Category Archives: Director

Nuh Omar uses his Imagination to Create Powerful Stories

Nuh Omar
Nuh Omar shot by Khawer Jadoon Photography

The clear-plastic cup of water trembled more intensely with every step. The once-extinct Tyrannosaurus reached the pair of SUVs, came face-to-face with their inhabitants and let out a thunderous roar.

Pakistan-born Nuh Omar watched the genre-defining, blockbuster film Jurassic Park in the theater as a five-year-old and knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life – direct films. Though it wasn’t the first movie he’d seen, it was the first time it really clicked that he was watching the creative work of another person. He immediately set his sights on filmmaking, and continued to develop his talents as a screenwriter in his teens.

Omar’s first feature film as writer and director, tentatively called Untitled Imaginary Friends Project, is set for release in 2017. The film’s groundbreaking plot is about the journey of an imaginary friend, and what happens to imaginary friends when children are finished with them.

“It’s a fun, journey movie, a fantasy drama, inspired by Pixar films and E.T.,” Omar said.

Monster in the Closet, one of Omar’s earlier films, was also inspired by Pixar. Omar wrote and co-directed the live-action fantasy film about a boy fighting a monster in his closet with Rebecca Hodges (Rust, Loves Me Not, The Usual Stuff).

Omar, a toy collector, was overjoyed to see his “toy characters” come to life as humans on-screen.

But Omar’s talents have stretched well beyond the childhood-inspired portion of his deep imagination. He directed Lazy Accident, a THX 1138 and 2001: A Space Odyssey-inspired dark comedy, with Justin Graniero (A.C.O.D.) and Michael Robertson (A Measure of Faith).

“The setup for the punchline was important,” Omar said. “We knew we had to approach the film with the mindset that this was satire.”

Thematic elements have always been Omar’s key to success.

“They are fantastical, surreal and aberrant,” Omar said. “My style takes the real world and mixes in the abnormal as if it was something ordinary.”

Omar’s use of nostalgia is another way the skilled director has hooked his audiences.

“I try to make each one reach out and connect with something in the audience’s past, something we all have in common,” Omar said. “That varies from project to project, but the sense of it remains the same across.”

Omar is undoubtedly a masterful director, but he hasn’t limited his talent to just the silver screen. He also developed a comic book series called I’m Here, which is a 12-issue project about a crypto-journalist named Jonas who tells the stories of urban myths and legends from their perspective.

Thematically, the comic book is about the disappearance of American values told through the eyes of an observer who is merely a part of a larger story arc.

“It’s a scary step,” Omar said. “I’m a comic book fan, but attempting to do one is surreal. It’s a very difficult feeling. I’ve never written a comic script, so the experience was enlightening.”

Like the Tyrannosaurus in Jurassic Park, Omar learned to thrive in a new, unfamiliar world. The multi-talented director and writer has undoubtedly earned his stripes on the big screen and in the world of comics.

“I hope that someone out there gets to enjoy a story, and become inspired to do something different as I was,” Omar said.

Omar’s forthcoming Untitled Imaginary Friends Project will release in 2017, and will unquestionably break new storytelling ground with its fresh spin on the classic concept of imaginary friends.

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Canada’s Leading Cinematographer Jonathan Bensimon

Jonathan Bensimon
Cinematographers Vilmos Zsigmond (left), Jonathan Bensimon (center) & László Kovács (right)

Jonathan Bensimon is a rare breed of visionary. As both a director and cinematographer, he exercises precise control over both the storytelling and artistic aspects of his craft. He has worked with some of the biggest names in entertainment, and his exceptional talent behind the camera has earned him a myriad of awards from some of the most prestigious institutions in the business. His work with a camera knows no boundaries in genre or format, and includes everything from feature length and short films, documentaries, dramas and comedies, to music videos for major artists and commercials Fortune 500 companies.

Bensimon began his training in Toronto, and before long earned a coveted place in the exclusive Budapest Cinematography Masterclass, a program funded by Kodak and taught by Vilmos Zsigmond. Zsigmond himself has had an enormous impact on the field, having won an Oscar for his work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind and a BAFTA for The Deer Hunter, as well as an Academy Award nomination for the latter film. During this period, Bensimon worked hand-in-hand with Zsigmond on the inimitable Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda.

You Might As Well Live, Bensimon’s first feature film as a cinematographer, was a dark comedy about a “loser” trying desperately to change his fortunes. The film also marked the first feature film collaboration between director Simon Ennis and Bensimon, and garnered praise from critics at publications such as Variety and The Toronto Star. The film stars Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill Vol. I & II), and won the award for “Most Interesting Film” at the Slamdance Film Festival where it premiered in 2009.

Having proven his innate ability to capture the essence and vision of a story on film, Simon Ennis once again chose Bensimon as the cinematographer on his film Lunarcy!.

