Documentaries about music and musicians are extremely popular. A recent production of this ilk presents a very unique approach on the idea. Bali: Beats of Paradise explores two different artists from different cultures at divergent stages of their career. While the artists are featured, the true story is about a little explored form of music. Filmmaker Livi Zheng (along with EPs His Excellency Ambassador Umar Hadi, Indonesian Ambassador to Korea and Julia Gouw, ranked among the “25 Most Powerful Women in Banking” five times by American Banker Magazine) crafted this documentary which shows the collaboration of Grammy Award-winning vocalist Judith Hill (20 Feet from Stardom) and composer Nyoman Wenten as they collaborate on a new project which fuses contemporary music with traditional Indonesian Gamelan music.
Wenten has spent four decades as a purveyor and champion of Indonesian Gamelan music. Hill’s search for unique sounds peaked her interest in Gamelan. This film documents their exploration and fusion of funk and Gamelan in Hill’s work, present prominently in the “Queen of the Hill” music video. Bali: Beats of Paradise expertly displays the passing of the torch among artists of different generations while also communicating the search for new inspiration, sometimes found in preexisting sources. Gamelan may be this regions classical music but its inherent sounds and sights are dramatically different than what most of the world is accustomed to.
The subtext here is that the cultural identity of Indonesia is rich and relatively unexplored by the West. The sights and sounds of this documentary serve as a vacation to a visually and audibly stimulating other world. Zheng notes, “Most people will never have the chance to experience the beautiful, vibrant scenery Bali is famous for, said Zheng. “When I traveled to Bali to make this film, the most important thing was to capture the culture and traditions of everyday life – including Balinese ceremonies. Whether filled with joy or sorrow, each one is always accompanied by the traditional sounds of Gamelan.”
Bali: Beats of Paradise world premieres November 7th in Beverly Hills at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and opens on November 16th in Los Angeles and New York.
When Dan Cazzola first stepped onto a studio, he felt a rush like no other. It was at that moment when he fell in love with television production, seeing what a vast world it truly is. He finds it energetic and exciting, his passion for what he does translates directly to his work. As the Vice President of International Development for Endemol Shine North America, he is living the dream he’s had since he was only a child and has had a career that many aspire towards.
Originally from the small suburb of Ancaster, Ontario, Cazzola has travelled the world doing what he loves. Working with Endemol Shine, one of the world’s largest production companies, for the past six years, he has had a vast array of experiences working on internationally successful television shows, such as MasterChef, Big Brother,Minute To Win It and Deal Or No Deal.
“Working with Dan is always a pleasure. Not only does he ensure a healthy working relationship with all of his employees and colleagues, but he is extremely creative. Such a combination creates extremely high morale on every team he is a part of, despite the stresses that come along with such a fast-paced industry. Dan is everything you would want as a leader, and the tremendous results of his work are direct reflections of this,” said Rebecca De Young, Creative Director, Endemol Shine China.
One of the many highlights of Cazzola’s esteemed career came when he first started working with Endemol Shine, back at Shine Group in London. Shine Group was an immense company, with operations in over 10 countries and a large footprint in the United Kingdom. In every territory, each production company had started from scratch and they were doing everything they could to get to number one above all competitors. To do this, each region needed to be on the same path, working at the same speed, achieving the same goals. As the Global Development Executive of Shine Group at the time, Cazzola was the link between all these companies. He made sure to keep all priorities in line and made every connection happen with incredible speed. He brought new ideas and strategies into Shine and helped to map out the integration of the creative business into the newly formed Endemol Shine Group when Endemol and Shine Group merged.
“At Shine Group, I was working with the best creatives in the business. Shine had grown from nothing to one of the UK’s largest production companies in just over five years. It was a huge company but felt small and nimble and everyone in the company felt like they were responsible for its growth and success. The company had an amazing culture and to this day I haven’t found a more talented group of people in one place,” Cazzola described. “I was learning new things and new territories and new markets every day. At any moment we could sell a show to Thailand, or Brazil or Norway and we’d have to make sure that the show fit that market. I learned about all the broadcasters, the key talent in each territory and what makes everyone tick.”
Cazzola first started with Shine Group when he produced MasterChef. Having worked on the show, he knew a fair amount of the executives that worked on the corporate and international side at Shine Group. When the opportunity arose to transition from content producing to a corporate look, he felt he had what it took to make the transition, and he was right.
Cazzola became the creative face of the company during his years at Shine Group. He consistently found the best way to make all of the production companies work together harmoniously. He worked to instill trust, both in him and the company as a whole. From there, he would find the strongest areas to focus the company’s efforts. He made decisions based on both fact and instincts, which with his innate talent and years of experience proved to almost always be fruitful. He always trusted his gut when it came to picking out the next big thing, talking about ten shows in a day but instantly deciding what would become the next global hit. It was this rush that drove Cazzola, and why he looks back at his time at Shine Group so fondly.
“The Shine Group years were the glory years. I am very proud to have been a part of Shine Group and what was achieved. The company did in five years what other TV companies couldn’t do in 10 or 20. I can see the results of my work on screen in countries all over the world. And when I see that one of our shows has sold to another territory or won an award I always feel proud,” he concluded.
With a world-class resume of successful, high-profile collaborations with such famed luxury brands as Jimmy Choo, Valentino, H&M, Sandro Paris and Tommy Hilfiger, director/photographer Liam Cushing is one of the most acclaimed craftsmen in his field. But his extraordinary international renown and impressive achievements came about almost as a fluke, the unlikely result of a loving mother’s thoughtful gesture to her teenaged son.
