Category Archives: Artist

SONGWRITER DARCY CALLUS PROFESSES THAT LA IS STILL THE MELTING POT OF THE ARTS

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Sometimes the most valuable things are right in front of you and go unnoticed, or at the very least underappreciated. America constantly produces musical artists who are lauded and respected all over the world. Yet these artists often go through many years of struggle as they mature into the icons they aspire to become. The US public doesn’t often stop to consider the fact that this training ground in which we live is a shining star to artists of the world. This has always been obvious to Australian Darcy Callus. This artist has long dreamed of being a part of the musical community which he believes to be the home of the elite, Los Angeles. While there are numerous locations in the world with talented artists, Callus readily admits that the concentration of world class artists per capita in LA is unlike any other place on the planet. As an award-winning jazz pianist turned pop artist (he was one of the finalists on Australia’s X Factor), Darcy has a deep understanding of the difference between being a “one hit wonder” who got lucky and being an artist who cultivates a long career with depth. He is also not afraid to, as he puts it, “Follow his nose where it leads” him. When the opportunity to work with LA based singer/songwriter Rotana Tarabzouni presented itself to him, Darcy was eager to work with such a talented artist and spend some time in the city he considers to be the center of the industry.

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While Darcy has been associated with such music industry luminaries as Dave Stroud (known for his work with Prince, Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, Kelly Clarkson, and Michael Jackson), multi-platinum producer Bryan Todd, and others; writing with Rotana gave him the opportunity to work with a brand new artist in the States who shares an international view of the US as he does. Tarabzouni grew up in Dhahran, on the Gulf coast of Saudi Arabia. To state that her experience as an artist in her homeland was not encouraged is a drastic understatement. Women are not exactly groomed to seek out fame as a popstar in her homeland. On a family vacation in Boston, she spontaneously went to an audition and received massive encouragement. That was enough to convince Rotana that she needed to pursue her dream in America. Callus received no persecution in his native home of Australia and was even a sensation on Australia’s X Factor. Still, he also understood the potential of the US music community and opportunities which the industry’s infrastructure afforded the talented and hard working. The two met at an artists get together and recognized the musical counterpoint in each other’s talent. Darcy states, “We definitely clicked immediately in terms of wanting to create music that was original and personal, not derivative and following what was popular at the moment. Even more importantly, I understood where she was coming from as a songwriter and what she was trying to express.” Describing the process, he continues, “Rotana is truly gifted when it comes to melodies. She comes up with them quite quickly and they are very strong. All of my training in music allowed me to quickly understand what she was looking for and find the harmony to her melodies on piano. There was a specific color tone that propelled the emotion she wanted to communicate. If you can understand an artist both musically and professionally, you can help them as well as excite them about their own music.”

The US is a country which prides itself on so many aspects that are prominent in the working relationship between Darcy and Rotana. A country which accepts those from other lands, in pursuit of their dreams, with the ability to express themselves freely…it’s as representative of the American Dream as the Westward Expansion. Callus comments, “There’s no doubt that both of us feel fortunate to be here in LA among the greats. You literally can walk into a club, restaurant, coffee shop, whatever, and run into an artist you have listened to your whole life. Of course what we’re really here to do is work. It’s amazing that I can meet an artist like Rotana and immediately begin creating music with an almost unspoken approach. I’m sure that this is all because of the group of artists who are known everywhere in the world…in places like Australia, Saudi Arabia, and almost every other place on the planet. As an artist and musician, you feel like you are in the center of the universe when you are here…and that inspires you even more.”

Success in never guaranteed but is already evident in the work that Callus and Tarabzouni have done. Rotana’s debut single “Daddy” was co-written and arranged by Darcy. The single was playlisted on Apple’s “Hot Pop Tracks” for weeks as well as Spotify’s US VIRAL 50. Some of the music Callus wrote with Rotana was debuted at The 2017 Sundance Film Festival “A Celebration of Music and Film Concert”. At this concert, Rotana shared the stage with Common, Andra Day, Jim James, Hunter Hayes, Peter Dinklage, Ava DuVernay, and more. Early indicators like these give presumptions that the music which Callus and Rotana created together is going to have every bit of the impact that had hoped to achieve. Darcy smiles as he communicates, “I have quite a history of working with extremely talented female vocalists. It’s interesting that in this situation the vocalist is a woman and her femininity is celebrated while she is in control. As a man, I’m in the supportive role (playing piano). They are exhibiting strength as well as a softer side. I love that about music. It allows these situations that you won’t find in all walks of life. Artists are celebrated and encouraged to express what is unique about themselves.”

