Category Archives: Commercials

Actor Ryan Davies Comes into His Own

Actor Ryan Davies’ fast moving career has encompassed just about the entire dramatic range in a short decade’s time. The charismatic British-born Davies’ roster of experience includes everything from playing Hamlet and Chekov’s Uncle Vanya at prestigious London proving ground the Workhouse Theater to commercials, music videos, television and feature films, a trove of professional achievements which have placed Davies very close to the apex of the acting world.

Surprisingly, the intense, blue eyed Davies had little interest in the field, until fate intervened. “I grew up in Wells in the West of England, a rural city with few artistic opportunities,” Davies said. “I spent most of my youth working on a building site but knew it wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

“I was staying with a friend in London for a week and he was taking a 4-day audition course at [drama academy] The Poor School,” Davies said. “And since I was at a loose end, I thought I’d go along and try it too, just something to alleviate being on my own in a strange city. I didn’t intend to pursue a career in acting, but at the end of the 4 days I was offered a place on the course.”

From that unlikely start, Davies entire life was redefined. “I immediately quit my job on the building site, moved to London and the rest, as they say, is history. I trained at The Poor School in London between 2008 and 2010 and I continue to train at The Actor’s Centre, London.

Subsequent high-profile assignments include a memorable turn as the corrupt villain of producer Adi Shankar’s “X-Men” prequel “Grey Café,” a recurring role in the STARZ/BBC Worldwide original series “DaVinci’s Demons” and an upcoming role in another historical period piece, the forthcoming “Fall of the Templars.”

One of the key moments in Davies’ sure, steady rise to prominence was his performance in director-writer Maria Balduzzi’s acclaimed 2016 short “Wolves,” a nuanced drama in which he excelled as the troubled teenaged protagonist’s father.

“’Wolves’ is a lovely film, about a boy who has a very strained relationship with his single parent father,” Davies said. “The boy uses the woods next to their home as a daily escape from the realities of his life. One day he comes across another boy running away from his own problems, their burgeoning friendship allows him to eventually reconnect with his estranged father.”

“It was an interesting and very challenging role,” Davies said. “It required me to convey the whole spectrum of emotions, and as the relationship between father and son was the emotional heartbeat of the film, it was integral that the audience connected with and cared about both of them.”

Davies’ signature combination of subtle restraint and deep involvement served him well, and elevated the film to an impressive level of dramatic craftsmanship.

“’Wolves’ revolves around the complicated relationship between a father and his son and Ryan was able to give the role the emotional gravitas it required,” Balduzzi said. “It’s very much a film about love. I wanted the film to represent the way we experience life and memory in our most intimate moments and much of the film’s success is due to Ryan’s performance.”

The film was well received in the UK, where it was nominated for Best Short Film at the Iris Prize Awards 2017, and was also selected for screening at the prestigious London Short Film Festival. Balduzzi herself went on to pick up the ‘Horizon Award’ for Most Promising Filmmaker at the 24fps Festival in Texas, where the festival organizers characterized it as “an exceptional piece of work.”

“Wolves” was an important step in the Davies career, one that initiated a new professional momentum. “I came into the industry relatively late, so I’m keen to make up for lost time,” he said. “There’s been a real buzz about ‘Wolves’ that opened up some doors and led to many other opportunities for me and I’ve gone on to be cast in a wealth of other projects, so I’m very fortunate in that respect.”

For Davies, timing has been critical, but his steady reliability and dedication to creative expression practically guaranteed the series of successes which he has enjoyed. With a palpable momentum building, the actor is poised for even greater accomplishments, but he always maintains his own coolly authoritative, resolutely professional methodology.

“I approach each role, no matter how big or small, in exactly the same manner,” Davies said. “I look for characters I can get under the skin of, and I try to bring my individual stamp to each role—and I make sure to have fun along the way.”

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Producer Kegan Sant helps TELUS give back with inspiring charitable campaign

It seems funny to Kegan Sant that there was once a time where he thought he wanted to be a director. Many people going into filmmaking initially see themselves leading the film set, and Sant was no different. However, when he found his way into producing, he realized it was exactly where he was meant to be. Sant understands the nuances to the role, that it isn’t just balancing a budget. The producer is responsible for making sure every single aspect of the production goes off without a hitch. That, for Sant, is what makes it so thrilling.

“I like to be busy and being a producer, there is always something to do. No matter how simple a project is, attention to detail is everything to me. I find that fun and challenging. Not many positions offer the flexibility in schedule, opportunity to see the world and ability to employ thousands of people over short periods of time. It’s invigorating to work with different directors as everyone has unique ways of working and dynamic thought processes. It’s incredibly satisfying to conceptualize a project with a director, budget it out, execute it, and see it come to life in post,” said Sant.

Sant’s passion for what he does translates into every project he takes on. He is perhaps most well-known for his work on the Westjet Christmas Miracle, one of the first real people/real time commercials that went viral online. He also made the award-winning Grey Cup flagship commercial for the CFL, What We’re Made Of, and last year, his work on Woods Is There campaign celebrated the company’s 100th anniversary and Canada’s 150th birthday while captivating viewers across the country with stunning scenery. His work extends to film, and his movie The Bear went on to several international film festivals, taking home prizes and impressing viewers and critics alike.

