Category Archives: Canada

Kurt Szul blows away City of Los Angeles for Italian Heritage Day

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Kurt Szul

Kurt Szul is a firm believer that in this life, “you get back what you put in.” Working in a field as cutthroat and unpredictable as the music industry, he understands the reality of this motto better than most. Not only does he know the level of dedication and hard work required to stay on top of his competition, he makes it look effortless. His success is largely based on his unprecedented drive; however, it is perhaps his versatility that has earned him a profound reputation amongst some of the best artists in the world.

Szul’s background in jazz music allowed him to master other genres with ease; however, his talents extend far beyond his natural affinity for composing and playing music. He is also a seasoned businessman with a wide range of experience managing and promoting bands. He has an aptitude for preparing music, organizing musicians, rehearsing bands, creating concepts for projects, and ensuring that any band he manages are well prepared to exceed their goals. Beyond managing bands, Szul can be credited with inventing, pioneering, and co-building one of the first and only Nine String Guitars at the young age of 18.

In 2015, Szul shared his talents with Los Angeles’ Italian community when he performed at Los Angeles City Hall Chambers Ceremony for their Italian Heritage Day. The city’s primary contact when looking for an artist, Janet DeMay, was tasked with securing a band to play at the event. Given her prominence in the Italian community, she was determined to acquire a seasoned professional to ensure that Italian Heritage Day was equipped with the highest quality performance possible. DeMay was already aware of Szul’s reputation in the industry and knew that he would be the perfect addition to the event. When she approached him about the possibility of having him perform for the city of Los Angeles, Szul couldn’t resist saying yes.

Szul, who has ample experience performing for high calibre events, knew of the hard work that would need to go into preparing Italian Heritage Day and took careful consideration to guarantee that the session would be a hit. For Szul, opportunities like performing at the Los Angeles City Hall Chambers Ceremony are what motivated him to become an artist and a band manager in the first place. He was both honored and humbled by the experience and eager to make sure that the city would be left speechless when the band were finished.

“Before the performance, I felt excited that I was bringing session musicians that I handpicked, prepared, and organized for such a prestigious event. I felt confident that the band would flawlessly perform the music that I had prepared and that it would be appreciated for this special day. I helped the band prepare in such a way that when we talked over the music and set up, we were able to play exactly as planned and it was very satisfying seeing the crowd enjoy it as much as they did. People loved it and kept moving closer to watch us play. After we finished playing, people kept approaching us to express what our music meant to them and to offer us future work,” said Szul.

Szul’s successes at Italian Heritage Day continued to grow even after the band’s performance. In addition to the verbal feedback that the band received, DeMay went on to receive a Certificate of Recognition honouring the band’s contribution to the event. The entire Los Angeles City Council, including the Honorable Mayor Eric Garcetti and councilman Joe Buscaino of the 15th district, who were also impressed by the quality of the performance. Naturally, DeMay was ecstatic by the event’s reception and knows that its success is a reflection of Szul’s artistry.

“I hand-picked Kurt to perform at the Los Angeles City Hall Chambers Ceremony kicking off Italian Heritage Month because of his ability to perform authentic Italian Jazz music from Native Italian Composers, an ability that is not found among musicians in the Los Angeles area. Because of his early classical piano training and his years of experience playing a variety of Jazz music, he is able to meld two disciplines and traditions into one seamlessly. He has a unique ability that suited our needs perfectly and he is a valuable member of the extended Italian community,” told DeMay.

Szul prides himself on the feedback he receives from any project he completes and continues to labor his efforts toward creating new opportunities to do what he loves wherever and whenever he can. When his competition is fierce, he stays grounded by the knowledge that he is willing to persevere where many other artists would give up. Quitting isn’t an option for Szul and his vast amount of experience has allowed him to find stability in what he does. He puts one hundred per cent of himself behind every project that he works on and in return, he receives one hundred per cent satisfaction from his achievements.

