Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

RAFAEL THOMASETO KEEPS THEM COMING BACK FOR MORE

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A producer is the closest thing the entertainment industry has to a parental figure. As the head of any production, this individual oversees every aspect from beginning to end and ensures that it all runs smoothly. It’s a tiresome and exhausting vocation, the main reward of which is getting more of the same work. A producer will tell you that they choose this vocation because they love the creative process and being surrounded by others who take part in it. For a successful producer, diversity is the key. Similar to directors, a producer’s work on a notable ad campaign can mean as much (or more) recognition and compensation than on a film or TV presentation. The career of Rafael Thomaseto encompasses all of these different creations, leaving him in the enviable position of having an eclectic body of work and possibilities to pursue. His resume encompasses a strong list of production credits, including independent films, commercials for major brands (such as Chanel, Samsung, Nissan and Jose Cuervo), the clip of the song “Perfect Illusion” by the iconic Lady Gaga and the production of videos for the YouTube. The common thread among all these is the talent and work ethic he possesses. The best advertisement is performing your job with excellence and the word is out about Thomaseto.

As producer of the film “Inherent Greed” (Directed by Zachary Wanerman), Rafael oversaw this production which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and also impressed Louie Torrellas (CEO of Ambitious Media Productions). Torrellas relates, “One of the executive producers on the film recommended Rafael to my company, Ambitious Media, which was in charge of producing Inherent Greed. We hired him and he instantly took over the project and made it work, to great acclaim. Our first partnership was such a success that as soon as I received the briefing of the entire media production for LA Style Fashion Week, Rafael was the first name that popped into my mind. It was going to be a challenging job but I was sure he was qualified and experienced enough to handle it. Again, my expectations were attained. Once Rafael joins a project, he will do anything possible to make it work and to make it the best.”

Hired by Ambitious Media as head of production for the city’s biggest fashion event would seem to be a completely different environment than that of a soundstage or location shoot for a film however, Thomaseto’s skill set is equally applicable to both. Though Los Angeles Style Fashion Week has been around in some incarnation since the 70’s, the past decade has seen it evolve into a much more expansive and widely attended event. The city and the industry have taken an obvious step towards using their entertainment producing infrastructure to promote the fashion scene as a major player worldwide. While the surroundings and the players are different than the ones he is so accustomed to, many of the applications of Rafael’s abilities are lateral. Instead of overseeing a film production, he developed a documentary which showed the increase of the fashion scene in LA. Locating and hiring the director, cinematographer, and film/photography crew to shoot interviews with the major players in the fashion industry as well as the big name models who would be appearing at the event; all these were familiar procedures for Rafael though they were in a wildly differing venue. The producer notes that his ability to bring aboard world renowned fashion photographer Lemuel Punderson as the main director for the production was a particular source of pride.

A complete dichotomous experience of working with the beautiful people, Thomaseto’s past success on a number of productions for Traverse Media resulted in them hiring him as part of the production team for the experimental “Crypt TV.” Traverse Media, a production and talent management company committed to creative and enterprising content and filmmakers, hired Thomaseto as part of their Production team coordinating the project for Crypt TV. Crypt TV is a digital genre brand co-founded by Jack Davis and horror icon Eli Roth. Declaring its motto as “#WeirdIsGood”, Crypt TV creates and distributes dark, edgy, and scary video content on Facebook and across its family of publisher sites. One year after launch, with 2 million direct social followers and a syndication network of 2.5 million unique monthly visitors on the sites in its network, Crypt TV has quickly become the fastest growing leader in digital productions of this genre. In addition to working with the best up-and-coming filmmakers across the world, Crypt TV creates engaging original video content directly for the Top Hollywood Studios including: Universal, Fox, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Netflix, and others. Crypt TV is uniting fans and creating a movement that’s redefining what the future of the genre among millennials.

Although hired on shortly before the shoot, Rafael quickly solidified all aspects of the production of the three short films which Traverse created for Crypt TV: “Lust Kills” (62,000 VIEWS), “Gluttony Kills” (371,000 views), & Sloth Kills (272,000 views). These three films were produced in just a matter of weeks and had received several thousand views in a mere matter of hours after being released. The expediency and process by which entertainment is created and delivered continues to evolve with technology and the public’s sensitivity to it but the need for professionals like Rafael Thomaseto will be a constant throughout these changes, as will the need of entities like Ambitious Media Productions and Traverse Media. The upcoming projects which Thomaseto is currently involved in with both companies assures this fact. The new edition of LA Fashion Week (which is a biannual event), an indie feature film in 2018, and several short films (a continuation of his partnership with Crypt TV) will all add to the association that Rafael has with both Ambitious Media Productions and Traverse Media in the very near future.

