Category Archives: award winning films

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Film Producer Kseniya Yorsh’s Creative, Kinetic Approach to Movie Making

Film producer Kseniya Yorsh’s approach to cinematic excellence is a high-powered mixture of meticulous attention to detail and an impressive grasp of comprehensive overall scope of any project. Although a relatively recent arrival to Hollywood, Yorsh’s brief yet fruitful career trajectory encompasses a broad spectrum, including music videos, feature films, documentary and shorts—four of which were screened at the Cannes Short Film Corner. Most recently, Yorsh produced Visitors, an engrossing Science Fiction short drama that’s been getting a lot of attention and is set to be showcased in half a dozen prestigious film festivals across the country in 2017.

The Belarus-born Yorsh always gravitated towards the creative, a pursuit which inevitably led her to film. “As a kid and teenager I received all sorts of artistic training,” Yorsh said. “Classical piano, theater classes, film school, literary practice, and I learned 3 foreign languages. As a young adult I worked extensively in business, and all these disciplines have helped build my film producing career. Once I decided to devote myself fully to filmmaking, I came to the US, got a degree in Documentary Filmmaking at New York Film Academy and in Entertainment Business and Management at UCLA.”

Ambitious and focused, Yorsh perfected her craft with experience in almost every aspect of filmmaking. She has written, directed, acted, edited, and worked as an art director, make-up artist, production designer, even in the sound department. It’s an impressive background that’s created her near encyclopedic grasp of what a film producer must both anticipate and turn to the project’s advantage—locations, crew, casting, supervising daily operations on set—and her roster of achievements currently stands at 13 shorts and 3 feature films.

The intense, idiosyncratic Visitors, which combines themes of family dysfunction and chilling otherworldly suspense, offered Yorsh some unique opportunities for trouble shooting.

“Alon Juwal, the director, came to me with the script and the budget he had for the film and I transferred his ideas into a feasible reality,” Yorsh said. “We had some shots that were difficult from a technical standpoint. For example, we had a shot where we see the main character in a beam of light as if from a landing spaceship. We were filming at night so it had to be bright light coming from the sky, with a lot of wind, and us moving in closer and closer to his face. We had aerial shots; we had night shoots in a forest; we had a dog that we needed to film at night; we had guns, special effects.”

“When producing a short film, budget and logistical limitations make you become creative in solving technical challenges and making sure the shoot like this is done in comfortable and safe conditions for the actors and the crew. Figuring these things out was an exciting challenge for me as a producer.”

Characteristically, Yorsh met every concern head on and turned in a flawless finished product. Her vision and drive not only set Yorsh apart but also unfailingly impress her colleagues. “I first met Kseniya a few years ago and was immediately impressed by her clear vision, discipline, imagination and passion,” Sergei Stern, the film’s musical composer, said. “When I was recommended as a composer for Visitors, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Kseniya was the producer. She and Alon built a great team around this wonderful project and I think we did a solid, beautiful film that combines visual beauty with an emotional, dramatic story.”

Released in late 2016, the film—like just about every project Yorsh takes on—has been well received by audiences and recognized with awards at the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival and New York City International Film Festival. And since then, she has already produced an feature film and 2 shorts and has another currently in pre-production.

“I love producing because it’s about seizing an opportunity where one doesn’t exist before,” Yorsh said. “It’s about bringing people together and being able to recognize unique skills in a person and link it to someone else’s skills or written material. I love seeing people shine professionally and I love bringing good material to life.”

PRODUCER GIGI HUANG HAS AN ECLECTIC WORK PALETTE

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For Chinese producer Huang Zhe (known in the industry as Gigi) it has never been a decision of nurture vs nature but rather both. Raised and educated early on in China, she chose to pursue a career in production based on an acting experience the summer after graduating high school. While she didn’t fully embrace acting, the idea of telling stories has always been something to which she was drawn. Beijing China is known universally for Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall but, this Beijing native refers to “HuTong” as the personal defining spot in her home city. As she explains, “My favorite place in Beijing is still the Alley that we call ‘HuTong. The  ‘HuTong’ culture still retains its own character, which attracts everyone’s attention.” This fixation with authenticity, history, and character is a trait which Huang has brought to the many productions and type of productions with which she has been involved, making her an indispensable part of each. Whether aiding a director to achieve his/her vision, tweaking budgetary and scheduling constraints, or helping to produce stories which she feels emotionally attached to; Gigi has become a much sought after and respected producer in the modern film industry.

