Category Archives: Director

Writer and Director Claire Leona Apps takes showcases the Great North Run in acclaimed film

Writing has always come naturally to Claire Leona Apps. She loves telling stories and loves how they serve society; they can teach us and warn us, they can entertain while serving a greater purpose. A good story can create conversation and express ideas that help us relate to new points of view. It’s a powerful tool, and Apps understands that. Her passion for storytelling translates directly into her work as both a screenwriter and a director, from the words she puts down on a page to the way she puts it together in front of a camera, and she captivates worldwide audiences with films.

Apps is an in-demand writer and director, with a series of decorated projects highlighting her esteemed resume. These include her acclaimed films Gweipo, Aceh Recovers, Ruminate, and And Then I Was French. She is known for her ability to showcase the lives of underrepresented characters and bring a dark sense of humour to a story.

“I try not to get so caught up on the real world with my work. I have to deal with that every day anyway. I like a little surrealism, a little irony, and films that are a little self-aware,” she said.

That is exactly the message Apps puts out with her film Girl Blue Running Shoe. The film follows the daughter of a runner participating in the Bupa Great North Run as she makes a film as he trains and runs the race. The film begins calmly with a serene domestic set-up, building pace as the race begins, cutting between the training day and the marathon. At points which demonstrate the intensity of running, a special zoetrope effect is used, breaking down the movement of running into paused actions, reflecting the rhythm of the action – the steady thumping of shoes on gravel, a beating heart, breathing. The piece is shot solely on Super 8, edited to emulate both the excitement of the daughter as an observer and the adrenaline of the participator. With a soundtrack of enhanced natural noises, Girl Blue Running Shoeis an evocative celebration of the human body whilst also telling the simple story of a father-daughter relationship.

“It’s a story about loving and sharing in the experiences of the people you love. It also dissects the movements of running,” said Apps. “Usually I do pretty dark things. It was nice to do something that ended up in a children’s film festival line up. It’s nice to just show love, simple straight forward love between a father and daughter,” she said.

Apps wrote the story and pitched it to the British Arts Council to commission the film. When she got the commission, she immediately began directing, coming up with a new camera technique for the film. The story has two components. One is a daughter watching her father run the race. He is doing his hobby, running, and she is doing hers, filmmaking. She films him running on a Super 8 camera. Therefore, as the director, Apps decided to shoot the whole film on Super 8 cameras. This truly allowed audiences to immerse themselves in the girl’s point of view. Apps also had the idea to use the sprocket holes of the physical film and the division between the different pictures to create a zoetrope like film effect. She did this all by hand: slowing the footage down and cranking it through a projector to be re-filmed.

Shooting took place at the Great North Run in Newcastle, England, one of the biggest half marathons in the world. This presented a unique challenge for Apps, who had to shoot a fictional story around a live marathon. Therefore, the actual shoot was extremely fast. She had to make quick decisions to deal with whatever came their way. There were roads shut off, spectators everywhere, and of course the runners themselves, and they had to move all around them with a child actress.

“The hardest thing about this project was finding the right kid to play the lead. It is a large ask to have a child give you full energy for a few hours of extreme intensity, but Adrianna Bertola, who played the lead, was a dream,” said Apps.

The film premiered on BBC during the Great North Run the following year. It went on to be at the Great North Museum for an exhibition. It was also an Official Selection at the Cork International Film Festival. The success was wonderful for Apps, as the shoot was a chaotic and fun experience.

Now, Apps is currently working on another feature film. She is a truly exceptional filmmaker, engaging viewers of all ages, which is evident with her work on Girl Blue Running Shoe. She knows the key to her success is working hard, and she encourages all those looking to follow in her footsteps to do the same.

“Prepare yourself for a lot of hard work and don’t expect anyone to discover you. We live in a world at the moment where you can generate a lot of attention by yourself and you can make films on your phone. Make something and keep going,” she advised.

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Director Eliza Brownlie’s Unique Visual Style Captivates Audiences

By Portia Leigh
Director Eliza Brownlie shot by Leonard Smith

It’s impossible not to watch director Eliza Brownlie’s work and not feel something. Over the past few years she’s directed commercials and fashion films for well-known brands including Dove, Canon, Cast + Combed, Top Expert, Angie Bauer Lingerie and many more. Diverging from the bright colors and over the top emotions utilized by most mainstream commercials to grab our attention, Brownlie brings a delicate subtlety to her work that is appealing enough to capture our interest. She doesn’t need to bombard or distract us with bells, whistles and bright lights.

“With commercials you are often working for a brand or a client, so you have to consider their needs and objectives. That’s always in the back of your mind when making directorial choices,” says Brownlie. “At the same time, the client often hires you because they like your filmmaking style, so I try and find a good balance of giving them what they’re looking for and putting my unique spin on it.”

The soft tones, atmospheric visuals and the fluidity of the camera movements present in most of her work gives Brownlie a recognizable style that is feminine, honest and intriguing, not to mention highly cinematic. And it is these aspects that have made her such a sought after director internationally. Though we’ll rarely see a face forcing a smile in any one of her commercials, the emotions of her actors are palpable and authentically human; and as a director, one of her strengths is working with her actors to bring out those qualities on camera.

Brownlie says, “I love collaborating with actors in developing the characters and performance, as well as creating a safe space for them to feel supported and bring ideas to the table. This always makes for a better performance and working environment in general. It can be easy to get lost in making beautiful visuals and forget about performance. I always try to remind myself that story, character, and performance are everything.”

The women featured in Imperfectionists, a series of branded documentary films Brownlie recently directed for Dove’s Self-Esteem Project, are not actors; but that says even more about her skill as a director. With each film focusing on a different artist and exploring how they overcame insecurity and learned to embrace their so-called ‘flaws,’ Brownlie brilliantly captures the story of each woman with a refreshing level of vulnerability.