Sant’s creativity is ignited when he believes in what a project represents, and his 2016 commercial for TELUS was no different. The commercial promoted #TheGivingEffect, a campaign to encourage acts of kindness. With every act of kindness, big or small, TELUS encouraged citizens across Canada to share themselves giving back to their community with the hashtag #TheGivingEffect, with the goal of having the entire nation help each other. TELUS would then select up to five individuals who took part in the challenge and award them with $5000 to donate to the charity of their choice.

“I think this campaign is important because it sways social consciousness in the direction of doing something about problems and issues they see. It lets people know that everything counts – small or big and that it doesn’t have to be material or monetary to count. Having more of that in the world is inspiring change in the right direction and I believe this stemmed from the actual employees of TELUS giving back to their own organizations, which inspired the corporation to do the same. Truly the spirit of giving,” said Sant.

The campaign began with a 90-second video with short stories ranging from an informal bottle cleanup on a beach to a young woman shaving off her long hair to support a sick friend. The tagline is “every act of giving inspires another.” The commercial was shot in over five locations in just one day in April of 2016. There was a national TV buy for this campaign and it also lived on an online platform. It was also picked up and recognized by a couple of national marketing magazines.

“I liked that we were able to defy all norms on this project, like shooting in several locations in a single shoot day with actresses that had special FX makeup, and first-time experiences like shaving their head. I liked that this project pushed boundaries and forced me to constantly think on my feet. Being able to produce a job that matched the director’s vision was incredibly satisfying and having a happy production company, agency, client and director means I did my job well,” said Sant.

What is perhaps the most interesting and challenging part of the commercial is the scene with the girl donating her hair for her sick friend. Sant had to find an actress that was actually willing to shave her head for the scene and donate her hair. He vowed that they would make it happen, despite the casting director being confident they wouldn’t find one. The director, Stash Capar, had a vision, and it involved an actress actually shaving their head. Sant made sure to deliver. At the last minute, Sant found an actress who was happy to show her support for the cause, really selling the authenticity of the piece. Because of his commitment to the project, Sant immensely impressed all those he worked with, who he now continues to collaborate with to this day.

“You know you’re in good hands with Kegan. No matter what problems befall the project, he will find solutions and the show will go on. Kegan is the hardest working producer I know.  He finds efficiencies and strategies that other producers later mimic. He is an agent of change in the world of commercials.  An example of this was the Westjet Christmas Miracle spot, which Kegan masterminded. His methods were later copied, spawning an entire genre of copycat “surprise and delight” commercials,” said Stash Capar, Director.

When Sant was given the opportunity to work on #TheGivingEffect it felt like he had come full circle. As a teenager, his first “real job” was working for TELUS in their customer service department. He remembers wondering what it would be like to produce a commercial for them one day. Getting to do so while promoting a good cause and giving back to his community was more than he could ever have dreamed of.

“It’s a great feeling to know that the project was so successful. I’m happy to have delivered a job that met the expectations of everyone involved and was instrumental in reaching people, promoting the idea of giving back. It’s on my reel as a heartfelt piece of emotional storytelling, not only for the final product itself but the messaging it shares,” he concluded.

 

Photo by Kevin Sarasom

Art Director Phenix Miao creates stunning sets for Lepow Commercials

P9Phenix Miao was eight years old when he began drawing. He believes art is part of his blood. His great grandfather owned a famous antique house in Shanghai, and that passion for design passed through generations. Growing up, his house was always full of antiquated artifacts, and even at a young age, Miao became fascinated by them. As he grew, his love for art and design only intensified and he became interested in decorating, arranging, and building a scene. There was only one path for him that made sense, and it was becoming an art director. Now, he is celebrated in both China and abroad for his art direction, and he has no plans of slowing down.

Whether it be with film, television, or commercials, Miao constantly shows viewers just how much talent he possesses. In the 2016 movie Shanghai Sojourner, Miao helped transport audiences to Japanese-controlled Shanghai during World War II. In the acclaimed film Lottery, Miao created a fairytale like world to show the euphoria of a starving, young orphan getting his hands on a winning lottery ticket. Using his commercial senses, Miao also helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars with his work on a crowdfunding campaign for Itron Battery. He is extremely versatile with a love for what he does.

“Art direction and production design is a large part of telling a story, so I insist on harmonious and mindful designing. When I’m creating a scene, I make sure to consider the person that will be in it and whether the scene corresponds with the one who lives/uses it. Sets are like extensions of the characters,” he said.

Miao once again achieved this with his work on several commercials for Lepow. The technology company manufactures mobile accessories such as the portable power bank, external battery, and the smart bag. Starting in 2015, Miao took on the role as art director for the premiere commercial for Lepow’s TV Show Box. From there, they made a follow up commercial showcasing the product, and a year later, another long commercial showcasing the brand as a whole.

On the set, Miao was responsible for the entire visual experience. He aimed to make everything the director imagined into the scene a reality. He designed the color and artistic style, selected the best and most suitable materials, maximized every detail, and designed the design space. As the leader of the creative team, he aimed to take the big picture and divide it into small, tangible tasks that would be easy to complete within the timeframe they were working in.

Working closely with the director, Miao discussed every shot individually, wanting to understand the exact feeling the client was looking for. Every aspect was important to create an entire world in the set, from colors to the smell, even though viewers would not experience that. Miao shows such commitment to every detail of a project, that it makes everyone he works with greatly appreciate his talent.

