Category Archives: Director

“Changes” Marks Director Roberto Escamilla’s Move into Narrative Storytelling

1269321_10151697009774962_498198691_o
Director Roberto Escamilla

Originally from Mexico City, Mexico director Roberto Escamilla has carved out a remarkable reputation for himself as a diversely talented director whose work has continued to appeals to audiences in Latin America and abroad.

Escamilla recently wrote and directed the film “Changes,” which is scheduled to premiere at the UCLAxFilmFestival on May 6th in Los Angeles, as well as the Mexican Consulate in LA on May 25. Starring Joshua A Furtado (“Haunted Christmas”), Jade Lorna Sullivan (“Hold Fast Good Luck”) and Chaz Kao (“Lucifer”), “Changes” brings to life a coming of age story that follows Mitchell (Furtado), a 16-year-old boy who is taken to a brothel on his birthday where he is pressured by his friends to lose his virginity. Weaving together themes of peer-pressure, sexuality and the transition from adolescence into manhood, “Changes” is definitely a film you won’t want to miss.

Aside from “Changes” Escamilla also recently wrote and directed the first episode of the upcoming series “Baila!” starring Mario Morán (“La Doña,” “Como Dice el Dicho”), Samantha Siqueiros (“Vino El Amor”) and Leonel Deluglio (“Champs 12,” “Cuando Toca La Campana”).

Produced by Este Par Films and Escamilla’s production company Grillo Films, “Baila!” is set in a boarding school in Mexico where bullying is out of control. In an effort to combat the rise in bullying, two teachers join forces to convince the principal to reinstate the school’s artistic programs, the only problem is she won’t give them any funding. That’s when the school geography teacher Hector, played by Diego de Tovar (“El Señor de los Cielos,” “Opening Night”), reconnects with his street hip hop dance roots and opens a dance class.

According Escamilla, through the class “the students find an escape from their problems, with the class opening them up to a new world that will help them build strong friendship with each other.”

The highly anticipated new series is currently in negotiations with several networks in Mexico and is expected to be released within the next two years, so stay tuned for that!

Poster for the series "Baila!"
Poster for the series “Baila!”

For Roberto Escamilla the film “Changes” and the upcoming series “Baila!” mark a transition into more narrative storytelling. Prior to these, he made his mark as a sought after commercial director, directing commercials for well-known brands such Karo, Nescafe Taster’s Choice and Sky Blue To Go.

In 2014 and 2015 he was invited to join the Mexican Association of Advertising Agencies (AMAP) in France for the Cannes Lions Awards, which celebrates the best creative work in the world. There he produced and directed coverage of the awards, as well as exclusive interviews with notable figures such as “Baywatch” star David Hasselhoff, Ogilvy & Mather creative director Tham Khai Meng, and Mexican jurors Sebastián Arrechedera, Jessica Apellaniz and Hector Fernandez. The interviews were televised by AMAP as part of #CannesEnMexico and you can check out one of them below.

Last year Escamilla was called in to work as the second unit director on location in Mexico on the critically acclaimed Dodge commercial “Bandits” with director Mati Moltrasio. Moltrasio is well-known throughout the advertising industry for his work directing commercials for Kraken Rum, Jeep, Toyota, TNT, Dominoes, the hit series “Game of Thrones” and many more.

Moltrasio says, “Roberto was in the project from the very beginning working with me and making decisions. He was in charge of casting the whole secondary cast in Durango… During the shooting day he was in charge of the second unit, doing close ups and inserts for the spot. He also worked with me helping with the most difficult shots of the spot. The final product wouldn’t be the same without his approach and creative ideas.”

In the commercial, which stars Danny Trejo (“From Dusk til Dawn,” “Machete”), Trejo leads an unassuming car buyer out of the dealership doors for a routine test-drive, but instead of walking onto a concrete lot, the two find themselves in the middle of the desert. In front them waits a shiny B5 Blue Dodge Challenger, and in the distance, a gang of bandits on horseback quickly approaches. They hop in the car and the new car buyer is immediate sold as he does donuts in the desert and coats the men on horseback with dust.

As they were shooting two commercials simultaneously and the team’s main base was in Mexico City, Escamilla travelled ahead to Durango, Durango where most of the “Bandits” commercial was shot in order to lay the groundwork and scout the location.