A great producer, much like a great actor or any other exemplary professional, feels that every project shares the same importance in the sense that it is an opportunity to create greatness. Gigi has produced a variety of commercial productions alongside notable directors such as Zhen Pan and Bianca Yeh. Working with animals, minors, brutal weather conditions, all variables are welcomed by Gigi as she thrives on problems solving. While adversity dissuades others, Gigi comments, “A producer must be a thorough and excellent problem-solver. We always stand in the position where the problem exists. There are so many details I have to think of in advance, requiring not just ‘a plan’ but a plan B or plan C for each situation.” Director Zhen Pan worked with Huang on commercials for Lepow [electronics] and declares, “It was a great experience working with Huang Zhe on the Lepow Branding Commercial. She’s such a leader, great listener, and talented individual. If you need help, she’s always there no matter what you need or which department you are in. She always thinks outside the box, managing to figure out a best way to help you solve the problem which, as a director is what I value more than any other trait.” While cats are notoriously independent/non-team players, the spots which Gigi produced with director Bianca Yeh for Katris appear seemingly effortless. It was such a positive experience that Yeh made sure Huang was signed on as producer for the spots she directed for JieLing Liquid Repellent spray, and Zephyr (high end stove/range), even though the production efforts had to be based on completely opposite sides of the country.

Most of Huang’s film productions are based around a more serious and contemplative tone. While she enjoys this approach in the film’s message, Gigi feels that it is in a large part her responsibility to set a positive an upbeat tone for the crew and cast who create the film. The 2016 film Promise Land dealt with the struggle of a man and woman of Jewish descent and their avoidance of the German military in the late 1930’s. Behind the scenes, the cast and crew were dealing with filming in very cold weather conditions. Gigi appealed to their sense of determination by appealing to their stomachs…and some very fine meals. Produced by Huang in the same year was I Heard the Flowers Blooming When I Was 80, a film which communicates that it is never too late to realize a childhood dream. This movie was originally crippled and seemed to be out of commission until its director persuaded Huang to come aboard and essentially “reboot” this project (which would go on to win for Best Screenplay at the 4th Golden Panda International Short Film Festival). One of the essential characters in the film is an old piano. As one can imagine, transporting this instrument across streets during filming was not an enviable task. Gigi’s planning of locations and “alterations” to the piano made for a very appreciative crew as well as a successful and award-winning completion. Max and Aimee, which Huang produced in 2015 was close to her as it deals with the topics of dementia and Alzheimer’s which has directly affected her own family. The film received worldwide critical acclaim and awards including a Special Mention Award: International Open Film Festival (IOFF)Lima Bean Film Fest (and countless others). Max and Aimee’s director/writer: Michael Alex Pearce was so impressed with how the film turned out that he approached Huang recently about creating a Virtual Reality version of it (which was completed in early 2017). Definitely a new type of production for Gigi but one which she threw herself into completely, as with all her projects. Kathleen Courtney (line producer of the 2013 feature film The Boy Next Door starring by Jennifer Lopez) enlisted Huang to work on this feature film and states, “I enjoy Gigi’s enthusiasm, as did everyone on set. I hope to work with her again in the future.”

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Even though she has steered so many successful productions, Gigi leans on her early experiences and states, “I really like working behind the stage rather than being on the stage or in front of the camera. When I think of that first experience I had, after graduating from high school; when a few of my best friends and I went on a trip and filmed a movie for my friend’s portfolio to get into USC…I learned so much during that trip. We didn’t have advanced equipment, the only thing that we had was only a video camera, but we used different ways to solve problems. I still remember using small sprinklers to make the raining scene and using a bicycle instead of a moving dolly; I was riding on a friend’s shoulder and finished the high angle shot. In many ways, this experience taught me that if you want to make a film, you find a way to make it happen. My resources may be more plentiful and available, the cameras and gear and more advanced, the cast and crew more talented but, once you have a problem or snag in the production, you fall back onto what you know. For me, I learned that what I know is that I have to plan as much as possible and improvise when all else fails.” Isn’t that exactly what every filmmaker wants to hear from the mouth of their producer?

