Category Archives: Entertainment

MANOJ SAKARAPANI IS A CORPORATE VILLAIN IN THE PILL

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.”

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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.”

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Millions Watch Dan Babic in viral “Watch Me” parody

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Dan Babic and Caitlyn Jenner

“I didn’t wake up to be mediocre.” This simple mantra is what pushes Australian Television Host Dan Babic every day. He doesn’t accept anything other than excellence, and those who have followed his career know this to be true. He is truly extraordinary, and at just 23, he has emerged as one of Australia’s most high-profile entertainment journalists.

Babic’s online television show AfterBuzz TV has over 20 million downloads a week in 150 countries. He has interviewed some of the world’s most recognizable celebrities, such as icons Caitlyn Jenner and Kim Kardashian, as well as Academy Award winners like Kathy Bates and Brie Larson.

Entertainment journalism and hosting is something that chose me. As long as I can remember, it has been the only thing I have wanted to do,” said Babic. “We live in what appears to be such a dark world at times, so I live for my moment on screen where I can help provide escapism and take audiences away from the hardships they may be facing. I love the power it gives me to brighten one’s day and the ability to just make people laugh.”

In the parody music video of the hit song “Watch Me” by Silento, Babic does just what he aims to do, and gives audiences around the world the opportunity to watch a video and escape. The hilarious video features Babic dancing and rapping a line in the song. His reputation and popularity greatly contributed to the video’s massive success, going viral and amassing over 20 million views on YouTube alone.

“Although we truly believed in the project, nothing is more validating than knowing all your hard work has paid off. While we were confident in the final result, my grandmother taught me to ‘never count your chickens before they hatch.’ There is always that slight feeling of fear upon releasing a video to the world that your intention of proving joy and laughter could be ill-conceived and taken out of context. Reading all the comments from fans provides the upmost feeling of joy knowing that through my talent and work I was able to make someone smile. It’s why I get up every day and continue to have the success I have in the entertainment industry. I see what I do as service to others.”

The video, by YouTube sensation Bart Baker, is four minutes of talent. It was written by Eli Braden, who is responsible for some of Howard Stern’s, Jimmy Kimmel’s and Joan Rivers’ most successful content. Babic had always wanted to work with the writer, and therefore jumped at the opportunity when it arrived. Knowing the necessity of having a distinct leader in the industry who would not only boost views on the video, but also who have the ability to make audiences laugh, Babic was approached to be a part of the parody. There are several controversial moments in the video, which are necessary for the humor, and Babic’s role provides the light-hearted moment needed to capture audiences.

“Production chose not to take the risk of using an on-camera personality without a notable acclaimed track record and requested my work on the project. Having notoriety in the television industry is something I don’t take nonchalantly. I am well aware of that my regard is rare and the ability to entertain millions though my personality is a true gift. I was therefore thrilled to have the confidence and respect of acclaimed industry professionals and was very excited to collaborate with successful individuals at the top of their field,” said Babic.

The video largely takes place in a gymnasium, with various characters dancing in the background and appearing on screen. Regardless of his crucial role in the parody, Babic says working on the project was very relaxed and filled with constant laughter. He was working alongside comedic experts, an exciting experience for the television host. When shooting the parody’s make-or-break moment, he felt completely confident in his ability to use his improvisational skills to create laughter. He trusted his instincts, and helped make the moment triumphant and made a moment with darker humor very tasteful. His versatility is evident, and his cameo impressed many around the world.

“The parody was an instant hit, and Dan’s leading and critical role as a television personality held tremendous weight in the production. His role in the music video worked similarly to having film stars in music videos, as fans looked forward to seeing one of their favorite TV hosts in the music video, where he was even key in pointing out the surprising twist at the end of the music video. The parody video of ‘Watch Me’ garnered an incomprehensible 20 million views on YouTube, an impressive feat which highlights not only the immeasurable success of the music video itself, but of the impact Dan’s role had on attracting viewers to come and pick out his part. This, paired with overwhelming praise from fans as well as over 180,000 likes for the video on YouTube, is incontrovertible evidence of the massive commercial success of the music video, and of Dan’s leading and critical role therein,” said Heidi Jo Markel, CEO of Eclectic Pictures who has worked with Babic in the past.

The day-to-day structure involved each industry professional staying in their lane and using their well-regarded creative instincts to ensure the project’s success. Babic was surrounded by other industry leaders on the video, and when everyone from different fields came together with one goal in mind, it was the best part of the experience for the entertainment journalist.