“Phenix is a great leader of the art department and ensures everything goes smoothly. He is essential as an advisor, balancing out my ideas and feelings of the clients through his work. He is a comprehensive creator with a deep understanding of filmmaking, more so than any art director I have worked with. He is constantly curious and always eager to learn new things. In terms of production design, Phenix has an ability to take even the largest set and make everything extremely detailed. Even when I can’t describe exactly what I want, he finds a way to not only make it, but he produces work even better than I imagined,” said Peter “Zhen” Pan, Director.

Miao and Pan have worked together multiple times in the past, and Miao is always the director’s go-to art director. Their personal relationship has transformed to a friendship over many years of collaboration, and Miao knows how to transform Pan’s vision into a reality. Miao appreciates Pan’s different taste and feeling about color and the “rhythm” of the set and props compared to other directors. He understands Pan’s “language” and this connection ensures productivity and efficiency on set, as they communicate seamlessly.

“We work like a family and talk to each other directly no matter what the opinion or issue is. On set, everyone makes sure to do their best work possible. The Lepow commercials were no different. It was a great time and wonderful teamwork. All the guys try to help one another. Working on a series of commercials has allowed us to become familiar with each other, and it is a very relaxed working environment,” he said.

The campaign has been a great success both for Miao and Lepow. Despite this, Miao doesn’t think about what he has achieved when he sets his sight on a new commercial. When he sets out to make something, he expects success because otherwise he would not live up to what he knows he can do. That is what makes him such a formidable art director and production designer.

“We put so much wisdom and effort into these commercials because we had a goal, which was to make Lepow feel satisfied and see sales growth from our work. When that happens, I don’t celebrate, I just know that for the next one we should do even better. The series turned out beautiful for sure, and that is our work. That I can feel proud of,” he concluded.

 

 

Filmmaker Shaan Memon celebrates the holidays in commercials for Dickens Fair

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Shaan Memon

As far back as Shaan Memon can remember, his family had a VCR player at their home in Ahmedabad, a city in Gujarat state in India. Every Sunday, he would watch all of his favorite cartoon shows, and his father used to help him record the shows on video cassettes. When his father would travel to Bombay for work, he would return with movies for Shaan and his elder sister. It was then, in his living room in his childhood home, that his love of film was born.

Now, Shaan is an in-demand Screenwriter, Director, and Editor. He first impressed international critics with his work on the horror The Unreal and continued to do so with his films Fitting In and Bullied, as well as the documentary Purpose Driven Study for Dharoi Canal Command Area. He is extremely knowledgeable in every aspect of filmmaking, from pre-production to post-production, and using this knowledge to expand his skillset. At the end of last year, his work on a commercial for the Dickens Christmas Fair showed that in addition to Director and Editor, this versatile filmmaker can even take on the role of Videographer and achieve tremendous results.

“I found Shaan to be reliable, assiduous, hard-working, and intuitively creative – as well as being extremely patient in performing multiple re-cuts of the material. Shaan impressed me so much that I recommended him for other work and hope to engage his services next year on a separate video for the Dickens Fair,” said David Hakim, Producer/Director who worked alongside Shaan on the commercial.

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair is a one-of-a-kind holiday adventure into Victorian London and is an elaborate party with around 800 of costumed players performing and interacting with patrons in over 120,000 square feet of theatrically-lit music halls, pubs, dance floors, and Christmas shops. It’s a twilight evening in Charles Dickens’ London Town – a city of winding lanes filled with colorful characters from both literature and history. Enticing aromas of roasted chestnuts and hearty foods fill the air. Cries of street vendors hawking their wares ring out above the bustling crowd. Dozens of lamplight shops are filled to overflowing with Christmas gifts. The Dickens Christmas Fair is a treasured Bay Area tradition since 1970 and a splendid way to celebrate the holidays. Thousands of people attend this event every year.

“I had never visited the fair before, so the first time when I visited it, I was spellbound. They have created a different world in itself. One can never imagine what would it be inside until they visit it, and that is exactly I wanted to capture. I therefore insisted on not visiting the fair before shooting, as I wanted to feel like a traveler who is experiencing it for the first time and I captured those moments,” said Shaan.

Shaan is a multi-talented filmmaker with an outstanding about of expertise in writing, directing, editing, videography and sound design. Because he has so much experience in such a variety of roles, he is a one-man army who can execute a project as clearly and as nearly to how it was conceived during the consultation. Having thorough knowledge of different fields makes him a force to be reckoned with and proved vital while shooting this commercial.

“Every filmmaker works hard with his/her sweat and blood to make a project the best it can possibly be and make their name in the industry. I had huge responsibility as Diane Baker put trust in me and suggested me to work on this project. I’m happy that I could reach her and David’s expectations,” said Shaan.

When Diane Baker and David Hakim were trying to find someone who could make a captivating commercial for Dicken’s Christmas Fair, they immediately thought of Shaan and approached him to take the lead on the project. Initially, Hakim had planned on creating a competition to decide who would create the commercial, but after seeing Shaan’s work, he knew he no longer needed to find someone to take over.

Working closely together for the entire shoot, Shaan consulted Hakim regarding what kind of shots, pace and feel would be required. After brainstorming, they decided on getting more front faced shots of the visitors, showing how happy they were and enjoying their time. Getting the best shots of artists performing, vendors selling beautiful products, the decorations, the grandness of the fair and much more. Shaan then attended the fair with his assistant to get as many shots as possible. During the editing process, he consulted with Kevin Patterson, Executive Director of Dicken’s Fair. He edited the best possible 30-second commercial. He is now working on the 90-second advertisement after the success of its predecessor.