In order to highlight how each artist turned their ‘imperfection’ into a strength, Brownlie had to create the space for them to open up and allow her to peer into their lives, and the way she captures it is beautiful. Through one on one interviews she manages to elicit the most intricate and personal details about their human experience, and the way she puts it all together combined with sequences of each artist fully involved in their passion makes each film incredibly inspirational.

“I used dynamic camera work to convey the uplifting tone and the joy and power that each of them derived from their art, whether that was painting, dance or music,” Brownlie explains. “I always made sure to direct the women in a way in which they felt as confident and beautiful as they are.”

The goal of Dove’s Self-Esteem Project is to empower young women of every shape, size and color to accept and love their bodies as they are, and to see themselves as strong and valuable human beings regardless of societal expectations.

Brownlie says, “I think for the majority of women, and humans in general, the journey to self-acceptance is a rocky and complicated process. It’s never a straight line. But I know that I feel my best when I’m creating, not when I’m focused on my appearance.”

Through her emphasis on the positivity and self-confidence that emerges through the process of creating, Brownlie nails the mark with the Imperfectionist series. It’s nearly impossible not to be inspired after watching one of these films.

Growing up in a small suburban community by the sea in West Vancouver, Canada, Brownlie was surrounded by natural beauty where the sky remained grey throughout most of the year, bringing a certain level of isolation. For her, the juxtaposition of bucolic scenery and melancholy weather patterns was something beneficial.

“You had a lot of time to think and find your own fun, which I guess made it conducive to creativity. I did a lot of painting, writing and photography, and also played tons of sports,” recalls Brownlie. “Since as far back as I can remember I’ve always loved film. I recall watching Kubrick’s The Shining as a kid and being completely blown away by the imagery, my parents weren’t very good at filtering what my brothers and I watched, which in retrospect I’m grateful for now.”

Though Brownlie studied communications as an undergrad, she started creating visual work on the side during her second year of college. One of her first professional projects was the music video for the Canadian alt rock band The Darcys’ single “Itchy Blood” off their debut album Warring. After reaching out to cinematographer and friend Peter Hadfield (The Basement, Is There a Picture) to collaborate, Brownlie and Hadfield joined forces and came up with a concept for the video and then pitched their idea to the band and their label, Arts & Crafts. Arts & Crafts and The Darcys were immediately on board with the concept, and just like that, Brownlie and Hadfield went to work directing the music video.

Starring Eva Bourne from ABC’s seven-time Primetime Emmy nominated series Once Upon a Time and model Jordan Swail, “Itchy Blood” explores the monotony of money and suburban life through the absurd ways two teenage girls kill time in their mid-century modern mansion.

Brownlie says, “The video is a subtle commentary on the disenchanting effects of wealth on youth, and the things young women do to escape suburban ennui. The song has a soft, dreamy quality about it that gradually builds to a haunting climax. I wanted the narrative and the visuals to reflect that.”

Featured by Vice outlet Noisey, Photogmusic, The Stranger, ION Magazine and many more, the music video garnered major international attention upon release. A rare accomplishment for any director’s first work, the ‘Itchy Blood’ music video was the proverbial gateway that opened the door to the industry and set her off on her way as a director. Even then, the unique style that makes her stand-out today was evident.

Since that first music video for The Darcys several years ago to her recent narrative horror film The After Party, which was an Official Selection of the Williamsburg Independent Film Festival and the Sacramento Horror Film Festival and stars Isabel Dresden (Castle, Scandal) and Tarryn Lagana (Wonderland Ave., Too Far Gone), director Eliza Brownlie has continued to make a powerful name for herself in the industry as an exceptionally talented filmmaker.

Never one to follow in the footsteps of another, Brownlie has channeled her gift for creative expression into a definitive personal style that offers up a unique kind of intimacy accompanied by the underlying feeling that something bad is about to happen. She is definitely in a league of her own and we can’t wait to see what she creates next.

Captivating Producer and Director Federico Torrado Tobón on Filmmaking

Radiator Behind The Scenes by David Liu
Producer and Director Federico Torrado Tobón shot by David Liu

Fresh off premiering his latest film “The Plague” at the Oscar-qualifying LA Shorts Fest, visionary filmmaker Federico Torrado Tobón is one filmmaker in Hollywood we should all take note of. Now in its 22nd year, LA Shorts is the first and longest running short film festival in Los Angeles. The festival attracts Hollywood industry professionals, and is one of many eminent groups shining a light on Federico’s critically acclaimed work. The multi-hyphenate, who has experience as a writer, director and producer, speaks about his work with the grounded authority of someone who’s gained a great deal of knowledge since beginning his work in the industry nearly a decade ago.

Federico’s unique style is distinguished from other filmmakers by way of his innovative incorporation of surreal and fantastic elements into conventional narratives, an exceptionally difficult task that he continues to explore with finesse through an array of complex film projects.

“I’m a big fan of magical realism,” Federico explains. “I love stories that are grounded in reality but that have one element that doesn’t belong to this world.”

The Colombian native, who has been featured in his country’s most circulated newspaper, El Tiempo, for his achievements as a filmmaker, is clear on his artistic intentions for his career.

“I hope to create strong emotions in the viewers and produce unique feelings and atmospheres, like when you look at a painting and you don’t know exactly what’s going on yet it still manages to creates a very specific feeling.”

These intentions are clearly apparent in all of his work, and they are especially obvious when looking at his films “The Plague” and “Wytches.”


