Category Archives: award winning films

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

DIVERSITY IS A GUITARIST’S BEST FRIEND

 

Indian born guitarist Nipun Nair is a music purist…when it comes to being a great musician but not about the genre he is playing. Consider his latest work on Anthony Cruz’s premier major release “Cosas Del Destino”. Cruz is riding the wave of Latin pop artists whose ever increasing fan base is steadily taking over major radio and popular concert tours (Nair’s guitar work can be heard on the first single “Me Vuelas La Cabeza” currently in major rotation in New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, and many other markets). The songs are catchy and the musicianship is top grade. All of Nipun’s influences combine in a way that lifts the songs and supports the vocals. It’s no wonder that Tushar Menon (music journalist for Prog Magazine, Rolling Stone, and other music publications) referred to Nair’s playing as, “that elusive combination of technical and enjoyable. There is much in his music to satisfy seasoned musicians as well as excite non-musicians.”  Top level music production and great recorded performances, combined with Cruz’s matinee good looks are a steady move towards a Hollywood ending; seemingly a world away from Nipun’s early success in India with his band Public Issue. Public Issue garners its identity from the world of rock and funk. Bordering on soulful and even progressive rock at times, the band started out as undergrad friends who wanted to play as a hobby. The group was as surprised as anyone when they immediately started winning competitions and fans, playing to crowds of 5,000 or more. Tours and television performances on music channels like VHI and Channel [v] followed. Press fast forward just a short amount of time and Nipun has travelled to the U.S. and, within days he was contacted to perform in a band, one of whose vocalists happens to be Anthony Cruz. Not only did Anthony take notice of Nair’s abilities, but the creative team behind him did so as well. This team includes Deborah Corday, Randy Phillips, and Rafael Esparza Ruiz (cumulatively they have worked with; Toni Braxton, Rod Stewart, Ricky Martin, Santana, Justin Timberlake, Prince, and many others). Their recognition of the guitarist’s talent and their desire to have him involved is quite an achievement in itself. The weight of the moment is not lost to Nipun who tells, “I was in disbelief at how I was able to come so far so soon. It felt like the moment I stepped into the country things started to happen. Now Anthony’s music is playing on all the Latin radio stations in the country; the songs for which I recorded guitars. The feeling is overwhelming and incredible.” Anthony Cruz 2

Some of the most successful artists in today’s music market are those who are the most diverse. Modern artists use their association with well known products and services (Apple, Kia, etc.) to jump start a new career or give new life to former glory years. Placement is as valid an avenue for artists as radio, possibly even more so due to the ubiquitous nature of music in our society. Many advertising agencies recognize this and employ contemporary artists as composers to create a sound canvas; artists like Nipun Nair. Nipun has enjoyed a successful career as a music composer with Rubecon Creative Solutions in India. Nair has created numerous scores for Rubecon’s campaigns which aired on major television networks (Zee TV, Star Plus, Channel V, etc) and in large cinemas like SPI Cinemas. Massive audiences were exposed to his work. Rubecon’s Alexander Zachariah confirms, “Not only did Nipun prove to be crucial to the success of the productions we did for our clients, but he also proved to be an integral part of the success of our agency.” Nipun has put these skills to use here in the U.S. working with Barbara Cohen to compose music for Dunkin Donuts and Hewlett Packard. Award-winning composer Luis Guerra is the founder of Terremoto Productions Inc., an audio production company that has compositions in feature films like Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (Tina Fey), Fallen Angel (CBS), and countless commercial campaigns for companies such as Honda, Samsung, and others. Guerra hopes to make use of Nair’s abilities creating music for projects with Mountain Dew, Disney Channel, and building the Terremoto Music Library.

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For 2015’s Dreaming is a Private Thing, Nair was given a multitude of challenges. Filmmakers Alan Sardana and AJ Smith needed a score which would resemble and reinforce their film’s topic of corporal and electronic existence. They needed a modern sound with a sense of humanity. The film is based on the story by legendary science fiction writer Isaac Asimov and has a cast of three characters; Eli Lee (played by Leo Lee [Swordfish, The Replacement Killers, Contact]) the world’s last filmmaker and Sam’s creator, Sam (Dan Mousseau) the android/camera, and Samantha (Susie Park [Spider-Man 2, Miracle on 34th Street, The Chaos Factor]) the lead actress in Eli and Sam’s films. Due to the small size of the film’s cast, the score needed to become the fourth member of the ensemble, enabling the audience to further connect with the characters. Nipun’s score achieved this as well as complementing the characters. At times the music is dreamy and digital and yet, intermittently introduces overtly analog and “human” traits. Vacillating between man and machine was a goal the score achieved…all within three days! Nair reveals, “Short on time for submission to festivals, he [AJ Smith] would send me scene after scene and I was writing and recording as quick as possible. I’d watch the scene and compose something to capture the feel of it…but I didn’t have time to think about it. I was going on instinct and first impressions. It was exciting but a little crazy as well. I was happy that AJ and Alan were excited about the score. Dreaming…went on to be screened at the Toronto Short Film Festival as well as a win [for Best Production Design] at the Ryerson University Film Festival in Canada.” RED Bean Can