“I was going on a [student] exchange in Spain and my mother took me to a second hand camera store,” Cushing said. “She bought me a Nikon F5 with 50mm lens and I was hooked right away, but had no real technical knowledge. There was a lot of trial and error after I arrived in Spain, but it really started to shape my eye, knowledge and love for photography. I took photos of everything, anyone and everywhere and I really attribute the growth of my style to my time in Spain.”
An entirely new world opened up for the Toronto-born, London-based Cushing. “My mother had always had a love of photography and it was always a part of my life growing up, but I had never really learned how to shoot,” he said. “She thought it would be great for me to learn on my own camera as I embarked for Spain and as I learned Spanish and adapted to a new culture, my photos deeply reflected this new curiosity. I still own that Nikon F5 to this day, and every once and a while I will use it just too once again have that feeling of shooting for the first time.”
Cushing quickly parlayed that youthful enthusiasm into a dedicated career path. Having completed studies at the University of Toronto with degrees in Art History and Cinema Studies, Cushing’s romance with photography—and his readily evident aptitude—enabled him to gain a foothold in this particularly fast-paced arena.
“After graduating, I applied for an internship where I could learn from the best photographers in the world,” Cushing said. “I ended up at the prestigious fashion photo agency Art Partner’s London office, which subsequently connected me to the highest levels of the industry and propelled me to get a job working for world famous photographer Mario Testino. Mario was famous for shooting the campaigns for brands such as Burberry, Versace, Gucci and Dolce and Gabbana, and who had also shot the royal family, and countless celebrities including Katy Perry, Madonna, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts.”
Testino, of course, wouldn’t hire anyone who wasn’t an absolutely first rate talent, and Cushing really came into his own, developing the visual style which became his very formidable calling card.
“During my time working under Mario, my career really started growing,” Cushing said. “I spent countless days researching, learning about my craft, investing in my tools, pursuing personal projects, chasing clients, all of which helped me get to where I am today in my career.”
“I developed I strong affinity for directing video and while I was hesitant to stop working for Mario, I felt as if I wouldn’t be able to have creative independence if I did not take the jump—I subsequently left and pursued an independent career as director/photographer.”
On his own, Cushing was compelled to make his mark, a feat that required considerable drive and fortitude.
“Finding my own path was difficult as first,” Cushing said. “I was competing with some of the most talented creative minds in the world. In the first year it became apparent how difficult it was to find my place and stand out in a city where I had very little professional connections. Rejection started to feel familiar, but I persevered and began to pursue my interest in video work. My deep passion for video rubbed off on my photography, I felt more engaged than ever, and I really started to hit my stride.”
Cushing’s ace-in-the-hole was a deep passion for a particular type of communicative aesthetics unique unto himself. “I always thought of my work as something like a dream—the imagery can be abstract and ethereal while emotions and tone feel real and weighted,” he said. “I look at every project as a challenge, so if there is no element of discomfort then I know I am not getting better at my craft. I also really value working with creative professionals at the top of their respective crafts, as it forces me to continuously push myself to higher levels of excellence.”
This creative zeal quickly distinguished Cushing from his contemporaries and his career began to ascend.
“Around this time I was hired to do stills and some video work for a Tommy Hilfiger campaign with world famous models Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer. As my skills sets grew, I felt my confidence and client lists grow as well. I felt very fortunate to have worked with Mario as it opened doors for me and illustrated the standard of professionalism I had to live up to, but also the confidence to find my own path, which I continue to be on to this day.“
An in-demand professional with a sterling international reputation, Cushing’s peerless instinct and ability to wed technology to human emotion in a way that evokes power responses from his viewers—a gift that’s elevated him to the very pinnacle of success. Cushing’s gorgeously rendered evocative visuals have led to assignments in fashion with his highly successful Jimmy Choo/Off White and Sandro Paris campaigns but also in the entertainment industry, taking jobs with Capitol Records and a memorably spontaneous collaboration with UK indie rock band Glass Animals.
“I was introduced to the band Glass Animals when I was hired to be still photographer during a video shoot for the song ‘Black Mambo,’” Cushing said. “There was some downtime during the shoot, and their manager asked if I could take some band shots, so I obliged. The band and the label liked them so much, they commissioned me to shoot the press photos for the release of the upcoming album. The photos were then featured in all promotional materials and could be seen in the New York Times, Billboard magazine, SPIN and many others. I was really encouraged about the success of the images—then, Capitol Records contacted me to have my photo featured in their commemorative, Taschen-published 75th anniversary coffee table book, where the photo would be featured alongside some of the greatest photographers of the last 100 years. The book was distributed globally and elevated my work and name to a worldwide level that I had yet to experience.”
That type of creative serendipity is typical of Cushing’s methodology, a wide open, perceptive approach based as much on instinct as it is technical skill. As one Cushing collaborator, the famed Global Creative Strategist for Facebook/Instagram/Whatsapp Dr. Jane Han, said “Having worked with many producers and directors in my lifetime, it was clear that Liam was on top of his craft with an expert sense of his work both on a technical and artistic level. In the capacity of director, he ensured the deliverables were at the highest of levels and showed a vast amount of skill in his trade.“
The key to his impressive commercial success is, uniquely, based almost entirely on his need for purely creative expression.
“I gravitate to anything that demands emotion and exists beyond the world of pure aesthetic,” Cushing said. “That is not to say I don’t continually strive to create incredibly beautiful imagery, but it has to evoke some feeling inside the viewer that goes beyond the present physical world. It is why I always have thought of my work as falling between the abstract, ethereal world of the mind and the sheer beauty of the physical world. Where imagery can be both associative and dissociative as it moves between real and abstract, thus giving the viewer’s imagination the opportunity to run free—where the imagery exists on a level beyond the confines of the superficial and reaches something more human and emotive.”