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A FAMILY OF FRIENDS HAS MANY FORMS IN “PARKED”

There’s something romantic and endearing about a group of people coming together to support each other’s attempt to bring out the best in themselves and their dreams. It might be possible to make it on your own but when you do it with a trusted group of confidants it’s so much more enjoyable. “Parked” is a Canadian production which tells the story of five men who attempt to navigate the highs and lows of life. It’s a theme that is synonymous with the writers who created this show. In a small writers’ room, Gorrman Lee, Executive Producers Adam O. Thomas, Tracey Mack, Siobhan McCarthy, and Actor/Co-Producer David Lewis spent many long nights together writing what ultimately became a season of six full webisodes and twenty-five interstitial videos. The struggle that artists take on to test themselves, to aspire to create something which binds viewers together, it’s just as touching as the obstacles and experiences of the characters in “Parked.” Great things are achieved in life when people work together to support each other’s dreams, whether in real life or the stories which resemble it.

Here’s something that any true artist will tell you, greatness is found in the idea and the manifestation of it not necessarily in the execution of it. There’s a reason that songwriters receive a larger portion of the income generated by a song than those who perform it. Creative individuals understand that the idea itself is the keystone. The modern presentation of this is the fact that many of the productions that are presented on the web rival, and sometimes exceed, the stories presented on more traditional platforms. When writer Gorrman Lee saw the pilot for “Parked” shared on Facebook he thought “They’re doing this on the web? It’s so good!” The show’s pilot is so well produced and funny that it stands as a testament to the excellence of work being created outside the traditional system in today’s marketplace. When Lee had the chance to meet Siobhan McCarthy at a pitch event, he made it his mission to convince her that he could be of benefit to the show as one of their writers. He recalls, “I was very professional about it. I told her how much I enjoyed the pilot and asked if they were looking for people to join up; if so, I’d love to have a coffee with her to discuss. Asking people to coffee in this industry is a great, low-pressure way to get an in.” To Gorrman’s delight and the shows benefit, it worked.

Parked with EP Siobhan McCarthy

“Parked” is about a group of 30-something dads, plus their one non-father pal, struggling with their late coming of age. While at first glance the characters might seem homogenous, each one has their own story to differentiate them in the group. The same can be said for the writers. As the youngest in the writing room and the only non-parent himself, Gorrman related most to the character Josh (the burnout, non-father of the group). While Lee and Josh vary greatly in personality, being of a certain age and place in your life naturally presents a shared perspective. Josh is found to be somewhat abrasive by the audience of “Parked” but Gorrman enjoyed the exercise of finding the sympathy/concealed soft side of Josh. The dichotomy of Josh was as entertaining for Lee as a writer as it was for the viewer. In episode #5, “Waiting for Kiddo”, Josh appears insufferable as he enters the scene complaining about how lame kids’ birthday parties are and how he’d much rather spend the day getting stoned. Lee’s writing shined a light on Josh’s humanity by showing just how hard he’s willing to work to get a child to attend this party with him. It looks creepy from the outside but Josh’s unawareness of this ultimately comes off as sweet because he just wants to hang out with his friends.