In addition to composing for film, Nair has been a part of creating music for live theater for years. As any actor can tell you, the two are similar but very different animals at the same time. For many years, Nipun worked with The Little Theater and its founder (award winning director and playwright) Aysha Rau. The theater, which focuses on fostering the creativity of underprivileged children, has received worldwide acclaim for productions like The R.E.D.Bean Can which has toured internationally. The R.E.D. Bean Can was selected out of sixty productions from all over the world to be performed at the 22nd International Children and Young Adults Theater Festival in IRAN. This production was Nair’s most recent compositional offering to The Little Theater. Founder Aysha Rau comments on his work, “I am floored by Nipun’s ingenuity as a composer. He brings a sense of freshness to his work that galvanizes the theater time and time again through his original compositions. It is because of his talent and dedication that our productions have been immensely successful and garnered significant press coverage.” Nair has composed the music for countless productions at The Little Theater; one of the most popular is the annual Christmas Pantomime which has attracted sponsors including; Coca Cola, Ford, and Citibank, to name just a few.

Nipun has also used his skill as a composer in live theater to benefit the Theater of Will in southern California. This non-profit arts and education company is supported by LADWP and performs musicals about water conservation. Award winning author/playwright/actor/director and president of Theater of Will, Willard Simms, confirms, “As his diverse array of achievements clearly indicates, Nipun Nair is among the most elite composers and performing musicians working in the field today.” The success did not come as an easy happenstance for the India born composer. Nair emphasizes, “The Water Wizard shows and the concert series posed specific challenges as a musician. You are trying to educate kids through music in a way that is fresh, stimulating and entertaining…but in a not too obviously educational way. The key is great lyrics and catchy melodies. Having a charismatic stage presence really helps when you are performing for an audience of hundreds.” It seems that Nipun will soon be performing for crowds of thousands (or more) again alongside Anthony Cruz; that charisma on stage will come in quite handy.Nipun solo 3

Shayar Bhansali’s Editing on “Against Night” Earns International Recognition

Shayar Bhansali
“Against Night” team from left to right: editor Shayar Bhansali, Elena Caruso (actor), Stefan Kubicki (writer/director), Saba Zerehi (producer), Konstantin Lavysh (actor) and Lucas Lechowski (composer) at AFI Fest in Los Angeles

 

Getting his start as an editor in the world of narrative film with none other than the iconic India based production company, Yash Raj Films International, Shayar Bhansali seemed destined for greatness even at the very the beginning of his career. And, the international success he’s received over the last few years through his work on multi-award winning films including “Wild & Precious” and “Kicks” make it undeniably clear that he’s already made it to the top.

One of Bhansali’s recent projects as lead editor, and one that proves why he is such a sought after talent in the film industry, is “Against Night” from writer/director Stefan Kubicki.

Set in the 1960s, “Against Night” starring Konstantin Lavysh (“Five Days of War,” “Karaganda,” “Juke Box Hero”) as Vitali, multi-award winning actress Elena Caruso (“Paper,” “Cloverfield”) as Marina, and Eve Korchkov  (“Joseph,” “A Night at Christmas”) as Lenka, follows Vitali, a cosmonaut who crash lands in a seemingly desolate stretch of snow-covered land in Mongolia.

Climbing out of the small capsule, Vitali stumbles his way through the ostensibly endless miles of snow and nothingness in the midst of a blizzard until he finds himself at the door of a lamp lit yurt in the middle of nowhere. The home of a reticent and shaman-like man, once Vitali steps into the yurt, the real emotional drama and the film’s underlying story begins to reveal itself. As he drifts into a deep and feverish dream-state, Vitali’s present world intermixes, through a series of flashbacks that serve as a major source of plot development, with painful memories of the daughter and wife he lost in a tragic accident years prior.

“[The film] explores the relationship we have with time and memory,” explains Bhansali. “Part of the challenge with the project was to find a good handle on tone, and to be able to maintain the style and rhythm achieved by production through the edit.”

The numerous awards Bhansali earned from festivals across continents prove that he nailed the task with his work taking home the Festival Prize for Best Editing at India’s 2015 Kolkata International Film Festival and the LAIFF June Award for Best Editing from the 2015 Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards.