“Working with notable, celebrated professionals in the entertainment industry is inspiring, the project allowing us to each learn from one another and admire each other’s unique gifts and rare talent. I’m a big believer that you are your environment and felt extremely grateful to be in the position I am in,” Babic concluded. “I never take this for granted and as a host live for bringing people together in laughter, entertainment and good times. With so many views of the parody, it is safe to say our work put a smile on millions of people’s faces across the world. That’s what the world needs more of after all.”

You can watch the “Watch Me” parody video here, and prepare to feel the sense of escapism that Babic always aims for, and always achieves.

RAFAEL THOMASETO KEEPS THEM COMING BACK FOR MORE

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A producer is the closest thing the entertainment industry has to a parental figure. As the head of any production, this individual oversees every aspect from beginning to end and ensures that it all runs smoothly. It’s a tiresome and exhausting vocation, the main reward of which is getting more of the same work. A producer will tell you that they choose this vocation because they love the creative process and being surrounded by others who take part in it. For a successful producer, diversity is the key. Similar to directors, a producer’s work on a notable ad campaign can mean as much (or more) recognition and compensation than on a film or TV presentation. The career of Rafael Thomaseto encompasses all of these different creations, leaving him in the enviable position of having an eclectic body of work and possibilities to pursue. His resume encompasses a strong list of production credits, including independent films, commercials for major brands (such as Chanel, Samsung, Nissan and Jose Cuervo), the clip of the song “Perfect Illusion” by the iconic Lady Gaga and the production of videos for the YouTube. The common thread among all these is the talent and work ethic he possesses. The best advertisement is performing your job with excellence and the word is out about Thomaseto.

As producer of the film “Inherent Greed” (Directed by Zachary Wanerman), Rafael oversaw this production which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and also impressed Louie Torrellas (CEO of Ambitious Media Productions). Torrellas relates, “One of the executive producers on the film recommended Rafael to my company, Ambitious Media, which was in charge of producing Inherent Greed. We hired him and he instantly took over the project and made it work, to great acclaim. Our first partnership was such a success that as soon as I received the briefing of the entire media production for LA Style Fashion Week, Rafael was the first name that popped into my mind. It was going to be a challenging job but I was sure he was qualified and experienced enough to handle it. Again, my expectations were attained. Once Rafael joins a project, he will do anything possible to make it work and to make it the best.”

Hired by Ambitious Media as head of production for the city’s biggest fashion event would seem to be a completely different environment than that of a soundstage or location shoot for a film however, Thomaseto’s skill set is equally applicable to both. Though Los Angeles Style Fashion Week has been around in some incarnation since the 70’s, the past decade has seen it evolve into a much more expansive and widely attended event. The city and the industry have taken an obvious step towards using their entertainment producing infrastructure to promote the fashion scene as a major player worldwide. While the surroundings and the players are different than the ones he is so accustomed to, many of the applications of Rafael’s abilities are lateral. Instead of overseeing a film production, he developed a documentary which showed the increase of the fashion scene in LA. Locating and hiring the director, cinematographer, and film/photography crew to shoot interviews with the major players in the fashion industry as well as the big name models who would be appearing at the event; all these were familiar procedures for Rafael though they were in a wildly differing venue. The producer notes that his ability to bring aboard world renowned fashion photographer Lemuel Punderson as the main director for the production was a particular source of pride.

A complete dichotomous experience of working with the beautiful people, Thomaseto’s past success on a number of productions for Traverse Media resulted in them hiring him as part of the production team for the experimental “Crypt TV.” Traverse Media, a production and talent management company committed to creative and enterprising content and filmmakers, hired Thomaseto as part of their Production team coordinating the project for Crypt TV. Crypt TV is a digital genre brand co-founded by Jack Davis and horror icon Eli Roth. Declaring its motto as “#WeirdIsGood”, Crypt TV creates and distributes dark, edgy, and scary video content on Facebook and across its family of publisher sites. One year after launch, with 2 million direct social followers and a syndication network of 2.5 million unique monthly visitors on the sites in its network, Crypt TV has quickly become the fastest growing leader in digital productions of this genre. In addition to working with the best up-and-coming filmmakers across the world, Crypt TV creates engaging original video content directly for the Top Hollywood Studios including: Universal, Fox, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Netflix, and others. Crypt TV is uniting fans and creating a movement that’s redefining what the future of the genre among millennials.