Escamilla explains, “For this project I traveled to Durango a couple times before the official production to do the casting with locals, see the horses, because it involved horses, the scouting etc.,  I also did the tech scout with the DP, and all of the shooting plans. Once the main unit arrived I took care of directing the second unit since we needed to cover a lot of stuff in one day.”

Besides just being a hit with audiences and undoubtedly boosting sales for the Dodge Challenger, the “Bandits” commercial earned the Bronze Award in the ‘Craft/ Film Craft/ Direction’ category at the 2016  U.S. Hispanic Idea Awards, a major award ceremony that celebrates outstanding creative achievement in advertising generated by Hispanic or general market agencies targeting Hispanic consumers.

In addition to the award for “Bandits,” Escamilla’s work as the director of the promos for the popular Mexican historical drama “The Eagle’s Spell” also earned the 2012 PromaxBDA Gold Award for Best Package Design.

Escamilla’s work directing commercials has definitely garnered attention from audiences around the world, but his work as a narrative director is where his artistic vision is given the breadth to truly shine; and with the upcoming releases of  “Changes” and “Baila!,” we know we’ll be seeing a whole lot more from director Roberto Escamilla.

“I really feel grateful that I’m able to tell stories to the people. I love that with my profession I can reach people’s hearts by telling my stories. We get to live from art, not every profession allows this,” explains Escamilla.

 

Director Jan Pavlacky shines light on EB disease with powerful PSA

janpavlacky
Director Jan Pavlacky

It was when Jan Pavlacky was nineteen-years-old that he figured out his path in life. At that time, he did not know what exactly it would involve, but he knew he had to make films. He started off in the costume department, but when he got his first taste of directing, he knew without any doubt where his true passion was, and now he is an internationally recognized director.

Pavlacky has had an extremely successful career. He directed his film award-winning film BKA 49-77, worked alongside Hollywood’s biggest stars including Bruce Willis on the set of Hart’s War, Matt Damon on the set of Bourne Identity, and Luc Besson on the set of Joan of Arc with Milla Jovovich, and made commercials for worldwide brands such as Nike. He has worked with some of the world’s best production companies, including atSwim, which has an amazing international collective of producers, directors, and creatives from around the world.

“It’s a huge honor to be a part of atSwim,” said Pavlacky. “Working with creative people from different parts of the world broadened my own perspectives and I’ve learned to create work with more universal appeal.”

One of Pavlacky’s most notable projects with atSwim was a moving PSA commercial for the esteemed Debra company. The commercial was made to raise awareness for the company, which takes care of people with EB disease, an inherited connective tissue disease. The basic symptom of the disease is blistering all over the body surface, and also affects the mucous membranes, gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract or excretory organs.

The commercial involved creating an annual calendar with 12 famous people from the Pavlacky’s native country of the Czech Republic, including artists, fashion designers, actors, singers, and scientists. During the commercial, projections were screened on the celebrities as they recited a poem by one of the EB patients. The footage of the celebrities was then projected on various materials and architectural elements, which created an abstract and inspiring vision that left a lasting impression on everyone involved.

“I loved that fact that I could use my knowledge or talent to create something of an moral value and contribute to the good of society. EB is incurable, and in many cases deadly, with very few medical resources and no known cure. Therefore, any attention and towards DEBRA, the organization taking care of EB patients, is important,” said Pavlacky.

While bringing attention to Debra, Pavlacky came up with the visual concept of creating light projections, which symbolized a second skin for the patients and evoked the situations and mixed feelings they go through as they battle the disease. This meant the shoot was very complicated, and called for an immense amount of preparation and technical aptitude. Before filming began, Pavlacky already had every shot planned to ensure the shoot was seamless for the entire crew and the famous celebrities. Pavlacky’s commitment and consistent planning ahead is appreciated by many of his counterparts in the industry.