The film premiered at the world renowned Toronto International Film Festival, and has since aired on television channels around the world.

Being that the film Lunarcy! is a documentary and the subjects aren’t actors, missing the right moment means the moment is lost, it can’t be fixed by calling another take. Bensimon had to be constantly aware of the subjects in order to catch them at their most earnest, and sometimes most vulnerable, moments.

“Although this film had a comic undertone, it was also filled with heartwarming moments,” Bensimon said when describing the challenges of the documentary. “As the cinematographer on such a documentary I had to make sure the camera was in the right place at the right time to capture these moments.”

Bensimon’s artistic vision behind the camera is perhaps best exhibited in The Long Autumn, a film set in a land where seasons last 10 years. Filmed entirely in a studio, he had to rely on his raw talent to portray a beautiful environment where the passing of seasons and years is completely fabricated, yet wholly immersive and believable.

“A climactic scene takes place just before winter sets in,” said Bensimon, describing his signature technique and unique visual approach. “To light the surreal set, I used blacks and deep blues to illustrate the darkness and the drama of the scene. The film was shot on Super 16 to give the images texture and grain.”

Bensimon again applied that vision in his work on The Death of Chet Baker, a dark film about the jazz icon’s mysterious death. Exhibiting his adaptive style, Bensimon filmed primarily on a handheld camera in low light to capture the haunting mood.

His critically-acclaimed work is by no means limited to his work on films, however. He’s been receiving recognition and praise for his cinematography and directorial work on music videos for nearly a decade, and has been credited on more than 25 videos for international recording artists. Among those musicians is Grammy and Juno Award winner Nelly Furtado; Bensimon exhibited his diverse talent for cinematography in Furtado’s video, Spirit Indestructible.

Bensimon’s cinematography in the video for Canadian artist Kreesha Turner’s hit song Rock Paper Scissors was also nominated for a MuchMusic Video Award in 2012.

In addition to this immense catalog of work, Bensimon has also served as both director and cinematographer on dozens of commercials and advertising campaigns. Notably, his work directing and filming the hilarious Canadian Zombie short film, promoting the Canadian Film Festival, earned him one gold and two silver medals across three categories from the Advertising and Design Club of Canada. The promo also made the short list for the Cannes Lions, the branch of the Cannes Film Festival that awards filmmakers of advertisements; the Cannes Lions festival has been referred to as the world’s biggest ad-film festival.

His immense commercial resume also includes gold medal-winning work on several public service announcements for the World AIDS Organization, as well as both director and cinematographer credits on advertising campaigns for massive international companies such as Walmart, Honda, Mazda, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Budweiser, Tylenol, Bayer, Hitachi, Keurig and Hershey’s, just to name a few.

Nobody else in the field today can match Jonathan Bensimon’s cinematography chops. He is without a doubt one of the most talented and prolific filmmakers in the business, and his credits and commendations are sure to multiply exponentially over the coming months. Most importantly, Bensimon has exhibited a rare and masterful ability to produce work that is at times commercial, at other times entertainment, but no matter the project, his work without exception possesses the touch of a visionary and an artist.

Director Jacob Lundgaard Andersen Continues to Amaze

Jacob Lundgaard Andersen
Director Jacob Lundgaard Andersen

Originally from Jutland, the main peninsula of Denmark, Jacob Lundgaard Andersen is a director whose talent knows no bounds. After obtaining his undergraduate degree from the European Film College in Denmark, Andersen went on to be one of 28 directors invited each year to attend the American Film Institute Conservatory program where he received his master’s degree.

Earlier on in his career, Andersen worked with multi-award winning directors Thomas Vinterberg (Submarino, The Hunt, Metallica: The Day That Never Comes), and Nikolaj Arcel (Royal Affair, King’s Game, Truth About Men). While working as Vinterberg’s 2nd AD on the film Submarino, Andersen says, “Through intimate moments driving to and from set and as a collaborator directing his background [Thomas] taught me many valuable things, always wrapped in an anecdote. But what I learned most from just shadowing him was observing how he navigated the obstacles of the production in ways that were least compromising to his vision.”

Submarino, which received 8 awards and has been nominated for 19 others at film festivals around the world, reveals the dark subject matter of a dysfunctional family plagued by loss and substance abuse. The film puts Vinterberg’s fearless approach to cinema on display, a characteristic we also see in Andersen’s films. Andersen also worked alongside Nikolaj Arcel on the historical drama film A Royal Affair, which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film as well as an Academy Award and several others.

Jacob Lundgaard Andersen first gained international exposure after embarking on the “This is War” World Tour with 30 Seconds to Mars, a rock band fronted by Oscar Award winning actor and multi-talented musician Jared Leto. While on tour with the band, which has received a Billboard Music Award as well as 84 other awards, Andersen worked as a videographer, shooting and editing tour footage of 30 Seconds to Mars while also helping to create several music videos and documentaries.