“This is what I love about filmmaking. I never get bored of being a filmmaker. I enjoy working every time I have to go through this process of starting a new project, working on it and at the end looking at its result. Every project takes me on a whole new journey. In this one I met around hundreds of artists working together at same place. Watching Dickens’s characters alive and performing in front of you was a treat! This project was great to work on and entertaining also. David was very supportive throughout and I’m happy that he trusted my creativity and I could deliver up to his expectations,” Shaan concluded.

Check out Shaan’s work on the commercial on the Dicken’s Fair website.

SUN SHINES BRIGHTLY WHILE NOT SEEN

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If you’ve ever known an artist, ever read a book about one, seen a film about one, or perhaps been one yourself…then you know that the goal is not to achieve fame (although that’s nice) or riches (also not horrible) but rather true artists simply want to create. The work for them is “work” only in the sense that it requires immense effort but not in a sense of begrudgingly performing a day to day task. Editor Wanqiu Sun eagerly communicates that she loves what she does and that every production she works on allows her to hone her skills. Ranging from TV productions to feature films to web productions and practically everything in between, Sun feels that her job is eternally one which allows her to shape a story, regardless of the medium or its presentation. While she has edited many an award-winning-film, she has also found herself utilizing her talent for commercials like those for Chang’an Automobiles. This series of 3-three minute commercials presented the company’s commitment to consumers and did so with the emotion that Sun’s touch is known for.

Chang’an’s relationship with their customers is analogous to that of editor and director. Passion, beauty, structure, and trust are requirements for a mutually beneficial partnership and pleasing results. People help display the story. In a film they are actors but in these commercials they were real employees of Chang’an. Each commercial presented an employee and how their work led to the benefit of the company’s customers. In one spot, we meet safety engineer Xin Li and the crash test dummy he works with exploring and ensuring the safety of the vehicles. Another presents the Designer Zheng Chen exploring his idea of design, how nature inspired him, and his concept of “power inside.” The final third commercial delves into the future of autonomous vehicles with Zhe Wang. This MIT graduate explains the culture which drew him to Chang’an and what lies ahead for the advancements in automobiles.

The structure of the advertisements were similar to TV and films in the sense that they were based around stories but there were still differences substantial enough to warrant a different approach from the editor. Sun focused on the initial visual impact. The ability of a commercial to attract the viewer’s attention supersedes that of a continual storyline. Wanqiu notes that the story during these productions was more prominent than most, a happy occurrence, but imagery was still the most crucial element for her to present. She explains the process stating, “For commercials, we sometimes won’t break down to what exact shots we will shoot before production. It’s more flexible in comparison to film. For these commercials, they had manuscripts before shooting. They were planning to go with a documentary style, to combine interviews with other footage. The locations were all real locations inside the factory, which meant that it looked different every day. If the majority of shots were planned before, it might have caused more problems during production. As the editor, I had to figure out where these shots could be placed according to the content we had in the manuscript. Cutting according to the original manuscript was around five minutes. I had to combine and rewrite the manuscript to bring the entire thing down to three minutes. Any information we’d lost from the manuscript had to be presented visually.”

Wanqiu’s work on these Chang’an commercials is proof that when there’s a great editor on the production team, especially one involved in pre-production, it makes the production much more efficient. Editors like Sun have the big picture and help the production team to predict problems and also fix those remaining in post. Transforming good material into great material and manifesting the unforeseen, editors are like ninjas who conceal themselves to make the cuts seamless. This analogy resonates with Wanqiu who remarks on her favorite editing, “There’s a fight scene in rain in The Grandmaster (Directed by Karwai Wong, Edited by William Chang), which is one of my favorite scenes in all of Chinese Film. Unlike other action movies, this one doesn’t focus on showing every movement of Kung Fu but more of the atmosphere and the spirit when people are fighting. It is very emotional. Everything seems so vague in the rain but you can feel their exact mood. Some people fight for power and fame and some fight for dignity. It is possible to analyze why we are feeling this way from editing.” The majority of her work has been in English speaking productions; the fact that her family in China gets to see her work every day on these Chang’an commercials gives her the chance to show that she is very much “in the ring.”

Jing Wen breaks through the ‘man’s world of directing’

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Jing Wen

Jing Wen says she works in a “man’s world.” Many female directors in the film and television industry feel this way. It is classically a male dominated field, and just last year the Hollywood Reporter stated that a mere seven per cent of all directors directed the top 250 films, a two per cent decline from 2015, according to San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. Wen, however, does not allow herself to be fazed by this. The award-winning director goes after any and all jobs that would typically be given to a man, constantly looking to break barriers. The Chinese native has become one of the leaders in her field in her home country, and is continuing to cross borders with her impressive skillset.

Earlier this year, Wen once again showed that there she can be a typical ‘rich man’ as she puts it, but directing a luxury car commercial. Dongnan DX7 car commercial. The commercial features Chinese actress and star Wenjing Bao, alongside her three-year-old daughter Jiaozi. The story shows Wenjing making a travelling plan with Jiaozi, asking her daughter to pack her own toys. Unfortunately, Jiaozi slow and took a lot of toys. Luckily, the car gave them much space so Jiaozi can keep all of her toys, and is fast enough to make up the time that was lost. Finally, they are shown having a wonderful road trip in their Dongnan DX7.