 “Jan has all the marks of a legendary director, and his genius is present in all of the projects he has been a part of. When atSwim was called upon to prepare a PSA commercial, I knew Jan was the right man for the job. The project was a resounding success, raising great awareness for the Debra company thanks to Jan’s groundbreaking direction, which offered a clever visual dynamic to accompany the important message. Additionally, the commercial achieved very high media buzz which was so needed by Debra, as well as helped us to further demonstrate atSwim’s distinguished nature as a leading production company.  I can’t thank Jan enough for his great work,” said producer and founder of atSwim, Tomáš Krejčí. “Jan has proven himself time and time again to be a director of extraordinary ability made clear by his list of exceptional credits.  He is truly among the top tier of directors working, and continues to impress me with each project he takes on.”

Pavlacky describes the experience of working on the commercial as wonderful, but it came with its technical challenges. There were lots of projections that were re-recorded in-camera. This process was done several times, thus creating a multilayered image all in-camera without post. He also had to synchronize all the images with sound, requiring a large amount of time in the editing room. However, one of the biggest roadblocks came from getting the celebrities on set, as they were extremely busy. Despite all of this, the commercial ended up being a huge success.

“The collaboration was very interesting. The celebrities from the PSA came from different backgrounds, some of them were experienced being in front of the camera some were totally unused to. I liked the balance between the professional and the authentic,” concluded Pavlacky.

You can view Pavlacky’s work on the powerful PSA here.

Taiwanese Filmmaker Diana Chao Directs Visually Stunning Content for Innovative Subjects and Product

The renowned filmmaker Diana Chao has been reaching audiences worldwide through her directorial work for several years. Her past experience spans commercial work, short films, and even features, a few of her most celebrated titles including The Restoration, which Chao both wrote and directed, the informative short film PSA titled Violence in the Closet, and the US-China collaboration, Finding Mr. Right. As a result of her past achievements, Chao was asked to direct two key projects over the past year: an upcoming short film titled Match, and a hit promo video for an innovated product called Emora, both of which have been great successes.

After watching Chao’s first independent short The Restoration, Domingos Antonio, the producer and actor of Match, insisted she direct his forthcoming short. Chao had been referred to Antonio by Brazilian director Alexandre Peralta prior at a film festival.

“Match is a story about the apathy and the emptiness of the virtual relationships through smartphone dating apps,” Chao explained. Initially, because of her strong aversion to dating apps and websites, Chao found it humorous that she was hired as the director of the project. In order to understand the world her characters lived in and accurately depict their loneliness, Chao had to dive deep into the world of online dating and do her research via friends who regularly use various dating apps.

match_01
Diana Chao working on Match

“I didn’t end up enrolling in any dating apps myself,” Chao said. “Some close friends of mine had been using different dating apps (Match, OKCupid, Tinder, etc.) and through them (both male and female users) I got to know the differences between the ways in which these apps functioned and how they targeted different markets. My roommate back then was planning to start online dating, so we went step-by-step through creating her a profile, held discussions involving what types of people would be attracted to certain types of photos and profile descriptions, and then tested our choices and analyzed our results.”

Chao chose to focus on Tinder the most, as the app model created for Match closely resembled the real-life dating app.

Fellow director and 1st AD, Jing Ning, who’s directed commercials for Mercedes Benz, BMW, Audi, and Volkswagen, worked closely with Chao as the 1st AD on both Match and Emora, thus receiving a good impression of her worth ethic in both short film and commercial capacities.

“Chao has a keen insight and fine sentiment,” Ning said of her coworker’s talents. “You can see those qualities in every film that she’s ever done. She created a dark and romantic tone for Match that gave the film a unique and artistic feeling. She brought out our actors’ deepest feelings to tell a story without dialogue, which exemplifies her solid directing skills.”

Match was completed in 2016 and is currently hitting the film festival circuit, including the 2017 CineGlobe International Film Festival at CERN in Switzerland, the 2016 Port Douglas Film Festival in Australia, and the 2016 Los Angeles Brazilian Film Festival in both the United States and Brazil.

Last spring, Chao completed directing the exciting commercial for Emora, a new product created by Innovart, a team of young Taiwanese inventors in the United States. In short, Emora is a smart accessory designed as a bracelet that allows one to express themselves and connect with people via color. This customizable bracelet allows one to show their style and mood by fine-tuning its colors and brightness with elegant gestures, and also has a pulsating light which fades in and out with one’s heartbeat.