Immediately drawing viewers in with a heart-pumping scene of Vitali and his co-pilot struggling to remain calm as their capsule malfunctions and begins to crash, Bhansali’s precise edits created a beautiful and dynamic rhythm for the unfolding story throughout the entirety of the film. Through his edits Bhansali provides the necessary pauses to allow viewers to really understand and feel the pain of Vitali’s loss when the emotional aspects of the dram are at their height.

While “Against Night” was shot with Russian dialogue, Bhansali admits that there were many similarities in his approach to editing regardless of the language. “I’ve worked with other languages before and the interesting thing for me is how similar the process is – I still spend a lot of time watching dailies and making decisions about performance, thinking about structure and the emotional rhythm of the piece and putting together a first cut within the time frame that’s expected for a project like this. The thing that’s a little different is how the director and I end up spending our time – initially a lot more of it was spent looking at dialogue delivery and sculpting performance.”

A film that has had an incredible impact on audiences, “Against Night” actors Konstantin Lavysh and Eve Korchkov earned the Best Actor and Best Actress Awards at the Long Island International Film Expo for their performances in the film. Aside from the awards Bhansali and the two lead actors earned for their work on the film, “Against Night” also won the Cinematic Achievement Award from THESS International Short Film Festival, the National Jury Award from the USA Film Festival, the Maverick Award and the Jury Prize from the Woodstock Film Festival, the Best Narrative Award from the Ojai Film Festival and several others.

You check out the trailer for the multi-award winning film “Against Night” edited by Shayar Bhansali below:

Some of Shayar Bhansali’s other work includes Mattson Tomlin’s drama “Persuasion,” Sahirr Sethhi’s “Zoya,” Shuming He’s comedy “La Bella” and the drama “Loveland.”

About the powerful force Bhansali brings to the table as an editor, “Persuasion” director Mattson Tomlin (whose film “Rene” Bhansali is currently editing) explains, “The work of the director, cinematographer, and the actors very often falls on the editor’s shoulders. A great editor is able to champion the best of the best performances and manipulate even those at their worst into something emotional and resonating. In the case of Mr. Bhansali, I have seen him time and time again act as both a problem solver and a treasure hunter, often finding the key moments to make a scene work in the most unintended places.”

Over the years Bhansali has proven his ability to tackle some of the most challenging stories and translate them into seamless visual productions through his precision as an editor. While he earned his master’s in film editing from AFI, he initially began his collegiate career many years ago studying psychology, something that has proven to be incredibly useful in his work as an editor because it allows him to understand the mindsets and emotions of the characters in the stories he creates with his edits.

“As filmmakers, I believe we are constantly working with the medium to guide the way our viewers feel – and to do this successfully one has to have to be sensitive to the way we think. I’m not sure I realized this at the time but my interest in psychology and the way our minds work definitely helped me shape emotions and characters,” explains Bhansali.

“Whether it’s a fictionalized post apocalyptic world with a robot as it’s protagonist or a based-on-reality story about a soldier fighting in WWII – the thing that makes these movies resonate with me is the humanity within the story and characters.”

HUNTER PHOENIX USES ACTING AS THE ULTIMATE RPG

The next time you are feeling like the ultimate multitasker, consider actress Hunter Phoenix who uses her vocation as therapy. Okay, that’s an oversimplification. When the director of the London based production of Streetcar Named Desire cast her in the role of Blanche “Because it’s going to be fascinating to watch you fall apart (emotionally)”; that would likely seem intimidating to most of us. It was to Hunter, until she realized this was a chance to lead out a very different life without repercussions. The actress decided to embrace the unknown, resulting in two decades of a highly successful career in Canada and Europe. Seeking new experiences for growth has now led her to Hollywood and the ever changing possibilities of acting. The long list of Canadian actors contributing to American Television and Film such as; Raymond Burr, Dan Aykroyd, Pamela Anderson, Rachel McAdams, Mike Myers, Ryan Reynolds, Ellen Page…and honestly, too many to mention here, continues to grow. Hunter Phoenix is following the path of her fellow countrymen by investing in Hollywood’s possibilities. She is no stranger to the international film industry (taking part in films recognized at the Oldenburg Film Festival, Toronto Black Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, and the Cannes Film Festival, plus many others) and Los Angeles is astute in recognizing her luminous qualities. Following years of establishing herself in the Canadian and European markets as a talented and charismatic actress, Ms. Phoenix has increasingly appeared in many different formats here in the United States. Modern actors cross many varied platforms including; film, television, theater, even web-based, Hunter has immersed herself into all of these. In 2016 you can find Hollywood’s A-list at your local theater, on a cable series, or in original content for websites such as Funny or Die.