To this day, somewhere just over 1,250 micro-genres of popular music have been named. They’ve played a huge role in helping to describe and classify different albums and songs, and in doing so, have allowed both listeners and musicians to easily identify and categorize their preferred musical styles.
Renowned sound engineer, Josué Catalán, has experience with mixing and mastering music from a multitude of genres. This versatile experience has aided in Catalán’s growth as an artist, which in recent years has contributed to the success of two major hit singles: Pegadito a Mi Piel and Cuando La Historia Cambie, both released in 2017. Furthermore, due to his vast practice, Catalán’s been able to isolate a few of his favorite genres to work within, too.
“I have two favorite genres of music,” Catalán informed, “POP and Jazz. I love how each one represents a world on its own, and I learn a lot every time I get to work on a POP or Jazz production.”
The song Pegadito a Mi Piel, which Catalán mixed and mastered, is a song that falls within one of the sound engineer’s two favored genres: POP. Sung by Chilean POP artist Dani Ilabel and produced by Max Donoso and Manuel Burgos, Pegadito a Mi Piel translates to “Close to my skin,” and is a song of romance. It took Catalán a total of just three days to have the final product complete and ready to be delivered to TVN (Televisión Nacional de Chile) Records, the well-known label the single was signed by.
“The main challenge while mixing and mastering this particular song was finding a certain attitude to give the sound that could make it stand out from the typical romantic ballad,” Catalán explained. “I tried to impart some character by adding subtle distortion and delivered nuances that made the sound be forward and dynamic.”
Part of what makes Catalán so uniquely brilliant when it comes to his work is his fearlessness when it comes to taking risks with sound. Anyone can learn how to engineer, but it takes a truly exceptional kind of person, one who’s willing to gamble the possibility of failure, to obtain the attention-seeking type of success Catalán has proved himself more than capable of attaining. Producer Donoso supported this thought, stating, “Josué’s the person you go to because you know he’ll make your music sound better. Not only is he the kind of engineer that knows how to translate engineering into music, which makes him so easy to work with, but he’s also not afraid of taking musical/engineering risks. His mixes tend to bring an edge to projects that helps them to stand out among the ever-crowded universe of music productions.”
Such success also goes hand in hand with working amongst a team of talented individuals, who also happen to deeply care about professionalism and camaraderie within the workplace. Not only have Catalán, Donoso, and Ilabel worked as a unit on Pegadito a Mi Piel, but they’ve also collaborated on several tracks and albums together. “When you work with talented people who also care about teamwork, work ethics, and human relationships, it’s hard not to learn and see yourself grow. Working with Max has showed me that big challenges must be taken step by step and that nothing is impossible in terms of dreams and vision. He taught me to value simple things in music; an honest song will resonate better with the audience, and actually, that’s something one can even relate to life,” Catalán elaborated.
While Pegadito a Mi Piel was the first of songs that Catalán mixed and mastered to be aired on national television, it certainly wasn’t the last. In fact, some of the most notorious tracks the trio has worked on together have been featured on multiple shows of the main Chilean TV channel, TVN. It was, however, Pegadito a Mi Piel’s great success which opened new doors for young singer Ilabel. Not only was the single used as the main soundtrack for the 2017 soap opera La Colombiana starring Felipe Braun, Elizabeth Minotta, and María José Illanes, but it was also named one of the 50 most viral songs in Chile on Spotify for two weeks, ultimately reaching second place on the list.
In simple terms, as Catalán puts it, “A successful song can position an artist so that he or she can spark interest of the label or producers that are managing the artist.” And, this is exactly what the finished product Pegadito a Mi Piel did.
Currently, there is another Ilabel single that will also be mixed and mastered by Catalán in the works. While an official release date is still to be determined, one can remain on the lookout for the song as it is set to be titled Cuenta Conmigo (Count on Me). Ilabel’s latest single that was mixed and mastered by Catalán, Eres Mi Otra Mitad (You Are My Better Half), was released quite recently, and has been airing on TV for about three months now.
Branching out some from the familiar and favorited territory of the POP music genre, Catalán contributed to yet another hit single this past year: The Country-Rock single Cuando La Historia Cambie sung by the famed Jano Letelier.
Cuando La Historia Cambie is a powerful song that speaks of the injustice and wracked government system in Chile. Elaborating on the subject he’s quite familiar with, Catalán explained, “Chile, because of the military dictatorship in the 70-80s, is one of the most “Neoliberal” countries in the world. Everything is private and the system encourages social and economic inequality. People have to wait six months to get an appointment with a doctor in the public system. Meanwhile, the private hospitals are like luxury hotels and are very expensive. Also, people are retiring with pensions not greater than 10% of their former income, and this is a system managed by private companies. And these are just a few examples of what is going on within the country.”
The compelling and fresh production of Cuando La Historia Cambie was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Catalán, and has been transmitted by several online radio stations, including as the Todos Junto Radio, as well as FM radios such as Radio Futuro, one of the largest Rock and Blues radio stations in all of Chile.
“The first time I heard Cuando LA Historia Cambie on Radio Futuro, I felt so proud and excited and was full of adrenaline. I am proud of having worked on delivering the powerful message of the song to tons of people through one of the biggest radio stations in the country,” Catalán reminisced.
Contributing to the overall production of the single was drummer Arturo Salinas, bass player Sebastian Cordova, and studio assistant Nicolas Moris.
Prior to entering the recording studio, the team had prepared the songs and all ideas, resulting in a smooth process of production. The band was recorded live with all musicians playing at the same time, and the final mix of the song was listened to repeatedly until Catalán and Letelier were certain they’d achieved a flawless sound.
