Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

EVGENY TELEGIN: EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS IN THE COMMERCIAL INDUSTRY

The difference between good and great is most easily revealed when the pressure is on. One’s true abilities rise to the surface when instinct and “thinking on your feet” is all that is afforded. If you want to be considered the best of the best you need to possess these skills as well as surround yourself with professionals whom also embody them. Dmitry Venikov is CEO of Trehmer CGI and the in-house director of this elite Russian production house that specializes in design and three-dimensional work. When Unistream (money transfer company) needed to create nine commercials in a very immediate time frame, Venikov was relaxed knowing that expert producer Evgeny Telegin was at the helm. Telegin’s work with many international brands such as Nike, IKEA, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, and countless others gave him a proven record to handle any situation with all global and domestic clients. His respect and countless international connections in the industry reinforced his ability to insure his productions were received with high praise. Telegin’s reputation as welcoming obstacles was an attractive attribute as well. The Unistream project would test this as it required nine commercial spots to be filmed in one day! When the person in charge is relaxed and confident, this demeanor trickles down to the entire production team. As proof, Evgeny and his team delivered their work ahead of schedule and with the high level of production imagined by Unistream. With apparent pride in his voice, Venikov professes, “, It was a saving grace to have such a legendary producer as Evgeny at the helm of the production. The Unistream commercials were a triumphant success due in large part to Evgeny’s ability to handle multiple things at once while still performing each task at the highest level of skill possible. Given the strict deadline at hand, Evgeny was a lifesaver by hiring an outstanding crew and cast, which included the celebrity host of Russia’s version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, along with coordinating set construction and the preparation of the shoot. The commercials called for finding representatives of different nations, who could speak their language fluently while acting on stage.  This task was not easy to approach in such a short amount of time; however, Evgeny found everyone at a rapid pace, and they all turned out to be the perfect fit for the client’s needs.  As a result of Evgeny’s producing, the commercials aired all across Russia and CIS countries, driving Unistream’s sales up 300 percent.”

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When dealing with advertising, casting is always important. For a production discussing finances, trust is paramount. Telegin needed a star for the Unistream commercials who embodied both of these traits. Everyone in Russia knows Dmitry Dibrov; not only for his work as the host of “Who wants to be a millionaire” but also as a journalist, actor, director and musician. Highly detailed planning and preparation made the filming occur smoothly, while Evgeny credits Dibrov’s high level of professionalism (delivering everything in almost the first take each time). This highly respected and recognizable celebrity, coupled with a delivery of the message in each geographic area’s authentic language, allowed consumers to feel comfortable in a number of ways.

The communication between Dibrov and the other actors in these commercial spots reveals a truly Russian (and areas surrounding Russia) scenario. It’s quite different from what many American advertisers or even American citizens experience. It also further reinforces the challenges which Telegin and his team faced in preparation for the production. Evgeny notes, “Unistream is very popular for money transfer within the country but mainly targets post-Soviet countries like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Armenia, etc. It’s not a secret that many neighbors of Russia come to Moscow seeking jobs. They send money that they earn back home to their families. That was the target audience for this campaign. Our goals for the commercials were to be easy to understand and informative in terms of benefits. We came up with the idea of Dmitry Dibrov doing his own small investigation about why is it that every second Armenian or every third Kazak sends money back home through Unistream. He is asking at the Unistream “random” customers why they choose Unistream. They all say in their native language what they like about it: fast service, broad network, and low rates. In the end of every story Dibrov repeats “low rates” the way the customers just said it in their language. It also adds some familiarity and comfort with Dibrov saying words in the customer’s native language.” To help create the “everyman” feel of these commercials, many first time actors were cast to interact with Dmitry. Instead of an overly polished and slick feel to the performances, viewers felt that those seen in the commercials were just as believable as themselves, which transferred the message that this was an appropriate service for them to us in their own lives.