Emora_02.jpg
Diana Chao directing Emora

The making of the commercial was comprised of a one-day shoot at a standing set at 2010 Studios in Gardenia, California. According to Chao, the amazing Art Department of the shoot was responsible for creating seven different locations within one space – an apartment hallway, bedroom, dressing room, studio, office, bakery, and café – and did so with astounding success. “Besides the prep day prior to the shoot, the Art Department was basically setting up Location B while we were shooting Location A, and striking Location A while we were shooting Location C. The encounter of a design team, which here in this case is the team that designed and created Emora, and our entire production team must involve labor, but I was thrilled by their passion and faith in their product. Without their patience, flexibility and trust on our ability of execution, this video wouldn’t have been possible,” Chao recollected.

John-Scott Horton played the lead male of the Emora commercial, though this wasn’t his first time working with the accomplished Chao. Horton also starred in Diana’s film The Restoration back in 2013.

emora_04
Diana Chao on the set of Emora

“Truthfully, I wouldn’t have done the project [Emora] if I hadn’t been asked by Diana, but I instantly said yes because I was excited to work with her again. She used much of the same crew that worked on The Restoration and I was reminded of how good she is at assembling the team,” said Horton. “Diana is great at delegating, has an eye for aesthetic, is very efficient, and is a very effective leader. Her artistry is suited for major feature films and was not compromised for a smaller project.”

Emora was ranked as number nine in the top 17 products of CES 2017.

The CES is a global consumer electronics and consumer technology trade show that takes place every January in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Winning it’s 9th position on the best 17 products out of all of the products of 2017 shows that Emora is commercialized. With this being the product’s sole commercial, it shows the impact it’s had on showcasing and promoting the product.

 

For more information on Diana Chao, please visit:
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm6371027/
https://dianachaos.com/

For more information on Match and Emora, please visit:
For MATCHhttps://vimeo.com/184096007
For Emora: https://myemora.com/

 

DIORS SAMURAI IS ZHENG KANG’S ACTION/ROMANCE AT ITS NERDY BEST!

Doing your best and always giving one hundred percent are more important now than ever. Information is instantaneous these days and you can google anything in less time than it takes to yawn. Zheng Kang has always given his best and it is starting to supply dividends to his career. Belying his young age, Kang’s animation productions have already reached achievements like being used by faculty at USC School of Cinematic Arts for graduate animation classes (Lion Dance, in which he oversaw a group of professionals spread across five continents), working on the Comedy Central’s TripTank (contributing to every episode of the entire second season), and others. As such a recognized part of the animation community, his diverse creations are receiving great attention. one of his earliest productions, Diors Samurai, shows a different side of Zheng’s sentiment and may soon be made into a series production at a US network. Diors (Chinese for “loser”), gives a hint to the humor found in this action animated show. One cornerstone of Kang’s work is that it is always different, thematically and stylistically. A viewing of the Diors Samurai trailer (http://vimeo.com/189854381) reveals how different it is from his other work (https://vimeo.com/190416387 Baby and Granny for example). It is not hyperbolic to state that each new film Zheng starts receives the respect of him breaking his approach down and starting fresh each time. As both a director and an animator, Zheng Kang has learned to give each story the opportunity to become its own entity.

Production I.G.’s Dead Leaves (distributed in Japan, North America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK) and Samurai Jack (the American animated series on Comedy Central) both inspired Kang’s approach for Diors Samurai. He wanted an Eastern influence, time travel, a love story, all augmented by his sense of humor and wit. The tale of Diors Samurai is that of a hero who falls in love with a beautiful princess and is heartbroken to learn that their love is forbidden. A chance encounter with a magical elder reveals that he may marry the princess if he travels through time to find her in the dystopian future. He jumps at the chance and finds her, only to learn that she is now a successful police officer with no memory of him! Yota (the samurai) must divide his time between saving the city from ruthless organized gangs, trying to understand this confusing modern world, and hopefully sweeping the princess off her feet! While the story is full of action and danger, it’s the characters who drive the story and interest viewers the most. Yota is a very strong samurai but very tiny. He grew up with his lord’s daughter and was in-charge of protecting her every day. Yota fell in love with her but never told her as society would not approve of this. When the princess is selected to marry another lord’s son, Yota cannot do anything about it and is beside himself. While he is adept at fighting and killing, he does not know how to express his feelings and show love. The “Diors” or “loser” facet of this character comes from his unrequited love as well as his inability to express himself (a modern view of loser for certain). The princess in Diors Samurai is perhaps one of the most positive and well-rounded female Asian leads accessible to viewers these days. In ancient time she is very elegant, like every traditional princess in our mind. In the future however, she is tough, strong, and highly proficient with firearms. The princess possesses qualities that appeal to every type of fan and contradict stereotypical female roles.