“Josue’s preparation, responsibility, good hearing, and good will to work makes him very good at what he does,” Letelier commented. Catalán’s great ear for sound quality and comprehensive talent for engineering was also noticed by several radio listeners; After Cuando La Historia Cambie first aired on a radio show, Catalán instantly received praising comments comparing the sound quality of Letelier’s song to various others of the same style that were aired among his on the station that day. Adding to her previous words, Letelier concluded, “When working with him, you can see that he is happy doing what he loves and puts his positive energy into the projects.”
Presently, Catalán has mixed two additional Jano Letelier singles that are set to be released in early 2018, along with an entire album that should see the light by mid 2018. “The new album is a fresh view of Chilean music based mainly on blues and rock. It serves as an example of the talent that we have in Chile and will bring many different topics to the table in a very honest and powerful way,” Catalán shared. “Jano’s vision of Chilean music is very unique yet very representative of the national scene. The whole process of working with him has been very educative.”
Edwin Perez is an actor who is able to perform very convincingly in a wide variety of roles. There are actors who seem born to play one type and are beloved for it, and then there are those like Perez who seem to adjust in a highly believable manner to just about any genre and type of character. When you seem him perform you’ll likely think “Right, that’s what he is supposed to be.” and the next performance of his will have you saying the same thing. Whether he is Romeo in the romantic comedy “Heart Felt”, the overly optimistic bard in “Standard Action”, the Tio in “Nina’s World” (animated children’s program), he is always likable and endearing. It’s probable that this is what prompted him to accept a role in the Grindhouse film “Peelers.” In the film he can be seen dealing death and very much playing against type. There’s a grin on his face when he talks about it and the reaction that the public had to his complete 180. It’s the very purpose of Perez to keep challenging himself and the audience’s perception of who he is and what he can do.
Prior to his being cast in “Peelers”, Perez had never been in a Horror film. He’s not quick to admit it but he has leading man looks, which doesn’t often transfer to being cast as a villain (unless it’s an 80’s coming of age high school story). Edwin was particularly attracted to the way he could present his character before and after his transformation with contrasting approaches to his nefarious nature. The comical fact that he gets to do so with the name Jesus in the film is not lost on the actor. The film and his character were a constant source of challenging exploration for him as he states, “I imagined Jesus as a guy who came to the country obsessed with escaping poverty but lacking the work ethic do so with honestly. He’s a ‘get rich quick with minimal effort’ kinda guy who wants the luxury with none of the responsibility. When the group thinks they have discovered oil, he’s the one who pushes for everyone to keep their mouths shut about it. I can imagine that, in a very dark moment, he’d betray the guys to get what he wants. He goes along with the Pablo’s [the boss] plan because he is technically their boss and because it doesn’t really benefit him to push back to hard. When he transforms, I imagined that all those dark base feeling were brought to the surface and he is driven by greed that as a bestial creature has turned to a violent hunger. When it comes to these situations it’s really easy to just say, well he’s evil now so he kills people. But that’s very one dimensional and it doesn’t give me as an actor very much depth to work with. It’s really important to base his motivations on something real and true to the character. In the case of Jesus, it’s his selfish nature dialed to an extreme dark place which drives him.”
Peelers is the story of a group of workers who find what they believe to be oil but turns out to be a toxic substance which transforms them into primal and seemingly supernatural creatures. They stalk and kill the humans whom they encounter. The creatures are feral with contorting movements and emitting primal snarls and growls. Between the prosthetics and the black substance that oozes from their pores, Perez spent a great deal of time in the makeup chair. The film utilizes practical effects rather than CGI. Edwin fully embraced the opportunity to approach the physicality of the creature he transformed into. He explains, “I wanted to show that the transformation was so extreme that normal human kinetics no longer applied to the creature. In one particular scene I get shot in the head and appear to be dead, but I get up and keep attacking. I decided to twitch and contort into as much of a grotesque posture as I could push my body into while rising back up. These things would normally be done with special effects, but we were doing it with practical effects so it really was up to myself and the other actors to bring these supernatural abilities to life. I think everyone is familiar with the trope of actors in an acting class pretending to be trees or an animal, or some object. Sometimes the creature would stalk his prey like a wolf, or play with it like a cat, and attack like a hyena. A very visceral and primal nature became the foundation for my creature work. It was cardio work for certain to make sure that energy levels were up and you are pacing yourself. Stretching was the biggest part of daily preparation. Contorting yourself into a feral beast can lead to some serious cramping.” It’s an accepted trope by the public of actors in an acting class pretending to be trees or an animal but this very real exercise proved to be highly useful in this situations for Perez.
His role in Peelers allowed Edwin to perform as two very different characters; one dark and brooding with an undertone of controlled greed and the other as a wild beast moving chaotically. This fed both sides of the actor’s creative imagination and did not go unrecognized by the audience or the cast & crew. Director Sevé Schelenz declares, “An indie horror film is demanding in a number of ways. Actors in particular don’t get the posh treatment that they typically receive in a big studio production but the demands on them are just as great, maybe even greater. Edwin brought it in terms of talent and commitment and was equally exceptional in his understanding that we were there to work hard and within a limited amount of time. I know that he was physically spent while also being covered with ooze, sometimes barely able to see or move…yet he never gave less than an amazing performance and never muttered negatively about the circumstances. He’s a true professional and earned everyone’s respect.”
For Edwin Perez the experience of making Peelers holds no negative aspects. While it may seem redundant to say, an actor’s job is to explore different characters and stories. Being physically exhausted, covered in special effects makeup, vocalizing inhuman sounds…it’s all a part of the experience that he signed on for and relishes. A romantic lead, a professional musician, or a devious man turned to beast; these are all a part of what success looks like for Edwin. Referencing the illustrious career of Christopher Lee who was known for his work in the horror genre Perez confirms, “I was able to check off playing a villain and a monster from my actor’s bucket list. It’s really great to be able to look back at how much I have accomplished professionally. I never thought I would get the kinds of opportunities I have had and I am very grateful that so many professionals whom I respect have come along and taken a chance on me. It’s also really rewarding to know that I was able to deliver high quality work in a role that I had never done before. It really makes me hungry for more opportunities like that.”