Although hired on shortly before the shoot, Rafael quickly solidified all aspects of the production of the three short films which Traverse created for Crypt TV: “Lust Kills” (62,000 VIEWS), “Gluttony Kills” (371,000 views), & Sloth Kills (272,000 views). These three films were produced in just a matter of weeks and had received several thousand views in a mere matter of hours after being released. The expediency and process by which entertainment is created and delivered continues to evolve with technology and the public’s sensitivity to it but the need for professionals like Rafael Thomaseto will be a constant throughout these changes, as will the need of entities like Ambitious Media Productions and Traverse Media. The upcoming projects which Thomaseto is currently involved in with both companies assures this fact. The new edition of LA Fashion Week (which is a biannual event), an indie feature film in 2018, and several short films (a continuation of his partnership with Crypt TV) will all add to the association that Rafael has with both Ambitious Media Productions and Traverse Media in the very near future.

 

ALYYSA VENIECE BRINGS IT ALL, LIKE A WARRIOR

Alyssa Veniece describes herself as having alter egos which make appearances. This makes a lot of sense when you consider that she has experienced success as an actress, singer, stunt person, fitness model, swimsuit model, and dancer. It seems easier just to have the specific part of your talented personality show up that day for work while the others rest (it would actually allow her to get some rest). While she says this in half-jest/half-truth, it’s obvious that Alyssa is a driven and artistic individual who is capable of tremendous focus. Often the duality of her nature and talents is obvious in the work she presents. Her music is influenced by everyone from Boys II Men to 50 Cent. In productions like NBC’s “Warrior” she dances and acts while her modeling led to the production using stills of her face to adorn the scene. You can’t separate the ingredients of your favorite meal or dessert and still achieve the same satisfaction and this applies to the multiple talents of Alyssa Veniece as well.

What exists in 2017 is a multitalented and confident Alyssa but in the early days (back home in Canada), she was just a little girl in what she describes as a loud, crazy, and constantly laughing family. Her early predilection for casting and directing her sisters and cousins in plays was a strong indicator as to the direction she was headed. Witnessing the Olsen twins as child actors and a strong attraction to Disney movies assured young Alyssa that her career was a certainty, with the added benefit that she didn’t have to choose between acting, singing, and dancing. Her early attraction to acting still remains true all these years later. She notes, “The honesty is what it’s always been about for me. Whether someone plays a villain or a saint, they are honest with themselves in their actions. I’ve always been drawn to the truth of things, and I loved that during a movie I was constantly having realizations about life and the way people are. As an actor we get to tell stories, and teach people, while figuring ourselves out during the process. Certain shoots I’ve worked on have definitely been closure for me of times in my past.  It all connects us to each other and to something greater – anything is possible when you’re playing pretend! I hate limitations and acting frees you from any cage you ever could imagine. I love acting because it’s healing, helpful, hopeful… and ultimately, fun.”

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As audience members, we’ve all had that moment when a performance spontaneously created a strong emotional response. One of the talents that has served Veniece so well throughout her career is her ability to synthesize her different talents. Singing, acting, and dancing are different faces of the same person for this immensely versatile and creative Canadian. Her appearance on NBC’s Warrior as a Geisha was just as much due to her strength as a dancer as an actor. Her costar Jade Whitney (whose credits include Suicide Squad and FX’s “The Strain”) “Both Alyssa and I appeared as Geishas in ‘Warrior’. Not only is she an incredible actor and dancer, but she is one of the most hard working people I’ve had the pleasure to work with. One shoot was a particularly long overnight experience; it was grueling for all of us. Alyssa was focused and strived for perfection with every take yet didn’t complain or even show signs of fatigue. There are a lot of talented people in this business but I think it’s those with the right attitude that end up becoming successful throughout their career. I think Alyssa excels in this field because she cares about the craft, is open-minded, and willing to learn new things.”

In “Warrior” Alyssa’s role is that of a Geisha for Will Yun Lee’s character, Susano. Her character is extremely well- trained, comfortable with being the center of attention, seductive, and completely at ease with her sexuality. While the mindset of this character does not correlate with Veniece’s own, she uses another of her passions to enable this…music. The actress reveals, “I’ve spent a lot of time studying my craft and using the methods that I’ve learned but I’ve also found that music is an incredibly strong tool. I like different types of music depending on what I’m doing. I typically steer towards hip-hop, trap, pop, r&b, and electronic. If I’m trying to get into character for a role, I will listen to music that I think that character would listen to. If I think they should be in a certain mood, my musical choices will reflect that to sustain my character, especially right before an audition. My song picks vary depending on the intensity of my training and I could easily be listening to a slow song by 6lack or something hardcore like Omelly or Casanova from OHB.”