In a similar way to Josh’s willingness to step out of his comfort zone to keep the group together, Gorrman took on a writing assignment for “Parked” that was well outside his wheel house. Adam O. Thomas (Executive Producer of “Parked”) notes, “Gorrman was a key member of our writing room. He helped find the humor and really had a strong handle on how to shape a scene. If we were going off on a tangent, he was always the one to help bring us back around. He also made sure we never took the easy way out. I loved him for that. We broke down episodes and then assigned each writer some. Gorrman had a couple of the toughest. One was a musical episode and the other had to dance around the theme of child abduction to find the comedy in a dislikable character…. not an easy task. When he turned in his episode, I laughed out loud. It was perfect!” The musical episode referred to was entitled “Master Baker” and required Gorrman to create a Rap video. While most people think of writers as professionals who create based on something which they already know and actors as professionals who educate themselves/research about things they don’t know, Lee’s situation with this episode seems to indicate that writers are much more like actors in their approach. He was given an outline and lyrics for the song but the rest of creating the scene was up to Gorrman. He states, “I’m not really a Rap fan, my wife is though. I’m a writer of color. I’m Chinese-Canadian. It was important to me to research enough that I wasn’t being offensive or inappropriate in satirizing rap with three white, and one Indian actor. I think we pulled it off because of how silly our characters looked. The joke was on them, and not at the expense of rap.” The writer admits to feeling a great sense of accomplishment standing on set and watching the rap video sequence being filmed with Davinder/Sean Amsing is in his hot tub alongside Jimmy Z /Colin Foo. The entire cast and crew seemed to revel in the ridiculousness of the scene which Gorrman had concocted. It was obvious to all that the cast was living out the same fantasy that their characters connected with. “Parked” actor/writer David Lewis confirms, “Gorrman’s voice was definitely a distinct one. His episodes were some of our strongest. His understanding of character and story structure was invaluable. I’ve been working in this industry for over 25 years and have seen both good and bad writing. Gorrman’s writing is very good!”

Parked at Leo awards

Part of success is accepting both achievement and disappointment with grace. “Parked” received multiple nominations at the Leo Awards (Canadian based awards) in 2016 and a win for best actor (David Lewis). It was an instance of public affirmation in the industry for this production. With equal measure Lee describes, “It was a wonderful moment for all of us. While I remember that easily, I also remember the many long days and nights churning out ideas and breaking stories. I wish we could’ve come up with a way to shoot our original idea for the season finale. It was about Josh realizing that he had drunkenly donated sperm to a local sperm bank and convincing the other dads to help him break into the bank and steal it back. It was our take on a ‘bank heist’. Thinking back to this pitch still makes me chuckle. There’s always something to work towards.”

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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Award-winning photographer Jennifer Roberts is one to watch

When Jennifer Roberts was just a child, she was always taking photos on her mother’s camera. She loved looking at them. Whenever she would go on a trip, she would take that camera and capture everything she saw. At the time, photography was just a hobby, but as years passed she realized she could turn what she loved into a career.

Roberts is now an internationally sought-after photographer, with an esteemed resume that has earned her the reputation as one of Canada’s best. She has shot for the world-renowned Wall Street Journal, and The Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s largest newspapers, as well as magazines like Canadian Business and Moneysense. She is an award-winning photographer, and her shots for Getty last year featuring Academy Award winning actress Michelle Williams received won a 2017 Applied Arts Annual for Best Portrait, and was nominated for a Communication Arts Award.

“I would say my style is very natural looking but also has a nice polished edge. I like using light in a natural looking way and always try to make sure any artificial light doesn’t look too source-y. Depending on who I’m photographing I’ll decide how much direction to give. I find that when shooting actors and actresses, they don’t need much direction. They’ll know their best angles and be able to provide a lot of interesting poses. If there is a specific angle for the story or tone then I’m happy to provide a little direction. If someone isn’t familiar with being in front of the camera then I’m happy to give some direction so they’ll feel more comfortable,” Roberts described.

Recently, Roberts has shot features for Canada’s largest and leading news magazine Maclean’s, founded in 1905. The magazine has published the work of Canada’s top photographers and photojournalists, including Roberts.

“It was a career goal of mine to be a contributor to the magazine. Working on Maclean’s stories are always really interesting. The topics are very timely and relevant. The art department leaves the photographer with lots of room to be creative and they like the photographer to provide lots of options. It’s also great to know that the end product will be seen around the country,” she said.

Shooting for Maclean’s, Roberts has done very high-profile projects, often being commissioned to shoot subjects with sensitive subject matter. One of these pieces was shooting a critical piece about Dr. Darryl Gebien, titled “How fentanyl turned an ER doctor into an addict.” Dr. Gebien was a former drug addict, also being charged with illegally prescribing fentanyl. Roberts did a portrait shoot with him in his home and she had to be extremely gentle with him as he was really worried about being photographed. In the end, Roberts had captured a beautiful series of photos of Dr. Gerbien that really spoke to his personal struggles.