British producer Ed Thomas has been involved in some very creative television programs. James Corden’s Drop the Mic, American Idol, Sam and Mark’s Big Friday Wind Up (a two time BAFTA winner), are just some of the shows you’ll see on his list of credits. He remarks, “Celebrity Juice is one of the most creative roles I’ve ever occupied. It contains so many ideas in each and every show. I led a team in generating these ideas throughout four consecutive seasons. The show contains some of the most innovative and entertaining content I’ve ever been involved in. It truly pushed boundaries.” Thomas worked closely with a team of writers to script the show on a weekly basis while also managing a team of producers and overseeing all aspects of production. During his tenure as show runner for “Celebrity Juice” the program received the National Television Award, perhaps the pinnacle of recognition in British television.
Great Britain has a somewhat different relationship and view of celebrity than the US. Both public and celebrities are not given the opportunity to take themselves so seriously and Celebrity Juice shines a light on this. Celebrity Juice is, broadly speaking, a comedy panel show meets quiz show meets game-show meets comedy sketch show. It features celebrity guests who appear on the show to play games and generally have an outrageously good time. The theme at the heart of the show is celebrity news. Everything is held together by the host and star of the show Keith Lemon (played by the incredibly talented Leigh Francis). Lemon is outrageous by nature. He swears, says vulgar things, and goes where others dare not go but with a charming manner that repels the very idea of taking offense at his comments. In reality, celebrities embrace the show and its host, often returning multiple times. Clips of the show continually go viral and result in immense promotion for those appearing on Celebrity Juice. Ed expounds, “We used to pride ourselves on coming up with outrageous content that would send Twitter into a meltdown. Most of my friends watched the show, not because I worked on it but because they were genuine fans. I used to love it when they said ‘I can’t believe you did that on the show last night!’ We would never settle for an idea that had been seen before; there always had to be a twist that pushed it to the next level. Whether it be games of a sexual nature (“Celebrity Dogging”) or naked extras invading celebrities’ personal space, we made sure each show always contained a moment that would make guest and viewers alike say ‘Did that really just happen?’ We’d have American guests on the show who were in utter disbelief of the things we could get away with. Jason Derulo couldn’t get over the fact that he could swear on national television and Nicole Scherzinger ended up getting her toes sucked by host Keith Lemon…which was all standard fare for an episode of Celebrity Juice. One of my proudest achievements was convincing international superstar DJ David Guetta that it was a good idea for him to get into a cement mixer (which had been made completely safe) and let us spin him round, all for the sake of entertaining television. He approached me after the taping had finished, looking quite menacing. ‘That thing you made me do with the cement mixer.’ he said in his extremely French accent, followed by a pause that seemed like forever, “…absolutely genius!’ I breathed a sigh of relief.”
Celebrity Juice began as a low budget experiment which eventually grew to its current status as ITV2’s biggest show, winning multiple awards including a BAFTA, a British Comedy Award, and 2 National Television Awards. Thomas recognizes that his time with this production was life consuming but also presented him with several lessons which have served him well, most notably that pushing the boundaries creates exciting and entertaining content. When constructed and presented in an unoppressive and light hearted manner, what can be off-putting becomes an opportunity for entertainers and audience to avoid cumbersome gravitas.
Cinematographer Ruixi Gao can’t help herself sometimes, she is overwhelmed with ideas. This is the blessing and the curse of possessing a creative personality. It’s incredibly difficult to make a film so when you do, you want someone talented and driven like Ruixi to be among those enabling you to manifest your vision. This was the mindset of Zhipeng Xing, director of “Last Call” when he approached Gao to be the DP for this film. After receiving the script from Xing, Ruixi recalls, “I sat down and read it immediately. I think it is instinctual for many cinematographers, it most certainly is for me. I could see the scenes inside my mind as I read. The whole picture played out for me. I understood the lighting & the perspective of the camera in relation to the action. It’s exciting when you read a script for the first time and the film is playing in your head; I wish the audience could see it so quickly. That’s part of what motivates me as a DP; I see this wonderful movie and the desire is to bring that to life for others to witness.” Besides her obvious passion, Ruixi brings years of experience and talent to every production she is on. An emotional film like “Last Call” requires every bit of her sensitivity and expertise.
The relationship between Director and DP is commonly accepted as one of the closest working relationships in film. Each director has their own process and the cinematographer must be flexible to this to help said director achieve their vision for the story being told. “Last Call” director Zhipeng Xing prefers to focus on the actors instead of fixating on the framing of the scene in the lens. Rather than a shirking of responsibility, this was a result of Xing’s trust in Gao’s abilities and talent. This allowed Ruixi to communicate extensively with her team. Working with her Gaffer and Key Grip to establish the lighting plan, and framing with the PD, the effort was highly collaborative. Her plan used soft filters for imaging effects and a low-key style with warm and cool tones to control different emotions between war and home.
This story depicts war and its effect on family. The father and son are separated from the mother (& wife) who is still in war torn Iraq. They communicate via letters and a weekly Facetime. After one of the weekly family Facetime talks, the father is speaking with the mother after their son has gone to bed. Disturbing noises are heard and the signal is lost. A week goes by with no word from the family’s beloved wife/mother and they fear the worst. Unable to sleep from worry, on the morning of the son’s birthday, the husband hears a knock at the door. It could be the mother or a government official to announce her unfortunate death. The filmmakers do not reveal the answer, leaving it up to the viewer to decide what they think happened. The purpose of telling this tale is not to resolve it either way but rather for the viewer to contemplate the effect of war on real people with families. In the last scene, prior to the knock, the father receives a letter from his wife in which she states that she won’t make it to see them for their son’s birthday. When the father reads this letter it’s impossible to not feel the pain of being separated by these circumstances. War is cruel, it makes people ache; it’s also what makes this film work and have such impact.