 

WHY NICKY MARTIN LOOKS SO FUNNY

Comedy feels a certain way and it looks a certain way. There are not specific parameters which define this but it easily recognized. When you feel something is funny or see something that is funny, you know it. It’s a characteristic older than cinema itself. Before there was sound in films, comedy was more accurately conveyed than any other sentiment. Xing-Mai Deng displays this concept exceedingly well in Andrew Elliott’s “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar.” As a cinematographer with a highly diverse list of award-winning film credits (including this one which received an LAIFF award for Best Comedy/Dramedy and a Jury Award at the Melbourne Indie Film Festival), “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar” is yet another example of Deng’s ability to visually achieve the intent of the writers and directors he works with in an exception manner. With the ubiquity of the pursuit of fame, often via social media these days, the film’s story reveals the all too common hopes of someone who wants to be famous almost solely because they desire fame.

In an ironic turn, this written story necessitated studying reality TV productions in order to accurately be presented with authenticity. The look of the film needed to bring out the absurdity of the story while spoofing the standard reality TV show. The film’s director and Xing-Mai researched several American reality TV shows to study their lighting, framing, and documentary-like camera movement. The blocking and camera angles were all decided before the filming to achieve a deliberate chaotic appearance for the shots.

Much of the look of “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar” required Xing-Mai to use his extensive knowledge and talent to appear as if he did not possess these attributes. It’s an aspect that took him some time with which to relax. Constant second guessing and reassessment of going too far was required. He explains, “I purposely moved the camera in an amateur way in order to make the film look absurd. High-key lighting and amateurish camera movements brought the feel of a valid reality show to our film. There wasn’t any dramatic lighting. The camera movements followed the actors in a passive way rather than anticipating the characters’ actions as compared to a scripted production. We wanted to have the reality TV feeling but we also wanted some cinematic moments in the film. Some of the reality productions I researched were not lit at all. I added contrast for most of the scenes to give a cinematic touch to it but used it sparingly. Most of the reality TV shows I studied were not comedic so the usual reality TV look would not serve ‘Nicky Martin’ as it still desired to look funny. We did not want it to look like normal mockumentary as that look has become fairly common and we wanted something that stood out.”

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The improv nature of the film and the actor’s performances kept Deng on his toes and required a fair amount of improvisation on his own part. As different cast members spontaneously changed and evolved their parts during the actual filming, Xing-Mai was required to essentially collaborate with them in terms of lighting and framing the scene, accepting what he could get away with in terms of these parameters. With knowledge of this potentiality in advance, he created general lighting schemes based on the blocking and devised a plan that would give the widest coverage possible while achieving the largest part of his goal. Because the film is a comedy, Deng used a wide warm color palate.

“Nicky Martin: Country Superstar” is a spoof comedy about a man who wants to be a country music star but doesn’t know how to sing or play guitar. He wants to be a cowboy but he’s afraid of all four-legged animals…so he rides on stools. Upon hearing about a singing contest at the County Fair, Nicky gathers his cohorts and prepares for what he believes is the chance of a lifetime. Numerous efforts towards achieving his goal of becoming a legitimate cowboy fall short. In a scene which drives this failure home and yet endears the audience to his tenacious drive, Nicky and his close friend Mickey reconcile by riding their stools together into the sunset as they have learned that being a cowboy is not about being famous but rather about possessing the cowboy spirit.

Andrew Elliott, the mastermind behind “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar” communicates, “I honestly had always planned to convince Xing-Mai to be the DOP for this film, since it’s very inception. Xing-Mai’s insight was invaluable to the success of the shoot. He was able to quickly and efficiently form a great crew and was always present with ideas and suggestions on how to make thing flow more smoothly. His work ethic was unquestionable on the shoot. Nicky Martin went on to success in the festival scene the following year, winning awards at several of these. Xing-Mai’s understanding of the story and unique ability to shoot the film played an integral part in winning these awards and in the success of the film as a whole.”