Federico, who also directed the compelling and award-winning music video for the popular band Spaceface’s song ‘Radiator,’ which has been featured on the popular site Lost at E Minor and the prolific IndieWire, talks in earnest when asked about visuals.

He explains, “When directing a project I start with the visuals. I start pulling images and sounds, atmospheres of how I want the project to look and feel. After having that clear, I start to find the colleagues that I think are going to elevate the project…to me everything lies on the cast and crew that you bring in as a director and producer.”

Indeed, Federico has had the opportunity to direct and produce applauded projects with incredibly talented individuals in the industry today. Spaceface member Jake Ingalls is also a member of the three-time Grammy Award winning band, The Flaming Lips. When the music video Federico directed for “Radiator” won Best Music Video at New York’s Lower East Side Film Festival, the judging panel included “Sin City” and “Men in Black II” star Rosario Dawson and “Lady Bird” cinematographer, Sam Levy. Adding to this long list of endorsements for the project itself was its selection to screen at the recent 2018 LA Music Video Awards, the 2018 Bellingham Music Film Festival, which is considered to be one of the Top 50 Music Video Festivals by Radar Music Creatives, and HollyShorts, an Oscar-qualifying event that showcases only the best and brightest films from around the globe.

The instrumental role Federico plays in his projects as a director and producer shows through his capacity to assemble a top-tier cast and crew, another aspect that is apparent when looking at “The Plague.” In the film, which screened all over the world at festivals such as the LA Shorts Fest, L’Étrange Festival in Paris, and the 2017 Aesthetic Short Film Festival in York, England, Federico had the pleasure of working with some A-list talent. Dylan Riley Snyder of AMC’s “Better Call Saul” and Disney fame played the leading role of Julian, while ABC’s “The Middle” actor Casey Burke played the leading role of Julie.

Federico Torrado Tobón
Still of Casey Burke as Julie in “The Plague”

“Federico brought a unique perspective to my experience on the set and to the project itself. Both writer and director, Federico managed to create and explore a world outside just a ‘horror’ or ‘dystopian disaster’ genre,” says actress Casey Burke. “From an extensive rehearsal period to valuable personal moments with each actor on set to ensure unbreakable connections in the portrayal of complicated characters in a unfortunate world, Fed’s passion for storytelling was obvious from the beginning until the end.”

Federico is humble but proud when asked about his team. The reassuring aspect of Federico’s attitude is that he is clearly invested in his career because he loves the craft, and the joys of being on set and collaborating with the talented creatives it affords him. In the case of “The Plague” and its numerous prestigious festival selections, Federico’s project bypassed some stringent criteria but he still emphasizes the experiences of shooting and collaborating with a great crew as its highlight.

“What made the project special to me was the people that worked on it. I had the chance to collaborate with a great cast and crew that made the whole experience amazing.”

Federico Torrado Tobón’
Still of Dylan Riley Snyder (left) and Casey Burke (right) in “The Plague”

When asked about the story, which concerns teenage siblings who take refuge in a secluded forest cabin to avoid becoming infected by a mysterious and deadly plague, Federico’s answer points to the mysterious and remarkable way by which a gifted filmmaker like himself formulates an idea.

“The story came about from an image I saw of a set of female twins looking into the camera wearing the same outfit,” Federico excitedly explains.

“That desire of telling something dual and aesthetically parallel and balanced is what motivated me to make the plague. Usually when I write something the idea comes from just a picture or a photo. That image is what fuels the rest of the script.”

While Federico might stress his enjoyment in the creative process, it’s nevertheless worth emphasizing the significance of his achievements in having his films selected and screened by such esteemed organizations like the NewFilmmakers Los Angeles (NFMLA). NFLMA is cost-hosted in partnership with The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and will screen Federico’s work at The Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills this September.

The Plague
Poster for “The Plague”

“I’m very happy that The Plague is doing well in its festival circuit,” Federico adds. “Winning best short film and having the opportunity to screen with in The New Filmmaker’s LA In Focus Latinx at Hispanic cinema exhibit at the Academy Goldwyn theater means a lot to me.”

The heightened level that Federico’s career has reached is not simply a consequence of his skills as a director. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, Federico is most definitely a multi-hyphenate, a creative who enjoys working across many fields, especially the combination of directing and producing.

“My work as a producer came from the necessity to make the stories I wanted to direct,” he attests. “When I started there was no chance of having a big team so I had to be thinking about producing it as well. Since that moment I started to produce everything I was directing.”

Elaborating with conviction Federico says, “To me a perfect production is one where the producer is fully synced with the director…What makes me capable of handling these two different roles is that I think about both simultaneously.”

Federico also exercised his diversity as a filmmaker in terms of genre with the film “Wytches,” a horror about a woman learning about her mysterious powers while staying at a strange hotel with her aunt.

“Wytches was my first attempt at making horror. The goal was to explore the genre and… find a way to tell a story by collaborating with two other directors…Three minds creating one piece.”

For Federico, the experience was both humbling and gratifying. “I learned a lot from their skills and their storytelling,” he claims. “And we all learned from each other.”

The experience has paid off, as the film was selected for competition at the Calgary Horror Con, one of the world’s best horror film festivals, as well as the first and largest convention in Canada dedicated to Horror, not to mention one that is notorious for its tough competition in terms of the films it accepts. In other exciting news, it also screened at the Midnight series at the celebrated Dances with Films festival, which was described by IndieWire as being “widely recognized as the premiere showcase of innovative cinema in the U.S.” and considered LA’s best indie film festival by the Huffington post.

While Federico’s bustling schedule keeps him quite busy as he continues to balance his work as a producer and director, his passion and motivation to share his work audiences is one of the reasons we got lucky enough to nail him down for an interview and we couldn’t be more thrilled. He’s definitely inspired us, and we hope his story will do the same for you.