Ruixi was awarded two best cinematography award for this film: Best Cinematography Platinum Award WINNER at the LA Shorts Awards & Best Cinematography Gold Award WINNER at the NYC Indie Film Awards (the film also received multiple other awards at these festivals). Gao’s passionate disdain for war and its malevolent effect on people in many parts of the world moved her to dig deep in her abilities for “Last Call.” Edwin Beckenbach worked with Ruixi on the film and professes, “Ruixi brings with her the experience of an international woman to a domestic industry that has traditionally been dominated by men and is not known for inclusivity or diversity. Film as art is a powerful generator and amplifier of cultural values and perspectives and as such the addition of underrepresented voices, especially those as promising as Ruixi’s, can entertain as well contribute to the benefit of society overall. In an industry where many people place their image before their abilities and ‘fake it until they make it’, Ruixi is authentic to a fault and is singularly focused on the artistic and technical challenges of the job at hand. Her dedication to her craft and clarity of vision is a unifying motivator for the camera and lighting crew to perform to the best of its ability.”
For many viewers of the film the most heart-wrenching aspect of the story is the young boy’s difficulty in being separated from his mother. With the understanding that this character would have be both a catalyst and proxy for the audience, Gao took extra preparations including reading psychology books on working with young professionals and preparing props with stickers and colored tape to make them more enjoyable. Far from being the task of a normal DP, this type of approach in working with a young actor is indicative of Ruixi’s overall pattern of professionalism. By creating a positive and friendly atmosphere in a variety of ways she is able to get the best performance from everyone and thereby get the best shots with the camera, to say nothing of coming in ahead of schedule. While some prefer to stay in their “own world” Ruixi Gao feels that the images she wants to create allow us to see through the eyes and emotions of others, which is what “Last Call” is all about.
Actor’s know that when you exhibit your skills on a project this is not only the action of using your talent but also the way in which you advertise yourself to other potential employers. Being of benefit to any production allows directors, writers, and other professionals to envision you in their own creations. An actor can spend a lifetime amassing a collection of performances that will keep them employed doing the vocations that they enjoy so much. It can take decades, even lifetimes to do so. In the case of Canadian Jaeda LeBlanc, it may happen much more quickly…because it already has. While still in her single digits, this young actress was noticed by Gregory Smith, director of the highly successful TV series “Saving Hope.” Airing on Fox in the US, “Saving Hope” joined the lineage that has lasted for decades of popular dramas that take place in the medical field and portray the humanity behind the healers, the afflicted, and their loved ones. When Smith saw Jaeda on “Odd Squad” he understood that her talent and abilities transcended those of youth based stories. Casting her as Aisha Kai in “Saving Hope” not only proved that he was correct but also gave a boost to LeBlanc’s credibility and vetted her as an actress more than capable of working in prime time television.
The key to being a great guest star on an already popular show, as well as being a great actor, is being memorable without trying too hard. Performance is a requirement; beyond that you can chalk it up to charisma. Robin Williams, Leonardo DiCaprio, countless actors have appeared on prime time TV shows in bit parts that morphed into careers on the small and the big screen. Canadian actress Jaeda LeBlanc has that same magnetism. Although still in her early teens she has appeared in a number television and film productions. She’s appeared in films with such household names as Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, and Natalie Portman. It’s easy to see why her roles have been much more prolific in the past two years when viewing the heartfelt portrayal, she gave in “Saving Hope.” As Aisha Kai, a bossy, sassy, and very intelligent young girl mature beyond her years, Jaeda gives a layered performance. Aisha’s mother died of cancer three years prior and she now lives with her father who is also terminally ill. She has learned everything she can about her father’s illness and takes the doctors to task about it. Dr. Reid (Erica Durance, star of Saving Hope) makes matter worse when she makes a promise to Aisha whose own birthday is derailed by her father’s sickle cell crisis. Aisha (powered by LeBlanc’s portrayal) gives the audience the dual sense that she is very young but has been forced to mature quickly due to her difficult circumstances. She’s a girl who is aware well beyond her years about life’s harshness…but still is a young girl, with all of her concerns and uncertainty. At times irreverent and at other times fearful, the role gave Jaeda the opportunity to convey many subtle shades of emotion rooted in body language as well as dialogue. Gregory Smith, director of “Saving Hope” tells, “On our show Jaeda played Aisha, an insecure stubborn child that is authentic without being annoying or exaggerated. As a director I know that it is not easy for a young actor to fully immerse themselves into a role but this is not the case here. Jaeda translated her actions and emotions to a believable character that drew sympathy with her realistic yet endearing delivery. Jaeda is an accomplished young actress who commands powerful, nuanced performances, the quality of which exceeds that of many of her peers. She was able to take on and be this child with a sick dying parent, unsure, stress and sad of what could happen. Jaeda has the ability to know if she is under or over acting and correct her own self, this is an impressive trait.”