Jared Leto
Jared Leto on tour with his band 30 Seconds to Mars shot by Jacob Lundgaard Andersen

His successful work on the tour led him to begin working with Grammy Award winning musician Raphael Saadiq on Saadiq’s “Stone Rollin” Tour.

About his work with Saadiq, Andersen says, “I worked as a one-man-production and even though the scope was smaller, the creative responsibility was much greater and ended with me directing two tour-music videos for him. I am still collaborating with Raphael today.”

All of these projects marked the very beginning of Andersen’s career, an incredible feat considering the high profile of the artists with which he collaborated, but not all that surprising when looking at the extraordinary talent Andersen has shown through his work. In 2013 Andersen wrote, directed and produced the music video “As Long As You Watch My Heart” for Danish musician Penny Police. Andersen’s video went into heavy rotation on MTV U, which reaches an audience of 9 million, when Penny Police was chosen as one of several artists to compete for the Freshman Award, an award voted on by viewers that they won. The video was also an Official Selection at the Rahway Film Festival, and garnered Andersen the award for Best Music Video at the 2014 HollyShorts Film Festival in Los Angeles. A stop motion video, “As Long As You Watch My Heart” follows a ball of yarn traveling through nature and space. Andersen created the visually captivating video using animation, miniature models and puppetry.

Jacob Lundgaard Andersen is extremely gifted. Not only is he an incredible director with a unique vision, but he is passionate about learning every aspect of what goes into the creation of a film as well.

He says, “I love movies and every element that goes into making them and as a director you get to be involved with each of the specialized departments and learn everything from technical camera, VFX and sound things to very emotional and human experiences that comes from working with writers, actors and people management in general.”

The great lengths Andersen has gone to in order to become knowledgeable about every technical aspect of filmmaking in addition to the creative side, has put him leagues ahead of most directors and adds to his ability to bring his vision to life with each project. A perfect example of Andersen’s vast skillset, the films’ Be Here Now and Dustland showcase his creativity as a director, writer, and producer. If you’d like to find out more about Jacob Lundgaard Anderson’s work you can check out his website http://jacoblandersen.com/ and watch his video for Penny Police below!

The Fabulous Nina Ljeti

Actress & Director Nina Ljeti
Actress & Director Nina Ljeti

Originally born in Bosnia, Nina Ljeti and her parents immigrated to Canada due to the war in the 1990s. Today Nina, who is in her early 20s, is a successful director, an acclaimed actress, and an incredible musician who has accomplished more in her short life than many ever will. Nina Ljeti’s film Memoria, which she directed and wrote the screenplay for, will be released early next year. The film came to fruition as a direct result of James Franco asking her to adapt a few of his short stories from his book Palo Alto, and the rest is history. Aside from Memoria, Ljeti and Franco have worked together extensively. Some of their collaborations include the films Child of God, Tar, The Letter, Rebel, and About Cherry, as well as the performance pieces Collage and BirdShit.

“Part of why I’m so passionate about film is that there is always room to learn more and to find different ways of expressing yourself. When you’re working with a team, you can use this to your advantage to grow as an artist. You learn from your peers and your collaborators. I constantly try to find new ways to tell a story. I’m always looking for truth in my work,” said Ljeti.

Taking a divergent stance from mainstream serial killer biopics, which more often than not vilify the subject, Nina’s film Jeffrey, a film about infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer,welcomes a more sympathetic heart in its audience.

Her love of grunge, and all that is dark, gritty and true is apparent in much of her work. In fact, she is slated to play the lead role of Kurt Cobain in an upcoming film entitled Kurt. “It’s a project that James (Franco) and I have been developing for a couple years. Nirvana is my favorite band of all time, so I’m very excited to be working on this piece,” said Ljeti.

While Nina is unquestionably a beautiful woman, her ability to completely abandon society’s gender roles is one feature that makes her such a unique and incredible talent. “I love playing male characters… It’s so much fun to get into the mind of someone that is so far away from you, personally. It makes it that much harder to find yourself within the character, but all the more satisfying when you do… For some reason, they come naturally to me,” said Ljeti.

Aside from her upcoming role as Kurt Cobain, Ljeti has played a long list of male characters. “I played James Dean in Rebel, Stanely Kowalski (from a Streetcar Named Desire) in Collage, Treplev (from The Seagull) in BirdShit… and I’ve modeled as a male many times for 7 For All Mankind,” said Ljeti.

In addition to her work as an actress and director, Ljeti is also the lead singer of the band Yeah, Well Whatever, a 90s inspired punk group comprised of four hot female rockers. A woman of many talents, Ljeti and her work serve as an inspiration to us all.