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When questioned about his experience thus far in LA, Darcy confirms, “I am Australian and I love Australia but I feel that the US audience is much more willing to have an open mind. American audiences want to give you a chance. Many artists have said that you have to become famous and accepted somewhere else and then come back home to be recognized. There’s a little truth in that. If you go anywhere else and say you are an LA musician, you are instantly seen in a different light. People assume that you are great and…to be honest, to be a successful LA artist…you have to be great!”

GREENWOOD ISN’T AFRAID OF THE ANTI-SEQUEL

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There is a quote that is attributed to many fine actors that states, “Dying is easy. Comedy is difficult.” It has been repeated by Academy Award winners like Gregory Peck and Jack Lemmon (most consider Edmund Kean to be the originator) and speaks to the fact that making something seem spontaneous and light hearted takes a fair bit more convincing than a dire situation. There’s also a fairly common belief that the film industry takes itself too seriously and rejects mockery. This is a notion to which Canadian writer/producer/actor Troy Greenwood does not subscribe. As a part of the FAFC (Film Actors Fight Club), Greenwood helped create the award winning film Diamond Planet. With a very self-deprecating approach, Diamond Planet poked fun at filmmakers, the film industry, and even film students. In this production, fools abounded while intelligence was scarce. The film was so popular that Troy decided to write/produce and act in the sequel…a sequel which is in fact about a film that is not yet a film. As proof that filmmakers revel in self ridicule, Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon was embraced with greater enthusiasm than the original (winning at the Calgary Film Challenge and going on to screen at the Sun and Sand Film Festival in Mississippi). Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon is a testament to the fact that as long as creative individuals take themselves too seriously, there will be peers among them who remind us all how absurd they seem.

It has increasingly become commonplace for filmmakers to feed upon themselves, recycling films and themes from the past, sometimes even repeating the same current day premise but with different casts. While Diamond Planet shone a light on laughable concepts in modern film, Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon turns its gaze to the film industry’s lack of originality and ingenuity. It seems that the current M.O. is to go for a wide audience that assures box office rather than fosters new ideas and artists; at least for the most part. Greenwood had a clear idea for a sequel which immediately follows the action of the first film. In Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon, Ollie Swagger (the filmmaker from the original Diamond Planet) steals the idea for the “Diamond Planet” that was pitched in the first film. He’s going to try and sell the idea to a studio at the annual pitchtime event. Unfortunately for Ollie, when he was bragging about it the night before the meeting, his nemesis overheard him. The next day when they are seated together, Swagger starts into a pitch about “Diamond Planet”. In the film’s premise, the Diamond Planet will cross between the sun and the earth, magnifying the sun’s rays and burning the earth to a crisp. The government wants to send optometrists into space to change the curvature of the Diamond Planet rendering the rays harmless. However, Swagger’s nemesis jumps in, pitching his movie “Emerald Horizon” about a giant emerald planet and ophthalmologists in space. We, as the actual audience, see cuts back and forth between trailers for these films as they are pitched. Each trailer becomes more and more ridiculous until they’re basically turned into one complete parody of a movie; to which the studio’s representative responds “I like it, but how about a hamster!” The unseen wink with which Greenwood delivers the humor is obvious to all. One need not look too far into recent movie productions to see evidence of this scenario. Cutting to the core of the movie’s lesson, Troy notes, “Anything that tries too hard to purport itself is funny.”

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Due to the nature of “Diamond Planet” (the spoof movie) being a science fiction suspense thriller, the production value and the cast for this sequel necessitated a sizable increase from the original Diamond Planet. Because the original was so successful, it helped to propel much of the original cast and crew into busier careers and thus some key players proved unavailable for this sequel. Luckily the popularity of Diamond Planet attracted the interest and involvement of a large number of respected Canadian actors (both films are Canadian productions). This included noted theater and film actor Stuart Bentley. Greenwood’s prowess at a multitude of production roles, in addition to the script is what enticed Bentley to join the cast of Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon. He comments, “Over the years, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with Troy Greenwood on stage and in film. In a production of Inherit the Wind Troy gave a masterfully understated and relatable performance of the accused schoolteacher, Bertram Cates. Troy effortlessly navigated this difficult character, drawing in audiences and critical approval. I had the opportunity to act in Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon which Troy wrote, directed, and starred in. Troy had written a wonderfully funny script, and easily navigated the tricky job of acting and directing in his own production. He took great care of his cast and crew, and kept the production flowing on time, while being careful to ensure that every needed master and coverage shot was captured to realize his artistic vision. Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon was a great success with judges and audiences and continues to be one of my favorite film projects of the past several years.” In addition to Bentley, the considerably larger cast included notables such as Jesse Collin (Fargo), Helen Young, and many others. Troy remarks, “Stuart, Louie, and Helen were all a breeze to work with. Stuart’s presence as the president had a great gravitas to it.  He really milked the moments of humour in the script, nailing the timing of lines to keep the pacing moving as the film progressed. Helen was also wonderful to work with. I had an interesting shot envisioned where the camera rotates around her before landing on the president; she was a trooper repeating the sequence a number of times while we worked out the technical kinks with the camera movement.”

