Category Archives: Canada

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.”

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 8.58.25 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 8.57.41 AM

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!”

ManofSteelSong1

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.”

ManofSteelSong2

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.

ManofSteelSong3

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.

Akira Uchida: Born to Dance

Professional dancer Akira Uchida
Dancer Akira Uchida shot by Taylor James Photography

Since the time when our ancestors danced around fires performing ceremonial rituals and entertaining their tribe, the transformational power of dance and movement in general has been around for thousands of years. Most of us have felt it– the way stress or emotional pain seems to fade away the second the music hits us and we begin moving our bodies. While many of us love to dance, there’s a huge difference between just ‘loving’ to dance and turning this magical art form into a career.

A career as a dancer is a massive undertaking that requires intense training, dedication and an insane amount of talent, something that Canadian dancer Akira Uchida has in spades. Uchida first began dancing at the age of 3 and he hasn’t stopped since.

He says, “Dance was always freeing to me, it felt natural and right. I only ever recall the feeling of pure joy stepping on to the stage and taking a dance class. I was extremely passionate and driven from the very beginning and loved devoting myself to learning. I can’t pinpoint a particular moment when I decided to pursue it professionally… I simply could never have imagined it apart from my career.”

In 2010, Uchida leaped into his professional career as a dancer with relentless fervor, and what he’s accomplished since is nothing short of amazing. Last year Uchida was selected as one of 22 finalists out of 200 to present his work and perform at the Capezio A.C.E Awards, a choreography competition that is held in New York and judged by some of the most recognizable dancers in the industry internationally, such as Emmy Award winner Mia Michaels, Primetime Emmy nominee Warren Carlyle and the Editor in Chief of Dance Magazine, Jennifer Stahl.

The previous year Uchida was tapped to perform in the emerging choreographer’s showcase Fresh Blood. For the competition he created a mesmerizing routine he calls “Interconnectivity,” which he says, “explores the fundamental concept that everything happens for a reason; every action happens at a specific time and place to provoke another set of actions – a snowball effect of pre-determined fate. In a physical sense, the dancers embodied atoms breaking and forming chemical bonds, constantly in flux.” The performance definitely turned heads and in the end Uchida earned Fresh Blood’s coveted Audience Choice Award.

While Uchida grew up fully immersed in the world of competitive dance where he earned quite a bit of success, he is one of the rare dancers who has actually managed to transcend the competition world and turn his work as a dancer into a full-time career. One area where he’s made an indelible mark as an exuberantly talented professional dancer has come through his work in television.

In 2012 he landed a key role as a featured dancer on the hit series Canada’s Got Talent, which followed two-time Primetime Emmy Award winner Martin Short (Saturday Night Live), Meahsa Brueggergosman (Project Runway Canada) and Oscar Award nominee Stephen Moccio (Pitch Perfect 2), three judges who travel across Canada to find the country’s best talent. The popular series brought chosen competitors, which included dancers to comedians, into the spotlight and give them a chance to win a $100,000 cash prize plus several other awards.

As with all performance driven reality competitions, having an entertaining production take place as the competitors take the stage is paramount to keeping viewers engaged and getting the audience excited about the show, and that is exactly what Uchida did for the series as one of the lead dancers. Uchida’s expert skill as a dancer, the mesmerizing way he moves his body and his ability to quickly learn a routine is what ultimately helped to land him a role on the show so early on in his career.

“We would learn a routine to go along with certain acts in each episode, and add energy and excitement to the performances,” recalls Uchida. “Being on ‘Canada’s Got Talent’ was an invigorating experience at the time because it was the first season for the Canadian edition of the ‘Got Talent’ series. The American rendition of ‘Got Talent’ was so successful and revered by all, which made being a part of the Canadian version a fresh experience. It made those of us involved feel like we were embarking on a project that was full of potential.”

After his success on the series Canada’s Got Talent Uchida was tapped to take on a starring role as a lead dance on the series Over the Rainbow. Another one of Canada’s performance driven reality series, Over the Rainbow followed Andrew Lloyd Webber as he searched across Canada for the girl to play Dorothy in Mirvish’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.” The performances on the series varied greatly week after week meaning that Uchida had to easily adapt and quickly learn the new routines without much time to practice. But for a dynamically talented dancer such as Uchida, immersing himself in a new routine each week was nothing new– for him the challenge was actually playing characters during dance performances on the series, something that both pushed him as an artist and proved his capacity to tap into unique roles on screen.

Akira Uchida
Jordan Clark winner of “So You Think You Can Dance Canada” season 4 (left) and Akira Uchida (right) on set of “Over the Rainbow”

“I loved the excitement of learning new routines every week. Every week we performed with different contestants, a new pairing of dancers, and an original theme and song. It kept the rehearsal process fresh,” says Uchida. “In one of the dances, the contestant played Cinderella. I was her Prince at the ball! In another, myself and dancer Jordan Clark played a celebrity couple at a movie premiere… Playing characters was challenging but very fun!”

