters. Tang took on the role of characters, props and environment designer. With the compilation of more and more materials, it gradually formed a huge Chinese dictionary, and the dictionary closed after it formed. Bai and Baidu were finally written in the data card.

In the Spring of 2018, Tang also had the honor of working with the China Academy of Space Technology on a 2D animation project. The video created shows the ancient beacon fire that was used to transmit information, and then the wild goose satellite appeared to complete the transformation of modern social satellite information transmission. This is followed by a demonstration of the practical application of the constellation of subsequent satellites in human society. Hundreds of them circle the earth and connect with each other, all of them reflecting the theme of “satellite application, light up life!”

Tang took on the visual design of the video. He used the planar design, because the proportion of the chopping screen is special. In order to make better use of the advantage of the ultra-wide screen, he used large scenes in the design to better show the world, the ocean and the universe.

Undoubtedly, Tang has had a formidable career in animation, and has no plans on slowing down. It was not always an easy road to get to where he is now, with times of self-doubt and the struggle to create. He is so glad he persisted and never gave up, and he encourages all those looking to follow in his footsteps to do the same.

“Having personality and style is a good skill. In this industry, having good painting skills and understanding more diverse painting styles is a foundation. Don’t be afraid to learn other people’s styles and don’t linger in your own safe zone. Challenge yourself so that you can bring yourself more surprises,” he advised.

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Zekun Mao talks importance of editing and new film ‘And The Dream That Mattered’

Beginning her career working on documentaries, Zekun Mao knows the power of editing in terms of filmmaking. Simply changing the order of a couple of shots can create a huge difference. Editing, therefore, is very crucial, and the final step in the storytelling process. A good editor can lift the story, not only telling the story itself, but also creating this beautiful flow for the audience. A good editor can not only tell the most powerful story, but also bring the entire audience into the film, letting them experience the story by themselves. An editor, according to Mao, can not only guide audiences’ eyes, but also their hearts.

The Chinese native is now an internationally sought-after editor, having worked on several critically acclaimed films, including Our Way HomeJie Jie, and Janek/Bastard. She always aims to be storyteller first, editor second, and this commitment to her craft is evident in all of her work.

One of Mao’s more recent films, And The Dream That Mattered, once again impressed audiences and critics alike. It follows an ambitious Asian actor who’s well on his way to Hollywood success when he returns home to Korea and soon discovers that even while reconnecting with family and loved ones, his creative journey ahead is even more lonely and difficult than he could have ever imagined.

“The ideas shown in the film are very contemporary and universal. They speak to a lot of young artists today, and the struggles they face in the modern world. I hope that by watching this, such people can find answers through their own interpretations of the film. I also hope it can encourage a lot of young artists today to pursue their dreams no matter what comes in their way. The film shows that even after a struggle, hard work eventually pays off,” said Mao.

Mao feels that the story, although it is about an actor, can apply to all artists. As an editor, she related to the story and the struggles the character goes through. She hopes many young people can feel something and know they aren’t alone when they watch the film.

Working on And The Dream That Mattered was an incredible experience for Mao. The film was shot without a typical script, in the style of a documentary, a genre she is extremely adept in. Her first step was to categorize the footage according to the emotions portrayed in it. Thereafter, she started building the narrative based on the ebb and flow of emotions in the footage. In doing so, Mao realized the film could play out like reading a book, and she decided to give each story segment a chapter name, summing up the main theme in each story.

“This project gave me a lot of creative freedom. Coming from a documentary background, the shooting style and the structure was very familiar to me. I enjoyed having nearly complete freedom in shaping the story according to what emotions I sensed throughout the footage. Because of this, I myself started reflecting on a lot of the questions that were posed in the characters’ lives. It felt not only like an editing process, but a life journey,” she said.

Mao lent a unique perspective to the narrative. The director and the actor both had their own ideas of what emotions they would emphasize in the film. Mao was able to filter through a lot of ideas from many team members and eventually put together a version that combined the best of everyone’s ideas, including her own. While working on the editing process, she suggested that the lead actor write letters to various important people in his life. These letters ended up being used as voice-overs throughout the film, which tied the film together.

And The Dream That Mattered has yet to make its way to film festivals, but it already took home the Best Independent Film Award at the Korean Cultural Academy Awards. Mao could not be more thrilled by the success the film has seen thus far. It has a lot of experimental elements to it, and it’s heartening for the editor to see such experimentation being appreciated.