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Another positive aspect of any sequel is that the success of the initial production allows for a higher production value in the second installment. The aforementioned larger cast and a greater array of interesting locations (including the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory, and the Springbank Airport Flying Club), were augmented by state of the art VFX. Greenwood relates, “I invested money to buy specific models we needed through a 3D modelling page.  Specifically, I got two distinct space ships for the two different versions of the trailer within the film, and planet models for the solar system, and then a diamond model so that my VFX artist could place them into the editor and articulate them to create the sequences you see in the film.” In fact, Troy concedes that he had to make sure the graphics were not too professional, in order to add to the humor of the trailers and the actual film itself.

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Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon represents a blind spot in the film industry. While a considerable number of studios and filmmakers steer towards repeating proven ideas rather than creating new ones, Troy Greenwood has found a way to turn that concept around and use it against the very premise it represents…and still be wildly entertaining. Greenwood refers to comedy as a unique beast, remarking that you can plan all you want but often what is required is to just sit back and watch. Be careful filmmakers, you are being watched.

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Alexandre Cornet inspires future artists with TLS Advertising Campaign

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Artist Alexandre Cornet 

Growing up in Paris, France, Alexandre Cornet loved drawing. As a child, he would read comics and watch cartoons, fascinated by the illustrations. At the age of 11, childhood drawings transformed into graffiti, and while living by an abandoned train station, he would watch people paint words in colors. This keen interest at such a young age meant there was only one thing for him to do with his life, and Cornet became an internationally recognized artist.

Cornet’s reputation as a visual artist, designer, and art director had led to a lot of success in his career. He has had his own exhibitions, as well as worked with large companies to help define the visual aspect of their brand. Currently, Cornet resides in Lima, Peru, and while working with on the advertising campaign for the Toulouse Lautrec Institute for Design (TLS), the entire city was able to see his artwork.

The concept of the campaign was the promotion of creativity, and that is why I wanted to work on it,” said Cornet. “It feels like an honour to have had my work displayed everywhere around town and that the campaign was a success and that it served to bring more people towards a creative career.”

As an artist, promoting creativity and encouraging others to attend to school and follow in Cornet’s footsteps was important to him. This idea motivated him from the beginning, and the creative area of the university’s marketing department was already a fan of Cornet’s work. They wanted him to incorporate his drawings into the skies of wide angle photographs that they had taken previously.

“I liked to be able to intervene photography and to create artwork of massive impact, some panels were about 14 meters wide placed at key intersections in the city,” he said.

To accomplish this vision, Cornet created digital illustrations featuring single characters, doing one action in particular for its easy understanding. He mainly used the color palette from the brand identity guidelines, and respected their rules for the design and layout of the branding and copy. He used an easy urban style with black outlines for easy impact and to connect with the primary target of the campaign; young adults who just finished high school and have some interest into a creative career.

“The panels had to stand out, be seen and understood in the glimpse of an eye at high traffic spots. I had to simplify and focus on the idea they had to transmit. Using colors and shapes in the best manner to fit and contrast with the photographs and the copy,” described Cornet. “I also had to complete the artwork in a record timeline, being the first time the marketing department was acting as its own advertising agency they kept trying different ideas and options.”

This ended up being easy for Cornet to overcome, as he worked director with Jean Paul Du Bois, the chief of marketing, acting as a creative director, and Lorena Solari, the sales manager. Du Bois had previously worked with Cornet, and knew he would capture the essence of the university and bring his own creative aspect to the campaign.

“I had worked with Alex before on two short films that were directed by me. His art contribution and compromise involve high quality standards that were fundamental to achieve a good finishing and to be recognized by the Peruvian Culture Ministry and other festivals around the world,” said Du Bois. “As the Head of Marketing of the Toulouse Lautrec Institute of Design, I hired him to illustrate the advertisement campaign “Some People See Reality, Others Change It,” which needed an unusual point of view, and Alex helped us to reach the pieces with high visual impact. It’s always been stimulating, at the moment of the brainstorming interesting points of view appear. His creative contribution and compromise to get quality on what he does makes him a trustworthy person on any job.”

Cornet previously worked on other campaigns for the college. In the middle of 2015, the Toulouse Lautrec Institute of Design produced the social media campaign “Career” to promote the careers that the Institute had. Cornet made a series of illustrations on digital collage through the Digital Agency Performance Group. He also designed posts of each Institute’s career for a new Instagram campaign, with great success.