She also photographed internationally renowned artist Ed Burtynsky, for a profile on his career as an artist. When shooting the Ed Burtynsky, she was on a super tight timeline and small window of opportunity with Burtynsky, but she was able to photograph beautiful studio portraits that really captured the mood and tone of the story.

Another feature included shooting Kristine Johnston and her husband Jimmie Johnston for a piece on Alzheimer’s and Assisted Suicide in Canada. Roberts says she had to be very delicate and gentle in such a sensitive situation. Jimmie Johnston was suffering from Alzheimer’s and was seeking the right for assisted suicide.

Later, she a story following NDP Leadership Candidate, MPP Jagmeet Singh. This was no easy documentary piece, as she had to photograph him while he went about his day in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. She also shot a portrait of Giller Prize and Governor General Literacy Award Nominee Gary Barwin, and worked as a freelance photo editor at Maclean’s Magazine 4.

“As a photo editor and producer, I’ve hired Jennifer countless times over the past five years for photography assignments in Maclean’s, Canadian Business, MoneySense and Tourism Toronto. She continually delivers the best quality of work and exceeds my expectations with every assignment, whether shooting portraits, food or reportage. I have found her to be versatile in her photographic ability, resourceful in difficult situations that may present itself on a shoot, highly creative in her approach, and always reliable. I can say with confidence that she is a well-respected and established photographer in the industry and among her peers,” said Kayla Chobotuik, a Canadian Business Editor.

What was, however, the most influential of Robert’s work for Maclean’s was her feature for the social movement Black Lives Matter. The shoot from demonstration won international Applied Arts Award for Best Documentary photo and was a nominee for an international Communication Arts Award. It demonstrates great documentary ability as Roberts was originally commissioned to shoot a Pride Parade, but when the protest broke out, she was able to capture award winning photos of the event.

“When I won the Applied Arts Award for the Black Lives Matter photo I was really excited that more attention would be given to the issue. By winning that award and being nominated for a Communication Arts award I knew even more people would have the opportunity to see an image from their demonstration. I was also really proud that the photo was being recognized as award worthy,” said Roberts.

With such innate talent, there is little doubt as to why Roberts receives the accolades she does. She is definitely one to watch for.

Makeup artist Jen Tioseco shows off natural beauty to Saucony shoot

Jen Tioseco is an artist. A face is her canvas, makeup is her paint. She uses her brushes to create something beautiful, or to completely change the way someone is perceived. It takes a certain skill to completely alter someone, making them unrecognizable, or just simply enhancing natural features that someone already possesses, and that is what makes Tioseco so sought-after. She is truly one of British Columbia’s best makeup artists.

Tioseco has worked with many prominent individuals throughout her career, and her work has been seen by millions across not only Canada, but the rest of the world. She has worked with the popular singer Dani LeRose, and did the makeup for two of her recent music videos. Last year, she worked on several editorials for the edgy magazine ION, showing off her innate talent. She even did the makeup for television personality George Stromboulopoulos.

“I am a huge fan of his show, and getting him stage ready and chatting with him about the charity he was representing was incredible. While men’s makeup may not seem creative, it actually is. You are working around stubble or a 5 o’clock shadow, under eye circles and blemishes, all while trying to give the illusion that they aren’t wearing any makeup at all.  Trust me, it’s a skill,” Tioseco described.

Those shopping at Saucony have the chance to see Tioseco’s fine work. Last year, she worked on their newest campaign, which is still in all of their stores. The renowned American athletic shoe manufacturer offers a variety of shoes, such as running, trail running, racing, walking, and a college collection. The shoes are designed for the main purposes of racing, running, and walking. Tioseco was already a fan of the brand, so when she had the opportunity to utilize her skills on their campaign, she was all for it.