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Producer (and actress) Maria Rohm has worked with everyone from Orson Welles to Christoph Waltz. She knows how to recognize talent as well as marketability. Maria has worked with Ms. Phoenix on multiple films and notes, “Hunter is very unique as an actress. She has the ability to convey vulnerability and handle the most dramatic scenes but also has great comedic timing. You rarely see that in a woman of such poise, beauty and grace. She raises the bar of any project she becomes involved in.”

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For the film High Adventure (distributed in Canada by Universal Studios Home Video), Hunter played the role of Ingrid, Chris Quartermain’s ex-girlfriend.  Phoenix’s performance added greatly to the depth of the film according to its director Mark Roper who relates, “What these two characters create on-screen and accomplish in this movie is transcendent, and greatly responsible for the movie’s overwhelming commercial success. This was largely due to Hunter’s commitment to her performance in this role.” It is readily apparent in the film that Phoenix enjoys the subtle nuances and mannerisms of her performance. No doubt her costars appreciate the fact that she helps the audience to see the main character through her eyes, allowing them to become more real, flawed, and interesting. Hunter considers this to be one of her finest achievements as an actress, to aid the audience in seeing deeper into the characters.

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  Pact with the Devil is a modern adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and would seem an appropriate analogy for the lifestyle and challenges of the entertainment industry. The film’s cast includes Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange, The Artist), Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained, Inglorious Bastards, Spectre) and, as Isabella…Hunter Phoenix. Producer David Goldstein describes Hunter in the film as “commanding the screen” and “fascinating to watch!” Phoenix’s physical beauty is natural as a character that has an affair with the handsome Dorian Gray; what comes as a complete surprise is her comedic timing. Her performance gives unexpected moments of humor and levity to a dark story being played out by actors with potent gravitas. “I have written roles for Hunter on several movies and she makes the characters tangible and temporarily suspends all disbelief. When watching Hunter, you forget that she is an actress playing the part; she just IS that person.” remarks writer Peter Jobin.

In a more family themed role, Hunter will appear as Sabrina Baroque in The Bandit Hound II (she is also credited in The Bandit Hound I). This family tale centers on an unwitting dog’s involvement in an armed robbery and his road to redemption through the love of his adoptive family. In addition to Phoenix, the cast includes household names like; Catherine Bell (JAG), Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas), Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk), and Judd Nelson (The Breakfast Club). The Bandit Hound and The Bandit Hound II’s director Michelle Danner praises Hunter remarking, “I was inspired by this new actress and immediately made the decision to cast Hunter in the sequel ‘Bandit Hound II.’ The chemistry between Hunter and two of our leads was magnetic, a crucial element to achieving the heartwarming finale we’re hoping for.” In the sequel, the bank robbers are locked up but Sabrina is their “man on the outside.” Sabrina is the typical pretty face who aligns herself with the bad boys but she has a secret…one that will require viewing of the movie to reveal…no spoilers here. With the movie set to begin filming in 2016, fans of the film will have to wait a while to discover the plot twists. In the meantime, to get their portion of Hunter, they’ll have to do no more than turn on their computers. Just as cable grew into the creative and ratings juggernaut it is, the web is a new avenue for many a creative series.

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For someone like Hunter Phoenix who has tested herself in live theater, television, and films, seeing what online entertainment can do is a natural exploration. She is cast as Vanessa in Uncensored Hollywood, a series about aspiring actors in Hollywood and the culture of sex, drugs, alcohol, and lies. The subject matter could lend itself to drama but the tone is definitely one of comedy.  With episodic titles like; “Arnold Schwarzenegger and Godot”, “The King’s Speech – Made in Hollywood”, “Game of Thrones – The amateurs”, and “SNL Tennessee Williams” it is easy to see that the series pokes fun at the self important side of Hollywood as well as pop-culture.  Phoenix describes her character Vanessa as a former child actor/now talent agent, full of grit and toughness, while still being humorous and fragile (due to her ex-husband). The role is a perfect place for the actress to show an intense yet comedic facet of her inner self. That seems understandable for someone whose achievements range from Tennessee Williams to Second City improv. Hunter embraces Uncensored Hollywood and her character stating, “What makes the show both poignant and funny is that it contains that kernel of truth. It’s not me but I draw on my own experiences to breathe emotional vibrance into Vanessa’s world.”  This acting therapy that Hunter uses allows her to be people that she isn’t, while doing things she’d probably never be comfortable doing, and somehow results in her being a more actualized self. Maria Rohm of (Tower of London Films) describes Phoenix stating, “Hunter is also one of the kindest and most caring people I have ever met. She worked with street youth, mentoring them for a number of years during her time in Toronto through Covenant House, and she gives generously to animal welfare charities.” Hunter’s personal form of acting therapy results in great work that is appreciated by the industry, as well as therapeutic side effects for herself and those around her.