  

Maria Venturini’s Style Reminds Viewers of the Creative Power of Cinema

Maria C. Venturini
Maria C. Venturini on set of “Waiting for Adams”

Throughout cinematic history, the most exalted and iconic filmmakers have been those who’ve had the vision and audacity to defy convention and blur the line between narrative and art. Italian director Maria Chiara Venturini is reminding audiences of cinema’s origin as an extension of the imagination.

Through her films, Venturini lovingly channels a nostalgic, avant-garde aesthetic that’s been absent from the silver screen for too long. Among her productions is the 2015 film “Ancien Régime,” an ode to the French New Wave and a thinly-veiled critique of vapid materialism. The film captured critics’ attention at festivals around the globe, and was chosen as the winner by judges at the Sprockets Film Festival in Toronto. At the heart of the sophisticated send-up is the iconic brand Chanel and its instantly recognizable style of highbrow black-and-white advertising.

“This was my first approach to black-and-white 16mm film. I liked the idea of creating something that would fit the look of the media itself — a dystopian world where a fashion dictator imposes his fashion rules on society seemed perfect,” Venturini described. “The film takes place in a classroom where the only word that people are allowed to say and teach is ‘Chanel,’ and the only solution for arithmetic problems is ‘N°5,’ like the perfume.”

To the untrained eye “Ancien Régime” is virtually indistinguishable from any of Chanel’s countless ad campaigns. Stark black-and-white cinematography, minimalist mise en scène and a strong focus on physical acting and borderline absurdism are defining characteristics of both “Ancien Régime” and the perfume giant it satirizes. To a great extent, however, Venturini’s affectionately ironic admonishment uses the iconic brand as a synecdochic catch-all for the kind of fanatical devotion many high-fashion brands elicit.

“We live in a society where sometimes we [confuse] real priorities with what’s [secondary]. Fashion… for some people comes before many more important issues. I wanted to pay homage to such a great brand, but also shake that part of the audience that behaves this way,” explained Venturini adding that, “with a smile you can make people understand the concept better too.”

Drawing inspiration from the surrealism of Salvador Dali and the eccentricity of Henry Selick, her 2015 film “The Laboratory of Dr. Enerd” offers a brilliantly dreamlike glimpse into the director’s mind.

“‘The Laboratory of Dr. Enerd’ is made with a stop-motion technique called pixelation that merges animation with human characters,” Venturini described. “I was exploring this new part of the world of animation but I still wanted to make a piece that will make the audience feel the same way I feel when I see other pixelation projects.”

Using the experimental new technology in combination with her years of experience in fine art photography, Venturini created a film which can only be described as simultaneously stop-motion and live-action. What may sound like a contradiction in terms is actually a mesmerizing, almost magical film about a young scientist and the outré experiments she conducts in her laboratory.

“Dr. Enerd is trying to follow her mother’s recipe to make something a little unusual,” explained Venturini. “Also bizarre are the ingredients and tools she decides to use in this preparation: unicorns, gummy bears, syringes and a stethoscope.”

The film is a meticulously calculated spectacle of imagination. From costuming and set design down to the finest details of every prop in the whimsical lab, every frame of “The Laboratory of Dr. Enerd” was crafted and vetted by Venturini with enormous care. That level of attention to color and design are perhaps what most distinguish the director as an artist first, filmmaker second. It’s also what earned the film the honor of being an official selection at the Citizen Jane Film Festival, as well as enabling it to reach audiences as far away as the Chinese festival circuit.

Venturini built on some of the stylistic eccentricities of “The Laboratory of Dr. Enerd” with her 2016 film “Waiting For Adams.” A much less vibrant film in comparison, “Waiting For Adams” instead takes on a more dreary aesthetic in its focus on a mysterious waiting room that seems disconnected from time and reality.

“‘Waiting for Adams’ is so far the most ethereal piece I’ve ever done. The whole project could be seen as just a dream,” she described. “People gave me lots of different interpretations of the story, and I felt like a psychiatrist that shows those inkblots to his patients.”

The film opens on a nun signing in at the reception desk of an indescript doctor’s office. As she takes a seat, keen-eyed cinephiles will recognize that she and the other waiting room patients are all characters from films that were nominated-but-snubbed at the Academy Awards.

“Only a movie geek could possibly know that all those characters are from movies that were nominated for an Oscar but lost. Thus, a desire for redemption brought them to consult one of the craziest plastic surgery doctors in order to change their look and have a second chance,” Venturini explained “Dr. Adams, inspired by Patch Adams, has no real surgery skills and ends up transforming everybody into monsters.”

One-by-one, a string of familiar characters enter the office of the insane Dr. Adams, and one-by-one they return as horrific beasts that would seem right at home in a Tim Burton movie. Meanwhile, the characters in the waiting room engage in awkward banter and show off their idiosyncrasies. The entire film is delightfully unusual and thoroughly original. Every detail is deliberately and painstakingly crafted to be like a dream — ethereal and open to interpretation. With “Waiting For Adams,” Venturini once again proved herself both a visionary director and artiste. Critics in Venturini’s native Italy rallied behind “Waiting For Adams,” choosing the film as an official selection at the Scrittura e Immagine Corto Film Festival.

More than a century ago, cinema began as an exciting new medium for artistic experimentation. Every few years since then, some brilliant mind will break through the mundane and familiar, uncovering for the first time some virgin territory in the limitless expanse of cinema’s artistic potential. In this generation of filmmakers, there are few figures as likely to follow in those revolutionary footsteps as Maria Venturini.