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Immersing one’s self in an industry that contains some of the most skilled and creative minds and then attempting to shed the abilities you have come to rely upon as second nature in order to move you forward in said industry is disconcerting at best. Shakespeare often depicted the person who appears as the fool to often be the cleverest of all; communicating the idea that the misdirection of the depth of one’s knowledge and abilities is often the most difficult task of all. In “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar”, Xing-Mai Deng proves that he’s no fool but he knows how to convincingly present the appearance of one to the laughter and enjoyment of his audience…and does so as a master.

FILMMAKING WITH TALENT AND HEART: ZHENG HUANG

The role of producer is about money and schedules, correct? In its most simplistic terms, yes but it’s also about much more than that. For Zheng Huang it’s about art, personal connection, and the bonds that tie us to each other. While that might sound overly emotional, one should remember that we are dealing with the artist temperament; they are known to investigate feelings. A producer is the boss of a production. Everyone has experienced a boss who is only concerned with the bottom line as well as the one who is interested in you performing your job with excellence because you are happy to be there. Huang is very much the later. Every producer has a budget, schedules, etc., the nuts and bolts of their job. Approaching their role from an emotionally inspiring place is just as vital as a cinematographer who looks for the moving aesthetic in the frame (rather than one who simply makes sure everything is in focus). This approach is as intuitive as breathing for Zheng, which is likely why he has become such a sought after producer. Often the difference between good and great is how much you care; Zheng Huang cares a great deal.

Upon returning for the Cannes Film Festival, where his film “Lost” had been presented, Huang was interviewed about this by Neo. Neo was not only the host of an interview show but is also a director. Neo was instantly appreciative of Zheng’s passion for film and his unique perspective, so much that he enlisted him to take on the role of producer for his film “Never mind I Remember.”

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The film details the plight of a family who is forced to deal with an all too familiar difficulty in life. When seventy-year-old Lily loses her husband Frank to a heart attack, her son Jackie comes to her aid. He discovers very soon that his mother is dealing with a very acute case of Alzheimer’s. While Lily struggles to deal with her own constant sense of disorientation and unfamiliarity with those around her, Jackie comes to terms that he must now be the caretaker for his mother and realizes (perhaps somewhat selfishly) the impact on his own life. While both deal with the loss of Frank, Lily deals with the confusion of why her husband is not with her. The film is acted with mastery and captured with the same level of excellence. In one of the most tender and heart breaking scenes, mother and son find themselves in the same tent they used to play in decades before as Lily asks her son when Frank will return and he replies, “Let’s wait for him together.”

Zheng was drawn to this intensely emotional story by the script as well as a personal connection. He shares, “My mom’s aunt has had Alzheimer’s disease for many years but her only child never comes back home to see her. Luckily, her husband takes care of her very well. Because of genetic inheritance of Alzheimer’s, my own mother worries that one day she will begin to show signs of this disease. I am her only child and she has fears about my being too busy to take care of her properly. When she told me these fears of hers, I realized that this is a very deep and powerful topic, one which I want to explore. The son in the story is MYSELF but also every single child who has a busy career and big ambitions. Alzheimer patients can be a big burden for their children but there is no option here. Our mothers are our caretakers, our protectors from the moment we first come into this world. I directly relate to the story of this film and I know that there are many other people who do also. I knew that I wanted to be a part of telling this story and it demanded to be told with the proper emotional lens.”

The vast majority of a producer’s work for any project is in coordinating and scheduling, there’s no denying this fact. Obtaining permits, scouting locations, casting, “connecting the dots” is the norm for producers in a wide variety of settings. The secret ingredient of Huang’s approach is his focus on the communication and relationships of those he is involved with on each project. Neo, director of “Never mind I remember” reveals, “I feel extremely fortunate to have had such an excellent producer as Zheng Huang on my film.  As we were preparing for the shoot, I was having some problems with my 1st AD. This person has also directed and was giving a great deal of unsolicited opinions about the shot list. When I approached Zheng about the situation he said, ‘Neo, I will always support you whatever the decision you make in the end. If you tell me you will fire the 1st AD one day before shooting, I will be your 1st AD if you need; whatever you need, I’ll be there. The most important thing is: you have to be happy with what you do. You have to create your film, not your 1st AD’s film, or anyone else’s.’ This stirred something in me and I was able to confidently move forward and resolve the issue with my 1st AD, which meant that the entire production would benefit as well. Instances like this prove how Zheng is so much more than your average producer or someone who schedules events.”

