Category Archives: Canada

Master Videographer Rosanna Peng Keeps Viewers Engaged

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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.

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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.

Production Designer Andrea Leigh essential to award-winning video for Thugli’s “Sic Em”

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Production Designer Andrea Leigh

Andrea Leigh is not just a production designer. She is an artist. She is a creator. She produces a specific world, completely designed with the goal of portraying a message, or developing a character, or evoking a feeling in an audience member that no human being on the screen saying their lines could. Being able to do that through her work gives meaning to every job she works on, and she is outstanding at it.

Working on several award-winning and celebrated projects, such as the film Friends Like Us and the web series Whatever Linda, audiences and critics at the world’s most prestigious film festivals have appreciated Leigh’s work. She also has worked on many celebrated commercials, including the award-winning Prickly for Scotts Weed B Gone, the viral E.L.F. Play Beautifully advertisement, and the insanely popular 2015 Teleflora Mother’s Day campaign that received international media attention and 11 million YouTube hits. However, Leigh’s success does not end there. She has also worked on some captivating music videos, including Downtown for the Juno award-winning rock band The Sheepdogs, as well at the Thugli music video Sic Em.

“The guys of Thugli were great. They loved the director Amos LeBlanc’s vision and loved how we brought all their ideas to life,” said Leigh.

Amos LeBlanc has directed a controversial video that was widely successful, and he had won “Best Video of the Year” the previous Much Music Video Awards (MMVA). The tone of the Sic Em video was dark and thoughtful, and this made Leigh want to work on it.

“It was great working with the director Amos Leblanc, he had a very clear aesthetic image that he wanted to portray, clean, modern, dramatic skyline, lots of smoke and special effects. He was always interested in hearing what kind of changes I thought we could make art direction wise. It’s nice to have your creative vision valued when shooting something so specific and thoughtful,” said Leigh.

Music videos are usually long days packed with many shots and not enough time, but this was a two-day shoot that Leigh used to her full advantage, and had the time to do exactly what she wanted. That also meant they had that magic hour lighting two days in a row, something she describes as quite spectacular.

“That’s one of my favorite shots in the video, where the guys are all standing in single file formation with the magic hour sky behind them,” Leigh described. “The cast was a blast to work with. It was a night shoot so naturally things can get a little silly when everyone’s trying their best to stay awake. Lots of jokes, lots of laughs. It always helps on a long shoot when the cast and crew hit it off.”

With the help of Leigh’s eye for production design, the video went on to win the Much Music Video Award for “Best Dance Video.” The music video also earned over 75,000 views on YouTube, sparking widespread popularity among fans and critics. Leigh says she feels like they really accomplished something with the video, and the producer Geoff MacLean says it wouldn’t have been possible without her help. MacLean is a very respected and accomplished Executive Producer. Vision productions is an iconic production company that has produced work for several internationally renowned artists, such as Prince, Rihanna, Drake, The Weeknd, Calvin Harris and countless more.

“The music video is, thanks to Andrea, a fascinating visual production which instantly captures the attention of the viewer. She coordinated closely with the director, the choreographer, and other experienced creatives on set to determine the placement of the props, and the organization of the set. While the entire production is a visual achievement thanks to Andrea, specifically her work arranging the set for the dancers, as well as the props and décor for that segment gave the music video its down to earth and ‘back to the basics’ feel, which was the goal of the client. I credit a great deal of the video’s success to Andrea’s leading role, and attribute her with much of the music video’s all around commercial success and critical acclaim,” said Geoff MacLean.

“Andrea’s achievements throughout her career are reflective of top performing production designers and art directors in her field. The success of her productions is indicative of this fact, to be sure,” MacLean added.

Watch the Thugli Sic Em music video here.

Actress Shauna Bonaduce takes audiences back in time in “Embrasse-moi comme tu m’aimes”

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Canadian actress Shauna Bonaduce, photo by Andréanne Gauthier.

Acting has always been a part of Shauna Bonaduce’s life. As a child growing up around Montreal, performing was a favorite past time, and the stage was a second home. As a teen, she was shy and thought maybe she should consider a different field, but acting kept coming back to her, as true loves do, and audiences both in Canada and around the world are thankful, as she is a truly unique actress.

Bonaduce’s versatility in her craft is evident with every role she takes. Whether it be comedic in the hit teen show Comment devenir une legende, or serious in the popular Quebec series 30 vies, Bonaduce knows how to captivate audiences. Her work last year in the period drama Embrasse-moi comme tu m’aimes did just that.

“Era movies are great. I love getting to explore an era that I would otherwise never have the chance to get acquainted with. I love researching and having the chance to travel back in time, and getting to explore how the women of these different periods lived.  And love the dresses and hairstyles of these periods. What a chance to be able to play dress up and be paid for it,” Bonaduce joked. “Also, the cast and crews of that movie as well as the director himself were just perfect. I consider this project as one of my most memorable ones.”

The story follows twenty-two year old Pierre Sauvageau , in the year 1940. Pierre wants to join the army, but he must take care of his twin sister Berthe who is paraplegic from birth. This closeness awakens Berthe’s sensuality, who then tries to seduce her brother. Pierre rejects her advances, but when he falls in love, he is haunted by the fantasy of his sister. He would like to get rid of it, but the fantasy of Berthe is very persistent.