 

Director Brett Morris showcases the drama in ‘The Real Housewives of Toronto’

Filmmaking started out as a hobby for a young Brett Morris. He was a child actor, and became exposed to movies in a different way than most other kids. The Toronto-native began making films with his sister, and it became his favorite past time. This same passion continues in his work today, and Morris is an in-demand director and producer.

Having worked on several large productions, Morris has taken the Canadian television industry by storm. Shows such as Big Brother Canada, Top Chef Canada, Hockey Wives, and So You Think You Can Dance Canada may not have achieved the success they did without him as the mastermind behind the scenes. He constantly aims to make the best product possible, and ensures all he works with do the same.

“I like to make the on-set experience an ‘idea meritocracy’ where the best idea wins.  Structuring your set this way makes for the experience to be enjoyable for everyone, and always delivers the best content. I don’t care if you’re responsible for catering, if you have an idea that will make our final product better, I’m all ears. You never know where the best idea will come from, and you have to be open and secure enough in role to listen,” he said.

Morris carried this mentality with him during his work on ten episodes of The Real Housewives of Toronto, a show that follows six of the city’s most privileged, powerful and glamorous women as they navigate the elite social scene of Canada’s largest city. This first season introduces Kara Alloway, Roxy Earle, Gregoriane (Grego) Minot, Ann Kaplan Mulholland, Joan Kelley Walker and Jana Webb. Toronto is their playground and they have the real estate, cars, and the diamonds to prove it. The show is part of the widely popular Real Housewives franchise, and when the opportunity came up for Morris to pioneer the Toronto series, he was all for it.

Real Housewives of Toronto3
Ann Kaplan and Brett Morris on the set of Real Housewives

“Working on The Real Housewives is really like working on a soap opera in the 21st century,” Morris described. “What I love about The Real Housewives is that everything is heightened.  Heightened reality television. The hair is bigger, the money is bigger, the personalities are bigger, the fights are bigger. It’s a show that seems so fabricated it has to be real, because the characters are always so magnificent.”

When the showrunner, Grant Greschuk, was looking for a director to make the Toronto version of Real Housewives a success, he reached out to producer Lara Shaw for a recommendation. Shaw instantly thought of Morris, as the two had worked together on Big Brother Canada. Once the two had a chance to talk, they instantly hit it off, and knew working together would be a triumph.

The role of director for Morris demanded a swift technical directorial eye, with a keen sense of how to arc the story to engage audiences. He led a field team of a director of photography, one assistant director, a camera operator, and a production assistant. Each one of them were extremely impressed with Morris’ directorial and leadership skills.

“Brett brought a level of camaraderie to our team that I haven’t experienced in my 14 years in the industry, and I can say I have never had such a good experience working on a show, as I did on the time spent working on Brett’s team. He had a way of raising team moral, bringing a level of levity and enjoyment to each shooting day, while working with the team to get results that brought constant positive feedback from the production management. Brett creates an extremely collaborative environment, instills confidence with his leadership and raises the confidence in his team members by constant feedback and encouragement. Brett is the kind of leader that makes you want to do your absolute best work for him. I would jump at any opportunity to work with Brett in the future as much and often as possible,” said Chris Sherry, the Director of Photography on Real Housewives of Toronto.

Real Housewives of Toronto2
Kara Alloway (Left), Ann Kaplan (Right) with Brett Morris on the set of Real Housewives

Each day, Morris and his crew would arrive two hours before the cast. They would spend this time figuring out how they would film each scene, and he says these were often his most creative hours of the day. Once the cast arrived, filming would begin. The ladies, Morris says, did not require any coaching on his part, as they were very professional, giving him more time to focus on making the best possible product.

As the director of the show, Morris’ first priority was storytelling. At the beginning of each day, he was given just the location and the cast members that would appear in the scenes. At any given time, each character had five different plots to follow, because they all have relationships with different characters. Those relationships would change on any given day and Morris always made sure to keep his head around the story despite such a challenge.

“The best part of working on The Real Housewives of Toronto was how we got to spend the summer. Sometimes in film and TV, the shooting locations and conditions aren’t the most glamorous. I’ve worked in freezing cold ice rinks, on dairy farms, dirty basements – not the most desirable of conditions.  The best part of Real Housewives was that we lived like the cast for three months. We dined at the best restaurants in the city, traveled on yachts, filmed on golf courses, even took the whole shooting crew to Barcelona for a week. The show definitely had its perks,” said Morris.

Morris is immensely proud of the work he did on the first season of The Real Housewives of Toronto. It was a small team, and with him as the leader the show championed as the number one show on the W Network where it premiered. He credits his previous work in reality television to help him bring a fresh perspective to the Real Housewives franchise. He always makes the cleanest and most efficient show he can; he aims to have the locations look as glamorous as possible; he makes sure to photograph the cast in flattering ways. Lastly, he beautifully showed his home city of “The 6” to the rest of the world.

“One of the best part of working in this industry is being able to talk with people who have seen your work. It’s the best ice-breaker to say, ‘I worked on The Real Housewives of Toronto’ because it instantaneously gets a reaction out of someone. They’ll always have an opinion about it, and always want to learn more. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to a big jock, or an actual housewife – everyone has seen the show and everyone wants to know what it’s really like behind the scenes…. of course, though, I’ll never tell,” Morris concluded.

Talha Bin Abdulrahman on watching his passion project come to life for ‘Jellyfish’

In order to succeed as a director in the arts and entertainment industry, it is essential to have more than just a keen eye for story telling, or an aptitude for capturing a vision and translating it onto a screen. It requires a passion strong enough to withstand adversity, grueling competition, and setbacks. It is an extremely competitive profession with a wide range of challenges. For a director like Talha Bin Abdulrahman, it is easy to remain level-headed in the face of an obstacle, for he knows that film direction is his calling. It is his reason to wake in the morning and it is the one thing he enjoys doing more than anything else in this world.