As if coming full circle, it is without a doubt that Cornet’s artwork continues to inspire the next generation of artists to study and live their dream.

THE STAR BEHIND THE ROCKSTAR

The throngs of adoring fans at concerts are almost always unaware of the professional workings of their favorite artist; the organizational and musical preparations necessary to create the inspiring events that they desire. Movies often show a romanticized and unrealistic scenario in which the artist calls some friends to play with them when, magically and immediately, everything falls into place. The musicians who live this amazing life will tell you it is magical for them but far from immediate. Any great performance takes talent, but it also requires preparation, professionalism, social skills, and a strong work ethic. The greats have earned this moniker through dedication as well as artistry. While many people have heard the title Musical Director, the specific duties required of an MD are vague at best in most individual’s understanding. Kieran Kiely is the respected musician who served as MD for Sinead O’ Connor from 2007 to 2012. As MD, he performed many roles to enable Sinead to focus on the expression of her music without being weighed down by the numerous other variables which might encumber an artist of her renown. At a certain level of fame, an artist’s career becomes similar to any other large and global pursuit. This means that artists such as Ms. O’ Connor and her peers require a musician whom they can trust to safeguard the integrity of the music and its presentation. A Musical Director is perhaps the most trusted advisor for any artist, meaning that the responsibility placed on them is reserved for the most valued and respected musicians.

In the mid 90’s, Kieran was playing in the Irish Celtic Punk group Shane MacGowan and The Popes. Kieran recalls, “One night while hanging at the Popes usual haunt, Filthy McNasty’s Pub in Angel, London, Shane asked me to go to a club with him, without knowing where we were going or whom we were meeting. When we got to the Club(The Atlantic Bar, SoHo) there was Sinead with Shane’s girlfriend, Victoria. I ended up chatting with Sinead. The next time I saw her was a year or two later when I was asked to play on a record. Somebody from the production recommended me for the session. It turned out to be a duet with Sinead and Terry Hall from The Specials, with Dave Stewart producing. This was the first time I met Dave. It took place at The Eurhythmics Church recording Studio in Crouch End, London. I played Low Whistles (Irish Flutes). Sinead loved the sound of those at that time. I continued to meet Sinead from time to time at gigs and festivals and she then asked me to play on her record Faith and Courage, and subsequently some of her following records.” Conflicting schedules prohibited a closer and more permanent working situation between O’ Connor and Kiely until 2007 when she asked him to assume the role of Musical Director for her. Largely known as a pop/rock artist, O’ Connor was intent on making use of Kieran’s mastery of Celtic instruments and their approach to her music. While he would add authenticity to the music that supported Sinead’s intrinsic Celtic vocal stying, Kiely would also be required to assume various roles as MD.

One of the most vital roles of an MD is to find the proper band members for an artist. It is not as simple as finding great players, although that is a requirement. Band members must be well versed in the style of music they will be performing but not void of other influences as they may be called upon to “stretch” or “flex” their approach. With touring artists, there is an understanding of the lifestyle which can mean long periods of time away from familiar people and surroundings. Touring musicians are the nomads of the music world. This requires someone whose personality meshes well with the sentiments of the artist they work with. It is similar in many ways to dating. There has to be a certain spark to the interaction. In his role as MD for O’ Connor, Kiely assembled a group of elite musicians respected throughout the world; an outstanding achievement for any MD. The band consisted of: British Session Drummer Ash Soan, Guitarist Dave Randall (recognized for his atmospheric sound), Yolanda Charles (renowned Bassist, praised as one of the best in the world), and legendary guitarist Robbie McIntosh. Sinead’s music is quite eclectic and emotional, requiring musicians who play at the highest level as well as those who listened intently to match the dynamic level and energy. Because these band members were so sought out, Kieran took an especially benevolent, yet professional approach. He states, “I like to try and create an environment where everyone feels very comfortable so they can be creative. In regards to parts, I was pretty specific. I knew Sinead’s material really well and created new arrangements of her songs that were sensitive to Sinead’s performance style. To achieve this, I had parts worked out for the players in advance. We also had a new album to promote and so had to be true to those songs. I wouldn’t say it was difficult though; when you have that caliber of musician to work with, it’s a pure joy.”