“The movie takes place in the 1940’s, Second World War, so research on that time was mandatory for the process. In my creative processes though, mostly when the rest has settled down (learning the lines, researches, reading the script, etc.), the costume also has some importance in helping find the character. It really helps me become the person I’m portraying. How she walks, moves, talks, holds herself, her hair, it’s very stimulating. Is she the ‘good girl’ type or more frivolous? Trendy or conservative? Feminine or more one of the boys? The costume chosen by the production always influences my performances and I’m always exited when it’s fitting day to discover what they will bring along,” said Bonaduce.

Bonaduce plays Madeleine, a pivotal character to the story, as she is Pierre’s first serious date in a long time. He takes her out to dance that night at Café Bleu. When he gets in the car with her to drive her back home, the attraction is palpable and they start kissing. But as always, his sister is there to haunt him and, confused, he decides to pretend Madeleine has bad breath and that he will just take her back home.

“Shauna truly brought the role to life, with simplicity and genuineness while still keeping it firmly rooted in the period in which the film took place. This is a valuable feat, and not one that I have seen many actors attempt successfully. Shauna’s authentic portrayal brought us back to that time. She was engaging yet had the more reserved, prim decorum that women of that time so often had. She kept enough of her personal, modern flair to remain relatable to contemporary audiences, while still offering them a genuine, organic glimpse into their nation’s past. Without a doubt, we were delighted to have Shauna amongst our actors and she definitely contributed to the success of the film, which was greatly appreciated by the audience and rewarded by two awards at the Montreal International Film Festival last September. I would work with her again anytime,” said the director Andre Forcier.

In fact, he was so impressed with Bonaduce’s portrayal of Madeleine that another collaboration between the two is already being worked on for his next feature film, though the project remains secret at this time and can’t be elaborated on. He thinks Bonaduce was able to bring the perfect balance that Madeleine needed, the poetic and theatrical yet realistic and authentic approach that characterises most of the director’s work. Bonaduce is very eager to collaborate with Forcier again.

“Andre is a great director and quite unique too. There’s only one like him and I had the chance to work on what lots of us consider like one of his bests movies. I feel extremely privileged” said Bonaduce.

Going back in time and portraying characters from other eras is one of Bonaduce’s favorite things to do as an actress. In the film La passion d’Augustine, she had to play a trendy young woman in Catholic Quebec during the 1960s.

“I definitely did some research about that era and how things where done in that time; the role of women, the convent, the importance of religion in people’s lives at that time, etc,” said Bonaduce.

In the film, Mother Augustine provides a musical education to young women no matter their socio-economic background in a small convent school in rural Quebec. She helps Alice, a young music prodigy; realize her aspirations. However, with the looming changes brought by Vatican II and Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, the school’s future is at peril. Bonaduce plays Françoise, a trendy young woman who believes in modernity and evolution. She finds this convent completely passé and is quite happy that it is under serious threat of being shot down. When leaving the Church where a meeting was organized by the nuns in a desperate attempt to save the convent, she is requested by two students of the convent to sign their petition to save it. Françoise refuses immediately, since she is very much against that idea. 

“Historical movies are my favorites and I had the chance to take part in this great movie, with a very talented director. There are too little female directors in our industry. Lea Pool in one of our great ones and she truly inspires me. She is bold, outspoken and determined. There were also lots of great Quebec actresses on the cast, from whom I admire the work a lot, Celine Bonnier is one of them, and just felt blessed to be able to see them work and learn from them. It was just such a great experience,” she concluded.

DAHOV AND JEREMIH BRING MUSIC FANS TOGETHER

 

The Arts are often the key to a universal experience and language among all people of the planet. While the accent of different paintings, cinema, and music may reveal their point of origin, the ability of these mediums to convey emotion and a connection with others is often beyond the words and language they might contain. It has often been said that the work of an artist is that of bringing all peoples together by conveying the emotions we all share, regardless of our background. As technology brings the world closer, the assimilation of different cultures and their artistic contributions is clearly evident and results in a decrease of noticing the differences and an increase in the appreciation of what these differences offer to the collective global experience. The Canadian percussionist/drummer/entertainer knowns simply as Dahov performed at a concert with American artist Jeremih (Jeremih Felton) exciting the crowd at the Olympia Theatre in Montreal. Jeremih is a Chicago native whose multiple high charting hits like “Birthday Sex” and “All About You” broke into the top five on the Billboard charts. His legions of fans are based in the R&B/Hip Hop world while Dahov is a solo artist known for House, EDM, and various other musical forms with which he infuses Latin and Middle Eastern rhythmic ideas. While both artists share a love of percussion from their early teens, each of them has cultivated and evolved into their own style and brand of musical entertainment. Their performance together at the Olympia Theater shows how these artists brought their fan bases together for a night of thrilling entertainment, proving that we can appreciate the differences we have while recognizing a common thread.

For his appearance in Montreal, Jeremih and his management were seeking out a Canadian artist who would both be familiar to the crowd as well as be exciting enough to create a feverish tone for the concert. Patrick Farah (owner of Sky Entertainz) was consulted and he immediately suggested Dahov. Patrick and Dahov have worked together on numerous large scale entertainment events in Canada. Farah declares, “Dahov’s unique style and looks are definitely a selling point. With such passion in what he does, he sets the bar at a complete different level from others in this business! He is also such a wonderful person and he reflects his personality in his work ethic. He is the type of musician and entertainer who creates a special bond with his audience. Rather than setting himself above the audience, Dahov has an amazing ability to pull everyone in and making them feel as if they are in an intimate party, relaxed and able to have fun.”