Talent, experience, and connections are a requirement of every producer, but Evgeny points out one attribute that is often overlooked…awareness. He confesses, “I think a good producer has knowledge of what is popular, what is trendy at the moment. For example, there was a time in Russia when viral videos were very popular. If you know these kind of tendencies, you can come up with interesting and fresh ideas for great productions. No doubt that all the world looks closely at productions done in the US. I would say it’s the main course of style and techniques. You might want to monitor this direction if you want to succeed. Another direction would be international festivals. You see who wins or is nominated so you can find some young and unknown talents to offer to your clients. These young talents are fired up to work and extend their experience in other countries while the clients/agencies are happy because you bring something new and fresh to the productions. It’s a win-win. You must be sure that this young director will be able to produce the results you expect. You have to use your ‘6th producers sense’ based on your experience. Being an effective communicator allows you to tell if it will work out or not.” Telgin requires the same traits that Dmitry Venikov attributed to him. His achievements give increased validity to the professionals he works with, bringing those with a similar desire for exceptional work cultivates greatness at all levels. Delivering greatness is what drives this exemplary Russian producer to get up and face a new challenge every day.

 

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?

 

 

GREENWOOD ISN’T AFRAID OF THE ANTI-SEQUEL

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

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

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

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

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

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COELHO CREATES MAGIC BEHIND THE LENS

The film You Cast a Spell On Me is about relationships and magic. Movie magic gives us the escapism and captivating storytelling that we all desire. This magic doesn’t happen without the relationships and communication amongst the creative professionals who produce them for our enjoyment. Director of Photography Johanna Coelho’s job title may imply that she is solely focused on imagery but one of the keys to her success is the emphasis she places on communication in filmmaking. No matter what vocation you are involved in, communication may be the most important factor to success. Johanna’s shrewd understanding of this fact and the benevolent manner in which she utilizes it has made her a much sought after DP in the film industry. As a fluent English speaker who was raised on the outskirts of Paris, Coelho has a heightened awareness of the subtleties of communication and how different individuals receive and interpret information. Of course, being from France makes her very aware of romance; which made her the ideal DP for this production. Talent, communication, and a connection with the story being told were the components of the magic that she created for You Cast a Spell On Me.

It’s an obvious statement but, anyone who speaks more than one language has spent a greater amount of time dissecting and contemplating communication. It creates a deeper understanding of your own intentions as well as those of others. Life can be easier or more difficult based on the level of communication. The success of many films are based on the abilities of its creators to establish a rapport with the audience as well as to accurately depict the vision of the film. Fantasy films like You Cast a Spell On Me require someone like Johanna and Tosca Musk (director/producer) who can manifest visuals that don’t exist in our actual world. Speaking about Coelho’s work on the film, Musk declares, “Johanna’s cinematography work on this film was extremely impressive. She lead a full crew in an enjoyable environment and created visuals that were really uplifting to the story. There were also a lot of magic tricks happening in the story, and in collaboration with the art department, she brought these magic effects to life. Almost everything was done practically and it looks amazing; like real magic! She is a pleasure to work with. She was fully committed to the project and the vision I had as a Director. Johanna also was very mindful of the work of other departments, giving them their space when needed but also collaborating with everyone to have a smooth and organized shoot.”

You Cast a Spell On Me is a romance/fantasy film about a young and handsome warlock named Matt. His power is that he can charm women into finding him irresistible, literally. As one can expect, a young man with this power is apprehensive to settle down with one woman. This journey Matt takes towards finding his soulmate and depicts him losing his powers, others gaining powers, and the conflict and happy endings that one finds in romance films. Due to the nature of Matt’s character, many production departments were required to understand and work together to help create the visual “trickery” to produce the action in this film. The responsibilities of the Director of Photography can vary depending on the personality of a director. Some directors like to have a full control of the creative visuals. They have a very specific idea in mind and have a precise shot list with lighting references they want reproduced for the film. Other directors do not really want to (or know how to) deal with the visual part. They just want to focus on the actors. When similar minds meet…Coelho explains, “Sometimes you have a director in the middle of the two previous options, one that will want to share the creative approach with you. It’s a really fun process when this happens because the two of you have imaginative brains talking together about shots and exchanging visual references to find what would be the best for the story. Tosca Musk is that Director, and it was amazing to prep this film with her because we would really support each other in the process. One idea would lead to another idea and so on, giving life to ideas that might have never existed with only one person brainstorming. We were also both very open minded about each other’s input and this really helped the process.”

