Category Archives: Director

Producer and Director Ace Yue tells heartwarming LGBTQ love story with new film

As a filmmaker, Ace Yue takes an idea and brings it to life. Originally from Shenyang, a north east city of China, Yue has always had a passion for the art form and has dedicated her life to bringing captivating stories to the big and small screen. As a producer, she finds just the script and team to make a vision a reality, and as a director, she follows her instincts and provides a sound voice of leadership for her entire team.

“I like to give every character in my stories an entire life, no matter how old they are. I am building up an entire world for my cast, allowing them to feel the character, making friends with them, then, becoming them. I want the audience to be taken away by the story, creating a cathartic experience for every viewer,” said Yue.

This in-demand producer and director made headlines last year with her award-winning film Gum Gum, which she wrote based off her own life experiences, but Yue is no stranger to success. She also has highlights on her resume such as By Way of Guitar, La Pieta, K.a.i., and many more.

“I think this is a job that requires a sense of responsibility. It’s fun and full of creativity. In fact, creativity and on-the-spot ability are my most important skills of being a producer and director, because we can never predict what will happen on the set. So, having a very high ability to adapt is key,” said Yue.

Recently, Yue has seen great success with one of her newest films, the drama Hank. The film tells the story of Hank and his husband Tommy who are struggling to save their 15-year marriage and entertain the idea of an open relationship. While this might be working well for Tommy, Hank struggles to cope with the change as well as the challenges of being old.

Telling an LGBTQ story was important for Yue, who immediately said yes to the film after reading the script. She has worked on many genres and is incredibly versatile, but this was her first time telling a story about this community. She feels film can provide a voice for underrepresented groups and educate viewers on key issues, and taking such a heartfelt look into the loving marriage of two homosexual men touches on all the reasons she wanted to become a filmmaker to begin with.

“Learning to understand who we are, and respect everyone as they are, is of the utmost importance. It is the greatest aspect of this film. In real life, most people like to look at things with a preconceived perspective. In other words, people just want to see what they want to see. Rarely will we analyze and understand the problem from the perspective of others, and then everyone will have such a state of mind that they are freaks and not understood by others, and then generate inferiority and escape from life. What this film tells is that no matter how others treat themselves, they must first face themselves honestly, don’t treat themselves as aliens, bravely accept themselves, pursue what they want, each of us is equal. The gender orientation, the preference of the things themselves can be different. Don’t worry about the eyes of others. It’s right to be happy for being myself,” she said.

Hank premiered at the Burbank International Film Festival and was an Official Selection at the Hollywood International Film Festival. It was an Honorable Mention at the Los Angeles Music Awards 2019 and has a lot more expected for the year. This month, Yue and Hongyu Li, the director of Hank, are heading to HRIFF 2019, the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival Red Carpet Press Event on February 15th.It is also an Official Selection for the world-renowned Cannes Film Festival later this year.

“The success is sensational. We use our profession to tell meaningful stories in a visual way, working hard on every detail. Being recognized by audiences around the world is also a way to make us more motivated and more determined to go do what we want to do, to tell the story, to shoot the film,” she said.

As the co-producer on the film, Yue made sure that any unexpected situation that arose on set was instantly taken care of. She helped the director create a good working environment, allowing everyone to focus solely on creating a work of art.

Yue knew the importance of the film they were creating, making it her sole focus and drive every day she was on set. The feeling was infectious, with the entire cast and crew feeling the same.

“I have a lot of LGBTQ friends. We are just like them, everyone is human, there is no difference. What I want to say is that they are not special groups. The discrimination of many people is that their own starting point is wrong. True love does not mean that men and women together breed the next generation, but a soul meets another soul that can truly understand each other,” she concluded.

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Filmmaker Tom Edwards Strikes a Balance between Producing and Directing

Tom Edwards
Producer and director Tom Edwards at the Napa Valley Film Festival

It takes a very unique talent to effectively balance the work of a producer and director simultaneously on a project. Though it is no easy task, it is one where filmmaker Tom Edwards has proven his skill time and time again.