“This commercial was a very quick job, so every decision I had to make had to be made quickly. This always provides a fun challenge, and you have to make sure you let everyone on your team know every one of your decisions and any plans you have made, so they can easily do what you ask. There is not much time, so the most important thing you should do is follow your heart and trust your instincts. That makes me excited,” said Wen.

The commercial was produced by Mei Yang. Yang had heard of Wen from the lead producer at Mango TV, Shan Zhou. Zhou worked alongside Wen on a series of projects, such as the television shows Never Give Up, Salute to Life and Blossoming Flowers. Zhou told her friend Yang about Wen, and Yang was immediately impressed with the director after watching some of her work. Wen was asked to take part on the commercial right away.

“Jing Wen has very strong skills as a director, and also she can handle a lot of emergency problems while shooting. We only had five days to prepare this commercial. When she got the script, she went through it and found things that were impossible given our timeline, and found other ways to do it instead,” Zhou described. “For example, Jingwen Bao’s daughter Jiaozi, she is only three-years-old, and a lot of the time she was out of control. In order to complete shooting on time, Jing decided to use montage shots to show the reaction of Jiaozi in her enjoyable moment in the car. We also had the problem, where one day before shooting, the advertisers change the content of the shooting plan. Jing fixed the shot list and gave the advertisers new ideas that still were close to their suggestions, making them very happy. Jing did a very good job on this commercial shooting. I want to work with her again.”

Directing a difficult three-year-old is something that would cause many directors with a short time frame to become frustrated, but Wen never let that happen. Instead of trying to keep the child’s focus on the camera or the scene, Wen decided to let her focus on the toy. That way, she could then use the toy to lead Jiaozi to do something for the shot. The result looked very authentic.

“Wenjing and I worked together on Mom is Superman 2. We already knew we had a great partnership and could work together very quickly and efficiently. She is a big star in China, and she has almost 2 million fans in WEIBO, which is kind of like Instagram. She is really nice, and even sometimes when Jiaozi was really out of control, she helped me to deal with her daughter’s problem. She is a patient mother, and after were finished shooting, she always accompanied Jiaozi around the set,” Wen described.

When always aims to work efficiently. When she first got the script, she discussed the possible shooting locations with the producer. They only had five days to prepare the entire production, so after she chose the locations, she used two days to make a storyboard with my director of photography. She wanted to make sure she was involved with every aspect of the production, making sure to keep the client happy.

“Shooting a commercial, the most important part is talking with advertisers. Sometimes they will ask you to do something nonsensical in part in your film to show their product. At this moment, you need balance their intentions and the story telling. Know what they want to show, that’s the key to success when shooting a commercial,” said Wen.

No matter what project she is working on, success is always the end result for Wen. Her work on the web series Mountain Comeback, the Shenzhen television show Ji Ke Zhi Zao, and the promotional video for Red Nose Day of China follow in that same pattern. At the end of the day, however, it is about how her work resonates with audiences that drives this formidable director.

“I’m a storyteller, and I like giving hope to everyone and making them feel love all around,” Wen concluded.

TRANSFORMING THE SMALL PARTS INTO BIG ROLES WITH AVI AGARWAL

Here’s the secret that many involved in the arts don’t want to tell you; there are two types of professionals in these industries: those who desire esteem and those who just want to be creative. Everyone likes to be respected, that’s completely understandable but some need it more than anything else. It’s up to psychologists to explain the reasons for this. The true believers of the creative world simply want to create, it’s the oxygen to their career. Actors like Avi Agarwal can be seen in films, TV productions, theater plays, and commercials. For him, each of these is simply another opportunity to do what he wants to spend every day doing. These many differing productions not only flex different acting muscles for him but they also reach entirely different sections of the public. A famous and respected director might see his work in a play such as “The Crossover” (the LA production in which Avi performed multiple roles) while old friends on the opposite side of the planet reach out to him in excitement having seen him on a global Amazon Prime commercial. The lack of ego Agarwal possesses is palpable when speaking with him as it becomes easy to comprehend that he is best categorized as an actor who simply wants to spend his life acting. They say that variety is the spice of life and this actor’s commercial work alone attests that he is compiling an eclectic collection of vocational and acting experiences.Headshot 5

Appearing in the Amazon Prime commercial titled “Speed. Selection. Underwear for your hands. Get it all with Amazon Prime”, Avi was seen by more than three million viewers. This advertisement was presented through one of the most ubiquitous of all formats in the world, Facebook. Due to the extremely brief length of commercials, directors of these productions cast memorable and charismatic actors, the type of individuals who stick in your memory. Director Steve Mapp stipulates that both Agarwal’s appearance on camera and his ability to not over-perform made him effortless to work with. Avi comments, “It’s proof that you can’t try to make sense of this business, you just take each situation on its own merits. I’ve done plays where I rehearsed for more than half a year to perform and films where it was months of preparation. When I was cast in the Amazon Prime commercial, I simply showed up, had a conversation with Steve [Mapp] and then did a few takes. I had people from places as far as London reaching out to me with excitement when they saw me. It’s funny and it makes you thankful that people are excited about your career.”