 

 

HUGO SHIH BRINGS “A GIFT” OF COLOR

There is a myriad of roles involved in film production. Each of these play an important role in enabling the story to be told with the vision that the writer and director share. Hundreds of years ago, thespians performed the works of playwrights, before that…orators weaved tales over the communal fire; both of these relied on the imagination of the audience to conjure up mental images which were hopefully as grand as the teller intended. Modern films have grown to such a high level of production that they can manifest creatures never before imagined in such a way that they seem as real as the people and surroundings among us. One of the most difficult things to communicate to an audience is the emotional intent that motivates a specific character. While an actor’s performance, camera angles, music, and other factors bear the brunt of this transference, one of the least obvious factors is coloring. As the title states, a colorist allows the Director to shade the emotions of the characters by shading the action on screen. As film audiences have become more astute and aware of the use of a colorist’s work in film, these professionals have become increasingly clever and decreasingly obvious in their application. Colorist Hugo Shih is a highly respected and valued colorist in today’s film industry. A conversation with him reveals the fine points of what a modern colorist does to help shape a film’s emotional intent as well as how it is achieved through the use of color. What might seem to be superficial to the uninformed movie goer, has a profound impact on the subconscious and heartfelt emotive catharsis which an audience experiences.

The 2016 film A Gift is a redemptive drama. It is the story of Jack, a young thief who breaks into the home of Margaret. Margaret is a blind elderly woman who mistakes Jack for her son. Although Margaret comes to realize that Jack is not her son, she still covers for him, protecting him from being discovered when police and neighbors come looking for Jack. The young thief comes to realize the error of his ways and is moved by Margaret’s gift of understanding, forgiveness, and non-judgement. A story such as this contains many intense emotions; fear, desperation, gratitude, and others. With such a small cast (consisting of Kaiso Hill as Jack and Sally Hogarty as Margaret) the actors are required to portray a diverse emotional palette. Hugo’s job as the colorist for A Gift meant that he needed to assist the character’s in hitting the “bullseye” which the film’s director intended. Yiqong Li is the director of A Gift (in addition to being one of the writers of this film). Li approached Hugo due to her familiarity with his work on many films. Li remarks, “Hugo has a reputation for being able to make just about anything happen for a director. Even if I didn’t plan on making use of all his abilities, it was nice to have in case I needed them…which it turns out I did. He did an amazing job on the color. Due to scheduling, there was one establishing shot that we just couldn’t get. Hugo worked his magic and literally created the shot we needed when it didn’t exist; I thought it was impossible to do it but he made it happen. We would never have been able to achieve this without the expertise of a master like Hugo.” Considering this all important shot, Shih explains, “We usually cut an establishing shot at the beginning to introduce the environment. A Gift started at night as the main character broke into the house. We knew that we should be looking for a night shot of the house. However, the production couldn’t get the shot at night, so they shot it during the day. It was the only establishing shot I could use. Normally, the editor would say ‘Let’s go buy some stock footage.’ In this case, I knew that ‘Day to Night’ was something I could create for the film. I said to director that I could make it work and there was no need to worry. To achieve this, I desaturated the shot and lowered the highlight, but brought up a little bit of gamma to make sure the details were all there. Following this, I did some secondary to pull out the sky and other details. In the end, I made a light at the front door because I knew that there was a light in the next shot. After I finished the color and cut into the timeline; when I showed it to the director, she was surprised and remarked that she had no idea this would even be possible. It’s a feeling of great achievement when you hear a director say this about your work.”

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One of the unique parts about Shih’s work on A Gift is the fact that the film’s director asked him to serve as both a colorist and an editor on the film. Director Yiqiong Li had been working with major Chinese production companies and TV stations. Being involved in her film meant that Hugo would work with highly talented professionals as well as being a part of productions that would reach a massive viewing audience.  Hugo recalls, “She came to me and asked if I could do editing and color grading together. After I read the script and talked with her, I decided to take these two roles in post-production. There are some benefits of being editor and colorist at the same time. I always see the color as my creative tool for editing. It’s like assembling the puzzle pieces to the story while rebuilding the lighting. To illustrate how these roles worked in tandem to the benefit of A Gift, consider the following. In the film, there is a very long shot of Jack following Margaret to the kitchen. Usually it would be hard for an editor to keep this kind of shot because their job is to keep the story intense. However, Hugo was thinking ahead and was able to retain this shot by key framing the lighting when the main actor changed his location; using the key frame tool to adjust the lighting in the same way the aperture is adjusted on a camera. This can invisibly add the tension without the audience’s knowledge that it was made in post-production.