“When I encounter a difficult day on set, I take a moment to breath. I believe that there is always a way to make things work, so if ever I hit a brick wall, I move onto another scene and revisit the broken one afterwards. You have to trust your instincts, and your team. Together, they will help you through anything and you will eventually come out on top,” tells Bin Abdulrahman.

As a director, Bin Abdulrahman has earned himself an unprecedented reputation. His peers in the filmmaking community equate his name with success and he is known for using his profound talents to create stellar films like The Scapegoat, and Served Cold. For the majority of films that Bin Abdulrahman has worked on, he has been approached by a producer or a cinematographer with a compelling script that needs a director to execute its storyline. Other times, he is driven by his own passion to tell important, life-altering stories to the world. This was the case with the music video he shot for Jo Blakenbergl’s emotional song, Jellyfish in the Sky. After hearing Jellyfish in the Sky, Bin Abdulrahman was so inspired that he bought the rights to the song and raised enough money to produce a video that would do the song justice.

“I felt that I had a visual story to tell through the music and the lyrics of the song. They are so moving that I wanted to do something about it. It was like an itch,” recalls Bin Abdulrahman.

Jellyfish in the Sky is about a young, ambitious ballerina who loses both of her legs in a car accident. The story begins after the ballerina experiences a near death experience when she attempts suicide and she finds herself performing one final dance before she departs this life. The story resonated well with Bin Abdulrahman because of the parallels he could draw between the ballerina’s artistry and his own. A ballerina losing her ability to dance is similar to what it would feel like for him to lose his ability to direct, and to tell important stories like the one he was telling in his music video. He was determined to translate the ballerina’s despair into a visual masterpiece and after viewing the video, it is apparent that this is exactly what he did. He worked with highly skilled dancers, as well as a world class ballet choreographer to bring his vision to life and the result was more moving than he could have ever dreamt.

When he originally embarked upon the journey that this project would later become, Bin Abdulrahman was apprehensive about finding dancers and choreographers who would share in his love for both the song and the story he was trying to tell. He needed someone who understood the importance of the story and who would dedicate every fiber of their being to ensuring that the video was a success. To his surprise, he managed to assemble a strong team who all shared in his vision and his dedication to the storyline they were portraying. From dancers, to videographers, to costume designers, everyone involved was determined to tell this story in the best light possible. For costume designers like Oksana Derina, it was refreshing to be able to work with such a director as passionate as Bin Abdulrahman and she was pleased to see all of his hard work and dedication pay off.

“Talha is very talented and professional. He is so creative and it makes working with him very interesting and enjoyable. I find it refreshing that he is open to hearing different opinions and collaborating with other professionals. I’m glad to have had the chance to work with him on Jellyfish,” notes Derina.

For Bin Abdulrahman, the true sense of fulfillment came from the final outcome of his efforts. When he watches Jellyfish in the Sky today, he recalls the pleasure of exploring a new art form, learning about the art of ballet dancing and learning how to synchronize a theatrical performance with music. It required him to exercise his patience in a way he hadn’t ever done before and knowing that he pushed himself to his limits for the better of the video’s final outcome was a reward in itself. In addition to his personal accomplishments, he was even happier to learn that Blankenberg loved what he had done for her song. When he was ready to share it with the world, he was taken aback by the way the public received it and was humbled by the fact that it earned over 100,000 views on his official website alone.

In future, Bin Abdulrahman hopes to uncover more passion projects like Jellyfish and adapt his skills to a number of new genres or art forms along the way. He is a motivated, energized film director and is ready to take on any new project that his industry has to offer. Keep an eye out for his upcoming TV sitcom, which sheds a critical light on the current political climate for Arab Immigrants living away from home.

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.

DIRECTOR ALEXANDRA LA ROCHE ON HAVING FUN WITH EUREKA

Science and Tech nerds are the new rockstars. There was a time when the brains behind these types of advancements were kept hidden away while the powers that be put a public face on those they deemed marketable. Carl Sagan, Steve Jobs, and many others completely changed that. Sci-Fi Channel’s “Eureka” presented the idea of an entire community of these brilliant minds. The Emmy nominated and Leo award-winning TV show was a ratings hit during its six year run as one of Sci Fi’s highest rated series. One of the brilliant minds behind the scenes of “Eureka” was director Alexandra La Roche. The writers of the series are self-proclaimed science geeks who structured many of their themes on real or postulated science. This coupled with the show’s heavy oversight by actual science consultants not only informed La Roche but required her to be on her toes. In contrast to the normal greed, sex, and ensuing power struggle, “Eureka” episodes presented conflict of a more cerebral nature. Alexandra concedes that it’s one of the most unusual and fun shows she has ever directed precisely due to this aspect.