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When discussing his definition of a producer, there are many familiar tasks and terms that Huang uses to describe his day to day. There’s a verbiage that he has in common with his peers and then there is one word which he continually refers to that stands out; empathy. It’s not something that you often hear a producer discuss as part of their skill set and yet Zheng professes that it is an essential part of what makes him successful as a producer. For someone who works with artists every day, it seems an obvious trait; to those who work with this producer, it is obviously Zheng Huang.

GORKEM CIFTCI: BEHIND “WOMAN WITH NO VOICE”

Gorkem Ciftci is pleased with himself, not in a smug manner but with a sense of satisfaction that he has made a positive impact. As the Art Director of the campaign “Woman with no Voice” Ciftci conceived of and created a campaign (with his team) to dramatically raise awareness of domestic abuse in his homeland of Turkey. While his vocation most often has him working with clients who are promoting everything from interior design/aesthetics to cars to TV programs, Gorkem has also utilized his talents to promote many socially minded ventures that exist in and border on altruism. The role of art director is itself steeped in both the creative mind and the business sense; it perfectly suits someone like Ciftci who thinks of helping others aspire to a better life and possesses the real world skills to enact this. While this may sound like an extremely benevolent view of those involved in the business/advertising realm, one need only consider Gorkem’s work on “Woman with no Voice” to understand it in a real world application. He passionately explains the situation and his motivation to become involved stating, “The real problem about domestic abuse in Turkey is that nobody is brave enough to speak out. The women who suffer from domestic violence are often economically dependent on their husband; this is why they choose to keep silent and not to talk about it. Silence of the oppressed makes this violent epidemic inevitable. Moreover, in rural parts of Turkey, religion and bigoted traditions contribute significantly to the suffering of women. They are often forced to get married in very early years, very few of them have chance to get education, and they are not really counted as human beings but rather the commodities of men. As a proud feminist, I have been seeking any chance to get involved in campaigns to combat patriarchy in Turkey. And I was fortunate to take part of a few over the course of my career. I knew that this one was going to be the boldest one. I knew from the start.”

This campaign was part of a greater movement named ‘’Every Breath, a Voice’’ that was dedicated to combating and ending domestic violence in Turkey. Numerous campaigns were created and events held annually to raise awareness on the issue. This group wanted a bold and provocative campaign that would spark national debate. As art director, Gorkem wanted to find a unique and dramatic way to convey the idea that the plight of these women was not receiving the attention that it deserved. He explains, “After researching and reading the stories from victims of domestic abuse, I had reached to the conclusion that a single major characteristic of victimized women is their silence, hopelessness in other words. With this focal point, we needed to come up with a creative execution that demonstrates the silence of these victimized women in an interesting and creative way; that execution was to associate this oppression with Facebook’s automatically playing mute videos (Facebook plays videos on mute in order to not disturb users while scrolling down on the newsfeed. This feature has been very significant to the Facebook users).

 

This idea was powerful but also created a major problem for Gorkem. This gravitas of the presentation rested on the idea of silence; if this silence was broken by a voice over it would diminish the power of the visual. The presentation would be decidedly simple. A woman cries out in front of the camera, wearing a plain dark shirt and a wedding ring while standing in front of a dark gray background. The drama is exponentially intensified by Ciftci’s decision to place text in the box to the right of the screen (the voice icon on Facebook video bar) corresponding to the Facebook feature. This communicated the twist that the cries for help from these women are not heard as the viewer attempts to increase the volume of the audio. It cannot be overstated how emotional and heart-wrenching the campaign is (https://vimeo.com/172093012).

Thirty Turkish actresses were viewed to portray this simple yet highly emotive role. The performance of the actress seen in the campaign is haunting, which is appropriate. Far from the glamour and excitement normally associated with being on set, Ciftci relates, “The set suddenly become a dark and depressing place as we began shooting. This was quite surprising for me. Even though we all knew that it was a screenplay, the screams of the actress were something terrible to witness knowing that millions of women suffer domestic abuse and had to face these horrors on daily basis. The original film had no audio, but we had to hear her screams in the studio for the sake of persuasiveness. Witnessing a re-enaction of such horror was upsetting to all on set that day. However, I also knew that this was a powerful cause and could not wait to have the film published so it would start contributing to the positive change.”