A phenomenally talented dancer with a powerful stage presence, Uchida’s performances on the small screen have continued to attract the attention of audiences around the world. In 2013 and 2014 he was cast as a lead dancer on several episodes of the incredibly popular four-time Primetime Emmy Award nominated series Degrassi: The Next Generation. In the episode “Hypnotize,” which guest starred Niamh Wilson (Maps to the Stars, Hemlock Grove), Uchida was one of two featured dancers who performed in a full-length contemporary dance piece that was integral to the storyline in the show. During one of the main scenes Uchida and Wilson’s character Jack Jones, the love interest of one of the main characters, performed a complex dance routine, which was a major highlight of the episode and required immense skill.

“Niamh Wilson, the guest star, was a trained dancer and we were able to engage in relatively advanced choreography for the piece,” explains Uchida.  “This was also distinctive because the piece was featured and shown in its entirety. Definitely a rare sight in TV and among my favourite moments of my career…To be able to step on the set of an iconic show for Canadian youth was a very cool experience.”

His dance performances on a plethora of hit television shows over the years have definitely helped Akira Uchida establish a flawless reputation as a sought after dancer who is able to seamlessly take on any routine with style. Aside from his lead roles on television, Uchida has also had definitive success as a lead dancer in several popular music videos. In 2015 he starred in the Much Music promo video for Sam Smith’s “That Much Closer.” Considering that Sam Smith has earned an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, as well as several Billboard Music Awards and Grammy Awards, being chosen to be the main performer in the video for “That Much Closer” is a tell-tale sign of the caliber of work Uchida has become known for.

Caroline Torti, who choreographed the routine in the video along with dancer Bree Wasylenko, explains, “Akira is a chameleon and is able to replicate any style given to him by a choreographer. He is able to expertly take direction and create meaningful moments on whatever job he works on. Beyond that he is an artist in his own right and his unique movement quality makes him a very special member of any team.”

 

In 2015 Uchida choreographed the music video for solo artist Lights’ hit song “Same Sea,” one of the single’s off the album “Little Machine,” which earned the prestigious Juno Award for “Pop Album of the Year” (Canada’s equivalent of a Grammy Award in the U.S.) and debuted at No. 5 on the Canadian Album Charts.

The music video for the song “Same Sea,” which has garnered over 800,000 views on YouTube since its release, starts off in the year 5057 with Lights first appearing as a voyeuristic cyborg  observing the previous versions of herself over the centuries.

As the choreographer and one of the featured dancers in the music video Uchida, who handpicked the other dancers in the video as well, did a marvelous job of creating a routine that is fun and full of life. The video cuts back to the year 2011 where Lights, Uchida and the other dancers are fully involved in a dance class. Uchida infuses the routine with a lively energy that creates a stunning dichotomy between the futuristic version of Lights, who surrounded by robotic machinery and devoid of other humans, and that of her previous self.

“I sought to make the work powerful and uplifting, and chose to utilize high energy movements that would build moments of euphoria. I focused on creating strong visuals to highlight Lights and played with imagery based on the lyrics,” explains Uchida. “The song repeatedly talks about ‘the arms of the same sea,’ and inspired me to incorporate fluid wave-like movements in the piece. I wanted to involve elements of the sea and have her ‘swim’ amongst her dancers.”

Not only did Uchida choreograph a lyrically relevant routine that made the video for “Same Sea” entertaining to watch, but he was also tasked with teaching Lights the dance routine.

“Lights had little to no experience in dance before shooting this video, so I was responsible for coaching her on how to execute the movements properly and to help her feel as comfortable as possible,” recalls Uchida.

While he is still quite young, Akira Uchida has accomplished more over the past seven years than most professional dancers will in a lifetime; and we can’t wait to see what he does next!

Master Videographer Rosanna Peng Keeps Viewers Engaged

Rosanna Peng
Videographer Rosanna Peng shot by Noah Kendal

 

Living in an age of information overload brands need visual content creators who are able to create images and videos that strike a viewer on an emotional level and quickly tell a story. Videographer Rosanna Peng is one innovative visual storyteller who’s managed to leave a lasting impression on audiences with the stunning projects she’s created for brands such as J.Crew, New Balance, Canon Canada, Etsy, MTV FORA, The Creator Class and many more.

Originally from Vancouver, Canada, Peng’s artistic approach to visual storytelling draws viewers in and elicits an emotional reaction within them. Last year she was hired to shoot and edit the J.Crew on Film: J.Crew X New Balance® 997 Butterscotch video that launched the collaborative J.Crew x New Balance 997 sneaker. Featured on popular online platforms such as High Snobiety and Hype Beast, the video Peng created takes viewers inside the New Balance factory and reveals the making of the new shoe in a way that humanizes the brand and gives personality to the shoe. Through her ingenious videography and editing, Peng managed to make the inside of a shoe factory look visually stunning, something not many people are capable of achieving.