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Alyssa Veniece is that type of creative individual who never suffers from interest or ability, only from lack of time to do everything she wants. The very fact that she acted and danced in “Warrior” while her very face adorned the club (add model to her credits on the show) attests that it’s not “if” she will be creative but rather “which” avenue will she choose. One thing is certain, if you keep watching you are going to see Alyssa in a film, TV production, or music video. In fact, you most likely already have.

TRANSFORMING THE SMALL PARTS INTO BIG ROLES WITH AVI AGARWAL

Here’s the secret that many involved in the arts don’t want to tell you; there are two types of professionals in these industries: those who desire esteem and those who just want to be creative. Everyone likes to be respected, that’s completely understandable but some need it more than anything else. It’s up to psychologists to explain the reasons for this. The true believers of the creative world simply want to create, it’s the oxygen to their career. Actors like Avi Agarwal can be seen in films, TV productions, theater plays, and commercials. For him, each of these is simply another opportunity to do what he wants to spend every day doing. These many differing productions not only flex different acting muscles for him but they also reach entirely different sections of the public. A famous and respected director might see his work in a play such as “The Crossover” (the LA production in which Avi performed multiple roles) while old friends on the opposite side of the planet reach out to him in excitement having seen him on a global Amazon Prime commercial. The lack of ego Agarwal possesses is palpable when speaking with him as it becomes easy to comprehend that he is best categorized as an actor who simply wants to spend his life acting. They say that variety is the spice of life and this actor’s commercial work alone attests that he is compiling an eclectic collection of vocational and acting experiences.Headshot 5

Appearing in the Amazon Prime commercial titled “Speed. Selection. Underwear for your hands. Get it all with Amazon Prime”, Avi was seen by more than three million viewers. This advertisement was presented through one of the most ubiquitous of all formats in the world, Facebook. Due to the extremely brief length of commercials, directors of these productions cast memorable and charismatic actors, the type of individuals who stick in your memory. Director Steve Mapp stipulates that both Agarwal’s appearance on camera and his ability to not over-perform made him effortless to work with. Avi comments, “It’s proof that you can’t try to make sense of this business, you just take each situation on its own merits. I’ve done plays where I rehearsed for more than half a year to perform and films where it was months of preparation. When I was cast in the Amazon Prime commercial, I simply showed up, had a conversation with Steve [Mapp] and then did a few takes. I had people from places as far as London reaching out to me with excitement when they saw me. It’s funny and it makes you thankful that people are excited about your career.”

It’s this humble perspective and staunch work ethic that have made Agarwal appreciated and desired by many professionals in the production industry. Director Justin Bookey confirms, “I hired Avi Agarwal for my production company’s shoot of an online commercial with a widespread management industry audience. His professionalism and skill made him shine in this role and the video garnered industry awards with his help. His great attitude and flexibility on the set also made him a valuable asset. He’s got a unique blend of quirkiness, timing, and expressiveness that will serve him well in a variety of comedic and dramatic roles. I feel lucky to have found him.”Headshot 6

This commercial is a sort of an innuendo on how not to run an agile meeting. It’s a comic take on the most common mistakes made by the employees and employers. Such occurrences as when an important topic is being discussed and someone interrupts with the silliest of questions, people being on their phone instead of paying attention, insecurity about their job resulting in hoarding information, people lying about their work, over enthused employees, etc. Avi portrays a nerd at an office meeting where everyone is quirky and the team leader pays more attention to his own interests than creating a cohesive team. The production was created for industry outreach and was shown at the Global Scrum Gathering in San Diego where it received enthusiastic praise and reactions.

In a bit of a stretch that called upon his heritage, Agarwal used his knowledge of Indian Culture to portray the character of Pastor Sanjay in “The Great Controversy.” The scene is set in a church where the younger pastor (played by Agarwal) is more inclined to understand and compromise to the senior pastor but we also see the senior pastor bending his rules to adapt to the younger generation. Avi appears as the same youthful pastor happily dancing to music in his office. In “Are You My Mother” Avi is seen in a tale which depicts how the older and younger generations are struggling to adjust to each other’s ideas and tastes. It’s displays the impact on two insanely big generation gaps. This commercial is all about how all single people are always pestered by the older women around them about finding a partner and getting married. It’s based on an Indian single man being imposed on by an elderly Indian woman whom he is not even related to. The goal of both commercials is to promote the idea of diversity in the church. This actor admits that he was more surprised than anyone to be given the role but concedes, “I was thrilled to be a part of such a commercial which is different because it is promoting diversity in the world. I mean, honestly…before this work, I did not know that people made commercials to invite different cultures to churches and these two were especially targeted towards the younger members of society. I feel blessed to do such a commercial. It promotes the fact that people from different cultures can be pastors at a young age and in most cases can be funny.” That would not be as possible without Agarwal and the director of the two projects, Philip Sherwood notes, “It’s so obvious that Avi takes great joy in his craft. He is a great actor and has the ability to lift everyone’s spirits on set…which is exactly what his character was doing in the action of these commercials. To this day I don’t know if that was who Avi is or if he was so deep in the character that he never left it. That’s a testament to just how truly great he is.”Headshot 3