A significant difference between the “Woman with no Voice” campaign and those of a similar intention in the past is that the decision to use Facebook and Twitter to share its message resulted in a mass proliferation (via “shares”) and immediately accessible metrics. As opposed to traditional TV or print campaigns in which the public’s reaction is often uncertain, social media allows for immediate responses and feedback, without censorship. As the creators of “Woman with no Voice” had hoped, a national debate was triggered and millions viewed it. One of the most unexpected outcomes of the campaigns viral nature was that men were very eager to talk about the issue and were among the majority of those who “shared” it.

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(CRYSTAL APPLE FESTIVAL AWARD CEREMONY 2015, UNIQISTANBUL, ISTANBUL)

“Woman with no Voice” was overwhelmingly accepted and praised by the public. In addition, it received copious accolades that included: 1x Gold, 1x Silver, 1x Bronze at Crystal Apple Festival of Creativity (2015), 1x Gold Mixx Awards Turkey (2016), 1x Bronze Mixx Awards Europe (2016),
& 1x Gold, 1x Merit at Kırmızı Advertising Awards (2015). While awards always have a beneficial effect on a professional’s career, Gorkem states, “My involvement with this campaign truly deepened my understanding that I could use my role as an art director to really make a change. I think if we all found ways to use the abilities we have to help others rather than only to support ourselves, the world would be a much better place for everyone. I am humbled that I was able to do even a little bit to help the women of my country and I’ll be looking for opportunities in the future to do more.”

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(KIRMIZI AD SHOW 2016, ZORLU PERFORMANCE HALL, ISTANBUL)

 

DIRECTOR ALEXANDRA LA ROCHE ON HAVING FUN WITH EUREKA

Science and Tech nerds are the new rockstars. There was a time when the brains behind these types of advancements were kept hidden away while the powers that be put a public face on those they deemed marketable. Carl Sagan, Steve Jobs, and many others completely changed that. Sci-Fi Channel’s “Eureka” presented the idea of an entire community of these brilliant minds. The Emmy nominated and Leo award-winning TV show was a ratings hit during its six year run as one of Sci Fi’s highest rated series. One of the brilliant minds behind the scenes of “Eureka” was director Alexandra La Roche. The writers of the series are self-proclaimed science geeks who structured many of their themes on real or postulated science. This coupled with the show’s heavy oversight by actual science consultants not only informed La Roche but required her to be on her toes. In contrast to the normal greed, sex, and ensuing power struggle, “Eureka” episodes presented conflict of a more cerebral nature. Alexandra concedes that it’s one of the most unusual and fun shows she has ever directed precisely due to this aspect.

“Eureka” is the story of a scientific community, in large part based on the perspective of the town’s sheriff Jack Carter. Carter cooperates with scientific geniuses in the community who work for Global Dynamics. They often find approaches to resolving situations that require more cerebral effort than “stop in the name of the law.” A perfect example of this is “Up in the air.” This episode was based on the opening sequence of the show which depicts the town floating away as the Sheriff watches. The opening had never been explored as a story before. What seemingly starts out as a normal bank robbery quickly became a situation in which the entire bank had been taken, the whole building! An element of the Higgs Bosen (based on real science) has been stored in the bank and somehow is effecting everything in the town. Carter is tasked with having to get the element contained and bring everything back to earth. Unfortunately, the bank is floating 4 miles above the earth and nothing can fly him there. He does make it, but the bank is on a terrible tilt and when he does get the element contained, the bank starts to plummet, listing back and forth and sending him in all directions with amazing physical comedy from Carter, played by Colin Ferguson. The day is saved at the last minute and order is restored. Even though “Up in the air” employed extensive use of VFX and filming trickery to make the scenes believable, Alexandra believes that the performances of the actors are the cornerstone to any production. For this particular episode, the physical comedy performed by Colin Ferguson (starring as sheriff Jack Carter) due to the gravity challenged nature of the situation was a high note (no pun intended). On working with La Roche, Ferguson proclaims, “Alexandra is one of, if not the best, director I have ever worked with.
I think it is fair to say that I have a deep understanding and appreciation for Alexandra’s talent. When we worked together, we worked in tandem to improve, correct, defend, and in short, save eighty plus hours of television from lesser hands than hers. She has the rare ability to follow the story, hear the actors, know the technical, and bring it all together in a manner that gets better, quantifiable results, faster than most, and in the form that others only dream they could achieve. This is exceptional. She always helped. She was never wrong. Not once. Our show had the quality that it did because of Alexandra La Roche. When I am asked by someone which episodes to watch to see if they will like I show I always say ‘Up in the Air’ or ‘Smarter Carter’, both of which are Alexandra’s episodes. She is an ally, she is a friend and she is someone I will always look up to.” Perhaps the reason that Alexandra is so respected and appreciated by the actors she works with is due to her honesty with them. She stipulates, “I had an excellent rapport with all the actors on ‘Eureka.’ Our deal was simple; I did not lie. If Colin wanted an honest opinion, he knew he would get it from me. Actors are so used to smoke being blown up their asses, they were really quite happy for me to say what I really thought. Of course, I never approach any situation with a negative. If I see a problem, I only mention it if I have a solution or proposal on how to solve it. This is what I know endeared me to the entire cast, with a particularly close working relationship with Colin as he trusted me implicitly.”