“I was trying to take the viewer through the journey of seeing the shoe being made by real people then worn in an editorial environment. I wanted to show the craftsmanship of the shoemakers,” explains Peng. “I colored the video tones to compliment the shoe’s tones and textures. The pace of the video was intended to build up the excitement for the viewers to when the shoe is revealed in the final setting.”
 


Her methodical approach and visual artistry definitely nailed the mark; and considering the viral success of the video for the New Balance 997 Butterscotch shoe, it’s not surprising that Peng was tapped by the companies once again to direct and edit the video for their collaborative J.Crew X New Balance 997 Cortado, which was released shortly after the Butterscotch. With the term ‘cortado’ referring to a coffee drink made of equal parts espresso and warm milk, Peng connected the process of the making of the drink with the new shoe.

She says, “I wanted to convey the art of coffee-making and parallel the creation of a cortado to the beauty of the Cortado shoe. I did this by capturing every step of the cortado-making in a creative and beautiful way, then editing in footage of the shoe to emphasize the textures and tones to the shoe. The pacing and jazz track for the video is a modern spin to the art of espresso.”


From the rattle of the beans being poured into the grinder all the way up to the desirable and creamy finished drink, the precise shots, angles and cuts she used create a feeling of anticipation, a brilliant strategy that effectively connected the anticipatory feeling elicited within the viewer over the coffee to the upcoming release of the Cortado 997.

Capturing the personality of the brand while making the videos relevant and visually appealing to viewers, Rosanna Peng’s work for the J.Crew/ New Balance collaboration is the perfect example of how a master videographer can make the difference between a brand’s message actually breaking through the saturated digital market and making an impression, or being passed over by consumers without a second thought. Clearly Peng’s work lands on the side of the former.

Aside from being exceptionally skilled when it comes to shooting and editing videos, Peng’s international success as a videographer is due in part to the versatile nature of her creativity combined with her keen knowledge of current trends and the understanding of what will pique the interest of specific audiences.

Rosanna Peng
Rosanna Peng shot by Jennifer Cheng


As a lead videographer for MTV FORA, a hip daily blog from MTV Canada and Clean and Clear that covers fashion, beauty, lifestyle and the best of MTV, Peng created a diverse range of videos focusing on everything from fashion and beauty tips to giving viewers a behind the scenes look at photo shoots.

“I enjoyed the freedom the FORA team gave me. They really trusted my creative vision and gave me the opportunity to expand their potential on their youtube channel,” says Peng.

Thanks to her ability to create edgy visual stories that appealed to MTV FORA’s predominantly female millennial audience, the quirky and upbeat videos garnered thousands of views on the popular blog, as well as their YouTube channel. Accompanied by short blog posts, the videos she created, such as Becoming FKA Liz 101, #WCW: Phoebe Dykstra and Audrey Kitching and Natural Beauty DIY: Pumpkin Facial, add a fun and youthful flare to the FORA site that effortlessly keeps viewers engaged while telling interesting stories.


Peng says, “During shooting and editing, I would capture funny and offbeat moments that would make the video more unique. I was able to draw from my graphic design background and edit each video to pair with the accompanying article’s look and feel. The unique combination of design with videography is the merge of my previous experiences as a graphic design student and a videographer.”

For the 30 Shades Of Lips with Liz Trinnear video Peng shot model Liz Trinnear in 30 different shades of lipstick from makeup brand Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics. While the idea of watching someone try on 30 shades of lipstick might not sound all that interesting, Peng’s shots of Trinnear doing silly poses in each shade combined with her edits and the music she chose made the video incredibly fun and engaging.


She explains, “I laid out the video timeline for every shade and paced the video so the pacing would go from, in regards to Liz’s poses. This spaces out the video and makes it engaging to watch as it has a pulse to it as well.”

One of the aspects of Peng’s talent that makes her such a rare and impactful videographer is her tremendous editing skill. From the New Balance videos to those for MTV FORA, it’s easy to see the way her edits affect the mood and style of the visual story being told. While her cuts on the New Balance videos are virtually invisible and the shot transitions flow seamlessly creating an almost visceral romanticized feeling, those for MTV FORA are the polar opposite. Her inclusion of bold and brightly colored graphics and the often abrupt and in your face nature of the cuts creates an energizing feeling that perfectly supports the cutting edge style of the MTV FORA brand.

“Video editing is more than just telling a story, it’s using certain footage to make a viewer feel a certain way,” explains Peng. “Anyone can point a camera and start capturing footage, but being able to communicate an idea through video editing is a certain skill not many people possess.”  

In a world where people are bombarded by so much content day in and day out, it takes a videographer with more than just technical skill to cut through the fat and actually touch viewers. It requires someone who is able to tap in and drive home an emotion that resonates with audiences, and Rosanna Peng is definitely ahead of the pack on all fronts.