WHY NICKY MARTIN LOOKS SO FUNNY

Comedy feels a certain way and it looks a certain way. There are not specific parameters which define this but it easily recognized. When you feel something is funny or see something that is funny, you know it. It’s a characteristic older than cinema itself. Before there was sound in films, comedy was more accurately conveyed than any other sentiment. Xing-Mai Deng displays this concept exceedingly well in Andrew Elliott’s “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar.” As a cinematographer with a highly diverse list of award-winning film credits (including this one which received an LAIFF award for Best Comedy/Dramedy and a Jury Award at the Melbourne Indie Film Festival), “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar” is yet another example of Deng’s ability to visually achieve the intent of the writers and directors he works with in an exception manner. With the ubiquity of the pursuit of fame, often via social media these days, the film’s story reveals the all too common hopes of someone who wants to be famous almost solely because they desire fame.

In an ironic turn, this written story necessitated studying reality TV productions in order to accurately be presented with authenticity. The look of the film needed to bring out the absurdity of the story while spoofing the standard reality TV show. The film’s director and Xing-Mai researched several American reality TV shows to study their lighting, framing, and documentary-like camera movement. The blocking and camera angles were all decided before the filming to achieve a deliberate chaotic appearance for the shots.

Much of the look of “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar” required Xing-Mai to use his extensive knowledge and talent to appear as if he did not possess these attributes. It’s an aspect that took him some time with which to relax. Constant second guessing and reassessment of going too far was required. He explains, “I purposely moved the camera in an amateur way in order to make the film look absurd. High-key lighting and amateurish camera movements brought the feel of a valid reality show to our film. There wasn’t any dramatic lighting. The camera movements followed the actors in a passive way rather than anticipating the characters’ actions as compared to a scripted production. We wanted to have the reality TV feeling but we also wanted some cinematic moments in the film. Some of the reality productions I researched were not lit at all. I added contrast for most of the scenes to give a cinematic touch to it but used it sparingly. Most of the reality TV shows I studied were not comedic so the usual reality TV look would not serve ‘Nicky Martin’ as it still desired to look funny. We did not want it to look like normal mockumentary as that look has become fairly common and we wanted something that stood out.”

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The improv nature of the film and the actor’s performances kept Deng on his toes and required a fair amount of improvisation on his own part. As different cast members spontaneously changed and evolved their parts during the actual filming, Xing-Mai was required to essentially collaborate with them in terms of lighting and framing the scene, accepting what he could get away with in terms of these parameters. With knowledge of this potentiality in advance, he created general lighting schemes based on the blocking and devised a plan that would give the widest coverage possible while achieving the largest part of his goal. Because the film is a comedy, Deng used a wide warm color palate.

“Nicky Martin: Country Superstar” is a spoof comedy about a man who wants to be a country music star but doesn’t know how to sing or play guitar. He wants to be a cowboy but he’s afraid of all four-legged animals…so he rides on stools. Upon hearing about a singing contest at the County Fair, Nicky gathers his cohorts and prepares for what he believes is the chance of a lifetime. Numerous efforts towards achieving his goal of becoming a legitimate cowboy fall short. In a scene which drives this failure home and yet endears the audience to his tenacious drive, Nicky and his close friend Mickey reconcile by riding their stools together into the sunset as they have learned that being a cowboy is not about being famous but rather about possessing the cowboy spirit.

Andrew Elliott, the mastermind behind “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar” communicates, “I honestly had always planned to convince Xing-Mai to be the DOP for this film, since it’s very inception. Xing-Mai’s insight was invaluable to the success of the shoot. He was able to quickly and efficiently form a great crew and was always present with ideas and suggestions on how to make thing flow more smoothly. His work ethic was unquestionable on the shoot. Nicky Martin went on to success in the festival scene the following year, winning awards at several of these. Xing-Mai’s understanding of the story and unique ability to shoot the film played an integral part in winning these awards and in the success of the film as a whole.”