“Eureka” is the story of a scientific community, in large part based on the perspective of the town’s sheriff Jack Carter. Carter cooperates with scientific geniuses in the community who work for Global Dynamics. They often find approaches to resolving situations that require more cerebral effort than “stop in the name of the law.” A perfect example of this is “Up in the air.” This episode was based on the opening sequence of the show which depicts the town floating away as the Sheriff watches. The opening had never been explored as a story before. What seemingly starts out as a normal bank robbery quickly became a situation in which the entire bank had been taken, the whole building! An element of the Higgs Bosen (based on real science) has been stored in the bank and somehow is effecting everything in the town. Carter is tasked with having to get the element contained and bring everything back to earth. Unfortunately, the bank is floating 4 miles above the earth and nothing can fly him there. He does make it, but the bank is on a terrible tilt and when he does get the element contained, the bank starts to plummet, listing back and forth and sending him in all directions with amazing physical comedy from Carter, played by Colin Ferguson. The day is saved at the last minute and order is restored. Even though “Up in the air” employed extensive use of VFX and filming trickery to make the scenes believable, Alexandra believes that the performances of the actors are the cornerstone to any production. For this particular episode, the physical comedy performed by Colin Ferguson (starring as sheriff Jack Carter) due to the gravity challenged nature of the situation was a high note (no pun intended). On working with La Roche, Ferguson proclaims, “Alexandra is one of, if not the best, director I have ever worked with.
I think it is fair to say that I have a deep understanding and appreciation for Alexandra’s talent. When we worked together, we worked in tandem to improve, correct, defend, and in short, save eighty plus hours of television from lesser hands than hers. She has the rare ability to follow the story, hear the actors, know the technical, and bring it all together in a manner that gets better, quantifiable results, faster than most, and in the form that others only dream they could achieve. This is exceptional. She always helped. She was never wrong. Not once. Our show had the quality that it did because of Alexandra La Roche. When I am asked by someone which episodes to watch to see if they will like I show I always say ‘Up in the Air’ or ‘Smarter Carter’, both of which are Alexandra’s episodes. She is an ally, she is a friend and she is someone I will always look up to.” Perhaps the reason that Alexandra is so respected and appreciated by the actors she works with is due to her honesty with them. She stipulates, “I had an excellent rapport with all the actors on ‘Eureka.’ Our deal was simple; I did not lie. If Colin wanted an honest opinion, he knew he would get it from me. Actors are so used to smoke being blown up their asses, they were really quite happy for me to say what I really thought. Of course, I never approach any situation with a negative. If I see a problem, I only mention it if I have a solution or proposal on how to solve it. This is what I know endeared me to the entire cast, with a particularly close working relationship with Colin as he trusted me implicitly.”

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One of La Roche’s favorite experiences directing for Eureka was the episode “Smarter Carter.” It combined many of the elements that were so endearing about the series: science, VFX, and comedic performances. A confrontation between sheriff Carter and two disembodied legs in the town square was a scene which Alexandra had conceived of herself. Kevin Blake (played by Trevor Jackson) and the sheriff square off with the legs in an attempt to capture them. The director describes, “It was written as a simple chase through the town square ending in a crash into the café patio. Parkour was just getting really popular so I expanded the scene and created a sequence where the legs jump, leap, and hang all over the town square ending up with Carter pinned in a head lock. This was a massive sequence and I had to call out to the actors every beat and every move because the legs were all CGI.  I had no voice left by lunch!! We had to use green screen elements as well. It took 7 hours to shoot, but it was a great scene, very funny and well worth it.” These situations give evidence that La Roche had a deep understanding of the personality the producers wanted “Eureka” to project. While executing these scenes can be taxing and stressful, the final result was well worth it. Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 8.58.16 AM

While “Eureka” left a lasting impression on its fans and science nerds everywhere, the road is two-way. Alexandra admits that to this day that she gravitates towards science magazines on plane rides and whenever she has free time. The experience working on “Eureka” led not only to many more professional opportunities (La Roche has directed CW’s “Flash”, USA network’s “Dead Zone”, and many others) but left her with a lifelong interest in science. Sometimes the conduit for learning resides in unobvious means.

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The Story Behind Alon Juwal’s Riveting Films

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Producer/director Alon Juwal shot by Tom Edwards

Every story ever told, whether carved in stone or projected on a screen, contains within it another, much more subtle narrative — the story inside the story. Just as a trained eye can distinguish and analyze the meaning behind each individual brushstroke on a canvas, so too can observant readers and listeners and viewers catch an intimate glimpse into the mind and heart of a storyteller.

Today, Israeli producer and director Alon Juwal is known and envied throughout the industry for his uncanny gift for weaving together the visual and the cerebral elements of storytelling into his films. But it was when he was just a boy that he first fell in love with cinema, and long before taking his first steps into filmmaking, Juwal could almost always be found seated in the dark rows of his neighborhood’s movie theater. Growing up in Tel Aviv, Juwal saw movies as being like magic portals facing outward from reality; life at home had been challenging from an early age, and his lifelong love affair with cinema began as just an escape.

“My parents got divorced when I was just four years old, and I spent most of my time with my mother growing up,” Juwal said, recounting what may well be the most formative chapter of his life — both as a filmmaker and as a man. “Even though I saw my father quite often we were always pretty distant with one another.”

All he needed to do was buy a ticket and grab a seat, and he’d find himself transported to the far-off places and times projected on the big screen. But it wasn’t long before he realized that films offered him more than an escape; through filmmaking, Juwal gained the ability to deconstruct and illuminate the complex mix of emotions he’d long held within him.

“Ever since I was a child I always found film to be magical. I used to skip school just to get a chance to watch a movie one more time,” Juwal said with a note of nostalgia. “But it wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I felt like I wanted to make movies as well. Being moved by a film was always satisfying to me; but watching people being moved by my own film was a whole other level of experience.”

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Kei’la Ryan, Alon Juwal, Tim Juliano, and Nick Unger on set of “Visitors” shot by Polina Krasovicka

“The first thing they teach you in film school is to write about what you know, so I always tried to channel these experiences to my work. My latest film, ‘Visitors,’ is about a family struggling through an alien invasion,” said Juwal who, while otherwise known for being soft-spoken and modest, could nonetheless barely mask how proud he felt. “But at its core, it’s really the story of a father and son trying to rebuild their broken relationship.”

Thanks in large part to the raw narrative and emotional power of “Visitors” – which is set against the intense and captivating backdrop of a humanity faced with almost-certain extinction – Juwal was honored at the world-renowned New York City International Film Festival with the prestigious award for Best Director of a Sci-Fi Short.