While Diors Samurai is definitely an action program, Zheng confirms that it shares a common thread with all of his creations, “It’s a love story. People search every day for love and to find their partner. That’s a basic human need. I know that people have an immediate thought in their minds that a samurai/warrior is very serious and not in touch with their feelings. Their mission is always to protect and serve their king. I wanted to create someone who is just like normal people, someone who feels loves and is eager to get love. Yota has some strength but also has drawbacks. He might be a winner as a Samurai but might be a loser in life. That’s a universal story no matter what part of the world you are from or what you might do in your life. We all struggle for love and we all want it.”

Perhaps the most striking and apparent aspect of Diors Samurai is the mixture of Eastern artistic style with a western based theme and emotion. The clash/combination of the two serves to heighten the impact of both in this production. Zheng states, “I grew up with comics and manga. I began to draw them when I was a little kid. So my drawing style is highly influenced by Japanese anime and manga, which looks very Asian. I also enjoy western storytelling like Pixar and Disney features because they always have a clear and simple storyline. They’re character-driven, there are three acts, and the motivations and conflicts for every character are easy to understand. I enjoy Asian storytelling very much but I have to say, sometimes it’s too cultural and you can get confused if you’re unfamiliar with that culture.” Caroline Hu (formerly the Character Artist at Warner Bros. Animation and Conceptual Artist at Walt Disney Feature Animation/now the Artist at Warner Bros Consumer Products) notes Zheng’s successful integration of these two cultural traits. She relates, “Zheng’s approach to storytelling is both collaborative and diverse, and is exactly what Hollywood needs right now. It’s very refreshing to see. His successful marrying of two cultures, Asian and Western, to create a number of globally successful projects, is no small feat. Zheng’s animation and direction skills are superior. As a member of the Animation Faculty at USC School of Cinematic Arts, I often refer to his projects when addressing undergrad and graduate film students in my masterclass, even using Zheng’s materials as a teaching aid to show the students how things should be done!”

His role as director/animator has become commonplace for Kang these days but his work with composer Torin Borrowdale on Diors Samurai was one of his first entries into overseeing multiple facets of an animation production. Zheng understood that the mixing of cultures in his story, combined with the dichotomy of a Samurai in love, meant that he needed a soundtrack that would mesh with these ideas. Add to that, the need for intensity in the actions scenes and the music suddenly became paramount. Kang recalls, “I was always looking for high energy, with Japanese traditional instruments and elements in the music. Because it’s an action-comedy, high energy music can work very well with every sequence. Because the characters are Samurai, Japanese traditional instruments and elements can help build an authentic atmosphere. I found some reference music for Torin so he could understand what I wanted, but he also provided great ideas which made the final music much better than the reference music, suitable and unique! After this first cooperation with a composer, I understood how important music is for storytelling. I respect composers very much and would like to work with them to achieve great and unique music. For me it’s always a mind- blowing experience and learning opportunity when I work with my composers.”

The interest in Diors Samurai does not rely solely on the achievements of Kang’s more recent productions. With Official Selection Screenings at the: Trailer Fest Film Festival, London Monthly Film Festival, Direct Short Online Film Festival, Creation International Film Festival, and the Play Film Festival, Diors Samurai was highly noticed when it first was made available as a Short. Now, the industry that has become so captivated by this director/animator’s lauded animation productions has also rediscovered the time-travelling Samurai that began it all. Sword in hand and princess in heart, Yota is disproving his own moniker to his creator Zheng Kang.work-on-animation

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”.