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Immersing one’s self in an industry that contains some of the most skilled and creative minds and then attempting to shed the abilities you have come to rely upon as second nature in order to move you forward in said industry is disconcerting at best. Shakespeare often depicted the person who appears as the fool to often be the cleverest of all; communicating the idea that the misdirection of the depth of one’s knowledge and abilities is often the most difficult task of all. In “Nicky Martin: Country Superstar”, Xing-Mai Deng proves that he’s no fool but he knows how to convincingly present the appearance of one to the laughter and enjoyment of his audience…and does so as a master.

ARROW MAKES A BOOMERANG OUT OF ALISON ARAYA

Art can run in cycles or periods of fashion. As one of the most ubiquitous art forms, TV is as susceptible as any to being a part of this. It’s no news flash that we are in the heyday of superhero entertainment. Marvel, DC, and many independent comic book/graphic novels have been featured in production after production. There’s a good reason for this; these larger than life characters depict who we want to be, the stories are epic and provide an excellent form of escapism. When it comes down to it, people truly enjoy them. These Omni-present produtions provide many actors with opportunities to utilize their skills as well as live out some personal fantasies. How many times do you get the chance to save the world in tights? While Alison Araya’s character on Arrow (distributed by Warner Brothers Television) might not be Oliver Queen (based on DC comic’s Green Arrow), her recurring role places her in the “universe” as the fans say. Her continued presence comes with the fans and attention that the show and the genre are well known for. It’s not a new source of attention for this actress who has appeared in films based on comics (Avery has appeared in both X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Watchmen). Being a part of a fantasy world that is also grounded with a large dose of reality suits Araya just fine. By her presence throughout multiple seasons (Arrow is completing its sixth season), it appears that it suits the producers of this CW series as well.

With several seasons under its belt, “Arrow” is a vetted hit in the CW line-up. Exploits of these types of heroes are among the most popular of all action hits and “Arrow” is happy to be part of this movement. What drew Alison to the program is what most fans appreciate about it; the darker element of the story. This non-genetically enhanced hero who has earned his abilities through somewhat mysterious circumstances and is tenacious in the pursuit of criminals gives a realistic quality to “Arrow” that is part Batman, part Robin Hood, and a hint of LA Confidential. Flawed characters abound in the story but not in an overly defined moral sense. As a member of the SPCD, Araya’s character Officer Lopez was originally written as a more peripheral role but Alison’s on screen charisma quickly altered this. Lopez has continually appeared throughout the last three seasons of “Arrow” and has been a part of some of the most pivotal storylines in “Arrow.” For Araya, an accomplished actor with roles in action films, there was still a learning curve to playing a police officer. She somewhat hesitantly tells, “It was much harder than I thought. In my first scene I was arresting and handcuffing a perp…there was some fumbling on my part. No one would say I’m a natural when it comes to being a law enforcement professional. I even dropped the gun several times, but I was determined to see the scene through. Shortly after that first experience my agent called to say they had booked me on another episode and that was the beginning of the development of Officer Lopez.”images (3)

In the show’s world of superheroes and super villains, Lopez is a reality anchor for the show’s fans. A stoic member of the police department, she searches for the truth and is a more relatable element for the audience to connect with and bridge the gap with the more extraordinarily powered characters. Araya portrays this character with a calm demeanor which comes off surprisingly well considering Lopez is charged with enforcing the public safety in a community of such epic parameters. Even with the somewhat hyperbolic scenes, Lopez approaches her work as any urban officer would treat an everyday disturbance.

It increasingly becomes a required skill for the modern day actor to be comfortable working with what is not actually there but will appear later in post. Alison’s work on a number of feature films and TV productions has given her ample experience to master this craft. Actors are required to use their imagination but this modern technological facet takes the idea to a very literal place. Araya states, “It definitely makes for an interesting day on set. As actors we are asked to use our imaginations and drop into the reality of our scenes but days with VFX require big imagination. I love the challenge, I really have to work to create the world around me and say yes to it. You have to simply commit fearlessly!”

Alison concedes that the development of Officer Lopez into a character that would appear throughout numerous seasons of “Arrow” was as unexpected to her as anyone. Still, it’s something for which she has been continually thankful. It’s a perfect balance for the actress who has been able to accept roles in feature films, independent films, made for TV movies, and other productions simply because of the fact that Lopez is not a central part of every episode of “Arrow.” Her character’s recurring presence keeps her in the eyesight of fans of the show and gives her the freedom to pop up in other productions simultaneously. It’s the entertainment industry version of Johnny Appleseed. The situation can create a somewhat welcome growing pain for Alison who notes, “Working on the show is such a wonderful experience for me. Everyone involved is very kind and they truly interact like a family. Because I’m not there every day, I make sure to watch the show and stay on top of the story so it will make sense when I am on. That can be difficult sometimes when I’m trying to immerse myself in preparing for another role…but I’m not complaining; I’ll accept this kind of problem anytime I am fortunate enough to have it.”images (2)

These superheroes that we love to watch are exciting and inspiring to watch. They make us all feel that we are capable of doing great things and working for the common good. As Officer Lopez, Alison Araya reminds us that there are those among us who bridge that gap, that we all have the potential to aspire to service of others…and she is just plain ol’ fun to watch in the world of “Arrow.”