“I’m happy that the writer, who is also the lead actor in the film, Jongman Kim, is getting the recognition he deserves. As the editor of this film, I’m thrilled that our hard work has the potential to bring about change to people’s lives,” she said.

Undoubtedly, Mao has had quite a career so far, and And The Dream That Matteredis just another example of what a force to be reckoned with she is. For those looking to follow their dreams and take on a career as a film editor, Mao says practice makes perfect.

“It is a hard job. It might seem very easy, just putting things together, but there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. It is an art form. You need to practice a lot. Editing is not just knowing how to use some software. It’s more about telling the stories. I would say be prepared. Be prepared to work very hard and be prepared to be criticized very hard too. Be patient, because it takes a very long time to figure out the best version of the story. Most importantly, be passionate, because it is a very exciting job,” she advised.

Canada’s Helena-Alexis Seymour plays her dream role in Amazon’s hit series

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Helena-Alexis Seymour

Helena-Alexis Seymour grew up on stage, never having an issue with being in the spotlight, literally. Growing up in the small town of Cornwall, Ontario, Canada, Seymour danced, did beauty pageants, and modeled. She loved the way she could express her creativity through such methods of performing. As she grew and started a successful modeling career, she realized another passion: acting. After booking her first commercial at only nine years old, she knew what her calling was.

“The more I acted, the more I realized that the artform was about more than me being creative, it was about how I was able to make the audience feel. Having someone watch your performance and be moved by it because they can relate, it reassures them that they are not alone. We all want to feel like we aren’t alone in this world so to be able to do that for someone makes it all worthwhile,” she said.

Now, millions around the world have seen Seymour in some of their favorite films and television shows. She is known for films like the blockbuster xXx: Return of Xander Cage starring Vin Diesel, as well as the multiple Academy Award winning film Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). The highlight of her esteemed career however, began last year when she was cast in the title role in Amazon’s award-winning original series Chronicles of Jessica Wu.

“Helena is a woman that exudes positive energy, so naturally she brightens up any room she steps in. She’s hardworking, humble, kind and so down to earth, which allowed for us to not only create great moments on camera, but many memorable moments off camera. It was a very rewarding experience and I hope it’s the first project of many that we get to work on together,” said Jasmine Hester, Seymour’s co-star on the show.

Chronicles of Jessica Wu is a story about a young girl on the Autism spectrum who has mastered martial arts. She becomes a Hero in her city and takes down some of the most ruthless villains in Los Angeles. Jessica’s genius ability and martial arts helps her become the most unique and fascinating Superhero of our time. Chronicles of Jessica Wu is a fun, action-packed, and exciting series for the entire family.

“I love how the story showed a strong, bi-racial, woman on the autistic spectrum living a very normal life. She is highly functional and lives quite like everyone else. Bringing awareness to the autism spectrum is something that we all need to experience. Being more inclusive of each other and more loving to each other. Everyone in this world is different and going through something so the more we can open our minds to it, the more compassionate as a whole we become,” said Seymour.

The character of Jessica Wu is driven, focused, ambitious, strong yet quite shy, and vulnerable all at the same time. She is loyal and expects the same loyalty in return. She believes her autism is a strength and uses it to her advantage. She is an intellectual genius and is always two steps ahead in her mind. She uses her amazing mathematical abilities to solve certain issues in her life as well as in her fighting when acting as the superhero named Equation.

“Helena-Alexis is a complete joy to work with. From her dedication, preparation, and delivery performances on and off set, she is the total package. Helena captures the true essence of an individual not defined by any disabilities or anything else. You will surely see how she brings the character Jessica Wu to a full circle of life. Her preparation and dedication to make our show the very best and to reach its maximum potential is truly appreciated. We couldn’t be more pleased and prouder of her work. Seriously, her performance on this show is must see TV,” said Brandon Larkins, Executive Producer.

Stepping into the show during its second season and taking over for the actress that played Jessica Wu in the show’s first season, Seymour had her work cut out for her; she had to honor a character that had already been established in fans’ minds while still making it her own. To do so, she extensively researched autism and what that would mean for her character. She had a great time recreating the character and experiencing life through her eyes. Seymour discovered what Jessica’s values were, what her strengths and weaknesses were, the type of music she listens to, the type of guy she crushes on and even what zodiac sign she was. With all that knowledge, she used it to mold Jessica Wu’s personality, and essentially, her soul.  Luckily, Seymour has a kickboxing/martial arts background, and was able to use those skills when playing Jessica.