  A Gift has been highly recognized in 2016 with win’s for best film at: Hollywood Independent Moving Picture Film Festival and the 2016 StoneFair International Film Festival, as well as being an Official Selection at: the Berlin International Cinefest, the Roma Cinema Doc, the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards, and the California Women’s Film Festival. As a member of the cast and crew of A Gift, Hugo Shih and his exemplary work are proof that a film about the change possible in each of us can move many people.

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MCWILLIAM EXHIBITS A MYRIAD OF TALENTS IN MODERN FILM SCORES

There are many avenues to pursue in the modern day music industry. While the opportunities for bands and artists may have decreased in the last decade or two, other vocations in the music world have gained new venues within which to be employed. James McWilliam is a prime example of this. He may have had adolescent dreams of pop/rock stardom as a drummer but after veering towards jazz and classical music in his studies, he has become a noteworthy composer, conductor, and orchestrator in his native UK. Although working primarily in the UK, McWilliam has worked with and led ensembles in Paris and Macedonia as well. As a professional whose credits include the films; The Book of Life, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Masterminds, Standing Tall, and many others, James is widely sought after by filmmakers looking for music to enhance the emotional impact of their creations. Whether working on big budget feature films, Independent movies, or even video games, McWilliam is known for creating and/or implementing the audio accompaniment to perfectly present the goal of its creator. An overview of James’ work on his many projects gives proof to the idea that this musician/composer is challenged to be creative in a wide array of media presentations.

Don’t Look Down is a documentary which follows urban free climber James Kingston as he travels the world scaling 100m cranes, 200m radio towers, tall buildings and bridges…all without the use of any safety equipment. Composing the music for Don’t Look Down was attractive to James for a number of reasons. He states, “The production company wanted a score that followed and heightened the tension of the subject matter, whilst appealing to an age group of between 18-30 years of age; the show therefore needed a contemporary score. I turned to a more electronic based sound with lots of percussion and heavy synths.  This show worked a little differently than other things I’ve worked on previously. Rather than writing to picture, the production company asked me to write longer pieces of music that they could then edit alongside the show.  This is quite liberating for a composer but perhaps not as much fun; personally, I’m inspired by what’s happening on screen and prefer to write music specifically to picture.”

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Standing Tall is a French feature film directed by Emmanuelle Bercot which deals with France’s treatment of disadvantaged youths.  In addition to seven nominations, the film was selected to open the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, won two Cesar Awards, and a Lumiere Award. Eric Neveux sought out McWilliam to serve as Orchestrator & Conductor in Paris. Neveux confirms, “James has been a valuable member of my team for over 4 years now and as an orchestrator has played an integral role in the scores of many of my films.  Standing Tall opened the Cannes 2015 film festival and was a very important composing project for me. I knew I could rely on James’ orchestration skills to help me deliver the score for this superb film. As an orchestrator, James brings a great depth of sound to my work, utilizing his extensive skill and knowledge of an orchestra.  No matter how complex the project might appear to be, he always works tirelessly to achieve the best result possible.” The score was recorded at the famous Studio Ferber, known for the recording of many iconic pop musicians and film scores since the 1970’s. Concerning his role in Standing Tall’s score, James stipulates, “I think that the real skill in orchestration is being able to interpret a composer’s demo in such a way that what you do is clearly a huge improvement on the demo and yet it still sounds identical to the music signed off by the director.  This balance (which is quite a fine art to master) is always changing from score to score and cue to cue; how you decide on this is through a lot of discussion with the composer.  I truly enjoyed working with someone else’s music, especially on projects where I feel like I’ve had a significant impact on the end result. Of course, the balance I refer to above can be difficult to find especially when working with a new composer and sometimes a greater period of time is needed at the beginning of the process to understand where each other is coming from.”