Art Director Ji Young Lee immerses audiences in virtual reality experience ‘Delusion: Lies Within’

When Ji Young Lee was ten years old, her mother took her to the musical Alibaba and 40 Thieves. She was fascinated not only by the magical set, which had a flying carpet, moving cave, exotic Arabic costumes and music, but also by the dynamic reactions the audience displayed. It was then when she fell in love with this strange world created through the set, and that was the day she started to dream of becoming an artist who designs sets. She was amazed by how the set design could create an environment where people could escape from their ordinary lives and mundane scenery and experience a fantasy world. She still experiences this amazement to this day, but the difference is, she is the one creating that feeling for others.

As an internationally sought-after Art Director, Young has realized her childhood ambitions to their fullest. She has put her touch on the award-winning films The Bird Who Could Fly, and The Sacred Mushroom, as well as the new UFC commercial with Academy-Award winner Charlize Theron. She also worked on the upcoming virtual-reality film Delusion: Lies Within, and got to experiment with a whole new world of art direction.

“I’m very strong at telling the story through colors, mood and imageries, which people will see in the set first, and also I love paying attention to detail which is necessary for virtual reality films, because people will look around 360 degrees and walk around and lean forward to see the set and props closer. I like overcoming challenges with a hardworking team,” said Young.

Initially interested in the project because of her enjoyment of interactive theatre, Young knew she wanted the challenge of designing for a virtual reality set. In Los Angeles, there is a popular interactive horror theater show called Delusion, which she had a great interest in. Skybound Entertainment, founded by Walking Dead Creator Robert Kirkman, decided to produce the virtual reality game version of Delusion into a feature film.

“I had never worked on a virtual reality film before, and I was curious about the process. I also wanted to work on fantastical or surreal set, and I believed Delusion was going to be a great opportunity for me to learn something completely different,” said Young.

During the 1940’s in the American South, Delusion: Lies Within is about the reclusive author Elena Fitzgerald, who built a zealous following with her Stygian Ascent series; an epic of dark fantasy following the life of young Mary on a quest to be rejoined with her mother. To the larger world, Miss Fitzgerald was a beloved novelist, yet to Daniel and Virginia, she was everything. They’ve wept over the lives and deaths of her characters. They’ve dreamt of walking in her world. A world now out of reach as Elena went missing before the fifth and supposedly final book was written. For years there was no sign of Elena. In its place rumors of madness, murder, and something otherworldly persisted. Most of Elena’s fans quietly mourned the loss of a finale yet Daniel and Virginia refused to let go. The worlds, characters and stories must continue. Thus, the two decide that Elena needs their help to finish what she started. To close the chapter on a world left untended. Leaving their grim reality behind, the two begin their search.

“Creating surreal, fantastical and eerie world was my favorite part of the job. There is still some sort of reality that needs to exist in the set, like period furniture or period costumes, to make it believable, but I could be creative and use my imagination. Also, I was so grateful for our art department crews. This was mentally and physically very challenging project, but everyone respected my opinions and worked very hard with positive attitudes until the end. I loved working with them,” said Young.

Young focused on the aesthetic of the set. After reading the script and looking at the production designer’s reference images, she started to come up with the color palette and mood for each set and create art works for the main set dressing, such as murals on the ceilings or paintings, and drafting for certain customized furniture or window. The ceiling murals were very important for the director, and Young made sure to realize his vision. She also maintained a strong line of communication with Production Designer Kevin Williams, who knows after working with her that Young is one of the best.

“Working with Ji is akin to having a second brain. Not only does she instinctively understand the projects that are given to her, but she’s able to add a level of polish and professionalism that enhance the challenges she’s faced with. On set, she maintains a level head and is able to offer up solutions and artistic flourishes that inevitably bring a greater level of depth and beauty to the tasks at hand. I would hire her for any future project without hesitation. Ji is exceptionally detail oriented and focused on delivering a perfect product. Her design instincts are supremely keen and driven to tell the best visual story in her own unique style,” said Williams.