I loved everything about working on this. I loved playing a double life as Jessica Wu and Equation,” said Seymour. “I loved working on set with such inspiring and grounded cast and crew members. When you are surrounded by love, light and greatness you naturally will vibrate to that frequency, so I am so grateful that every day was positive and that we were free to create great art together.”

The Chronicles of Jessica Wu is truly fun for the entire family. Seymour is excited by the show’s success already, and for the future seasons to come. She knows the importance of shows like this and is happy to be portraying a such a unique character that the world needs to see.

“This is only the beginning of major change in the television and film industry. We need more ethnic superheroes on the big and small screen. The world is full of different people with different backgrounds. We must continue to open our eyes to them and the gifts that they have to offer not only to this generation but the younger generations to come. It is up to us to show the youth that they matter and that there is someone just like them on the screen who is strong, capable and worthy. Being able to do that for a young child whether with autism or not means that I have done my job,” she concluded.

Be sure to check out the second season of Chronicles of Jessica Wu on Amazon when it is released on April 2nd.

YouTuber James “Jameskii” Prime meets fans in-game playing “Ring of Elysium”

Having always has a passion for playing video games, James “Jameskii” Prime spends each and every day doing what he loves. The popular YouTuber has millions of fans across the globe, that tune into each and every new video he uploads. His unique parody style content based on video games and web culture has vastly resonated with his audience.

“I can be anywhere at any point of time and create content for people across the entire globe just with an access to a phone or computer. Being raised in a poor neighborhood, I would’ve never imagined that it would even be possible. It’s incredible. Influencers and internet personalities are a huge part of our modern culture now and we take it for granted these days. I can’t even imagine it being taken away from us one day. I reckon if we were still stuck with 56 kb/s dial up internet modems, things would be completely different, in a bad way of course,” he said.

Jameskii currently has over 1.4 million subscribers on YouTube. His videos amass anywhere between 600 thousand and 11 million views, with continuous comments from fans supporting his work. Just last year, he attended the biggest event for video game streamers in the world, Twitchcon, as a Twitch partner, and co-hosted the Jingle Jam 2018, a series of livestreams that are shown over the course of December each year with the intention to raise money for various charities.

With his immense popularity, Jameskii also had the opportunity last year to strike a brand deal with Tencent Games, the world’s largest gaming company, and one of the most valuable technology conglomerates, largest social media companies, and largest venture capital firms and investment corporations in the world.

“When Tencent Games reached out to me with a brand deal I just couldn’t say no. I’m usually down to do brand deals with products I like, use or would recommend to someone, so it was a win-win for everyone really,” he said.

As part of Jameskii’s deal with Tencent, he was asked to make a dedicated promotional video for the game Ring of Elysium. In doing so, he handled everything, including recording gameplay with friends, writing down ideas to setting up skit situations in-game and editing the outcome footage. The result of his efforts turned out to be a hilarious montage of his adventures in the snow land of Ring of Elysium.

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Jameskii’s in-game meetup in “Ring of Elysium”

“It was pretty much like working on any other video of mine, still the same bizarre style and total hilarious nonsense. I like messing around in games and doing things that aren’t really intended by the developers, so we tried a lot of random stuff like launching cars in the sky for example. The developers really loved my approach which means a lot to me. I love game studios with a sense of humor,” he said.

Tencent games also provided Jameskii with access to hosting his own private lobbies for his viewers. He held multiple games allowing fans to join him during his live streams, inviting his fans to meet him in-game. In one instance, he had over fifty fans joining him for a snowboard race, which is no small feat considering the size of the map, and the fact that the objective of the game is to eliminate other players.

“Even if it’s a brand deal, I can’t see myself making boring videos that aren’t fun for me and my viewers. I always want to be sure my content is enjoyable for everyone,” he said. “This game hadn’t been released in Europe yet, so I loved the fact that I got an early access to the game I was already excited for. I like trying out new games especially with unusual genres or unique mechanics, so it was a fun experience.”

The partnership between Jameskii and Tencent proved fruitful for all parties involved. The video created a vast amount of interest in the game for viewers, bringing many new players to the game that helped jump-start its popularity during the game’s launch in Europe. As of now, it is one of the most popular and most played games according to Steam statistics. Jameskii’s initial video featuring game play has over 800,000 views.