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One of La Roche’s favorite experiences directing for Eureka was the episode “Smarter Carter.” It combined many of the elements that were so endearing about the series: science, VFX, and comedic performances. A confrontation between sheriff Carter and two disembodied legs in the town square was a scene which Alexandra had conceived of herself. Kevin Blake (played by Trevor Jackson) and the sheriff square off with the legs in an attempt to capture them. The director describes, “It was written as a simple chase through the town square ending in a crash into the café patio. Parkour was just getting really popular so I expanded the scene and created a sequence where the legs jump, leap, and hang all over the town square ending up with Carter pinned in a head lock. This was a massive sequence and I had to call out to the actors every beat and every move because the legs were all CGI.  I had no voice left by lunch!! We had to use green screen elements as well. It took 7 hours to shoot, but it was a great scene, very funny and well worth it.” These situations give evidence that La Roche had a deep understanding of the personality the producers wanted “Eureka” to project. While executing these scenes can be taxing and stressful, the final result was well worth it. Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 8.58.16 AM

While “Eureka” left a lasting impression on its fans and science nerds everywhere, the road is two-way. Alexandra admits that to this day that she gravitates towards science magazines on plane rides and whenever she has free time. The experience working on “Eureka” led not only to many more professional opportunities (La Roche has directed CW’s “Flash”, USA network’s “Dead Zone”, and many others) but left her with a lifelong interest in science. Sometimes the conduit for learning resides in unobvious means.

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CINEMATOGRAPHER SHOWS BOTH SIDES AT THE SAME TIME IN PARENT, TEACHER

Chris Lew is someone who enjoys learning. Though he has served on numerous productions as Cinematographer, he is adamant that being creative is not about being comfortable. Anyone who pursues growth comes to the realization that growth only comes about through tension, stress, and (hopefully) release. He accepted the DP position on the film “Parent, Teacher” with the understanding that it would be difficult in a number of ways for him. What he had not expected was that this would be his closest foray into actually becoming a passive actor in a film. It’s an interesting and unusual experience that began when the film’s writer/director Roman Tchjen approached Chris to be the DP for this tense film.

“Parent, Teacher” tells a story that is not completely unheard of. What it does so ingeniously is to communicate the emotional temperature of a room during a stressful situation. In “Parent, Teacher”, a father meets with his son’s teacher after school when his son is accused of attacking a classmate. Who is right and wrong in the situation becomes increasingly harder to define as the father and teacher argue their beliefs.