STUDIO11 taken by ARA SASSOUNIAN (well known artistphotographer)

(Photo courtesy of Ara Sassounian)

This event featuring Jeremih and Dahov is a template for how different artists can create an experience for an audience that is eclectic and yet relative. While Jeremih is a singer/rapper, Dahov is a percussionist who does not sing. Both artists perform with DJ’s and/or tracks and, at least in this situation, both had dancers joining them onstage. Very similar production styles but very different content. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Dahov’s ability is that he is able to entertain the audience by playing a hand percussion instrument know as a Darbuka. This middle eastern “goblet drum” is the core and essence of his one-man band (supplemented by tracks). It is truly amazing to see how this talented artist can drive a crowd (in this case, the 700-member audience that packed out the Olympia) to a literal feverish pitch. His technique and musicality is mesmerizing while his ability to hold the crowd in the palm of his hand and create the excitement equal to any outdoor EDM festival is…well, jaw dropping. The synergy between the artists’ performance was a great success but was not necessarily intuitive. At a meeting prior to the performance that night, Jeremih and Dahov discussed how to approach the differences in their musical styles in order to insure a cohesive quality for the crowd. While much of Jermih’s music is more relaxed in tempo (sometimes even romantic), Dahov is known for his upbeat party vibe style. Dahov explains his approach to manifesting the appropriate vibe for the evening, “We wanted to do something different than the usual upbeat show, so I used Arabic oriental techniques. This style usually calls for you to play for belly dancers and, even though there are faster beats, we performed the slower beats using the derbake percussion because it allows for very intricate and interesting rhythmic ideas. It was a perfect match to afterwards fade with Jeremih’s first song.” Dahov readily admits that, just as the crowd was exposed to different musical influences at this performance, the percussionist/entertainer himself also gained an even greater appreciation for his fellow entertainer. He notes, “Jeremih is truly an amazing talent. It’s always educational for me to see how another artist relates to the crowd, how they design the rhythm of their show, and how the crowd reacts to what they do. Anyone who has seen Jeremih perform has seen the evidence first hand of how great he is. I knew his music but seeing him live gives me a deeper understanding of his talent. I like Hip Hop and Rap but I am more into a club house, EDM, Latin kind of music. I love the feel of the beat, the melodies, especially when I perform to these kinds of music it feels like I am actually inside the music…producing it! I like Bachata, in particular Romeo Santos. Bachata is such a relaxing type of music. I enjoy listening to it whenever and wherever. It makes me feel like I’m somewhere down south sitting on the beach and watching the ocean! Another type of Latin music that I like is reggaetón. Reggaetón is all about the party; the positive mood and tropical paradise! EDM and house artists like Calvin Harris and Tiesto are my favorites. I have seen them both perform in Las Vegas and their music is on another level! Their collaborations with other artists are perfect! The melodies and sound samples they integrate enter your ears and gets your emotions jumping. I’m hoping to come to the US and pursue my own version of the path that these artists have forged. I have proven to myself and the people of Canada that a drummer can perform by himself and command the attention of sold out crowds. Performing and communicating with American artists like Jeremih has only made my desire to become a part of the great American music and entertainment industry even more attractive…and seem more possible.”

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COMEDY GODS APPEASED, JORDAN ROTH MOVES FORWARD

Sometimes rules aren’t fair. For example, in the world of music it is commonly accepted that songwriters actively pursue performing but in comedy it is the presumption that writers never (or rarely) participate in live comedy. The truth is that most writers take part in performing in some manner. It’s virtually impossible in comedy to write successfully without having been on the front lines and getting that immediate feedback of what plays well with a crowd and what does not. Canadian writer Jordan Roth has long been a live performer who has channeled his experiences into his writing. In addition to performances on Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Jordan has been a highly recognizable part of the Chicago comedy community. Experience at theatres like iO (formerly the Improv Olympic), The Playground Theater, and The Annoyance, where he wrote and directed his show Live From a Studio Apartment It’s the Pathetic Loser Show, gave him the opportunity to develop his personal comedy perspective through performance, writing, and directing. While he has spent time in New York and LA, the romance of Chicago with its history of Second City and SNL alumni was the environment that allowed for Jordan’s discovery of his comic self without the omnipresence of the TV and movie industry. These days, major networks call on Roth for his talent. Taking his writing to new places, Roth has also become involved in the documentary film community with his own C-Rock as well as the documentary film anthology True New York. At heart, Jordan is a storyteller, whether it’s in front of the camera displaying his own ideas, writing them for others, or filming real life characters. Regardless of the method, he has a lot to say.

Anyone involved in comedy will tell you that it is a difficult road. The pull was undeniable for Roth. While the premise of “The Producers” might have been complex for most ten-year-olds, Jordan took to it immediately when his grandfather introduced him to it. Later it would be Conan O’Brien’s version of Late Night, Letterman, Seinfeld, Larry David, Woody Allen, and Mel Brooks who would inspire him. All of these unique voices carry a common thread of intelligence and humor tinged with absurdity, a trait also found in Roth’s style. The Chicago improv comedy scene enabled Jordan to channel his ideas into quick expression. Understanding what works and doing so quickly is a major asset to any writer and performer.