This template trickled down through Johanna’s ten-person camera crew. This DP makes sure to involve them in the pre-production process (especially the Gaffer and Key Grip) to keep everyone aware of the plan and prepare for lighting, etc. Johanna understands that a happy and respected crew of professionals are more motivated to work and share in a vison than those who are merely “punching the clock”, a mindset we can all relate to and understand. Perhaps one of the most overlooked parts of communicating on set is with one’s self. Coelho reveals, “It is hard to stop for a second, and really look at the frame and lighting and be sure it’s the right setup. Focusing on one thing at a time is very important. If you do everything in order, your job will go much faster. You can switch back and forth between things quickly but each thing needs to be given its own respectful moment. It is also really important to know the blocking of the scene, because you don’t want to start lighting and discover in the middle of a take that your light is in the wrong place for your actor. So following the steps is key. It’s true that with everything going on at the same time, you can get lost in your own thoughts. It happened on one of my early student movies in 2011 at AFI and I was really angry at myself for having lost my point of view on the film. A teacher who watched it pointed this out to me and told me that when he would get confused on set, he would step out into the bathroom, turn the lights off so his eyes wouldn’t get distracted, take a deep breath, and remember what the movie should be for two minutes. Then he would come back on set fresh and clear minded. This is probably one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received. I don’t go hide in the restrooms, but I do step outside into an empty corner where no one is talking to me and take a deep breath and think for two minutes. When I come back on set everything is fine and back in place in my mind.”

While those of us in the audience are blissfully unaware of all the moving parts behind the scenes of the shows and films which entertain us, the talented professionals creating them are always thinking of us and our subconscious desire to not be taken out of the film. None of that would be possible with the oversight of someone like Johanna Coelho. You Cast a Spell On Me was filmed in a staggering fourteen days; an incredible achievement for such a high quality production. This is only possible with someone such as Coelho who is planning out and paying attention to every possible time saving opportunity. Whether communicating with the AD to prep things while waiting for the actors, or planning the lighting so that the post production process runs more smoothly (Johanna states, “Colorist are key and they should have much more recognition as they’re always saving your back and make your work look better. I was happy I could assist in ways that helped the colorist. We would discuss it together for each shot.”).

It’s an obvious statement that every DP needs talent and the eye to find the images which the director needs. There are so many professionals in the world, it is those like Johanna Coelho whose ability to create a positive and efficient environment for filmmakers the set her above the rest.

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German TV Writer-Producer Kirsten Ittershagen Runs Her Shows with Passion, Precision

Driven, versatile and passionate, German television writer-producer Kirsten Ittershagen, who works as a Showrunner for German and international TV series, has ascended to the top of her field thanks to a powerful combination of raw talent and creative vision. In a decade’s time she went from an entry level aspirant to become the creator, writer and producer on one of the nation’s top series, Alibi Agency, a program that deftly combines comedy and drama into a singular, intriguing format.

The road which led her from a career in advertising to television and Alibi Agency was one marked by fate and determination, an odyssey that began when Ittershagen was a child and came to fruition, years later, after a dramatic leap of faith. “I’ve been a TV fan since childhood,” Ittershagen said. “It all started with Love Boat, Magnum, P.I. and Beverly Hills 90210. My mom was always concerned that I didn’t read as much as my sister did—I came home from school and enjoyed the afternoon by watching German and American TV shows.”