Roman Tchjen has a long history of collaborating with Lew, creating a high level of trust and understanding between them. When Tchjen wanted to present a story in a very non-traditional manner, he was firm about the need for Chris’s involvement. While most films display the commonly used and accepted approach: shooting coverage, having a protagonist with a clear goal, a clear villain whom the hero must overcome etc., Roman wanted to create something that was more honest and lacked a clear answer because in real life these types of issues aren’t black and white. Going into the film, Lew and Roman made the commitment to have as few cuts as possible. The entire film was to be split it into two takes, foregoing any coverage, any establishing shots, or cut aways. This is the cinematography equivalent of riding a bull at the rodeo while being handcuffed from behind. All of the “go to” tropes of a DP were stripped away leaving Lew to formulate an approach that would still stimulate and entice the viewer. Chris communicates, “We focused solely on the performance and the conflict between these two people. This goes back to taking risks. After reading the script I knew it wasn’t written to be the most visually stimulating film so rather than making the visuals flashy, which Roman really didn’t want, I instead thought of ways to make it immersive and use that to make the film engaging and interesting. It was this approach that contributed to the decision to shoot extremely long takes. It took a lot of work for Roman and even more so for the actors. There were many sessions leading up the shoot where everyone practiced their lines. Once they were feeling comfortable, I came in for my own rehearsal to see how we could block the camera. I needed to know at what point I was going to be on each character and if we were going to see some lines spoken on camera or off screen. Making sure I was on the right actor for an expression was key too. It was a lot like a dance that the actors and I were doing together!”

A reason for which Roman was so insistent concerning Lew coming aboard as DP was due to his style. Just as director’s have a signature which leads many to hire them, Lew has been recognized for his ability to enable the audience to have an intimate experience via his choices and camera work. It appears effortless for Chris to make the camera unnoticed in any way and at the same time pick up every nuance in the actors faces. The question of how does the action on screen affect how much the camera moves really comes down to the content. Film is art and art is subjective. For Lew it comes down to the content of the scene and the emotion the he and the director want to convey.

“Parent, Teacher” required extensive preproduction for Chris which is very atypical for a DP. The story and the unique approach necessitated Lew being there for rehearsals. Because the camera essentially appears as a mute third party witness, Lew needed to almost “perform” as another participant in the scene. Every project prior to this one had this DP engaging in the typical method of planning the scenes out based on the locations with the director as they reviewed photos. By contrast, in this production the camera was very much a character in itself, with blocking and queues that needed to be timed down to lines. If Lew and Tchjen wanted the film to feel completely out of the norm they were going to have to start with this beginning stage. Long takes helped with this. When the father first walks into the classroom at the beginning of “Parent, Teacher”, the camera follows him in but then hangs back as he walks over to the teacher to shake her hand and sit down. This was the wide establishing two shot to set the scene. As the teacher starts to explain what had happened, the camera begins to slowly creep in. Lew’s advance is so slow and subtle that you don’t even notice as he moves in to a close up. Chris describes, “Eventually we’re out of the two shot and just on the father when he starts to explain that he doesn’t see anything wrong with his son’s actions. I wanted to isolate him in the frame at this point to represent that he is in his own world. He’s clearly an immigrant and not used to Western ways of handling situations of violence. The teacher becomes increasingly frustrated as the two cannot agree on what is right and wrong, all the while the camera is slowly getting closer and closer. I tried to hide the walk in with the camera panning back and forth between each character. Just before the climax of the argument, the father has given up and is lashing out at the teacher, feeling targeted and attacked for his beliefs. Here, the front of the lens is inches away from the actor’s face. You see every detail of his expression and all the frustration in his eyes before he jumps up away from camera breaking the tension. Essentially I wanted the entire conversation to be one slow, imperceptible push in that brings the audience closer as the tension rises.”

Chris felt the camera needed to be handheld to create this immersive feeling, to make the audience feel like another person in the scene. It was a decision that Chris would have regreted if not fully committed to achieving the goals he had set for this film. The challenge was the length of the takes and the physically demanding nature of the equipment he chose. “Parent, Teacher” was shot using the Alexa XT which is a large, heavy camera. Hand holding it, trying to keep the frame steady for such long takes is extremely difficult.

Producer Kegan Sant admits to being overwhelmed upon seeing the final product. He declares, “When you are in preproduction of a film you have a vision in your mind of what you hope it will look like. I can honestly say that the idea I had for ‘Parent, Teacher’ pales in comparison to what you see when viewing it. Christopher was essential to the way in which the story was presented to our audiences. His incredibly striking camera work and expert understanding of shadow and lighting allowed for the film to reach impressive narrative heights. The way in which he reflects the overall despair and confusion of our main character throughout the frames is what makes Christopher such a valuable asset to any production that seeks out his talent. His efforts throughout the film solidified the film’s high standing and reception. We would not have received the same overwhelmingly positive reaction without his talent as cinematographer.”