“I had worked with the Creative Director, Jessica Law, on a Google shoot earlier in the year.  Having loved working with her and being a fan of Saucony runners, I knew it would be a fun shoot,” said Tioseco.

The shoot required Tioseco to overcome a difficult challenge for many makeup artists: making someone look completely natural while still wearing makeup. This, however, was not a problem for someone as seasoned as Tioseco. While it was not the most creative shoot she has worked on, she always enjoys making someone look their best naturally without it looking like they are wearing makeup.

“Trust me 95 per cent of the time the no makeup look is much more difficult to achieve, making it more fun to execute,” she said.

Jessica Law reached out to Tioseco after being impressed with her work on their previous shoot. Law needed a makeup artist with a high level of professionalism and attention to detail, and she immediately brought Tioseco back on board to work alongside her once more.

“Jen’s professional yet fun attitude is an amazing energy to have on set. She knows how to work in a timely and organized manner, while staying calm and positive. Jen’s ability to adapt to a situation is so refreshing.  If it’s a last-minute look change, or a change in the schedule or location, Jen always stays calm and gets the job done,” said Jessica Law.

The models on the shoot were true athletes, making the campaign more authentic, but causing some problems from the makeup perspective. Both athletes suffered from acne. However, Tioseco was able to cover up any marks so they appear to have no makeup on.

“I was able to cover their imperfections in a way where they didn’t feel like they had a lot on their face, but they could run and sprint for photos with confidence,” Tioseco described.

In addition to makeup, Tioseco was also responsible for doing the hair on the shoot, something she does not often get to do. Again, simplicity was key, and she had to make a traditional ponytail. This may sound simple, but having it perfectly frame the athlete’s face, and getting it at the right height, is actually quite a challenge. Again, despite not often doing hair, Tioseco’s adaptability shone, and the hair was perfect. She always enjoys taking on extra responsibilities.

“I actually got to do some special effects on this project. I love dewy sweaty skin, so I was very excited I got to break out the glycerine and recreate drops of water on the skin,” she said.

Not only was the work fun, but the location of the shoot also made the project extremely memorable for the makeup artist. Originally from North Vancouver, she travelled further north in British Columbia to Squamish, a stunning town filled with mountainous views.

“There was still snow on the ground and we go to hike the lookout where we shot. It was so beautiful and the team was so amazing, you forgot that it was freezing outside,” she said.

No matter what she is doing or where she is working, Tioseco loves being a makeup artist. And with such talent, it is no doubt why she has seen such success throughout the entirety of her career.

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.”

Snowblink set

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.

IS PHIL LUZI THE SUPERHERO GENRE’S FRENEMY OR BFF?

There’s no being lukewarm when it comes to superhero movies. It’s either love them or mock them. If you’re not standing in line to see the newest Marvel or DC Batman vs. Superman vs. King Kong vs the Crab Legged Prestidigitator film, then you’re likely mocking those standing in line. Wrong; in fact, wrong bigtime! A group of very funny and very talented comedy actors/singers showed their affinity for these films while also pointing out some of their shortcomings in the appropriately titled Man of Steel Song. If you recall the Dean Martin Roasts (the present incarnation of which is the Comedy Central Roast), then you understand that the purpose is to show love and also keep someone aware of their fallibility. The combination of superheroes, comedy, and singing was the triple crown for Canada’s Phil Luzi. Luzi is an instantly recognizable name in Canada’s improv scene as well as on comedy series (such as CBC’s “Terrific Women”) and feature films (The Devil’s Tail), and is vigilant in his search for different ways to display his talent and sensibilities. Truth be told, Phil was beyond being a pushover when Melissa D’Agostino (Writer and Star of Man of Steel Song) asked him to join the cast. Luzi confesses, “I was so excited when I was invited to play Green Lantern in the super hero parody Man of Steel Song, which went on to be a huge success. Not only did I get to perform as Green Lantern, but I was also the lead male voice on the soundtrack! That’s something that’s been on my bucket list forever. I love playing and singing with Melissa, not to mention with other cast members who are absolute dynamos. We were given the opportunity by our director, Matthew Campagna, to improvise and play, and I believe that’s what makes the short so, so good!”