Zeon’s Music Video Journey

Alejandro Salinas discovered MTV when he was just 10 years old. As a child growing up in Mexico City, he would listen to songs and always think about what the music video would look like. When he saw a new one come out and it would not match his expectations, he would become thrilled at the idea of making his own version. When one came out that was better than he imagined, he would become overwhelmed with excitement and the new possibilities that those amazing ideas had brought on for the industry, the world, and his creative perception. The love for music and inspiration it draws generates a need for him to create visuals for it.

Now, that young boy from Mexico City goes by Zeon, and is recognized around the world as an outstanding director and editor. Despite working on films and fashion films and achieving extraordinary success, he still knows his passion is the same as the 10-year-old boy who would watch MTV all day.

I make music videos. I create a visual world from a song. I direct and edit the process, and I’m very detail-oriented. It’s the most rewarding discipline for me. It encompasses so many different art forms and you’ll never be bored by it. There will always be new songs to be inspired from to create new visuals, and that keeps me coming back to them,” said Zeon.

music-videos-zeon-in-lady-gaga-%22til-it-happens-to-you%22
Zeon in Lady Gaga’s “Til It Happens to You”

One of Zeon’s greatest accomplishments was working with Lady Gaga on the music video for her Academy Award nominated song “Til It Happens to You”, showing the stories of women who are raped on college campuses. The video has been viewed over 37.5 million times on YouTube.

“I love Lady Gaga and she is someone I look up to,” he said. “But I also wanted to work on this because of the importance of the video and the impact it would have on society and rape culture. I was there behind, in front of and beside camera throughout the whole process, and it was a very fulfilling and honoring experience to have taken part of.”

Jamie Holt, the producer of “Til It Happens to You” was impressed with Zeon’s work and asked him to be involved with her next projects, the music videos for the band Icon for Hire, for their songs “Now You Know” and “Supposed To Be”. “Now You Know” premiered February 2016 and has over 1.4 million views on YouTube. “Supposed To Be” premiered June of this year and has over 826 thousand views.

“It was a lot of fun. Each video presented different ways to be explored creatively,” said Zeon. “Jamie allowed me to fulfill her vision through editing by expanding the ideas she had in mind and by also adding my personal touch to make it impacting.”

music-videos-icon-for-hire-%22now-you-know%22-still
Still from Icon for Hire’s “Now You Know” music video.

Zeon’s first taste of true success came when working on the music video for “Arrójame” for the legendary 80s/90s Mexican rock band La Lupita, a humbling experience for Zeon, who had his music video on TV debut with this video.

“It was very emotional moment when I saw the video on television for the first time. I never knew when or how it would ever happen, that a music video of mine would be on TV, but when I was watching the premiere with my cousin and grandma and the video came up, it felt very touching to see a video I worked on debuting on national television,” he said. “I loved the song and I thought I could create an interesting video for the band. They are very talented and hardworking people. Even after years, they’re still hustlers and I found that very inspiring.”

The producer of the video, Estívaliz Zaragoza, had worked with Zeon previously and says she would never miss an opportunity to collaborate with him.

“Working with Zeon is full satisfaction, because he is always on top of his responsibilities and tasks, he never hesitates on helping his team mates. His creativity and ideas are refreshing and right on spot. He always has something to share, knowledge, helpful information and useful ideas. He has a mixture of skills that make you want to have him in your team and collaborate in his projects: He is proactive, disciplined, detail-oriented, a team player, and super creative,” said Zaragoza.

From there, Zeon’s career took off. He worked on the fashion film Dieode and the celebrated fashion documentary Mextilo, and worked on the music video for the iconic collaboration of legendary Mexican singer Lila Downs, the Spanish Niña Pastori, and the Argentinian Soledad for their song “Que Nadie Sepa Mi Sufrir”. The video has amassed over 2.5 million views on YouTube, and their album received a Grammy nomination.

“It was a very exciting opportunity to work a new project with such legendary artists from different Spanish-speaking countries,” said Zeon. “I didn’t have an award in mind at all, I just wanted to make sure I could deliver a video that worked best for such great artists, but it’s very honoring to know that you took part in such a great achievement in an artist’s career. The album not only got nominated, but actually won the Latin Grammy in 2014 for Best Folk Album. And then the next year it got nominated for the 2015 Grammy Awards for Best Latin Pop Album, which is amazing as well.”