It’s this humble perspective and staunch work ethic that have made Agarwal appreciated and desired by many professionals in the production industry. Director Justin Bookey confirms, “I hired Avi Agarwal for my production company’s shoot of an online commercial with a widespread management industry audience. His professionalism and skill made him shine in this role and the video garnered industry awards with his help. His great attitude and flexibility on the set also made him a valuable asset. He’s got a unique blend of quirkiness, timing, and expressiveness that will serve him well in a variety of comedic and dramatic roles. I feel lucky to have found him.”Headshot 6

This commercial is a sort of an innuendo on how not to run an agile meeting. It’s a comic take on the most common mistakes made by the employees and employers. Such occurrences as when an important topic is being discussed and someone interrupts with the silliest of questions, people being on their phone instead of paying attention, insecurity about their job resulting in hoarding information, people lying about their work, over enthused employees, etc. Avi portrays a nerd at an office meeting where everyone is quirky and the team leader pays more attention to his own interests than creating a cohesive team. The production was created for industry outreach and was shown at the Global Scrum Gathering in San Diego where it received enthusiastic praise and reactions.

In a bit of a stretch that called upon his heritage, Agarwal used his knowledge of Indian Culture to portray the character of Pastor Sanjay in “The Great Controversy.” The scene is set in a church where the younger pastor (played by Agarwal) is more inclined to understand and compromise to the senior pastor but we also see the senior pastor bending his rules to adapt to the younger generation. Avi appears as the same youthful pastor happily dancing to music in his office. In “Are You My Mother” Avi is seen in a tale which depicts how the older and younger generations are struggling to adjust to each other’s ideas and tastes. It’s displays the impact on two insanely big generation gaps. This commercial is all about how all single people are always pestered by the older women around them about finding a partner and getting married. It’s based on an Indian single man being imposed on by an elderly Indian woman whom he is not even related to. The goal of both commercials is to promote the idea of diversity in the church. This actor admits that he was more surprised than anyone to be given the role but concedes, “I was thrilled to be a part of such a commercial which is different because it is promoting diversity in the world. I mean, honestly…before this work, I did not know that people made commercials to invite different cultures to churches and these two were especially targeted towards the younger members of society. I feel blessed to do such a commercial. It promotes the fact that people from different cultures can be pastors at a young age and in most cases can be funny.” That would not be as possible without Agarwal and the director of the two projects, Philip Sherwood notes, “It’s so obvious that Avi takes great joy in his craft. He is a great actor and has the ability to lift everyone’s spirits on set…which is exactly what his character was doing in the action of these commercials. To this day I don’t know if that was who Avi is or if he was so deep in the character that he never left it. That’s a testament to just how truly great he is.”Headshot 3

Art Director Mark Nicholson brings authenticity to award-winning Adidas campaign

Creativity has always been a fundamental aspect of Mark Nicholson’s life. As a child growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, his artistic side was evident even from a young age. Over time, this childhood hobby developed into much more, and now, Nicholson is an internationally celebrated Art Director.

While working on several high-profile campaigns around the world, Nicholson’s talent has directly led to the success of each project he has worked on. He created the concept for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation competition to “Make millennial’s care more about charity work and causes happening around the world,” and their campaign Plight Map went on to win the prestigious Cannes Chimera Award. While working as an Art Director for the rebranding campaign of 118118, the project went on to be nominated for a British Arrow Award. He has worked on several popular commercials with the world’s most recognizable companies, such as Nike and Microsoft. He also contributed greatly to the success of the Adidas Break-up Service campaign.

“Adidas is iconic. It’s created work globally that has pushed advertising into new territory. This, combined with my natural interest in Asian culture, seemed like a match made in heaven,” said Nicholson.

Break up Service was a multi-media advertising campaign for the latest Japanese inspired safety wear fashion range from Adidas Originals. A film, print campaign and website followed a young man that worked for a fictional ‘break-up’ service and the danger that falling in love creates. The film won a Silver Cannes Lion Award at the prestigious international festival, as well as a Bronze BIAA.

“The campaign is one of my proudest pieces, the team we worked with in Japan – especially the award-winning director Kosai Sekine, it was all fantastic. Learning first-hand about Japanese culture whilst on location allowed us to adapt the script as we went, working with the Japanese team to make it as authentic, but as entertaining, as possible,” said Nicholson.

After having previous success with TBWA London on a campaign with the Chelsea Football Club and Adidas, Nicholson was immediately sought-after for the Break Up Service project, knowing that he had the exact skillset needed. As the Senior Art Director, Nicholson first created a mixed-media campaign idea and presented it to the client to secure funding for the project. He wrote the script, and oversaw storyboarding, design and branding. The project required a unique knowledge of Japanese subculture, which was a specific skillset that Nicholson possessed. After funding was secured, he was responsible for finding and collaborating with an authentic Japanese director, refining the script and making creative decisions whilst production was already underway. While filming in Tokyo, he was responsible for all on-set creative decisions. He also oversaw a fashion shoot that was in tandem with the TVC, advising on location and models. He was the creative advisor for the online content that a third-party agency was creating. There is no doubt that his work was instrumental in the campaign’s success. 

I had the pleasure of working with Mark while serving as Executive Creative Director at TBWA London. He was lead Art Director on the Adidas Originals campaign about a fictional Break-up service in Tokyo. Mark ran the project under demanding timescales and cultural challenges and he was rewarded with a Cannes Lion. It was an amazing piece of work,” said Al Young.