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Man of Steel Song became an internet sensation, and went on to be featured and recognized in many film festivals. It satirizes the disposability of franchise film-making that is rampant in the superhero genre, namely between DC and Marvel. In the short film, superheroes gather in a church to mourn any shot they may have had at a big screen feature. Luzi plays The Green Lantern, made famous by Ryan Reynolds. While D’Agostino’s Wonder Woman has reason to feel upbeat these days, Phil’s character comes to terms with the likelihood that his shot at anything more might be over too since it was a box office flop; all thanks to the overexposure of the golden children of the comic world, Batman and Superman. The superfluous drama in which the actual superheroes are immersed exacerbates the implied and stated comedy of Man of Steel Song. Perhaps the only thing funnier than someone who isn’t in on the joke is an individual who simply doesn’t have a comedic thought or expression. Phil states, “I think any grown person wearing a cape in tights and makeup is hilarious. Also, I love wearing a cape in tights and makeup. Green Lantern, specifically is hilarious to me because, if anything, I’m a Superman fan. The Green Lantern is MAYBE in my top 5 and even then, I don’t really know if that would be the case if his lantern was another color. Truthfully, I don’t really follow superhero movies as an adult like I did as a child. As with the tooth fairy and Santa, there just came a time when I stopped believing. I lost interest somewhere along the way when the novelty of it wore off and superhero movies became a dime a dozen.”

The ironic thing about Phil’s involvement in this production is that it reminded him of his real life superpower as well as realizing a dream of his own. While a blemish faced teenage Peter Parker became bitten by that radioactive spider or an adolescent Bruce Wayne began his training to become the world’s greatest detective, it was his natural inclination to easily elicit laughter that set a young Phil Luzi apart from his classmates and peers. He recalls, “Being comedic is the first talent that made itself apparent to me while I was growing up. Friends would say ‘you’re so funny!’ or ask me to say something funny! For a while, I took it offensively like I was a clown or something. Like they were laughing AT me and I didn’t know why; like the Joe Pesci scene in Goodfellas when he freaks out on Ray Liotta. But now I love the idea of making someone laugh. It’s the best sound in the world. It means someone is watching, that I have an audience. I guess I prefer comedy more because I love laughing so much myself. The sound of it means I’m doing something good…that something I’m doing is making someone’s day better or more memorable.”

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In the short film, Melissa D’Agostino rewrote the lyrics to the famous Crash Test Dummies hit “Superman’s Song.” Luzi sings the male part in this duet and delivers it with impressive facility and presence. One almost wonders if he lip synced to a professional vocalist performance but he is adamant that the male singing was all him. “Singing on the soundtrack was without question my favorite part! It has always been a goal of mine to be on the soundtrack of a film, whether it was an animation or a musical. Man of Steel Song gave me that first opportunity. I love singing, and it’s actually been a while since I’ve done a musical. After I started Second City, that part of my life sort of dwindled. The only time I get into a sound booth now is for commercial or animation voice gigs, so this was a real treat. This was my chance to bring that part of my performance abilities back to the surface, and now I want to do it more!” comments Luzi.

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As Phil did in his younger days, the makers of these superhero franchises might misconstrue the intention of Man of Steel Song if they hear of it secondhand or don’t truly pay attention when viewing it. They would make a serious mistake if they took it as ill-natured mocking. It is the most affectionate type of comedy; that which says you are loved and we feel close enough to you that we can say it is funny when you stumble on a pebble in the road. Luzi is an ideal messenger for this. His leading man looks, his comic timing, and his singing ability just might place him in contention for an actual superhero role and, more than anyone, Phil Luzi finds that incredibly amusing.