“It became my passion,” she said. “Even during my studies of Sociology, Cultural Studies and Psychology at the University of Hamburg, I still watched TV in the afternoon or evenings. After I graduated, I began working in advertising but still dreamed of a career in the TV Industry. I had to follow my passion in order to be happy and very spontaneously, I quit my job, moved to Berlin and decided to be a writer. It was a big risk, but luckily it worked out.”

Against some steep odds, Ittershagen’s determination and skill began to pay off. Starting as an intern at GrundyUFA (an independent TV subsidiary of the fabled UFA film studio), Ittershagen soon graduated to working out plots as “storyliner” moved on to story editing and before long found herself the head writer on popular, long-running dramas Unter Uns (Among Us), Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten (Good Times, Bad Times”) and the writer-producer of Verbotene Liebe (Forbidden Love)

“My biggest dream came true,” Ittershagen said. “I got job writing for the company which produced my favorite TV series that I’d watched for years.”

A story teller second to none, her ability to imprint a unique twist on a familiar scenario has served her well, and Ittershagen managed it in a particularly demanding sector of the industry—the high pressure world of TV series. This is an arena of inescapable deadlines, where a writer must not only meet an almost impossibly tight schedule but also maintain consistent quality and narrative poise.

And she did it with impressive skill. “Kirsten combines exceptional creative talent with the management strength necessary to run a room of writers, each of whom has their own character,” said Jan Diepers, Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten executive producer. ”I remember several occasions where it seemed impossible to continue with a storyline; whether due to budgeting reasons or an unforeseeable incident, but Kirsten never lost focus or her positive, creative attitude. She would usually return from the writer’s room with an even better idea and solution.”

 

Ittershagen’s extraordinary talent isn’t just known in Germany. As a passionate traveler Ittershagen loves to work internationally and for different cultures. For the international company FremantleMedia, Ittershagen worked in Croatia on the show Ruza Vjetrova (Rose of the Wind) for Croation broadcaster RTL, heading up their international writers room. Typically for Ittershagen, the show become one of the most successful in that country. She also developed a TV series called The Mall for the same company, set in Dubai and marketed to air in the Middle East.

 

Following this international success she also became the first German writer-producer invited to join the faculty at Serial Eyes Program, the groundbreaking European postgraduate high-level TV series writing and producing program in Berlin, where she mentors up and coming European scriptwriters and producers.

Her creation and subsequent success of Alibi Agency was almost inevitable. “Ten years ago I had the idea about a guy who helps people to cheat on their spouses” Ittershagen said. “I started research and found an actual alibi agency which offered all the professional lies, fake worlds and realities you need, hiding an affair, two families or even a disease like cancer or HIV from bosses or a job in porn or escort from families.”. I’m a very honest person and I was fascinated and disgusted in the same time. But I realized, in creating these stories, how important is to discuss the value of truth and, also, the easy way out with lies. It resonates with audiences and they reflect on their own lives—‘Would I do the same? Who I can trust?’  And now, on top of that, ten years later, we live in a world full of lies, in the news, the internet, all around us. Whistleblowers coming out with some truths we never wanted to hear, or did we? That’s why Alibi Agency mirrors the contemporary feeling of society.”

 

Her precision, vigor and ability to consistently turn out world class scripts earned her a formidable reputation among her peers—her daily drama shows average 4 million viewers each, and earned her the prestigious German Soap Award in 2012 for “responsible social and humanitarian storytelling” for her teenage HIV-themed story of  the show Unter Uns (Among Us).

Her background in sociology and psychology lend canny depth to her scripts and Ittershagen’s crisp, articulate dialog, sense of pacing and sheer reach of storyline benefit every project to which she contributes. For Ittershagen, with an already significant level or professional achievements, the sky is the limit; as Jan Diepers points out, “Kirsten has an extraordinary ability to spin ideas further than most writers I know.”