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Chris Lew admits that his work on set left him consistently soaked in sweat from long takes wielding a heavy camera. However, he also admits that taking a risk and trying to create a film which stands apart from the norm is something that he will hold onto much longer than an aching back or sore arms.

JUN XIA MANIFEST THE VISION OF “SHE GIVES ME SIGHT”

In spite of what the tabloids would have you believe, filmmaking is a team effort. While directors and actors are the faces of this mode of entertainment, the success of each production owes just as much to the talented professionals who perform their feats of magic and ability behind the camera. Think of it like this; if you order a fantastic meal but it isn’t handled properly or delivered properly…then it’s no good to you. Those whom the public never sees are as responsible for the gripping and endearing stories that we all love just as much as the marquee names we all know. Jun Xia may not be a household name but this editor is widely known and respected in the film industry. His editing has enabled the stories of fright (as in “Emily” and “Inside Linda Vista Hospital”), the touching stories of love and love lost (in “The Good Memory”), and of perseverance and the human spirit in “She Gives Me Sight.” This story of a young blind boy who is given a gift stronger than that of sight by a loving family member is the type of inspirational film that simultaneously evokes tears and admiration. Honored with multiple awards (at the Hollywood Boulevard Film Festival, Love Shorts Film Festival, LA underground Film Festival, and many others), “She Gives Me Sight” has a distinct pacing that is the result of Xia’s collaboration and planning with director Jiping Liu. When viewing the film, it is apparent that this approach is a major part of how the story is delivered and thus a result of its recognition in the film community.

“She Gives Me Sight” is a story about a little boy named Cecil whose life is full of bullying and darkness. Cecil was blinded in an accident and now lives with his grandmother in a small town. His only playground is the front yard of the old house in which they live. After little Cecil lost his sight, his grandmother decides to give Cecil love and light. Rather than treating him gently or with sympathy, she treats him more strictly than before. She continually asks him to help with simple housework. The neighborhood kids laugh at Cecil and taunt him. Although his grandmother is a witness to all of this, she doesn’t say anything about it. When a mishap occurs during these common house chores, Cecil breaks down. He is astonished that his grandmother does not take his situation into consideration and treat him differently than before he lost his sight. That night, she tells Cecil a bedtime story about a rose and a butterfly and how the rose promises to fight against the wind and keep blooming. Cecil dreams that night and understand that the story is about him and the rose’s story is his own. Three years later, Cecil became a successful author and writing a book named She Gives Me Sight about his childhood, and thanks his grandmother for teaching him to persevere and find his own way.

Because such a vast amount of the story is driven by narration and dialogue, Jun had copious discussions with the film’s director Jiping Liu in regards to how the editing might add to the story’s action. It was Xia’s contention that if the film were edited in exact correlation with the script, it would not achieve its full potential. In his mind, there was more happening in this story than what was directly stated. He explains his approach commenting, “I used the method of Parallel Montage in the film. I created it on the basis of a lot of dialogue and narration of the film, which made the overall movie more interesting. In this film, when the grandmother reads,  coaxing the blind boy to sleep, the imagination in the blind little boy’s mind, the imagination of him in childhood, and in the period of growing up were interspersed with editing. In addition, the things that occurred at different times and locations were edited together, which made the rhythm of this story more compact.”

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Jiping concedes, “Jun is a very smart when it comes to filmmaking, especially for editing. His approach is always well thought out and is about serving the message of the film. It was a great experience to work with such a fantastic film editor. Jun agrees noting, “I can’t overstate how important I feel that it is to be a modest filmmaker and editor. Receiving advice from others whom I respect about my own editing methods will only lead to increasing the integrity of the film.”

While a plethora of awards, nominations, and “official selection” accolades point to the widespread recognition of “She Gives Me Sight” by the film community, it’s the power that the film has on the individual when viewed that reveals its true impact. The film’s tone creates such a strong connection between the audience and young Cecil that it is almost unfathomable to think of its presentation as any other way. What Jun Xia and Jiping Liu created together is a moving and epic story of love overcoming life’s harsh blows. The rose that defies the wind can be found inside any of us; Jun Xia made certain that all viewers understand this lesson.