“It’s cool that influencers like me have an ability to jump start new projects. I love discovering and trying out new things, so it’s always awesome to bring life to a new project which allows its creators to do more creative decisions with unpredictable results. Creativity and originality are essential when it comes to entertainment in my opinion. I reckon it would be worse if all games had mechanics that are way too similar because the developers would be afraid to innovate in fear of the project’s failure. Of course, you can always rely on ideas that worked for years, but I think influencers heavily encourage people to try out new things, both when it comes to creation and consumption,” he concluded.

Jameskii is one of YouTube’s most popular video game content creators, and he has no plans on slowing down. Check out his YouTube channel for more funny videos and updates to what promises to be another exciting year.

Britain’s Janine Gateland stars in award-winning new horror flick

As an actress, Janine Gateland’s primary responsibility is simple: to tell stories. She takes words off a page and transforms them into a living, breathing person. Whether it be through a camera lens, on stage, or just with her voice and a microphone, she brings a character to life, causing an emotional reaction from her audience. For Gateland, she loves the world of make believe and being able to portray different people in different situations, dealing with life’s obstacles and challenges is what she lives for.

“Acting is unpredictable. It’s never mundane, it’s always an adventure because you don’t always know what job is going to come next. One minute you could be filming in a studio lot or on stage and the next in the woods or up a mountain. From the moment you pick up the script you are at the start of a journey of that character and their story. I love the fact that you learn so much about yourself through storytelling,” she said.

Gateland’s passion translates directly into every project she takes on and is exactly why she is such a sought-after actress both in her home of the United Kingdom and internationally. This is exemplified with her films such as Modern American Nightmare, which will soon be available on Amazon Prime’s streaming service,and The Closing, as well as the highly-anticipated new television series Illville.

One of the highlights of Gateland’s esteemed career came when working on the 2017 film F***, Marry, Kill. The horror flick follows three sisters traveling through the Mojave Desert on their way to their brother’s wedding. A sinister turn of events leads them to a twisted, maddening town where a psychotic, cult-like community kidnaps women and forces them to marry, procreate or be sacrificed. These residents seem hell bent on making it their final destination.

“I like the story because it is so real. F***, Marry, Killis actually based on a game.  People tend to play it at office parties, and I had heard Howard Stern was playing it on the radio. In the film we are playing the game in the car journey for fun, little did we know that would end up being our fate. The main guy in the film who you think is sweet and harmless ends up kidnapping my sister. Like most siblings, we knew we had to go on this car journey and somehow get along. What I like about the film is, even though all 3 sisters come from different lifestyles and bicker, they become a girl powered strong team when things go badly wrong,” said Gateland.

The film is, in Gateland’s words, “very girl powered”. Her character, Tiffany, is the oldest of the siblings. She had a great job, husband, and she was happy. However, everything went wrong when her husband cheated on her. She turned to drowning her sorrows with alcohol and becoming a bit too much of a free spirit. She shows up on the road trip to her brother’s wedding with her new fling of the month, who also happens to be a drug dealer. As the eldest sibling, she knows she’s always being judged by her sisters, but after everything she has been through, she doesn’t care anymore.  When the journey takes a turn for the worst and their lives are in danger, Tiffany realizes she has to step up and becomes the strong, ballsy sister who has to protect her sisters. The role really pushed Gateland’s boundaries both physically and mentally as an actor.

fmk poster

F***, Marry, Kill premiered in 2017 at Sunscreen Film Festival. From there, it had an incredible film festival run. It has won several awards, including the Semi-Finalist Award at Los Angeles CineFest, Honorable Mention at Los Angeles Movie Awards, and was a winner at Hollywood Verge Film Awards and Direct Monthly Online Film Festival, to name a few. Such success could never have been possible without Gateland’s captivating performance as Tiffany.

“It is a wonderful feeling and I am so proud to be a part of it. A lot of hard work went into the film and I know I worked hard to make my role as memorable as possible. We were very lucky because we made time for rehearsals too, which doesn’t always happen in film. I am so pleased the film has got into so many festivals around the world and there is still more we are waiting on,” said Gateland.

Undoubtedly, Gateland is an exceptional actress, with an impressive career behind her and much more to look forward to. She has no plans on slowing down, as each time she steps onto a film set, she feels the same adrenaline rush that she did the first time. For those looking to follow their dreams into acting, she offers some wise words based off her years of experience.

“Make sure it’s something that you can’t imagine living life without. It has to be your passion and you have to be good. The amount of rejection you get can have an effect on your confidence. You have to be able to take risks and have a real drive to really want it, otherwise go home. You can’t be lazy, you have to put in the work 150 per cent and keep at it. To be successful can take years of training, experience and building relationships. It’s usually very rare to get that ‘big break’ when someone notices you, so you have to go out and find the work yourself.  Plus having a strong support system is tremendously important and having a motivated and well-connected representation that has your back,” she advised.