Because the film was set in Japan, Nicholson’s knowledge of Japanese culture proved to be a great asset. He has always had a longtime love of manga and anime, like the classics; Akira, Ghost in the Shell and anything Ghibli. He found that this, combined with his work on the Japanese influenced work I created for 3Mobile at WCRS, gave him a good knowledge of Japan.

“How wrong I was, there was so much more and it was fun learning along the way,” said Nicholson. “I had to create a huge style presentation. Introducing Japanese fashion styles, locations and cultural nuances. We introduced the client to Japanese Pleasure Hotels, Capsule Hotels and Cosplay so we had to be prepared. I researched Tokyo’s relevant scenes, modern Japanese art, designers and comic book pop-culture, and then created thorough presentations for the client. The more familiar I got with the culture the more interesting our ideas became, but I also had to be very mindful that we didn’t come across as a predictable Western brand looking into Asia. Authenticity was paramount, and luckily the culture naturally allowed itself to be weirdly authentic.”

As well as the film, Nicholson and his team ran a poster campaign that reflected a distinctive Asian art direction. They also created a commerce website dedicated to the campaign, which had several more fake content films showing Japanese fan girls humorously confessing that they use the break up service. The website even included a video from Akira himself, emotionally describing the origin of his service, when he had to tell his mother that his father was breaking up with her.

“Working on this campaign was fast and fun. The shoot was exceptionally smooth. The planning was exceptional, and the final product was amazing,” said Nicholson.

With all the work that Nicholson did, he still managed to overcome the “all work and no play” mantra, taking advantage of his surroundings.

“It was my first visit to Asia so that was an experience that had been a long time coming. Outside of filming, I was able to absorb the local art, animation history, and the Godzilla museum,” he concluded.

You can watch the Adidas Break Up Service film here.

Director and producer Ron Grebler is the real deal while showcasing real food

Ron Grebler is a storyteller. He is a creator. He is a filmmaker. He uses his creativity and imagination to transport others to different places and times. Grebler uses his talent to captivate audiences. As both a Director and Producer from Toronto, Ontario, Ron Grebler has done it all.

With fans around the world, Grebler’s work has been appreciated by many. Just last year, his promotional video for the immensely popular Netflix series Stranger Things went viral, building up anticipation for the show. He has directed and produced several successful commercials, including the innovative campaign for Axe Hair Products on Canada’s MuchMusic, and commercials for Belair Direct, Fuji Instax, and We Day.

“I would like to think that I strive for ‘quiet storytelling’, letting the idea unfold in visual images rather than be heavily driven by dialogue or voice over narration. This is the path more rarely travelled in the heavily direct messaging style of the commercial world, and often embraced by branded content. Visually, there’s something fascinating to me about extreme close-ups with limited depth of field. That perspective can take the subject and add a dimensionality to it that’s almost abstract, which I believe connects with viewers. Given that I work in the commercial world, it’s not often that I can use shots like these, but at the right moment, they can really make a spot pop. I’m very cognizant of color and contrast. There is high pressure when creating a commercial because ultimately, it’s about ‘selling’ and for many viewers there is a reticence to that. That’s why I always try to layer a spot with cues for the unconscious mind to find them entertaining, engaging and if possible, playful,” said Grebler, describing his style of directing.

With such a commitment to his craft and an appreciation of the nuances, it is no doubt as to why Grebler is considered one of the best. When working on a promotional video series for Thermador, Grebler showed his abilities to go beyond what is typical, and create something revolutionary. Real Food with Thermador was a four-part web series that was an early foray into the world of online branded content video featuring celebrity chef Jamie Kennedy.

“There was a very unique approach in the development of this project as it was meant to truly be branded content, meaning we weren’t pushing the ‘hard sell’ of Thermador products,” said Grebler. “It was really meant to focus on passion for locally grown seasonal ingredients, especially as perceived through the eyes of celebrated chef Jamie Kennedy.”

The series was shot similarly to an HGTV show or a Food Network program, educating viewers as well as entertaining. Acting as both producer and director for the project, Grebler’s vision was imperative to its success. Mike Codner, former Studio Manager with DDB Canada , sought-out Grebler to be the director and producer, knowing of his creativity, work ethic and passion for the job.

“Ron has a flexible approach to production, whether it’s a big budget or small, he treats it with the same respect. He’s a director and producer first, but he sees the big picture in terms of the clients’ needs and the reality of working within budgetary constraints. He’s passionately engaged in the process, from pre-production through the shoot and will sit in on all post production too. He takes ownership of all that he does,” said Codner.

The campaign was very successful and won both the International Association of Business Communicators Gold Quill Award and Ovation Award, the Canadian Marketing Association Award, and the Canadian Public Relations ACE Award. Grebler says he didn’t even consider awards while making the video, he just wanted to focus on the client’s goals while making something visually outstanding.

“Honestly it felt odd at first. I was told we were nominated and I kind of shrugged my shoulders. The agency told me that it was a bigger deal than I realized and when we won I was quite proud. Maybe I was naïve but I had no idea how important it was to win awards,” Grebler laughed.