Attendees at the San Diego Comic Con earlier this month had the opportunity to see the feature of Delusion: Lies Within at Skybound Entertainment’s panel, but for those that missed it, the film is expected to be released next year.

DIRECTOR ALEXANDRA LA ROCHE ON HAVING FUN WITH EUREKA

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

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

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

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

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Dancer Ivan Prokhiro talks dancing with Cher at the BBMAs

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Ivan Prokhiro, photo by WanderlustCreatives

When Ivan Prokhiro was just five years old, he saw something that changed the course of his life forever. It was Michael Jackson’s hit music video for Smooth Criminal. At the time, watching the screen, captivated by Jackson’s ability to dance, Prokhiro made the decision that would determine his future. He wanted to be able to do what he saw on screen. He wanted to be a dancer, and he wanted to be on stage. That was his first inspiration, and since that moment, that is exactly what Prokhiro has done: dance.

Now, Prokhiro is an internationally renowned professional dancer, with an outstanding career. He danced on the summer and Halloween shows for Knotts Berry Farm, worked on E-Plus Productions New Year’s Eve shows two years in a row, was Erica Jayne’s back-up dancer in the Fort Lauderdale Pride Parade, and just this year he danced alongside pop-sensation Katy Perry at the Grammy’s one of the world’s largest stages. His talent is evident from the moment he steps on stage.

“I first met Ivan on a project I was assisting on. He was a dancer for a choreographer’s So You Think You Can Dance submission. Since then, I have had the pleasure of hiring Ivan for four productions including: two Hallowe’en spook-tacular’s for Thee Mistress of the Dark herself, Elvira. Elvira’s Asylum & Elvira’s Danse Macabre both at Knott’s Scary Farm were very well reviewed & received shows. In addition to theses, Ivan has performed in the summer circus show that has now run for two seasons at Knott’s Berry Farm, the Circus of Wonders,” said Melena Rounis. “It is such a pleasure to work with an artist like Ivan. He is so professional and hardworking, always willing to go the extra mile which is a choreographer’s dream! He is uninhibited and passionate about his craft and his work. Ivan takes great pride in everything he does and it shows in rehearsals transcending to the stage when he is in front of an audience. He has given so much to the many audience members in the multitude of shows he has performed in and had the opportunity to touch. I look forward to creating on and with him every time I have the opportunity. Ivan’s work ethic, focus and knowledge of various dance styles truly sets him apart from the masses. He is a quality artist and I am fortunate enough to have had the pleasure of working with him on so many diverse projects over the past couple years.”

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Ivan Prokhiro, photo by Oleg Leshonok

Earlier this year, Prokhiro dazzled the world once again when he danced at the Billboard Music Awards with none other than Cher. The choreographer, Denise Faye, had previously met Prokhiro at an audition for a different show in Las Vegas. She remembered Prokhiro from that audition and asked him to be a part of the BBMA performance, knowing Cher needed to be accompanied by the best dancers possible.

“It was amazing to get so huge of a project without any auditions,” Prokhiro described. “It’s one of the biggest awards show. Also, it’s the greatest place to perform, the T-mobile Arena in Las Vegas. And, of course, to dance as a backup dancer for Cher is huge honor.”

The Billboard Music Awards premiere on May 21, 2017, and was watched by millions in America on ABC, and different stations around the world. The cast for Cher’s performance was seven boys and seven girls, but only two dancers were selected that were outside of Cher’s residency Vegas show. Prokhiro was one of them.

“It was a big responsibility to perform in front of this audience, which were mostly celebrities. A lot of cameras around made me excited and a little bit nervous. Working with Cher inspired me a lot. I saw her during rehearsals, she is a great example how humble and hardworking an artist should be. She is an icon of pop-industry, I learned a lot from our week of rehearsals,” said Prokhiro. “All my friends were so jealous.”

Prokhiro and the rest of the dancers accompanied Cher on her hit single “Believe” and were considered to be one of the best performances in the show. Prokhiro’s dancing was a large part of the success. He spent time studying Cher’s performances before the show, and went to her residency show in Las Vegas three times, saying once was not enough. Each time, he learned something new about how she worked.

“I was feeling a huge responsibility because I knew it was a live stream on TV. You do not have a chance to make any mistakes. You know that all eyes stare at you, and you need to be a star as Cher as an equal. I got a lot of feedbacks about this project. My friends and family watched this performance, some of them even didn’t know about it, and saw it randomly on television, which made it more exciting for them,” he said.

The performance was show stopping, and Prokhiro’s commitment and talent were evident to all who watched, as they are with every performance he does. There is no doubt why he has conquered the dancing industry in Russia, and is on his way to conquering the world.