You’d think that for a young actor the excitement would be finding themselves on set, under the lights with all eyes on them. For some it might be the luxury of having their own trailer with snacks and video games. For LeBlanc it was sitting down for the table read. The formal table read is a staple of all major productions; for Jadea, this was her first and a true indicator that she had made it to the big leagues. Many table readings would follow this one but you always remember your first…like a first love. Without a frame of reference, Jaeda paid attention to how far the other actors “turned up” their performances at the table read and matched them toe to toe. Reading the room and acclimating is a benefit of being an actor. While she received praise for the read, it was the test of being on set that confirmed her abilities when under pressure. LeBlanc remarks, “It was nice to be a ‘Guest Star’ and work with seasoned actors in one of the most popular TV show in Canada. From the first moment I was on set everyone was super nice to me, not only because I was a kid but as another actor. People may not always admit it but, kids can tell when someone is being nice to you because you’re young rather than being honest. It was a great feeling to be treated as a peer by so many great actors. Like my mom always says, I have an ‘old soul’ so for me to be around adults feels normal. It was nice to feel like a peer playing in the same field as all those seasoned actors of this start cast TV show.” When you play a role in a Canadian Screen Award-Winning Series (“Saving Hope” has received numerous awards including: Canadian Screen Awards, Directors Guild of Canada, Leo Awards, Joey Awards, and others) that is watched by most Canadians, you are bound to get noticed. Casting Directors definitely paid attention as proven by the numerous TV and film roles which followed this young actress’s appearance on the series. Jaeda LeBlanc is just embarking on her teen years yet she has already amassed a long list of credits that have set a strong foundation for an already impressive acting career.
There’s something romantic and endearing about a group of people coming together to support each other’s attempt to bring out the best in themselves and their dreams. It might be possible to make it on your own but when you do it with a trusted group of confidants it’s so much more enjoyable. “Parked” is a Canadian production which tells the story of five men who attempt to navigate the highs and lows of life. It’s a theme that is synonymous with the writers who created this show. In a small writers’ room, Gorrman Lee, Executive Producers Adam O. Thomas, Tracey Mack, Siobhan McCarthy, and Actor/Co-Producer David Lewis spent many long nights together writing what ultimately became a season of six full webisodes and twenty-five interstitial videos. The struggle that artists take on to test themselves, to aspire to create something which binds viewers together, it’s just as touching as the obstacles and experiences of the characters in “Parked.” Great things are achieved in life when people work together to support each other’s dreams, whether in real life or the stories which resemble it.
Here’s something that any true artist will tell you, greatness is found in the idea and the manifestation of it not necessarily in the execution of it. There’s a reason that songwriters receive a larger portion of the income generated by a song than those who perform it. Creative individuals understand that the idea itself is the keystone. The modern presentation of this is the fact that many of the productions that are presented on the web rival, and sometimes exceed, the stories presented on more traditional platforms. When writer Gorrman Lee saw the pilot for “Parked” shared on Facebook he thought “They’re doing this on the web? It’s so good!” The show’s pilot is so well produced and funny that it stands as a testament to the excellence of work being created outside the traditional system in today’s marketplace. When Lee had the chance to meet Siobhan McCarthy at a pitch event, he made it his mission to convince her that he could be of benefit to the show as one of their writers. He recalls, “I was very professional about it. I told her how much I enjoyed the pilot and asked if they were looking for people to join up; if so, I’d love to have a coffee with her to discuss. Asking people to coffee in this industry is a great, low-pressure way to get an in.” To Gorrman’s delight and the shows benefit, it worked.
“Parked” is about a group of 30-something dads, plus their one non-father pal, struggling with their late coming of age. While at first glance the characters might seem homogenous, each one has their own story to differentiate them in the group. The same can be said for the writers. As the youngest in the writing room and the only non-parent himself, Gorrman related most to the character Josh (the burnout, non-father of the group). While Lee and Josh vary greatly in personality, being of a certain age and place in your life naturally presents a shared perspective. Josh is found to be somewhat abrasive by the audience of “Parked” but Gorrman enjoyed the exercise of finding the sympathy/concealed soft side of Josh. The dichotomy of Josh was as entertaining for Lee as a writer as it was for the viewer. In episode #5, “Waiting for Kiddo”, Josh appears insufferable as he enters the scene complaining about how lame kids’ birthday parties are and how he’d much rather spend the day getting stoned. Lee’s writing shined a light on Josh’s humanity by showing just how hard he’s willing to work to get a child to attend this party with him. It looks creepy from the outside but Josh’s unawareness of this ultimately comes off as sweet because he just wants to hang out with his friends.
In a similar way to Josh’s willingness to step out of his comfort zone to keep the group together, Gorrman took on a writing assignment for “Parked” that was well outside his wheel house. Adam O. Thomas (Executive Producer of “Parked”) notes, “Gorrman was a key member of our writing room. He helped find the humor and really had a strong handle on how to shape a scene. If we were going off on a tangent, he was always the one to help bring us back around. He also made sure we never took the easy way out. I loved him for that. We broke down episodes and then assigned each writer some. Gorrman had a couple of the toughest. One was a musical episode and the other had to dance around the theme of child abduction to find the comedy in a dislikable character…. not an easy task. When he turned in his episode, I laughed out loud. It was perfect!” The musical episode referred to was entitled “Master Baker” and required Gorrman to create a Rap video. While most people think of writers as professionals who create based on something which they already know and actors as professionals who educate themselves/research about things they don’t know, Lee’s situation with this episode seems to indicate that writers are much more like actors in their approach. He was given an outline and lyrics for the song but the rest of creating the scene was up to Gorrman. He states, “I’m not really a Rap fan, my wife is though. I’m a writer of color. I’m Chinese-Canadian. It was important to me to research enough that I wasn’t being offensive or inappropriate in satirizing rap with three white, and one Indian actor. I think we pulled it off because of how silly our characters looked. The joke was on them, and not at the expense of rap.” The writer admits to feeling a great sense of accomplishment standing on set and watching the rap video sequence being filmed with Davinder/Sean Amsing is in his hot tub alongside Jimmy Z /Colin Foo. The entire cast and crew seemed to revel in the ridiculousness of the scene which Gorrman had concocted. It was obvious to all that the cast was living out the same fantasy that their characters connected with. “Parked” actor/writer David Lewis confirms, “Gorrman’s voice was definitely a distinct one. His episodes were some of our strongest. His understanding of character and story structure was invaluable. I’ve been working in this industry for over 25 years and have seen both good and bad writing. Gorrman’s writing is very good!”