One of Edwards’ recent projects as producer and director is the music video for folk-punk artist Sunny War’s single “Gotta Live It,” which premiered last year to great praise on Vice’s Noisey outlet, which is known for showcasing hot new music and music videos.

Edwards captures the juxtaposition of melancholy sadness and perseverance present in Sunny War’s “Gotta Live It,” which the artist says is “a very personal song about my struggle with alcoholism, my dysfunctional love life and the confusion I face daily participating in this rat race society.”

Prior to directing and producing “Gotta Live It,” Edwards directed and produced the music video for Sunny War’s  “Goodbye LA.” That first time collaboration obviously ran smoothly because the artist called him back again for “Gotta Live It.”

Working with Tom is very chill. He has a nice easy going personality but at the same time he is very organized. [He] is good at what he does… he plans every shot, communicates the ideas with you beforehand… and actually follows through,” says Sunny War. “He is also always willing to listen to any crazy ideas you might have and is kind when explaining why those ideas are crazy and won’t work.”

Though Tom Edwards’ boundless creativity as a visionary director is evident in his work, his ability to balance what does and doesn’t work from the standpoint of a producer in terms of managing the budget, shoot days and all of the other odds and ends that go into producing are what make him such a sought after talent.

“As the producer I was working with a very limited budget. It was important to find the right location and that the filming could be completed in one day. As director I needed to make sure that my vision aligned with Sunny’s and that she was happy with the idea before I started to shoot. The last thing you want when working with an artist is to find out after shooting that they don’t like the final video,” explains Edwards.

“It’s essential to have good communication skills to ensure both sides of the party agree on the expectations. My role as producer was about coordinating crew, finding locations, getting permits and making sure we had the right amount of gear to tell the story. I like to keep all the logistics out of the way when I’m directing, it’s important to make sure I have my undivided attention on the artistic choices and performance.”

Some of the other music videos Edwards has produced and directed include “Fire” from  American ukulele virtuoso Taimane, The Main Squeeze’s “Only Time,” Westside FX “War ft. Bro Burch,” Calix’s “California Dream’n,” “Bad Blood,” and more. He’s also directed and produced commercials for brands including Lamborghini, The Sirius, Garrison Bespoke and the Shaolin Temple.

While he’s made a name for himself as a powerful producer and director in the world of commercials and music videos he’s no stranger to producing and directing narrative films.

In 2013 Edwards wrote, directed and produced the film “Ninety One: A Tainted Page,” which earned multiple awards including those for Best Overall Film, Best Actor and Best International Baccalaureate Film at the Shanghai Student Film Festival.

Actor Anson Lau, who plays the lead in the film, says, “I’ve always known Tom for his passion for making films… When he puts together a project he’s always enthusiastic… When he directs he knows exactly what he wants.”

Over the years Edwards strength as a producer has also led him to be tapped to produce a long list of projects for other directors.

He explains, “Aside from directing and producing my own films, I find a lot of pleasure helping others and bringing their visions to life. I enjoy being critical and being able to provide valuable feedback.”

One such film where Edwards proved critical in the success of the film as a producer behind the scenes is the 2016 dramatic sci-fi film “Visitors” starring Kei’la Ryan from “Escape the Night,” “The Doctors” and “American Hashtag.”

“I worked with Tom on a large number of projects, from commercials and music videos to narrative films. He always blew me away with his creativity and hard work. His work on the film ‘Visitors’ was significantly important and was one of our best collaborations,” says “Visitors” director Alon Juwal. “Tom had a large creative input both in the development phase and in the production phase. He contributed greatly in the writing of the screenplay and managed to lock some amazing crew members for the project.”

A film about two siblings who return home to their estranged father’s house after a long absence, only to find their home being invaded by a group of uninvited visitors from another world as the night progresses, “Visitors” made a strong impact on audiences and festival judges across the globe.