Check out F***, Marry, Kill, and be sure to keep an eye out for Gateland’s future works.

 

Top photo by Joseph Sinclair

From 1st AC to DP: Carl Nenzén Lovén’s Journey to Leading the Camera Department

Cinematographer Carl Lovén
Cinematographer Carl Nenzén Lovén

Today we live in a visually driven society more than ever before, but when it comes to film and television, striking visuals have always been key to drawing audiences into the stories on screen. Yet with all of the visual content out there today, having spot-on visuals are even more paramount to the success of a production.  

As the cinematographer and head of the camera departments on recent projects such as the film “Saili- The Light,” an Official Selection of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, the upcoming feature film “I Will Make You Mine” and the music video for the band Twiceyoung’s hit song “Keep,” Carl Nenzén Lovén knows all about creating powerful visuals.  

Managing an entire department on any film crew is an arduous task, but being the head of the camera department is arguably one of the most challenging. From overseeing the lighting, the shot sequences and angles, and so much more, being a project’s cinematographer requires vast technical knowledge, not mention immense creativity.

Before making his way to the head of the camera department, Lovén honed his skills as the 1st AC on a plethora of high-profile projects, such as multi-award winning director Emily Ting’s dramatic film “Go Back to China” starring award-winning actress Anna Akana (“Youth and Consequences”), and Shuaiyu Liu’s film “Underground” starring John Carney from the award-winning thriller “Jake’s Dead” and Barnaby Falls from the award-winning film “Ride.”

For those who aren’t familiar with the work of the 1st AC, they are the ones behind the scenes who help recommend the proper camera, lenses and support gear, and they’re often the one responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gear. From ordering the gear before production begins to setting up the equipment and ensuring the shots are blocked off so the cameras are ready to roll once the director calls “Action,” Lovén quickly proved himself as an adept figure within the camera department.

“I like to look at the job as 1st AC as the nerd of the camera crew. If the camera operator is the quarterback, the 1st is the one that knows all the plays, and is ready to feed them to the operator,” explains Lovén. “He or she is the expert of the camera team, and everything it entails, and also the MacGyver that is suppose to solve any issue when they happen on set. But also a person of fine motor skills, being able to read each situation and adjust focus for every camera move.”

Hailing from Sweden, Lovén actually began working as a photographer in his teens, but found the medium too limiting for the time of stories he wanted to tell. Still, his early experiences as a photographer, combined with his work as a 1st AC, have endowed him with a rare and masterful knowledge concerning the best cameras, lenses and other technical equipment needed to capture the shots required by the vast range of productions he leads as a cinematographer.

When asked about how working as a 1st AC has helped lead him to become a better cinematographer, Lovén said, “To me, this is like asking, ‘Have being a mechanic helped you become a better race car driver?’ Anyone can get inside the car and drive Daytona, but not everyone can get that car running if anything happens. Being a 1st AC have given me the opportunity to learn so much about the camera and how it works in tandem with the lenses.”

Considering the look and vibe of the visuals vary greatly from project to project, having a keen understanding of the precise equipment needed to deliver the director’s vision is key to Lovén’s work as a cinematographer. With the variety of projects Lovén’s shot to date ranging from feature films and music videos to commercials for the likes of CarGurus, a leading online auto sales website, he has used practically every tool of the trade.

Setting aside the cameras and lenses that are needed for specific projects, Lovén admits that his camera of choice is the Aaton LTR, which shoots on 16mm film.

“I have used it a few times. And it is the successor to the camera I own myself, the Eclair ACL… it just works. It’s a no-nonsense, no-bullshit camera. It is French, it is perfectly balanced, it shoots film, and it is quiet.”

But in the modern age where so much of what we see is digitally shot, Lovén also has his favored camera for shooting digital.

“If I had to pick a digital one, I would go with the Alexa Classic EV. I really try to stay away from digital, but the old Alexa is a workhorse really. You can throw anything at it, and it just works, any day of the week.”

Though choosing an effective camera body for the job is imperative, having the right lens is probably even more important. Considering that there is definitely no shortage of lenses on the current market, knowing which one to choose takes an experienced practitioner.

Lovén says, “The classical Zeiss Super Speeds Mark I or II are my favourite. They just look amazing in whatever camera you put them on. They take away that digital feel on modern cameras, but throw it on a Arricam LT and it will do the same job.”