Legendary filmmaker Guillermo del Toro is highly stylized in his approach to movie making. For the animated film The Book of Life (which garnered 27 nominations including a Golden Globe, 3 wins, and a Worldwide gross of $94MM) the highly respected and successful del Toro trusted Gustavo Santaolalla to compose the music the he wanted to capture the feel of a past and modern Mexico. Hired by the score’s arranger and conductor Tim Davies, James set to work orchestrating the music of  Santaolalla. The rich, colorful themes and rhythms were as entertaining as the animation and action on the screen. The process of bringing the music of The Book of Life to manifestation truly depicts the modern and global means by which artists cooperate. James notes, “It’s not often that I’m hired by another orchestrator/arranger to work on a film but when I do it’s always a pleasure to be part of the team.  It’s more common on larger US projects to have multiple orchestrators so when I do find myself in this position it’s often on a big budget production.  I love the work of Guillermo del Toro so this was a particularly exciting project and something I was very pleased to do. It’s interesting when you work for another orchestrator because it makes you evaluate your own approach to things and working with US based orchestrators in particular really keeps you on your toes. This was such an enjoyable score to work on; the music Gustavo Santaolalla created for the film is brilliant.”

Projecting a completely different tone and subject matter are two feature films which saw McWilliam seated at the composer’s helm; The Patrol (nominated for a British Independent Film Festival Award and winner of a Raindance Film Festival Award) and Born of War. James defines the difference of these two stipulating, “Born of War isn’t really a war film although, like The Patrol it is set in Afghanistan.  The two filmmakers work couldn’t be more different and the scores reflect this.  Whist the score for The Patrol deliberately avoided emotive strings and Middle Eastern sounding instruments, Born of War fully embraced these sounds and they became an integral part of the character of the film.  The film begins in 1980’s Afghanistan, moves to present day Oxford/London and then back to Afghanistan but in the present day.  All these changes had to be reflected in the score and we did this through balancing the use of real orchestra and synths/percussion with influences from the Middle East.  The score wasn’t about reinventing the wheel, this was more about fitting into a specific genre of films and playing it for everything it’s worth. The orchestral score was recorded in Macedonia. It was a lot of fun!” Rupert Whitaker (Born of War’s Producer) comments about the film’s score, “Vicky Jewson, our director, had a very specific sound in mind for Born of War; a sound that was going to cost a lot of money, which our budget couldn’t stretch to. As soon as we spoke to James about our vision for the score, we knew we were in safe hands. The size of the task ahead of him meant that James decided to assemble an eclectic team of highly skilled people, all of whom added a huge amount of value to the project.  Not only did he strive to make Vicky’s ambition a reality but he supplied us with numerous creative possibilities that enhanced the picture, aiding the drama and bringing a whole new life to the film. James is not simply a powerful creative force; he is also a highly skilled technician in his field. I was very fortunate to have him contribute to the success of the picture.”

Rather than touring the world in a van or a bus as a drummer who plays to crowds at clubs or theaters, James has become a respected and valued member of a global music and filmmaking tapestry performing to peers who are among the most talented artists in the world. From a young boy thrashing about on the drumkit to leading the world’s most gifted orchestras, James McWilliam seems incredibly grounded…so much so that one wonders if he actually realizes that he has exceeded his own youthful goals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

KAYLA STRADA IS MINDFUL OF HER FOOTPRINT

“It’s gotta be da shoes!” Spike Lee’s fictional character from “She’s Gotta Have It” was everywhere in the mid to late 80’s. The immensely successful ad campaign for Nike attribute the secret ingredient of Michael Jordan’s command of the court to…at least in some part, his sneakers; that was long before there ever was a Kayla Strada. Spike’s character (Mars Blackmon) had an almost supernatural belief in shoes, a belief shared by Strada, but not in regards to the NBA. The shoes she believes in are the ones of which Stella Adler speaks. Kayla confirms, “Shoes is a big thing Stella Adler always talks about and shoes are a big Kayla thing.” The young Australian actress might have Carrie Bradshaw as her spiritual guide because her choice of proper acting “footwear” has led to several successful roles including the female lead in the full length feature “Love Is…” The film has been expanded to a full length feature because of the overwhelmingly positive feedback on the original short, due in no small part to Strada’s convincing and emotional performance as Maddie, the female lead in the story. The film is the beginning of Hollywood’s exposure to Strada, an actress who has been receiving increasing notoriety and achievements in her homeland of Australia and parts beyond.IMG_3267