Rehearsals are always a good barometer for the mixing of skill and personalities but the real evidence surfaces when the artist and band tour. The incredible ecstasy of performing in front of thousands…even hundreds of thousands can be offset by the disconnect from familiar faces and places. Many musicians are defeated by the road. While Kieran is a veteran of the road and the studio, each new group introduces a number of variables. Early communication proved positive as he tells, “After I had taken on the role of MD and we did our first few shows, she sent me an exuberant text message, saying “who knew we were both so F**king amazing. She was very happy, which of course meant that I was happy.” Kiely continues stating, “You don’t just phone it in with Sinead, you have to be present, in the moment, and extremely sensitive to dynamics and tempo. She gives you everything you need in her voice; you just have to listen. On the intimate songs, I learnt to be comfortable with my playing being super exposed, where every expression and articulation could be heard. That sort of experience in front of 10’s of thousands of people over a period of time really hones your performance skills. Putting together a band that understood this in the same way that I did was a major achievement for me.”

While performing the role of MD was essential to Sinead’s live performances, Kieran was also a valued recording musician for O’ Connor. Selling in excess of millions of copies, Kieran recorded five albums with Sinead: Faith & Courage, Sean Nos Nua, Collaborations, She Who Dwells, and How About I Be Me. These recording are proof to Kieran’s masterful musical talent as well as O’ Connor desire for him to be a part of creating her sound. This desire was shared by others as Kiely relates, “She [Sinead] called me late one night to come play on a track. When I got there, she introduced me to Wyclef Jean, who was producing the song and said, ‘This is Kieran, he is the soul of my album. (Faith and Courage album).’
I later worked on Wyclef’s own record, Masquerade, at his NYC studio, and with his sister and brother.”

Kieran now resides in Los Angeles where he has taken to composing and orchestrating for film. His work creating the music for Danny Greene: The Rise and Fall of the Irishman proves that he is still using the sounds for which he is recognized to contribute to the success of artists. He still fondly recalls his time with Sinead O’ Connor and notes one obvious memory, “Nothing Compares to you was a highlight. It’s such a famous song. The audience are always waiting to hear it, so it’s a great moment for them. It wasn’t unusual to see people crying in the audience. ‘3 Babies also’. Sinead can conjure up such emotion when performing. What’s important to Sinead is that she connects with the song.” Kieran Kiely also connects to the song…and the art, in a very leading way.

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STORYBOARD ARTIST BINBIN MA HAS A GIFT FOR BRINGING OUT THE CHILD IN US ALL

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During film and TV award shows like the Oscars and Emmys, inevitably one of the winners will say something about their work being just a small part of the community which worked to make the production they are being lauded for. It sounds like humility unless you get an accurate glimpse into the many vocations and tasks involved in the TV and film industry. For every face you see on screen there are literally dozens or more who did their job properly which enabled the images we witness to take place in the action of the story. One of the very first people to put their hands and talent into movement in every production is the storyboard artist. Many of them never see even a hint of the glamour and excitement that surrounds the set, celebrities, and premier events involved in a production. It is their ability to take the verbal communication of producers and directors and translate them into images that will enable the cinematographer, director, and cast to use this template in framing their work. Binbin Ma is a successful storyboard artist and graphic designer with a wide and diverse lists of credits to her resume. Her recognized artistic talent is a great deal of the reason that she has been sought ought by so many filmmakers but, it also her ability to communicate and comprehend the way these same filmmakers want to frame their ideas and shots. When watching any of the number of films she has worked on, you can see the flavor of the director but there are “signature” elements of composition that those familiar with Binbin will recognize. She is able to mold her abilities to the professionals she works with while still retaining the vehicle with which they are delivered.

Skate at 16 would seem at first to be a film about a young boy’s crush and bullying. In truth, the film is about any individual coming to the point in life in which they decide to be a victim or stand up against an aggressor and suffer the consequences. It is about discovering who you are in the face of adversity, and letting others bear witness to the courage it requires. Julian is a young teenage boy who interacts with a homeless girl who is living in a skate park. He reaches out to her partly due to his kind heart as well as the fact that he finds the girl cute (further proof of the fact that he doesn’t see her as a type of person but rather, simply a person). Almost halfway into the film, he is bullied by a 21-year-old and his skate shoe is humiliatingly stolen by the bully. Julian doesn’t fight back for himself but when the bully leads a gang who is stealing Tecla’s (the girl) belongings, Julian finds the courage to stop this bully. Skate at 16 is almost Shakespearean encompassing young love, family tragedy, the overly aggressive antagonist, the revelation of inner-strength, and a potentially fatal injury which results from the confrontation. All of these emotions which Julian experiences are captured by the camera with different angles and compositions; one’s which are easily imagined as pieces of art. If the colors on screen were more primary and somewhat exaggerated, it would be easy to see them as a graphic novel. Skate at 16 is so adept at using the angle and perspective of the camera to bring audiences to the same emotional state as Julian, it’s easy to see how Binbin’s work was the early staging for this approach. The line of communication and understanding between director, storyboard artist, and cinematographer is seamless; it definitely appeared so to the Los Angeles Cinefest when they nominated this fine film. Director Mario Aranguren gives credit to Ma for the look that was achieved in Skate at 16 by stating, “Binbin’s amazing work really helped me to clarify the blocking and shot angles in my mind. Before doing this, I was a mess in the head. The process of defining the shots with someone as talented as her and then having her return to me with an even clearer representation of the ideas…it’s such an important and vital part of the filmmaking process.” Binbin describes the process for those unfamiliar with her profession, “I worked with Mario, the director of the film, discussing the shot list for each scene. After that, we started drawing the shot basic on the shot list, through the angles, character blocking, and camera movements. Because Skate at 16 is a film about sports, the character movements were sometimes difficult to draw, and also the blocking between many characters could be confusing. Because of the film’s schedule, I had to prepare everything very quickly; it took about ten days for me to finish. The great part about my job is that, once everyone sees the completed storyboards, they become very energized and excited about the film and want to get to work right away. It’s a very rewarding feeling to see something I create have such an immediate effect on other talented professionals.”