Having spent years immersed in the camera departments on numerous projects, Carl Nenzén Lovén is well-versed in the world of cameras, lenses and all of the other technical equipment required to make a project a success; and all of this has added up to make him the sought after cinematographer he is today.

 

A Child Prodigy: Chapter Two

Lorenzo Pelosini
Italian Novelist Lorenzo Pelosini

What happens to child prodigies when they grow up?

The proof that such genius doesn’t always die off is in Lorenzo Pelosini’s last novel, River Runner – The Golden Thread. It was John Irving who first noticed Pelosini’s early development as a narrative genius. The best-selling author read The Flight of the Hawk, written by Pelosini when he was only 14 years old, and decided to promote his young fellow author with a flattering introduction to his novel. And in 2014 Pelosini’s transition into a full-grown talent was confirmed with the release of his novel River Runner- The Golden Thread.

In the case of River Runner, it was the famous critic Fabio Canessa, an Italian authority on film and international literature, who discovered the novel, and expanded its notoriety across Italy. Ironically enough, the struggle for this specific form of talent to transition from childhood to maturity is also the central conflict of the story within River Runner. In fact, it is this meta-narrative reflection that makes the novel so brilliant. The main character’s battle to escape his prison is the perfect parallel to the one the author faced himself. In spite of that, this isn’t a story fueled by narcissism. It is one that’s propelled by an authentic desire for freedom, a motivation to grow into a more honest version of oneself, something we can all relate to. Although River Runner is indeed a fantasy, at least officially, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings aren’t the tales that come to mind, instead, it is a cross between Shawshank Redemption and The Truman Show.

While fantastic literature and movies of the same genre take us up in the air and out of our world for a ride, River Runner takes us deep within it, straight into the very core of our personal little world, where our greatest demons lie alongside the best parts of us. This is essentially why River Runner works. It succeeds where many stories fail in the sense that it offers us a looking glass into the terrifying and often hidden parts of our souls– which are arguably the most valuable. This is not to say that the novel is the best product to come out of the world of popular young adult narratives. In fact, we are not talking about excellence, but rather, transcendence. If we visualize contemporary literature as a two-dimensional flat land, to quote Edwin Abbott Abbott, excellence would be creating a product that extends miles and miles in the two dimensions that such flatland conceives. On the other hand, transcendence would be moving even just one inch up, into that third dimension which lies all around it, yet almost inconceivable.

There is so much more potential to be explored in Pelosini’s already breathtaking repertoire of work as a writer. His fluid style stretches light years beyond his age, something that is clearly revealed within the pages of River Runner. And whereas excellence is surely encrypted in this young author’s future, transcendence is already a part of his present.

There is a sharp edge in River Runner that tears a hole in the placenta that each person needs to outgrow in order to be reborn. Such birth isn’t the obligatory one we all undergo, nor is it a regular transition into adulthood. It is an alternative. A peek into something beyond our everyday existence and step onto a path that we do not often imagine. Not only is this transcendent quality rare, it is also essential to every time, decade and generation. And since hope and its nature is essentially the content of River Runner, we can only hope for Pelosini to soon deliver a successful continuation of this trans-dimensional saga. Thankfully for us, he intends River Runner to be the first novel in a highly anticipated trilogy.

 

Hollywood Recognizes Filmmaker Livi Zheng as Asian Pioneer

Livi Zheng and Terrence Howard at the Unforgettable Gala

“When I first started my career in film someone told me that I am everything wrong about a director, because I am Asian,  I am a woman and I am young.” That was the opening salvo in Livi Zheng’s speech at the Unforgettable Gala. Zheng was honored with an award as an Asian pioneer in Hollywood along with the actor John Cho and the Director of Crazy Rich Asians, Jon M. Chu.  The speech was unforgettable; the crowd cheered for the young director at the conclusion of her speech.

Already a household name in Indonesia, Zheng’s rise to fame in the United States is not a surprise to her many followers back home. She is the product of three countries: Indonesia, China, and the United States. A simple search of her name will show Zheng’s popularity amongst Indonesians and Chinese and the enthusiasm they express for this talented young filmmaker.

Who is Livi Zheng? She’s an Chinese-Indonesian director who directed her first feature film at the young age of twenty-three. Her directing debut Brush with Danger released theatrically in the US and was distributed internationally. Besides directing, Zheng has spoken and lectured at more than 30 universities worldwide including Yale University, University of Southern California (USC) and University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Communications University of China, and the University of Indonesia. Zheng graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Washington-Seattle and a Masters in Film Production from USC. She is a prolific and respected speaker and was invited to speak at the Annual Meetings of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund (IMF) at the World Bank Headquarters in Washington D.C..