Comedy writer and actor Thomas Whittington experienced Roth’s talent up close and next to him onstage. Thomas comments, “Jordan is an ideal comedy writing partner because he can find the funny in pretty much anything. Many times I’ve watched him take a half-baked, ‘nothing’ premise and turn it into a sharp, surprising scene that makes me laugh hysterically. His sense of humor is a weird mix of cynicism and sweetness. He’s just a very gifted, very original voice. His ability to weave mistakes into the fabric of a show is amazing. So many times in improv, something unintentional happens; an actor misspeaks, or forgets something that had been established previously. If those things aren’t acknowledged by the performers, the audience starts to check out. Jordan not only acknowledges the mistakes, but he justifies them brilliantly, making his teammates look like they actually had this great idea all along. Performing with him, you feel taken care of in a way that’s rare.”

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After Chicago, Jordan spent a great deal of his time in Los Angeles and New York City. These hubs of the comedy scene gave him numerous opportunities to exhibit his talent and gain notoriety as both a performer and a writer. Shows like ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live and CBS’s Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson provided Roth with face time but may have appeared more glamorous to the viewer than to performer. Jordan recalls, “On Ferguson, I performed in a number of sketches in front of the audience. For some reason, Craig often had myself and Bridger (Winegar), who’s now a writer on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, do bits where we were scantily clad. One time we were bees. We wore black speedos and the makeup people painted our torsos and arms in black and yellow stripes. After the show the body paint wouldn’t come off…It was bad. We were in the showers at CBS very late, long after the taping, trying to remove the paint from our bodies. I think eventually we just gave up and went home, still striped.” These late night talk show appearances gave Jordan the opportunity to be on camera as well as put his well-honed improv chops to good use. He explains, “There was a lot of movement to play around. At Kimmel, there wasn’t much time to prepare for a pre-taped bit. You’d find out about your casting in these kind of bits the day before or even the day of. It’s a mix of your own instincts and the director’s. Generally, a director will let you go and then they’ll give you direction and guidance from there.” Jen Spyra, who came up with Jordan in Chicago’s comedy scene and has written for The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, and The Wall Street Journal, declares, “As writer on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, I’m lucky enough to work with some of the sharpest minds in comedy. I can confidently say that Jordan Roth still stands out as one of the most talented writers that I know. Jordan is that rare breed of writer; he’s as brilliantly funny as he is hardworking. Jordan’s original voice and dedication have separated him from the pack in every iteration of his career: from when we were starting out together doing improv and sketch in Chicago, to when we were graduate students in screenwriting at Northwestern and then working as post grads in LA. Jordan has always done exceptional work and everyone who gets to work with him turns into a superfan. I’ve always looked to his discipline with his writing as something to emulate. He’s the whole package.”

As with so many of his heroes, Jordan Roth is the somewhat cerebral, non pandering type of comedy writer and performer; somewhat self-conscious, emotional in his own way, and always in search of a unique perspective. Canada has given the world countless purveyors of comedy: writers, performers, producers. All of these creative types prove that there is something special that comes from our neighbors to the North. We are the recipients of the minds like Roth, the ones who can’t help but find a way to guide us into a laugh reveals as much about them as it does about us.

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Justine Gera and the Stars That Guide Her Path in Dance

Dancing side by side with your mentors every day while fine-tuning your dance skills and perfecting your ability to absorb new choreography quickly — sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it? It has been for dancer Justine Gera.

“I have met so many amazing people — choreographers I look up to,” explains Gera. “I’ve learned a lot about their career paths and knowing that they are supportive of my career and want me to succeed is the greatest feeling.”

For six years, Gera has taken the stage next to world-renowned dancemakers Tyce Diorio, Napoleon & Tabitha D’umo, Sean Cheesman, Luther Brown, ShoTyme, Megan Lawson, Jillian Meyers, Tina Landon and others as an assistant with Triple Threat Dance Conventions. It’s her job to demonstrate and lead the movement given to students by whichever top choreographer(s) she is assisting that day.

Dancer, Justine Gera

Versatility is key. It’s not uncommon to be performing contemporary dance in one session and transition to a completely different style in the next. Gera must also absorb the choreography as quickly as a thirsty sponge and immediately execute it flawlessly to provide students with a clear model of technique and of the quality of movement and style each choreographer desires.

Though the job demands a machine-like accuracy when it comes to mastering new dances, Gera’s dancing is far from robotic.

“Justine has a flare and character in her dance that is unique to her and is rarely seen,” says Triple Threat director Carolina Lancaster-Castellino. “She truly is one of the most exquisite and extraordinary dancers we have seen over our 18 years traveling across Canada.”

It is these qualities that have helped this stand-out make her mark outside the convention circuit as well. Gera has performed with Canadian pop artist Victoria Duffield and in music videos featuring Amanda Blush and Tristan Thompson. She’s also enjoyed time at sea as a dancer with Royal Caribbean cruise lines and appears as a dancer in Disney’s Descendants 2 movie.

A personal and professional highlight for Gera was performing “Rhythm Nation” with the legendary Janet Jackson during her Unbreakable World Tour. After a brief but intense audition process, performing with the superstar was exhilarating.