Part of success is accepting both achievement and disappointment with grace. “Parked” received multiple nominations at the Leo Awards (Canadian based awards) in 2016 and a win for best actor (David Lewis). It was an instance of public affirmation in the industry for this production. With equal measure Lee describes, “It was a wonderful moment for all of us. While I remember that easily, I also remember the many long days and nights churning out ideas and breaking stories. I wish we could’ve come up with a way to shoot our original idea for the season finale. It was about Josh realizing that he had drunkenly donated sperm to a local sperm bank and convincing the other dads to help him break into the bank and steal it back. It was our take on a ‘bank heist’. Thinking back to this pitch still makes me chuckle. There’s always something to work towards.”
Sometimes you have to listen to your gut and sometimes you have to listen to those around you for sage advice. In the extremely rare case, you can do both. When Manoj Sakarapani was cast as the CEO of a pharmaceutical company in “The Pill” it was a great occurrence of playing against type. Sakarapani is a soft spoken, intensely polite, and thoughtful person. The money grubbing CEO which he portrays in this film which explores the morality and ethics of the industry is an ego fueled opportunist. Taking on this role allowed the actor a chance to “swim in a pool” that he always avoids. It’s a benefit of being an actor and this is something that Manoj is exceptional at; in fact, a little to exceptional. His fellow cast mates felt such disdain for Manoj’s character during the filming (and surprise by his complete reversal of personality) that they continually made him promise to never pursue any work in the pharmaceutical industry because he would be a highly successful villain in it. Sakarapani concedes that he was highly convincing in “The Pill” while also finding the reactions of his costars amusing. It’s an age old conundrum for an actor, you want to be completely believable in your role, even if that means being believable as someone who is hated.
In “The Pill” a virus is spreading and a pharmaceutical company has found a cure for it, deliverable in the form of a pill. Once the pill is distributed and released to public, reports surface about its cures against the virus but also revealing deaths due to side effects of the pill. The CEO of the company sees an opportunity to take the company global and ignore the facts that the pill offers some cure but avoids the possibly fatal side effects. He puts intense pressure on the scientists and the quality control specialists and his team to produce large quantities and release the pill worldwide. While fending off direct conflicts the Scientist who discovered the pill and his team, the CEO also is confronted by the news media. A reporter interviews the CEO and the team regarding the discovery but secretly wants to uncover the truth of the drug and expose the CEO and his company to the public as money driven and disregarding of the serious damage to life. In a final heated discussion with the CEO, the scientist and the rest of the team refuse to release the pill. The big reveal and catharsis happens when the scientist forces the CEO to take one of these pills and tries to shove it down his throat. All of this is exposed to the public through media by the TV reporter who secretly tapes the whole thing with the aid of her camera operator.
As Brenden Fletcher in the movie, Manoj portrays a man who is money minded and who will do anything to take his company global. Fletcher is blindsided by the potential income and shows complete disregard for the potentially malevolent effects of this drug on members of society. He is willing to sacrifice his moral and ethical values because as it was so eloquently stated in the film Wall Street “Greed is good.” Sakarapani did not see the character as one sided and felt that the role was quite challenging. He explains, “As an actor you have to be versatile here because you are playing a really good guy with the media who states that he wants to save lives and cure humanity as your number one priority. At the same time, you have to play the greedy guy who wants this done right away before there are more complications and more negative news comes out about this drug. I enjoyed the versatility needed to play these contrasts with my acting range to convey the subject and the message to the audience that my character needed to deliver. My role tends to be more of a Chameleon because that is what I am doing with the reporter when I’m talking to her in person and with my team during conversations and heated discussions.”
The presentation of the film is non-linear, which helps to intensify the emotional impact of the story as well as provide some interesting twists and turns for the audience. The story was built in a way which wouldn’t have made sense in a linear approach. The story starts with a reporter trying to investigate why this Pharmaceutical company is still thriving but being tight lipped when asked about the deaths being reported. The reporter states that she wants to focus on the success of the company, which causes the CEO to perceive this as an opportunity for positive press. gets nice media for the company. Fletcher relaxes and begins to profess his aspirations to help humanity. At this point, flashback being to present the back story involved, revealing the CEO and team discussing the drug’s merits and shortcomings. The film vacillates between members of the team being interviewed by the reporter until she finally sneaks in to a live meeting that the CEO and his team are having which ends up dramatically against the CEO, publicly exposing him. This constant paradigm shift slowly revealed the layers of deception and intent on the part of Manoj’s character. The final shot of the film which slowly roles in on Sakarapani communicates the solace and defeat of a man who has gambled and lost it all, and he knows it.
Vanessa Gibuea, one of Manoj’s costars in “The Pill” states, “The only way to describe Manoj in this film is chilling. He plays it close to his chest. He’s not maniacal or overtly abusive in his portrayal; it’s not cartoonish. This is what makes it so frightening. What Manoj did was to present his character as a very real person. A real person makes a series of mistakes that eventually lead into one very big and bad decision. Brenden Fletcher is a person who lost sight of himself and his fellow man. That happens more often that we’d all like to admit. What was so striking about the way Manoj presented him is that he found all of those little decisions in his performance and you felt them rather than someone showing you them or telling about them all. It was amazing.”
Everything you ever wanted to know about Hollywood's who's-who.