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Guillermo Cameo was so enamored with the look of Skate at 16 that he hired Binbin to be the storyboard artist for his film Robots & Cowboys. There are some similar themes between the two films (feelings of loneliness, isolation, finding one’s sense of self) but there is more of a lighthearted and whimsical look to Robots & Cowboys. There is also a sense of fighting one’s self as well as others, a feeling that childhood can often bring. The main character, Joe, brings drama to his heroic actions, even as we smile at the way he shifts genre’s in his identity and imagination. We often see wide shots when the actions is overwhelming and threatening, while close ups give a sense of comfortability and control in the same way that the backyard tent (which is a make believe tepee) is a safe and controlled environment for Madeline (the young female character). The film is set in rural Philadelphia and has moments that transport the viewer to a Spaghetti Western. Although Cameo knew that he wanted this approach, he needed Ma to relay this visual approach to the crew in a very clear manner. Achieving his vision would empower the film with sweetness as well as intensity, but being just a shade off of his intent could make it come across as shtick. Gulliermo states, “Binbin Ma is one of the most exceptionally talented and qualified graphic artists and storyboard artists of her field. Robots and Cowboys has been one of my most successful endeavors as a filmmaker, and I am certain this is due largely to the fact that I included Binbin as a leading member of the film. The film was enormously popular among festivals and awards centered around children, and garnered wins and nominations from The Kids Festival as well as the Young Entertainer Awards. Furthermore, the film won several awards from the internationally recognized International Euro Film Festival, establishing our production as one of the most inarguably successful children’s films of our field. These enormous achievements among some of the most highly regarded critics and film festivals across the world are indicative of our film’s high standing, which is no doubt thanks to Ms. Ma’s leading role.”

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Both the opening scene, depicting Joe playing with Sir Steely (a robot toy based on Ma’s little brother’s robot ideas) as well as the final scene, complete with sunset and Copeland-esque soundtrack, were shots right off of Binbin’s storyboard. Whether close ups or wide vistas, Ma has a talent for structuring things that transfers easily to the cinematography. Explaining how to communicate images in a way specific to Robots & Cowboys, Ma states, “I used a lot low angle to make it easy to see things from the kids’ point of view. When I draw with children, I always keep that in my mind, try to bring the real character to frame.” Both Skate at 16 and Robots & Cowboys have a youthful vantage but discuss the trials all of us can relate to in one form or another. Only a professional like Binbin Ma has the eye and training to enable us, as the viewer, to revert back to our earlier selves and feel what the characters are feeling, without being aware that it is the location and framing of the action (brought into reality by Binbin images) that makes it all so real.

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THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE OF MASTERY TRANSLATES GERMAN INTO CELTIC

Almost every aspiring musician has this dream; a huge band playing a show at a gigantic venue suddenly needs someone to fill in for a show, then they like you so well that they ask you to stay on the gig. It never happens, right? Wrong. Yes, it’s the stuff that dreams are made of but it does happen from time to time. The part that isn’t so highly glamorized is the crammed preparation and the nerves that can make one “lose their lunch” hoping that you’ll make it through that first gig without everything crashing down on top of you (to say nothing of those dreams in which you arrive to school only discovering you are only wearing underwear). The true music professional can only hope that his years of preparation have honed their instincts to a point where all will be fine. A great example of this is the tale of German guitarist Stefan Hillesheim. As a celebrated Blues, Rock, and Jazz guitarist in his homeland Stefan was enjoying a fulfilling life as a musician when he was asked to fill in for the internationally popular Celtic Dreams. The incredibly popular touring musical show Celtic Dreams features a unique mix of modern rock with traditional Scottish, Irish, and Celtic folk music, with an eclectic mix of dancers and other visual performers. Celtic Dreams regularly perform to sold-out audiences all over the world, and have been the subject of many press articles in Europe and abroad.