“When I wrote the film, I tried to channel as much of my personal experience into it as I could. I knew almost nothing about aliens, but I knew a lot about growing up with an absent father,” said Juwal, opening a brief window into the film’s deeper symbolic meaning. “One of the film’s main themes is forgiveness, so when I watch it on the big screen with other viewers I hope that they’ll be thinking about their families, and I hope that they’ll re-evaluate the importance of family.”

Juwal was lauded by critics and audiences for his exceptional work as not only the director of “Visitors,” but as the film’s writer and producer as well. The added advantage of having near-unilateral control over the production allowed Juwal to create exactly the film he’d envisioned — a gamble which could have easily backfired and devastated his reputation, had he been a less talented filmmaker.

Instead, “Visitors” has been praised by critics from Madrid to New York as one of the year’s most innovative science fiction films. And as the film continues to take the international festival circuit by storm, more and more moviegoers are watching Juwal closely with a sense of eager anticipation.

“Only after I finished my military service in Israel I found the will and the discipline to take my film career seriously.”

As the producer of “Visitors,” as well as other award-winning films, like “Castor,” Alon Juwal stands out in the film industry thanks to his unique set of skills. As a producer and director whose talent offers a powerful combination of the business side of making films happen and the creative artistry that makes them worth watching, Juwal is definitely one filmmaker we will be seeing a whole lot more of for years to come.

 

BIG STUDIO OR INDIE, THEY’RE ALL IMPORTANT TO DIRECTOR/PRODUCER JOHN ALBANIS

Education is a good thing but, consider that education alone is not indicative of the ability to master something; it’s a springboard to jump into the race. Specifically, when it comes to artistic endeavors, vision and mastery of skills easily defeats the knowledge base of how something “should” work. One can understand painting but it doesn’t make you a painter. A knowledge of the complexities of music theory does not make one a songwriter. Film school does not make you an accomplished cinematographer. While scholarly endeavors may get you in the ballpark, they won’t insure that you will make the team. Of all the aforementioned art forms, film is the newest and thus the idea of attending film school was not available until recently. The pioneers who crafted this art form and by whose hands it evolved were the men and women who learned “on the job.” Considering the fact that film has permeated almost every culture and region of the planet, they did their jobs quite well. Following in the footsteps of these giants is John Albanis. This producer/director had not planned on entering the film industry (moving from Calgary to the UK to pursue rock stardom) but made an artistic switch when he discovered he had a natural skill set that lent itself to this medium. With no formal academic film training, John learned from those he worked with; those who recognized his ability for accelerated learning. Years later, he has cultivated quite an impressive career which rests on both huge blockbuster productions as well as carefully and emotionally crafter indie art films. Feature Films, TV movies, music videos, even recording studios make up the eclectic life of this immensely talented Canadian filmmaker.

John Albanis’s work on major studio films is instantly recognizable and is not confined to simply one genre…unless that genre is “successful.” Some films perform well at the box office and also have a second life on downloads and streaming services, as is the case the Hector and the Search for Happiness. As Co-Producer on this 2014 film starring Simon Pegg, John had the herculean task of taking the production across the planet to locations which included: Canada, the UK, South Africa, China, USA, India, and Germany. The Story and its locations are entertaining and seamless, something which Albanis is quite proud of achieving.

Contributing his full range of abilities to the film Psychic Driving, John was director, producer, and writer of this Film Noir. Inspired by the great political thrillers from the 1970s films like Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View, All the Presidents Men and based around the CIA mind control program in the 1950’s called Project MK-Ultra (a secret program that ran experiments on human subjects, often without their knowledge), Psychic Driving’s theme was perfectly suited for the Film Noir genre. It also allowed Albanis to indulge his creative side to great length, exhibiting his multiple talents. Utilizing his connections in the film industry allowed for a quick and impressive production schedule. John relates, “When I work on studio films, I build such great relationships with the crews whom I work with. One thing I quickly learned is that there are so many talented artists who are on the verge of breaking. In the case of Psychic Driving, I had recently completed working on Miramax Films’ Shall We Dance. This was pretty early in my career; I was a director’s assistant at that point. But the director, Peter Chelsom, had me very involved creatively so I worked closely with all department heads. I forged relationships with (main Camera Operator) Peter Rosenfeld and (Art Director) Sue Chan. I had written Psychic Driving shortly after the studio film wrapped and I gave the script to both of them. They immediately signed on as Director of Photography and Production Designer respectively. Since we all have contacts in the studio system, we were each able to bring those resources to this small, indie film. That’s why it has such ambitious production values.”

Not content with Feature Films or Indie Films, John also lent his production talents to a series of highly successful made for TV films (for CBS) starring Tom Selleck. Jesse Stone: Stone Cold, Jesse Stone: Thin Ice, and Jesse Stone: No Remorse were all presented in a period of five years.

As he prepares for the next obvious progression in his career, Albanis confirms, “Los Angeles is still the heart and soul of the film and television industry; it’s where all the main players are and where all the deals are being struck. I’m transitioning from being a hired gun producer/director into developing my own projects from the ground up and Los Angeles is the best place to do that. Last year, I purchased the TV rights to a book called The Mirror Thief, which I’m developing with Peter Chelsom to direct into an 8-hr series. It’s a mind-bending thriller that follows interweaving narratives of three driven men all connected by the alchemical possibility of a mysterious book, and shifts from 16th century Venice, Italy— where famed glassmakers perfected one of the world’s most wondrous inventions, the mirror (an object of fearful fascination)— to the seedy Venice Beach waterfront of the 1950’s, to the glitzy trappings of the Venetian casino in 2003 Las Vegas.”

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