Zheng spent her young adult life as a martial artist. She got her start as a stuntwoman but soon realized the power of storytelling. She embarked on an odyssey to realize her dreams; that decision has catapulted her as a leader in the new generation of upcoming directors in the film business. Her remarkable confidence and bubbly personality is paired with her humility. When interviewed, Zheng never forgets to mention her roots.

Just this year, Zheng brought the vibrant world of Bali: Beats of Paradise to screens when it premiered at the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences and Arts in Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.  The 1010 seat theater was filled to capacity.  The Academy security was even surprised at the draw this movie had compared to many big studio movies that have premiered at the same venue. The documentary narrative did so well that a Disney Animation Executive in attendance invited Zheng to screen the film for other heads of departments at Disney.

Zheng is not only an inspiration to young women and people of color within the United States but also to people around the world. She’s truly a one of a kind director who bridges the West and the East .

Actor Tennille Read Shines on “Workin’ Moms”

Award-winning actor Tennille Read’s versatility and drive have propelled her through a remarkable career, one where she gracefully slides from stage to film and television with chameleonic quicksilver grace. The charming, Toronto-based Read’s mixture of talent, training and intriguing good looks qualify her as a commanding presence, one that’s equal parts reserved dignity and combustible whimsy, an irresistible combination which serves as an ideal foundation for characterizations in any genre—comedy, drama, adventure or fantasy.

Read, who took the Best Actor award for her lead performance in the stylish drama “I Lost My Mind” at 2018’s Hollywood North Film Festival, is experiencing a burst of creative and career momentum. She recently landed her first recurring role on a television series, another significant step forward in the ambitious player’s roster of professional achievement, and one that she found particularly rewarding.

“The show is called ‘Workin’ Moms,’ on CBC in Canada,” Read said. “It’s a funny and poignant half  hour show about the struggles women face when balancing a career with motherhood, and unabashedly shows the messy challenges of parenting. I really enjoyed doing this project because the people I work with are incredibly nice and I was familiar with some of the crew from past projects. We became an ensemble, similar to being the cast of a theatre production, which really makes a difference—I like that immensely. “

For Read, this represents an upshift which signals both peer appreciation and an affirmation of her formidable capabilities—even though she can’t reveal too much about the project.

photos by Hamish Birt

“The show starts its third season in January,” Read said. “But because it hasn’t aired yet, I’m not allowed to spill any details about my character or the season’s story arc. I can’t even talk about it with friends or family. After all, if you knew what happened in advance, you probably wouldn’t want to watch it and we want all our viewers to be on the same page and see the show unfold as planned.”

Created by American sitcom veteran Catherine Reitman (“Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “Black-ish”), who also stars, produces and writes the popular, International Emmy-nominated series, is an ideal platform for Read.

“Developing my character for ‘Workin’ Moms’ was fun, but it was also driven by many questions,” Read said. “I wasn’t given much information about my character in the beginning, only got scripts for the first few episodes so I had to really mine them for details about characterization. I think the writers were still figuring her out themselves, but that meant I got to bring a lot of my own interpretation to set and the character got crafted along the way very organically as a result.”

While she isn’t free to share any details in depth, viewers can clearly expect some emotional fireworks from the talented actor.

“My character’s story arc was very satisfying to explore,” Read said. “I can’t say much specifically, but I can say that the challenges she faced are very relevant to many women in their child-bearing years. While I haven’t personally had the experience she had, some of my friends have gone through it and I have nothing but empathy for them. My character makes some pretty bold choices from episode to episode as the season unfolds that shed more light on her inner workings.”

Read’s reputation as coolly reliable pro was tested, memorably, on what turned out to be a particularly challenging location shoot.

“On the final day of shooting it seemed like every possible obstacle came out of the woodwork,” Read said. “We were on a street in downtown Toronto on the Friday leading up to the Labor Day long weekend. There was an airshow scheduled for the weekend, but on that specific Friday, the planes were practicing their routines, right above us. So, our dialogue was already competing with aircrafts roaring by, when a random car ran out of gas on the streetcar tracks beside us. It wasn’t long before we had a bunch of streetcars piling in. Then, someone thought they smelled gas and called 911 so we had a whole fire brigade siren in. They stopped traffic in both directions while they investigated the stalled car and the “gas leak.” Trying to keep focused and to stay in the scene was no easy feat. But all the crew and actors rose to the occasion and got it done. In fact, it became ridiculously funny—we kept asking ourselves ‘what’s next?’”