And the multi-faceted Ittershagen—writer, producer, series creator, showrunner—wouldn’t have it any other way. “It is an astonishing feeling when you see your ideas, characters and stories come alive on the screen,” she said. “Television is a mass medium that has major impact on society and I want to use it for greater good. I see my purpose as a writer in sending important, uplifting messages to my audience. There is enough fear, pain, violence, hate and terror out there—I think the world needs hope, love, light and laughter. And as a TV writer I have the chance to make the world a better place, at least a little.”

PRODUCING A PAINFUL WAR FILM WITH “DAVID” YU HAO SU IN “RESURGENT”

Yu Hao Su is Harvey Keitel. Okay, maybe he isn’t the Oscar nominated actor but just like Keitel’s character Mr. White in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, David (as Su in known) has a reputation for being a “fixer” in the film industry. When the 2016 Action/Thriller Resurgent needed to do a reshoot for scenes which take place in Afghanistan, David was contacted to contribute his exemplary producing skills. A reshoot is so crucial to a film because it has to match the existing footage in so many ways as to seem and feel that it was part of the original filming. Any deviation from the tone and mood of the existing principal footage could derail the already massive amount of work a production has executed, to say nothing of completely distracting the audience. As the editor of this film, no one is more qualified than James Stiegelbauer to comment on the work of David on the reshoot. Stiegelbauer proclaims, “Yu-Hao was calm under pressure. When our director made last minute script changes, everyone was concerned it couldn’t be pulled off but Yu-Hao didn’t even flinch. He made a few calls and quickly got everything that was needed. Yu-Hao is detail oriented, resourceful, and is never afraid to get his hands dirty. I would ask him to work on every job if I could. We could not have finished Resurgent without his hard work. He coordinated with the actors, locations, and crew quickly making all the necessary arrangements to meet our needs. As an Editor, I’m not on set, but I do need to be in constant communication with the director and cinematographer. Yu-Hao was crucial in this communication. This ability to be able to keep the work flowing even as unforeseen factors arise and must be dealt with…that’s what the truly great producers possess.”

Resurgent is a film which depicts the story of a mercenary who must come to terms with a botched mission in order to return to the battlefield. Max, the main character (played by Manny Cartier) is suffering from the pain of his partner who has died in a military missionary with him in Afghanistan. The action and military theme of this film necessitates stunts, something which David is familiar in dealing with. Setting the table in a safe manner for these stunts is highly important to him. He notes, “We have a lot of stunt in the film. I need to make sure the stunts are done right in order to make sure the actors are completely safe. We not only have the stunt coordinator on set but also a set medic. This may seem obvious but every little situation must be planned for regardless of if it ever needs to be used. We also have a weapon wrangler on set to make sure people are aware on set, even though the weapons are just props. My job is not only to make sure the stunt scenes are well-planned but also to make sure the set is safe. I take stunts very seriously. Because it’s an action film with a lot of stunts (and we filmed in a dessert to cheat it as Afghanistan) I needed to make sure our production was a self-contained unit with everything we could possibly need at a moment’s notice. It’s not easy to shoot stunt scenes with weapon props in the desert. I need to make sure everyone is safe not only because of the stunt actions but also the difficult shooting environment.”

For those of us who don’t work in the film industry, it might be hard to understand exactly what a producer does on set. For those who do work in film, it’s difficult to overemphasize the impact a producer has on any film. A producer’s role can be described as parent, police officer, president, healer, and best friend…all in one person. A producer is the person who supplies what you need even before you understand and comprehend that you need it. It’s a conflicting situation for most producers. They love what they do but they rarely are afforded the opportunity to lose themselves in the fun of watching the movie magic they help to create. David states, “Being in charge of the reshoot for Resurgent was fun, there’s no mistaking that. I just had to always be thinking a few steps ahead. There is really no time for losing yourself in the moment. It’s interesting to shoot an action film. The stunt sequences with the stunt coordinator are fun and look amazing in the film. Watching that when the film is finished is fun. There are always challenges that are unique to each film. The desert location we filmed didn’t have a phone signal or Internet. It’s very hard to run a set without this technical stuff. We ended up planning it well and got the work done in spite of this. There is nothing to complain about for me. I’m so excited to be a part of this industry. To focus on the story and tell the story from an essential human’s point of view. I believe truth and humanity is the key to delivering a story everyone can understand and connect to.”