There are some universal experiences and themes in the world and love is likely the most prominent of these. It crosses every line; culture, religion, gender, financial. You can be a farmer in Singapore, a Member of Parliament in London, or a young actress in Australia…everyone needs it and everyone wants it. We all understand our own feelings of love but the who, how, or why in which others place this emotion doesn’t always make sense to us. This is why find it particularly attractive when an actor or actress can communicate their feelings about love in such a way that we instantly empathize. It is a gift that Kayla possesses and is prominently exhibited in “Love Is…” This production, written and directed by Stan Harrington, was quickly promoted from short to full length feature…that’s a major achievement and vote of confidence in Hollywood. Maddie and Nick (played by Bryan Lee Wriggle) are two young people who fall in love practically at first sight but their relationship stalls almost as suddenly, resulting in a search for the meaning of true love. Other unforeseen factors have immense impact on the main characters and their view of love (no spoilers here). Just as in real life, these characters have different “love languages” and struggle to understand and relate to each other in an unencumbered manner. Knowing yourself and possessing the words to express it properly help you connect with that special someone. These are the exact same attributes which allow Strada to so convincingly portray Maddie. She reveals, “When Maddie first meets Nick, she goes through a rollercoaster of emotions. A lot of what she deals with is based on certain ideas that are very original to this story. In contrast, there are some very universal experiences in the film that we all share. You see it happening and think to yourself, ‘Oh yeah, that happened to me.’ One thing I can say about Maddie is that she is very determined. That is something I can really relate to. Playing Maddie and discovering her was such a joy.” Strada further notes, “Dialogue is important and it is important how you deliver it. If the script is good, you can really play with it. The majority of the work is done for you already in the script.” Writer and Director Harrington makes this avenue a two way street commenting, “The nature of a shoot required to make a movie like Live Is…is exceptionally trying, so getting to work with actors who, not only come prepared, but also have incredible talent and insight, such as Kayla, makes everything a little easier.”

“Love Is…” has the moniker of both comedy and drama, with the obvious romantic setting. While the romance of Maddie and Nick drives the movie, it is Maddie’s best friend, Liz (played by Daphne Tenne), who supplies much of the comic relief. The bond between Liz and Maddie lifts some of the heavier moments on screen, similarly to the actresses support off screen. Tenne states, “Kayla is extraordinary at what she does, truly a professional at work. Acting alongside Kayla in this film was a journey that I will take with me forever.” Bryan Lee Wriggle (Nick) shares a similar comment about Kayla and the other actors involved in “Love Is…” stating, “It has been a privilege to work with someone like Kayla Strada. She brings a professional attitude and amazing work ethic to the set every day. I feel honored to work with actors who take control of their work and strive to make each take exceptional.”

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It is not often that a movie is required to take place in a particular city, but sometimes the location enhances the feeling of the movie in a way that is undeniable. Italy has many beautiful cities but who can think of Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” taking place anywhere except Rome? In the same way, San Francisco becomes a character in “Love Is…” The Bay, the twisting roads, the hills, the skyline, all these terrains become synonymous with the numerous and varied emotions one feels when dealing with love. Strada emphatically confirms that the locale is essential to the feel of the film declaring, “San Francisco was a deliberate filming choice! Visually, it’s a romantic and beautiful setting for the story. I don’t think the movie could have had the same impact if it were filmed in LA…or anywhere else. The way that you feel when you’re there…it makes you think about the possibilities and dream of greater things happening in your life.”

With “Love Is…” making the switch to full-length feature film and Kayla as the female lead, the young actress is hoping to explore more opportunities in Hollywood. Having experienced a good deal of fame and success in her homeland, she is excited about the roles she might land as well as the possibilities of working with those whom she has admired in film. She states, “I really hope to work alongside the people whom I look up to in the industry; the Cate Blanchett’s of the world who take their work to another level. I had the opportunity to work with Mena Suvari and it was a real moment for me. I realized, not only do I get to learn from her talent but it was also nice to see how humble she still is. There is always something creative going on here in Hollywood. It really is the heart of entertainment. I think I had to be here to truly understand that.”IMG_3268