Read’s poise, versatility and patience are matched only by her deep well of dramatic skill, creativity and in-the-moment flexibility. It’s a winning formula which has consistently elevated her standing in film, theater and television and is certain to continue her ascent as an in-demand actor.

“TV shoots very fast, which is what I love about it,” Read said. “It demands that I be ready, able and present from the very first rehearsal until they call wrapped. Being relaxed and open to the other actors in the scene and my own impulses is key. It’s not always easy to do when there’s so much activity swirling around me on set—but I think that’s the enjoyable challenge.”

Challenging perspectives with esteemed screenwriter Varunn Pandya

The House_Headshot
Varunn Pandya, photo by Chaaritha Dheerasinghe

Christopher Reeves once said, “so many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.” For esteemed writer and screenwriter, Varunn Pandya, this mentality is all of the inspiration he needs to remind himself that with the right amount of hard work and dedication, he is able to achieve everything he sets his heart to. Growing up, the talented creative found himself inspired by Reeves’ interpretation of one of society’s token superheroes and credits his ability to play Superman as being one of the characters that initially sparked his interest in film. From there, he immersed himself into every avenue that the industry has to offer and found a love for the profession he now calls his own. As for his desire to create, it is stronger than ever before, and he has a knack for finding unique ways to showcase that will to the world.

“As a writer and screenwriter, I develop stories that I aim to show or display to the world in a way they’ve not necessarily experienced before. As I also like to direct, I try to write stories that I can bring a unique perspective to. Because I was born in India, I like to think that I bring some unique ideas to the United States and that I help to break some of the stereotypes associated with living on the Eastern side of the world,” told Pandya.

As he continues to navigate his way through the arts and entertainment industry, Pandya often finds himself taken aback by the breadth of opportunities and the amount of creative freedom he is allowed to use in order to imagine without limits and tell truly compelling stories. He has a reputation for finding areas of film that touch his audiences and he manages to do so in a way that keeps content fresh and engaging. In addition, he takes great pride in knowing that through his words and the stories that he brings to life, he has a grand platform to challenge the minds of his viewers and allow them to open their eyes to societal issues that they may or may not even be aware of. For instance, in his script XYZ where Pandya, alongside Badar AlShuaib, cast an important light on the unconscious, and sometimes conscious, bias that human beings exhibit toward their own race. In another of his scripts, The House, Pandya attempted to step outside of himself and allow his audiences to see the world from a perspective other than their own.

The House tells the story of Carl, a homeless man living in Los Angeles struggling to find a human connection amidst the repercussions of a rough upbringing. The storyline follows Carl’s daily routine as he collects metal scraps from the areas surrounding him and food from the trash in order to sustain himself. One fateful day, however, Carl comes across a family in his neighborhood and he grows a fascination for them. As the story progresses, viewers are taken on a journey through Carl and the family’s interactions. The story reminds us that regardless of our life circumstances, our skin color, our nationality, or whatever other features we use to distinguish ourselves from others, we are not all that different on the inside. We share similar emotions and at the end of the day, we are all human. Sometimes it just takes a little reminding from people like Pandya.

For The House, Pandya managed to develop a script in just four days. Writing it felt natural and he did everything in his power to keep the content as raw and powerful as possible. Wherever he could make the script seem realistic, he did just that and attempted to ensure that the script demanded empathy from its audience. He also made a particular effort to cast Carl in a different light than most homeless individuals are seen in. He wanted to show the world that not all homeless individuals intend to be, nor does their living situation make them any less human than the rest of us.

Up until The House, Pandya had only really ever worked with thrillers. What he loved most, therefore, about this project was the fact that it allowed him to step into unchartered territory and to explore an area of society he hadn’t otherwise given much thought into. He takes great pride in knowing that his script has the power to change the minds of many as they engage with the script and consider their actions from there forward. In the end, Pandya was not the only one who found a love for the script. In fact, The House went on to win a number of prestigious awards, such as Best Short Screenplay at the Five Continents International Cult Film Festival in June 2018 and at the Calcutta International Film Festival in September 2018.

“It feels great to know that the script has been widely appreciated by people all over the world. This script will always remain one of the most memorableprojects I’ve written as I think it’s the most personal story I have written despite it being based on a character that is very different from me,” he concluded.