Celtic Dreams tour manager was in a high pressure situation when the guitarist for the show was suddenly unable to perform. This extremely popular show relied on the professional execution of the complicated musical pieces to excite the audience and support the dancers and other performers. The guitarist was essential to every performance due to the fact that Celtic Dreams takes on a contemporary rock influence with their traditional music, making it more accessible to a wide age range of audience members. The fact that the music was quite complicated and required flawless execution of the many transitions from piece to piece further exasperated the situation. Celtic Dreams tour manager Oliver Stahl needed to find not just “a guitarist” but, “an amazing guitarist” who could read complex charts and play shows to huge audiences with basically no rehearsal. Luckily for Stahl, he was in Germany and was able to contact Stefan Hillesheim. Although not focused on traditional Irish music, Hillesheim was particularly enabled to take on the task of this music for Celtic Dreams as he reveals, “I started listening to Irish folk bands like the Dubliners, the Pogues and the Fureys when I was about eight years old. My Uncle is the lead Singer and Guitarist of the well-traveled Irish folk band Limerick. My Parents took me to his concerts from my early childhood on. When I started playing electric guitar in my early teens, I really got into Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher (both are Irish guitar legends). I love the way they combine traditional celtic music with Blues and Rock.” As an accomplished and lauded guitarist in Germany who also possessed an understanding of the inherent lilt of traditional Irish music, Stefan was an easy choice to fill in for Celtic Dreams. Oliver Stahl comments, “Stefan performed as a lead musician and guitarist on multiple occasions for Celtic Dreams. His knowledge of both modern rock styles and traditional Celtic folk music made him perfectly suited for us. I truly could not have asked for a more versatile musician. Stefan was with us for multiple performances, all of which were held in major venues in large cities. I must note how versatile a musician Stefan is and how this added to the success of each of these shows. His ability to jump between and blend styles on both acoustic and electric guitar (and occasionally bass) was astounding! It brought a fantastic energy to each of our performances. The shows that Stefan played in were performed to sold out audiences and I’m positive that his playing was a major factor in garnering these huge

audiences as well as the press and great reviews. Stefan played a lead role in ensuring the success of every show he performed and has been an essential player in boosting Celtic Dreams reputation and success as a whole. Stefan is known throughout Germany as an incredibly skilled and accomplished musician who has made a name for himself as both a session player and bandleader.”

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While Stahl was nervous until he found Hillesheim, Stefan’s uneasiness began at this time. You could almost say that Stahl “gifted” his concerns to Hillesheim. That’s not to say the guitarist wasn’t excited to play with Celtic Dreams…quite the opposite. Stefan was contacted three days prior to his first performance with the band and had to learn three hours of music; including medleys and complicated transitions. Daunting task ahead of him, as a true professional, Hillesheim understood that the production was depending on him to fit perfectly into an ensemble that was already running smoothly. In respect to the music, Stefan wanted to play authentically stating, “Every genre of music has its appropriate vocabulary. When you play Irish or Scottish music you have to stick with certain clichés because this kind of music has a long tradition. Even though there is room for interpretation and improvisation, it wouldn’t be authentic if certain elements were missing. For example, the typical triplet based rhythmic in Irish step/tap dance music is the foundation of this musical language and is a requirement. For traditional Celtic Folk tunes like ‘Scarborough Fair’ or ‘Star of the County Down’, I would definitely play an acoustic guitar because that is what people expect and want to hear. Modern Irish music like the Corrs or the Cranberries often features electric guitar so that would be my weapon of choice in that case. Overall it depends on the ‘Vibe’ of a song. I play the instrument that fits the song best and compliments the singers as much as possible rather than playing what I personally prefer, even if that sometimes means committing to a less ‘flashy’ or interesting guitar part.”

Hillesheim is more often seen performing in a Blues club (with popular German band BlueSide), at a large outdoor musical festival, or even at major concert venues (as he did recently with Liquid Blue at the Staples Center in Los Angeles) but all of these ensembles are the contemporary Blues or Rock bands with which he is more commonly known to perform. Having spent decades in groups of this type, Stefan is extremely familiar with them and points out one major difference that he had to adjust for in playing guitar with Celtic Dreams…dancers. He remarks, “Celtic Music has a lot of colors to it. Many of the tunes are quite danceable and have sort of a jumping, galloping character to them; others are almost hauntingly emotional, melancholic, and full of heartache. I had the advantage of playing behind a number of great vocalists before so I was familiar with that role but the Dancing/Step Dance groups added another component to the show and I found myself playing behind a line of dancers.” Stefan more than exceeded the hopes of Celtic Dreams producers and performers as proven by the fact that he was immediately asked to finish out the tour as their guitarist. Not content with expressing this “accent” in his guitar playing, Hillesheim has currently relocated to the US to pursue his career and further his exploration of the American musical style of the Blues. If Stefan’s history tells us anything, we can be certain that this internationally acclaimed guitarist will be recognized amongst the latest generation of Blues guitarists.