“The whole performance was a complete rush of adrenaline and I got a bit teary eyed when we finished,” recalls Gera.

Kelly Konno, who has worked with international music stars like Janet and Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Prince, Pink, and*NSYNC and is director and co-owner of Triple Threat, has witnessed Gera’s development as a professional first-hand.

“Justine is one of the most hungry, driven, passionate and talented dancers that I’ve seen in a long time,” she observes. “She is the perfect representation of the next generation of professional dancers in Canada and the U.S..”

Justine at convention

It’s clear her dedication and talent are why Gera has been hired again and again by the convention to assist.

“We look for dancers who are not only at the top of their craft, but who are committed to all of the behind the scenes work as well,” says Triple Threat president and co-owner Dorie Konno. “Justine has been one of Triple Threat’s greatest assistants. Her passion for dance and the entertainment industry shines through.”

Despite the long hours and minimal sleep a dancer gets while working in this role, Gera is happy to go back for more each year.

“The best part is that it is just like a family reunion. Sometimes I don’t see a lot of these people until we reconnect at conventions and they are like my family,” she explains.

Gera’s dance family and her biological family encourage her to follow her dreams despite the obstacles that are part of a life in dance. Physical toll and the risk of injury are ever-present challenges but dance is often an emotional journey for performers as well.

“There have been many times in my career when I have thought that I wasn’t good enough or talented enough to ‘make it’ and reach my goals,” says Gera.

In those inevitable moments when her confidence is shaken, Gera recalls the advice of her supporters to never give up and channels her feelings into her dancing. Given her success in the dance industry, it’s a method that has clearly served Gera well.

Though she will continue to explore new heights, Gera is humble and thankful for the continued opportunity to develop professionally as a choreography and teaching assistant at conventions under the watchful eyes of the star choreographers who have been her mentors.

“It’s just a really good feeling to be relied upon. Certain choreographers have watched me grow up [at conventions] and having their support has made me believe that I am on the right career path.”

The dance world never doubted it.

Camera operator Mike Heathcote “moves with grace and precision of a dolly” on upcoming series The Handmaid’s Tale

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Michael Heathcote is from Toronto, Ontario

Michael Heathcote is a storyteller. He does not write them, nor does he read them aloud, but his work allows film to come alive. Perhaps this is not as obvious as an actor, but Heathcote’s work as a camera/Steadicam operator allows the stories we watch on the big and small screen to come alive. It is that we don’t know he is there until his name passes by our eyes in the credits that makes him so outstanding.

In his words, Heathcote describes the camera operator as the one who is responsible for physically operating and composing the camera to best tell the story. The camera operator can operate a camera on a dolly, sticks, remotely on a crane, handheld on the shoulder or with a special camera stabilization device called a “Steadicam”. A Steadicam is a specialized tool that takes years to master. The camera operator wears a vest and connects a spring arm that distributes and supports the weight of the camera counterbalanced on a post. With years of experience the camera operator can move the camera smoothly over uneven terrain, up and down stairs or in locations where a dolly track cannot be laid. The camera operator works with the director and cinematographer to help them execute their vision.

“There was just something about looking through the lens of a camera, seeing the action and performance live and being responsible for composing the frame to tell the story that excited me,” said Heathcote.

Heathcote has already had a career many dream of. The Torontonian worked on award-winning films and television series with Hollywood’s biggest stars. This past year alone, he worked on the critically-acclaimed Canadian television show Cardinal, filmed the pilot for the new show Issues, and worked alongside Academy Award winning director Alexander Payne on the upcoming film Downsizing, starring Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz and Bruce Willis. He also filmed the Hulu original series The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the Margaret Atwood classic, that comes out this Spring.

“I feel incredibly lucky and fortunate to have worked on such an amazing TV series as The Handmaid’s Tale. There were so many talented people involved who worked very hard during pre-production, production and post-production as they prepare for the April release. It was an absolute pleasure to work with them. Every day I came to set I was excited and inspired to do my best work,” said Heathcote.

The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a near-future dystopian England, where a woman named Offred is forced to live as a concubine under a fundamentalist theocratic dictatorship. The director, Reed Morano, wanted the audience to experience the story through the lead character of Offred as though they were right there with her, experiencing and seeing things as she did. To achieve this look and feel, Heathcote would use either handheld or Steadicam very close to the actors.

“As a Director of Photography that has always acted as my own camera operator and someone who has a very particular taste when it comes to composition and framing to capture emotion and light, I had never been impressed with anyone operating for me, much less satisfied. That was until I worked with Mike Heathcote on the series I directed, The Handmaid’s Tale. Not only was I pleased with Mike’s interpretation of the visual language I had set up in the show, but his talent blew me away.  Mike, as a Steadicam operator, moves with the grace and precision of a dolly,” said Morano. “You never feel that the shot is a Steadicam shot.  You’re never aware of the camera- which to me is the sign of an amazing Steadicam move.  It’s the mark of an incredible operator.  Not only that, Mike’s skills as a handheld operator went far beyond my expectations. Operating handheld takes a certain level of intuition that cannot be taught.  You either have ‘it’ or you don’t. Mike has it. The camera was always where I wanted it to be, always elegantly framed.  And there is no greater compliment I can give. I feel so lucky to have found him.”