Taking on the vital roles of director and producer, Grebler was responsible for implementing his vision. By making the videos appear like a television show it helped connect the audience to the product in a way that other commercials couldn’t. The videos were made in 2008, and in those early days of branded content, it was essential that the video not feel like a commercial. By giving viewers compelling content, great visuals and passionate discussion about the topic of real food, Grebler knew they’d be engaged. When the chef ended up describing some of the specific Thermador products, it was part of the flow of the show and made sense, not just like a ‘stop-and-sell-the-product’ moment.

“It was flattering to be selected to work on this kind of programming. After the scripts were written, it was less about thinking and more about doing. We had a lot of locations to cover in only a few days, so it was about maximizing our time and getting the most powerful content. It wasn’t until the edit that I really grasped how seamlessly everything cut together and that it really flowed like a segment for a TV show, nothing at all like a commercial,” Grebler described.

Grebler also succeeded in making the videos a work of art. Shooting in picturesque Prince Edward County, venturing from Jamie Kennedy’s to an artisanal cheese factory, he set up each shot to have stunning imagery. The outdoor shots showcased the perfect late summer weather, from the golden light over a tomato farm to mouth-watering close-ups of prepared dishes. The passion and depth of knowledge shown by on-camera talent Jamie Kennedy and those he would speak with also shone through.

“It was a great pleasure working on this because it was as much an on-the-fly learning process about local foods and farming and food production as much as it was the logistics of video production. We had a small and very talented crew and we had to think on our feet quickly because of limited access and time at the locations as well as working with real people. I trusted them completely and the visuals and content we got was quite captivating while engaging in passionate conversations about food with local farmers and artisanal cheesemakers,” he described.

Working with a celebrity chef and farmers was initially concerning for the director and producer, however, as he was concerned about their ability to articulate in a way that would connect with audiences. Grebler eventually learned a valuable lesson that he carries with him today.

“Find someone’s passion when you’re speaking with them and they will give you gold,” Grebler concluded.

Watch Grebler’s work on the first episode of Real Food with Thermador here.

Art Director-Motion Graphics Designer Ilya Tselyutin Thriving in Hollywood

Art Director-Motion Graphics Designer Ilya Tselyutin works in one of the most fascinating, fast moving and over looked fields in modern media. Motion Graphics is a constantly evolving, creatively fertile niche that entails creating everything from eye-popping feature film title sequences to innovative television commercial applications. It’s a complex mix of graphic design, animation and cutting edge technology that requires innate resourcefulness, meticulous attention to detail and the ability to bring life to  a very broad spectrum of images—qualities which the Russian-born Tselyutin has no shortage of.

 

“While studying computer science at university, I developed interest in 3D graphics,” Tselyutin said. “I was always curious how this technology worked. At the same time I started looking at works by some famous graphic designers and learned about typography. I wanted to bring all of this together – 3D graphics, animation and design. Also, I drew my inspiration from title sequences from Hollywood movies, as well as the special effects in sci-fi movies.”

 

A painstaking, gifted craftsman whose outstanding work has been recognized with international awards—Silver winner for Art Direction at Cannes Corporate Media & TV Awards, and a Silver Win for Graphic Design/Animation at PromaxBDA, both in 2013—Tselyutin has distinguished himself with an impressive roster of career achievements. All this has led him to the field’s epicenter, Hollywood, where he enjoys a position at the prestigious Troika Design Group, a top branding and marketing agency that specializes in working with entertainment and media companies

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“Troika is one of the most notable companies in the industry,” Tselyutin said. “I had learned about it a while ago and they were looking for a lead motion graphics designer to bring the quality of 3D graphics to the next level. Paul Brodie, the Managing Director, was closely following my work and invited me to join the company in 2016, where I am currently working as Art Director/Motion Graphics Designer.

 

At Troika’s Design Department, Tselyutin has successfully undertaken jobs for a disparate series of high profile clients. “We have a very busy schedule with plenty of projects coming my way every day,” Tselyutin said  “The most interesting projects so far have been for AT&T Sports Network and ESPN College Basketball. The video for AT&T included working with the client’s static footage. As a lead designer on this project I suggested using a special technology in Cinema 4D software to cut the static footage into several pieces an then project them onto 3D models, and the result made both the team and the client happy.”

 

Tselyutin’s gift for surpassing expectations is a result of his widely varied cultural background and educational experience. With a Bachelors of Arts in Information Technologies and New Media from the Kuban State University, Krasnodar, Russia and a resume of jobs all over Europe, Tselyutin brings a refreshing international perspective to any project assigned him.

 

“While I was studying computer science, I started working at the local TV channel as a designer discovering the world of 3D graphics,” Tselyutin said. “I developed interest in design, typography and animation and after graduation, I moved to Moscow to work at the national largest TV network Channel One Russia, where I had the privilege to learn from the best and most experienced broadcast designers in the country.”
 

“My work brought me around the world,” Tselyutin said. “For example, I produced a 3D mapping show in at the Technology University of Mangalore, India. In 2013 I moved to work at VUCX creative agency in Cologne, Germany. Working and living in Europe with its variety of art museums, exhibitions and strong school of design was a great experience that helped me expand my portfolio and explore motion graphics even further.”

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For the driven, ambitious Tselyutin, whose formidable resume is already packed with enough accomplishments to stand as the full measure of a professional career, it is only the beginning. “I am eager to continue my personal development as an artist, 3D professional and art director while growing professionally within the company,” he said. “I see myself working on large-scale commercially successful projects.”

“My motto is: be curious, be professional, never give up.”