Zeon knows he has the power to push an artist’s vision even further. He has been studying music videos for almost his entire life, and can sense what works and what doesn’t. He strives for perfection, and that is what he is known for achieving.

“I love the emotional, narrative and visual impact I can have on the final result of a video. It can completely shift an artist’s career. It thrills me to push alongside them, because we’re both moving forward in ways we never imagined” he concluded.

 

Film Review: Jainardhan Sathyan’s “Harvey’s Dream”

poster-1

 

Director Jainardhan Sathyan’s film “Harvey’s Dream,” based on Stephen King’s short story of the same name, brings to the screen a multi-layered tale of a couple struggling through what seems to be the normal aging process; but as the story progresses we soon realize there are many other factors at play.

From the very start of the film Sathyan does a brilliant job of setting a mysterious and eerie tone that pulls us in and leads us to question what is going to happen next. A panning shot across the family’s mantle and living room walls in the opening scene reveal photos of an apparently happy family, but the slow and pensive sounds of a piano playing notes in minor keys in the background inform us that something is not right.

What seems to start off as a normal Saturday morning for Harvey, played by Golden Globe nominee Philip Casnoff, and his wife Janet, played by Roxanne Hart, who won two Best Actress Awards for her performance, becomes progressively more devastating and complex as the story unfolds.

Janet leans over the sink washing fruit for breakfast. She’s bitter. She feels like she was jipped out of the life her husband promised her, and she’s vocal about it. She calls him dumb and makes subtle jabs that he may have Alzheimer’s, something that serves as a major insight into the true nature of what’s going on in the story.

As Harvey sits at the breakfast table recounting his dream of a tragic phone call he received from one of his daughter’s telling him that their drunken neighbor killed one of her sisters with his car the night before, Janet stares out the window in horror.

Her reaction to the “dream” is perplexing, after all, if it was just a dream then why panic? Her face scrunches up as she tells herself that the dark stains on the mangled corner of their neighbor’s car that she sees out the window is not blood, it was just a dream– and if you say your dreams out loud, they don’t come true.

Harvey continues with his story, stopping momentarily as he struggles to recall the name of one of his daughters, and it is at this point that we begin to realize that there is more going on behind the scenes, something the couple is not yet aware of, or isn’t ready to face.

Allowing the frustration and animosity that’s clearly been brewing for decades to take center stage, Sathyan captures the essence of what it is like to be an unhappily married couple. What keeps us engaged in anticipation of what’s next though is the way the director uses subtle cinematic devices to let us know that there’s a dramatic twist coming, one we will never expect.

In the end we discover that what seemed to be a precognitive dream was a tell-tale sign of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease– the phone call Harvey received from his daughter that morning did happen, he just forgot about it.

The interplay between the couple is spot-on. Ironically enough, Casnoff and Hart are a couple in real life, which was a main factor in Sathyan’s casting process when it came to selecting the film’s lead actors. Casnoff, who is known for his performances in the series “Sinatra,” “Oz” and “Strong Medicine,” endows Harvey with subtle signs of inner confusion and the perfect amount of vulnerability, traits which only begin to make sense after we discover the story’s final twist at the very end.

The shot sequences and sound design of the film are tantamount to the impact of the story as they heighten our emotions and piques our interest to know the truth of what’s going on the whole way through.

Thanks to Sathyan’s genius storytelling and the actor’s captivating performances, it’s not surprising that the film has already achieved astonishing international success since its release earlier this year. So far “Harvey’s Dream” has screened at over a hundred festivals and earned an impress list of awards including the Best Lead Actress, Best Overall Short and Judge’s Choice Awards at the Women’s Only Entertainment Film Festival, the awards for Best Actor and Best Film from TMFF (The Monthly Film Festival) and the Best Short Film Award from the Direct Monthly Online Film Festival, Chandler International Film Festival and the 6th Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival. The film was also nominated for Best Acting Duo and Best Screenplay at the Sanford International Film Festival, Best Film and Best Actress from the Bucharest ShortCut Cinefest, Best Original Score from the Milan Online Film Festival, as well as several others.

Sathyan, who also produced the film, takes a unique approach to filmmaking. Without disclosing too much, he leaves space for the audience to make their own judgements and lets the story run its course in a way that keeps the viewers constantly engaged.