In addition to working with Morano, Heathcote worked closely with the cinematographer, Colin Watkinson. Morano and Watkinson recognized Heathcote’s talents early on, and encouraged him to express any ideas he had, and gave him the freedom to explore a shot.

The Handmaid’s Tale was one of the most creatively rewarding projects I have had the pleasure to work on,” described Heathcote. “We went against conventional TV framing and were trying to do something different with this project. I really enjoyed trying to find new and interesting compositions that helped tell the story. Every day I was excited to get up for work.”

Watkinson truly believes that choosing Heathcote as a Steadicam operator was one of the best decisions that they made, and his work contributed to the overall success of the series.

“Not only has he maintained a truly professional attitude throughout production, but Mike also delivered Steadicam shots of the highest quality. He has executed perfectly each director’s needs, maintained our style for the show and continues to add his own flair to raise each shot to a beautiful level. It has been an absolute honor and a pleasure to work next to someone who cares so much about his craft and at the same time showing an interest in the project, which makes him a complete team player. High praise indeed yet entirely out of merit,” said Watkinson.

It is without a doubt that with Heathcote’s talent and determination, his work will continue to impress both those who he works with, and audiences that see what he is capable of.

The Handmaid’s Tale premieres Wednesday April 26th, on Hulu. Check out the trailer here.

Actress Maryanne Emma Gilbert has full career at young age

Doritos Commercial
Maryanne Emma Gilbert enjoying Doritos while filming the “Little Thumbs” commercial.

For Maryanne Emma Gilbert, there has never been a moment of doubt about what she likes to do. At just seven years-of-age, when many children are rushing home from school to watch their favorite shows on television, Gilbert is on television. Not many her age know what they should be doing, and an even fewer amount actually start doing it. Gilbert’s natural acting talents combined with a sense of professionalism beyond her years are what have led her to be recognized across her home country of Canada as one of the best.

Despite her young age, Gilbert has already seen success that many more experienced in the field can only dream of. Having already been nominated for a Joey Award for Best Actress in a Commercial, and another for Best Actress in a Short Film, she still remains humble for what she has achieved.

“My mom makes movies. I see her make movies. I thought that it would be fun to try to act too, and it is fun. I like to make videos too,” said Gilbert.

Gilbert has starred in a nationwide commercial for McDonalds, which ran during the 2014 Summer Olympics, as well as a Canadian Tire campaign. She has appeared in the film Jewel Fools, the holiday flick Season’s Greetings, and the upcoming film Space Rippers. Millions of Canadians have seen her face on their screens, and the Calgary native has no plans on slowing down.

“I want to act more. I would like to move to another city, but keep my house. So, I want to move my house to Hollywood. There is not a lot of things in Alberta. Soon I will work on some funny documentaries that talk about USA and Canada and hopefully even more things,” she said.

This excitement for what she does is evident in everything she works on. This includes the Doritos “Crash the Superbowl” commercial she starred in, titled Little Thumbs. The commercial aired on the “Crash the Superbowl” website in 2015. Although they did not win the contest, Gilbert says it was still a great learning experience.

“We were on a big competition and we wanted to win a million dollar for that competition. It was awesome,” she said. “We didn’t win it, but I learned timing. We had to retake a scene about ten times because the other girl and I had to do our timing really well for one scene. It was super tricky.”

The commercial features a team of scouts who get lost in a forest, but Gilbert saves them by planting Doritos in the ground to retrace their steps.

“I work with a lot of kids, and Maryanne is very articulate. She listens well and follows direction very well. She is very focused. She is easy going and fun. She always has a positive spirit, which makes for a pleasant experience for the cast and crew that work with her. From a directors point of view, even though I was a producer on this commercial, it is her openness that makes her a good actress, and her willingness to listen and take direction. She is always open to the experience she is in at that moment,” said producer Barb Briggs.

Despite being so young, Gilbert excels at comedy, and has a natural comedic timing when delivering lines. She enjoys doing accents and imitations to make her audience laugh. She was able to display this to full-effect in the Doritos commercial, as her character’s refusal to share Doritos was very humorous.

“It was funny because my scene was really funny. I like funny stuff,” said Gilbert.

But there was one part of filming the commercial for Gilbert that made it a truly amazing experience for the young actress.

“I got to eat Doritos. I love Doritos. It was the treat at the end of the filming we could eat Doritos,” she concluded.

Film Director Claudio DiFede’s Date with Cinema Fate

The movie business is fraught with ambition, cynicism and expedience—qualities diametrically opposed to producer-director Claudio DiFede’s gentle, artistic nature. The Canadian-born DiFede, who is equally at home working in television and motion pictures, betrays a gentle, individualistic aesthetic that is a refreshing divergence from hard driving commercially-fixated attitude which so frequently saps the creativity from mainstream Hollywood projects.

Claudio’s aesthetic, part vulnerable hesitancy, part determined auteur, part pop culture guerilla is showcased in his unusual, career defining documentary film “Calling Spielberg.” The story is one of fateful twists and human foibles that reflects the film maker’s distinct, creative philosophy.

The origins of “Calling Spielberg” goes back to the early 1990’s, when the 22 year old Claudio was barnstorming through Tinsel Town, tuxed up and cheeky enough to finagle his way into the People’ Choice Awards ceremony at Sony Studios. This was a star-studded, formal affair with tight security which the charming film maker easily bypassed. Backstage following the presentations, Claudio came to face to face with his greatest idol, the legendary director Steven Spielberg.