 

JAPAN’S KENJI USUI IS PUSHING THE MUSIC SCENE FORWARD, ONE BAND AT A TIME

The music industry and the music scene in America are completely different from what it was even just ten years ago, and it is continually changing. Napster of course led to the upheaval of the music business. There is still conjecture about the result of this occurrence and whether it’s effects were beneficial or detrimental to the music world. One side insists that it was blatant piracy, a crime that deserves severe punishment. Others state that this “anarchy” leveled the playing field which led to a resurgence in the artists taking control from music industry executives and the birth of the DIY movement in the US. For quite some time now, the Japanese have been attracted to American bands and artists, taking careful note of it. One person who has done this is Japanese artist Kenji Usui. Usui is a prevalent part of the Japanese music scene who has also pioneered much of the ever growing Japanese independent music terrain. As an established Japanese artist, Kenji has made it his mission to increase visibility for the less established Japanese musicians as well as visiting foreign artists and bands.

With a long list of band credits and recordings that include; Blackjack, SPOON, Allies and Aces, Pororocks, and An Atomic Whirl, Usui has become weaved into the Japanese musical tapestry. He is highly recognized for his talent on multiple instruments (Vocals, Bass, Drums). As someone who climbed up from obscurity to become one of the most recognizable faces in the Japanese music world, Kenji understands how difficult a job it can be to simply gain a platform from which to express one’s own artistry. With that in mind, he set about to establish the opportunities for other artists to accomplish this.

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One of the most direct and successful means of Kenji helping to expose artists to the scene was as cofounder of Noise Union Japan Records. This label has been a way to connect bands from Japan and surrounding countries. Noise Union Japan Records is a way to promote bands and develop a network that will allow artists to grow and expand. Founded by Kenji Usui and Chikashi Gushiken, this label seeks to showcase the best artists from not only Japan, but also Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Korea, and other countries in the region. Gushiken (Noise Union Japan Records co-founder) gives credit to Usui’s affable nature as well as his love of music for enabling the success of this record label, commenting, “Kenji has a knack for meeting people and finding a way to incorporate them into Noise Union Japan. Every time he goes to a show in Tokyo or travels to a different country, he comes back with multiple new contacts and new ideas for booking events or festivals. He is highly motivated and productive, driven by a genuine passion for growing the music scene.”

As a member of Anit-Clockwise Productions, Kenji helps to organize events around Tokyo. Whether it is a local band or an international artist touring Japan, Usui understands the necessity of having an experienced hand on deck. As a member of many different bands over the years (Anti-Clockwise Productions recently produced and shot the music video for “Sanlitun” by Kenji’s band An Atomic Whirl) Usui is particularly empowered to make the process much less cumbersome for bands from any location in the world. It has afforded him the chance to gain knowledge and insight, as he reveals, “The best thing about working with bands from other countries is the inspiration and new perspective it gives. For me, working and touring with bands from other countries has been the most rewarding part of playing music over the past several years and I look forward to doing more of this in the future. It seems that US musicians are very interested in Japanese music and culture. I am always impressed by the level of creativity and experimentation coming from US bands, and I think that there is very fertile ground for cooperation and collaboration between these cultures in the future.

The Tsuruginomai Festival in the mountains of Japan, showcases the deep underground of Tokyo’s music scene. Kenji has aided founder Kohei Noda with this festival every year since 2010, assisting with the production and booking, as well as performing with various acts each year. As an artist who has toured playing international festivals, Usui has been an essential part of helping to coordinate this festival and others to increasing success and attendance since its inception. Kenji confirms, “I regularly perform at the Tsuruginomai Festival with Pororocks, An Atomic Whirl, and Kissaco, as well as playing onstage with various friends’ bands. Being a performer gives me an immediate understanding of what the artists on the bill are experiencing. It’s important that I keep in touch with this to give both the bands and the audience a better concert experience. It is often difficult, but it’s also rewarding. Some of the best bands are the bands you never hear about; being a part of an event like this, you are exposed to these bands. There is always someone knew who is bringing a new idea or style to the music community. It’s exciting when you witness that.”

 

 

 

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