In addition to earning the Honorable Mention Award from the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival and the Festival Award from the New York International Film Festival “Visitors” was nominated for several awards at festivals including the USA Film Festival, Vail Film Festival, Phoenix Comic-Con, Newport Beach Film Festival, and more.

“After careful review of the [Visitors] script, there were a few scenes that needed more attention. In one scene, the main character is blasted with a beam of light as if a spaceship about to abduct him. We had to make sure that we could get a rig and the right people to achieve this,” recalls Edwards about some of his key contributions to the project.

Edwards’ personal experience writing and directing projects have endowed him with an unparalleled understanding of what needs to happen on set for a director to be able to effectively make their vision come to life; and this is one reason why he has proven himself as such a powerful producer.

Director Alon Juwal adds, “All of my collaborations with Tom ended in successful productions. He brings a great deal of enthusiasm and grace to each project that he signs up for. Tom takes every small task that he is given with great seriousness and simply brings amazing results. He is fast, extremely efficient and a very hard worker.”

The ever busy producer and director is currently working with writer Phil Giangrande on the upcoming dystopian film “Now It Begins,” which takes place in a future society where resources are scarce and poses the question over whether it is ethical for a father to be replaced by artificial intelligence.

Edwards is also working with an a LA based production company on what he says is a “Very exciting series of educational videos that will launch sometime this year.”

Though he’s not yet able to announce the details on the upcoming video project, with such a track record of successful productions already under his belt we know it’s one you will be hearing about very soon.

Hollywood Recognizes Filmmaker Livi Zheng as Asian Pioneer

Livi Zheng and Terrence Howard at the Unforgettable Gala

“When I first started my career in film someone told me that I am everything wrong about a director, because I am Asian,  I am a woman and I am young.” That was the opening salvo in Livi Zheng’s speech at the Unforgettable Gala. Zheng was honored with an award as an Asian pioneer in Hollywood along with the actor John Cho and the Director of Crazy Rich Asians, Jon M. Chu.  The speech was unforgettable; the crowd cheered for the young director at the conclusion of her speech.

Already a household name in Indonesia, Zheng’s rise to fame in the United States is not a surprise to her many followers back home. She is the product of three countries: Indonesia, China, and the United States. A simple search of her name will show Zheng’s popularity amongst Indonesians and Chinese and the enthusiasm they express for this talented young filmmaker.

Who is Livi Zheng? She’s an Chinese-Indonesian director who directed her first feature film at the young age of twenty-three. Her directing debut Brush with Danger released theatrically in the US and was distributed internationally. Besides directing, Zheng has spoken and lectured at more than 30 universities worldwide including Yale University, University of Southern California (USC) and University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Communications University of China, and the University of Indonesia. Zheng graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Washington-Seattle and a Masters in Film Production from USC. She is a prolific and respected speaker and was invited to speak at the Annual Meetings of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund (IMF) at the World Bank Headquarters in Washington D.C..

Zheng spent her young adult life as a martial artist. She got her start as a stuntwoman but soon realized the power of storytelling. She embarked on an odyssey to realize her dreams; that decision has catapulted her as a leader in the new generation of upcoming directors in the film business. Her remarkable confidence and bubbly personality is paired with her humility. When interviewed, Zheng never forgets to mention her roots.

Just this year, Zheng brought the vibrant world of Bali: Beats of Paradise to screens when it premiered at the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences and Arts in Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.  The 1010 seat theater was filled to capacity.  The Academy security was even surprised at the draw this movie had compared to many big studio movies that have premiered at the same venue. The documentary narrative did so well that a Disney Animation Executive in attendance invited Zheng to screen the film for other heads of departments at Disney.

Zheng is not only an inspiration to young women and people of color within the United States but also to people around the world. She’s truly a one of a kind director who bridges the West and the East .

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.

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.

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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.

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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.