“It was a once in a lifetime thing—by chance if you will!” Claudio said. Like my whole life had lead up to that moment in time. It was crazy! Spielberg had just accepted the People’s Choice Special Tribute award and I found myself, backstage, just walking right beside him. It was one of those things I’d always thought of, ‘what would you say to Spielberg if you met him?’ Well, it happened, it took a lot of chutzpha but I introduced myself and I told the biggest Director in Hollywood: ‘Take it to the bank,’ I told him. ‘You and I are going to work together one day. For a split second I thought ‘WTF did I just say to him?’ He smiled, asked my name again and replied ‘Sure kid, why not?’”

Emboldened, Claudio repeated the feat weeks later, but at even higher profile affair: the post-Academy Awards Governor’s Ball at Shrine Auditorium, a big night for Spielberg whose “Schindler’s List” had just won seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.

“It happened again a few weeks later, after the Oscars,” Claudio said.  This time I found my chance, I hugged him and face to face I told him that I can only imagine what it must be like to create such an incredible, moving film as Schindler’s List. He replied ‘Thank you,’ and told me it had taken a lot out of him. I then asked, ‘So, when can I call you?'”

DiFede today would not elaborate much more on the conversation or on his reply “I don’t want to give out too much on the film,” he said. “But let’s just say; it was encouraging.”

“I drove home that evening, roof down and I remember I couldn’t contain my emotions any longer. So I let out the loudest scream!” Claudio said. ‘The fact he remembered my name from our first meeting—it was a feeling I cannot describe. We all have dreams and this was mine. It was nothing short of a crazy euphoria.”

Was it just a lark, a childhood fantasy that had unexpectedly played out? Time passed. Claudio moved along with his life, fell in love, married, and started a family.

“I never called the man,” he said. “I had the chance, and I never did. I was asking myself that question. Then It occurred to me, I must be the only human being that never called Steven Spielberg when he asked someone to. What if? What if I did call? I was thinking there must be a lot of people in my situation that have left behind many of opportunities maybe even regrets and dreams left behind. We all once had aspirations, dreams – did I miss my opportunity?  there was one way to find out.20 years later, and that was to make ‘Calling Spielberg.’”

“When I first started working with Claudio I didn’t really have any formal training in filmmaking,” Mike T. King, editor at Big Coat Productions, said. “I jumped at the opportunity. Claudio’s attitude was infectious, which got me excited to hop onboard. The amount of time and effort he has poured into ‘Calling Spielberg’ is incredible, inspiring even. It is his passion project.”

Still in post-production, Calling Spielberg promises to be a fascinating examination of the human condition. Unorthodox and compelling, equal parts documentary, philosophical seeking, self-examination and show business truth-telling, it’s a rich, multifaceted achievement.

“Things happen for a reason, and we simply cannot give up on our dreams,” Claudio said. “I have matured and what my goals were in my 20’s compared to what they are now are very different. My goal now is to truly be who I am, living out my life doing what makes me happy. Honestly, I consider being a dad, fatherhood, as my greatest achievement.“

But Claudio’s romance with film remains profound. “Professionally, I was involved in Canada’s first reality TV show, and that was a great experience,” he said. “And being part of the American Film Institute, just being immersed with such talents from all walks of life was wonderful. To collaborate with my AFI fellows was a cherished experience. I am passionate about storytelling, through television or the big screen, either way its storytelling.”

Claudio’s commitment and emotional involvement with storytelling is a compelling, legitimate creative force, one that is certain to soon reach a wide international audience.

“Claudio is a talented director and pays a great attention to detail,” composer Mark Dunnet said. “He never gives up until he gets that perfect shot or performance”.

A WRITER FOR ALL (FUNNY) PEOPLE

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When Miguel Rivas states, “I think we live in an era when people are becoming increasingly accepting of different types of stories, ones which they previously might not have paid much attention to. It probably has something to do with the social media age where you can hear back from other people about their lives and experiences in a way you couldn’t before. You would have your opinions and your views and you wouldn’t get them reflected back on you. That’s changed. If you want to understand someone else’s life and experiences, it’s much easier to do now. We should hope we’re all becoming more empathetic.” …this is possibly the most benevolent and optimistic view of social media’s effect on society that you have ever heard. Part of the reason is that the idea in itself supports a reaffirmation of faith in humanity; the other part is due to the fact that Rivas knows how to turn a phrase. As a professional writer, he understands the subtle emotional impact of phrasing. Rather than using this ability to support a political candidate, compose a novel, or impress bar patrons (well, that might happen from time to time), Miguel has focused his intent on bringing laughter and assisting other creative types in achieving their visions. Rivas will be the first to admit that his intent is not completely altruistic at its core; he loves nurturing the sometimes ridiculous ideas that enter his transom. Rivas is probably best known as a member of Canada’s comedy troupe Tony Ho, with whom he has written and performed on stage and on screen. However, he has many projects contained in his writing resume that testify to his individual voice and style.