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ALL HEED THE MESSAGE OF AWAKEN

The arts have been the creative analogous tool of creative types for centuries. This format to communicate the real life situations with which society is confronted must often be done in a covert manner. In order to avoid strife and previously held opinions, avenues like music, literature, theater, and film, are utilized to help us see things from other perspectives. This methodology often finds us sympathizing in a first person sense, placing ourselves in the shoes of others and their circumstances. Historically, great art has struck a chord in the collective society and spurred on movements that create change. This is the story told in the film Awaken by Bruce Sze Han Chen. It is a lofty idea that he proposes in the film. In order to successfully bring about his vision, Bruce obtained the successful production talents of “David” Yu Hao Su. The many accolades and recognitions that the film has received prove that this decision was well founded for all involved parties. Some of the achievements include: Accolade Competition 2015 (Winner-Award of Merit), Alaska International Film Festival (Winner-Northern Lights Emerging Talent Award), California Film Awards (Winner-Diamond Award), Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards (Best Production Design), Mexico International Film Festival (Winner-Golden Palm Award), World Film Awards, Jakarta (Award of Merit), and on and on. Regardless of geographic location, audiences were captivated by Awaken’s message, a message which was delivered exactly as its creator had envisioned thanks to the support and talent of his producer David (as well as co-producer Pin Chun Liu). As with any great artist, having the professionals around you to allow you the freedom to create your art is paramount.

Awaken is a story which is applicable to any society, political system, or theology on the planet. The heroine of the film is Sophie. She has spent her life working in an enormous factory. In this facility, the workers’ minds are controlled by the music which is ubiquitous. One day, Sophie is suddenly impervious to the effects of the music and she decides to destroy the music system in order to free everyone from its effects and the factory’s dictator who is in control. The message is thinly veiled but easily understood; be in control of your own life rather than to unconsciously follow a path which is handed down to you by others, others who may be less concerned about your well-being than their own. As a producer on Awaken, it was David’s role to assist Bruce (the director) to find a production designer, costume designer, and other principle team members. Location and casting was a particularly vital part of this film. The lead actress playing Sophie is a minor which meant that scheduling needed to be coordinated around strict guidelines. The futuristic location of a massive factory was coordinated among three different venues. To further complicate things, an enormous amount of extras were cast and then supplemented with VFX to complete the proper feel of the factory and its workers. David reveals, “We needed to create a lot of workers to show how big the factory is and how many people are controlled by the dictator. We decide to use VFX to duplicate the workers. We found an excellent VFX team to helps us prepare the work and coordinate it with the Camera and Art departments. Even though we decided to use VFX to duplicate the workers in the factory, we still needed a huge amount of extras to create the materials for the VFX team. Also the location we had for the factory was huge, so it required us to have an enormous amount of extras on set. My production team and I posted casting information online and called all the actors we knew in order to have so many extras come to our set. The VFX works is the most challenging part for me because we had a very limited budget and time to plan the VFX. It ended up that the VFX scene worked very well and it’s all because of the teamwork each department devoted.” To fully understand the role David played in Awaken, consider that the actual principal filming took five days. His preproduction involvement began two months prior to filming and his post-production work took place for three months following its conclusion. That’s a ratio of 1/20 or more. The beauty and strength of the message in Awaken solidify the fact that when creative artists of all vocations work together, they can create and communicate in a manner that reaches the public and critics. The beauty of this film lies not only in its aesthetic but also in its content, both of which are fueled by the amazing team that brought it into existence.

 

 

 

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