At the center of any artist is a desire to take the joys and difficulty which life has handed them and exorcize them in a positive manner. It’s as much a catharsis for them (sometimes a painful one) as it is entertainment for those of us in the audience. There must be fertile and resourceful ground for these artist to communicate the feelings and ideas they are transferring. Miguel is sometimes the artist acting these situations out and even more often, the artist fueling them with his own words and ideas. Tony Ho has given Rivas many opportunities to explore different styles and scenarios in his writing. One of the most popular Tony Ho productions is Japan. This film is about office politics and the social dynamics that prosper in them. Rivas plays Pat Dunkling, the boss who has recently travelled to Japan and is overly eager to represent himself as an aficionado of Japanese culture. The apex of the drama comes when Dunkling decides that the business cannot support two interns so, Marty and Nolan (played by Adam Niebergall and Roger Bainbridge) will perform a Karaoke-off with the winner being rewarded a well paying full time position. Rivas wrote his character specifically to make fun of the type of person who travels to an interesting location and then tries too hard to convince others how impactful the experience was for him/herself. Rather than making fun of a specific culture, the idea was to communicate how certain individuals find it easier to “play” a role rather than simply discovering and relying upon their own identity. Miguel enjoyed writing this character (complete with a Dragonball Z haircut) as well as the roles for Adam (a ne’ er-do-well) and Roger (a slightly overly eager romantic with a fear of missed relationship opportunities). In writing and presenting the theme to Japan, Miguel was always mindful of the audience’s reception of his work. He notes, “You have to be very careful when it comes to what you want to say with comedy. Nothing is off limits completely but you always have to be punching in the right direction, as they say. We knew that the joke in our minds was this corporate culture where people absorb and consume whatever they can in order to make a stamp. My character’s buffoonish understanding of Japanese culture was the target, which was encapsulated in the line ‘Hmmm, very not what I think is Japanese.’ I wanted people to understand this character but perhaps not to like him.” Japan won the Grand Prize for best film at the Laugh Sabbath Film Fest at NXNE, as well as a nomination at the Canadian Comedy Awards.

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Wanda, another of Miguel’s compositions, was also nominated at the Canadian Comedy Awards and was shortlisted at the Laugh Sabbath Film Fest at NXNE. The storyline of this film was very different from Japan, involving a stalker, a polyamorous love triangle, and an attempted murder. It would not seem like the normal fodder for comedy and yet Rivas was highly adept and finding the amusing side of the dark humor. The idea started with a highly unusual point of inspiration. Miguel reveals, “Part of the inspiration was this visual gag where we wanted someone to die with their eyes open. Sometimes you reverse engineer an idea off of something pretty silly. Hey, comedy.” He continues, “I try and create all kinds of characters, but the film style we’ve leaned on and developed as Tony Ho succeeds best when there’s an element of reality for each character. In writing the characters, I can take them to some pretty unfamiliar places; then through performance, I try and add a level of emotional honesty. This is really important to me.” Bainbridge confirms that Miguel’s writing style is a key component to the success that has been achieved as he declares, “Tony Ho is now one of the most prominent comedy troupes in all of Canada, winning multiple awards and travelling around North America performing for thousands of fans, as well as publishing widely-watched online content. Miguel’s writing has been the spark countless times to enable us to achieve this great success.”

Sometimes the writing of Miguel Rivas is the spark for Tony Ho and, with an increasing occurrence, he has brought this spark to the bonfire of other talent. Space Riders: Division Earth is a TV series that might be best described as a parody (or even an homage) to the Power Rangers series much in the same way that Spinal Tap pays tribute to the great rock bands of the 70’s. The serious approach of not taking one’s self too seriously pays off with an abundance of laughs on this Canadian production. The show’s writers, Dan Beirne and Mark Little, brought Miguel aboard to assist as he explains, “Dan and Mark are frequent collaborators of mine. They asked me to do script consulting on this project. After they had written the initial drafts, they brought me on for punch-up and editing. After that process, I helped with the table reads and subsequent rewrites. The show is quirky and I thought it was so funny and creative, I was happy to work on it when they approached me.” Bierne relates, “Miguel is so accomplished and recognized in Canada for his work with Tony ho, we knew that he was truly funny. Our show has such a different sensibility and tone to it. Miguel fell right into place. He understood our show and how to add his talent to it but, even more so, he is a true team player. He was always searching out ways to add something. His contributions played an important part in our achievements.”

When Disney XD wanted to capitalize on the popularity of sketch comedy shows and market it to teens, Miguel was asked to add his writing to the project. Rivas will mock himself, noting that his age made him unusable in front of the camera for Disney XD’s Try It! so they made use of his abilities behind the camera as a writer. Surprisingly, it was an easy transition to write comedy for a younger mindset and performers. Rivas states, “A major benefit is, it helps you empathize with their experience. I felt some trepidation initially, but once you get into the groove, it becomes rather easy to slip into that mindset. It was really fun to remember how I thought about things as a younger version of myself. For a lot of my writing, I focus on mining comedy out of sadness and anxiety. It was actually pretty easy to convert that into a teen’s worldview. Who knew? Teens have anxiety! You obviously write it less dark but reflecting…that truth in funny sketches actually proved to be fairly easy.”

More recently, Miguel has ventured into writing music videos for artist like Brave Shores and Digits. These videos sometimes play on Miguel’s signature dark comedy style but “More Like You” by Brave Shores is disorienting and unnerving at points. It is a great indicator of the constant challenges Rivas takes on to carve new paths and explore his writing talents.

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