Category Archives: Entertainment

GREENWOOD ISN’T AFRAID OF THE ANTI-SEQUEL

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There is a quote that is attributed to many fine actors that states, “Dying is easy. Comedy is difficult.” It has been repeated by Academy Award winners like Gregory Peck and Jack Lemmon (most consider Edmund Kean to be the originator) and speaks to the fact that making something seem spontaneous and light hearted takes a fair bit more convincing than a dire situation. There’s also a fairly common belief that the film industry takes itself too seriously and rejects mockery. This is a notion to which Canadian writer/producer/actor Troy Greenwood does not subscribe. As a part of the FAFC (Film Actors Fight Club), Greenwood helped create the award winning film Diamond Planet. With a very self-deprecating approach, Diamond Planet poked fun at filmmakers, the film industry, and even film students. In this production, fools abounded while intelligence was scarce. The film was so popular that Troy decided to write/produce and act in the sequel…a sequel which is in fact about a film that is not yet a film. As proof that filmmakers revel in self ridicule, Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon was embraced with greater enthusiasm than the original (winning at the Calgary Film Challenge and going on to screen at the Sun and Sand Film Festival in Mississippi). Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon is a testament to the fact that as long as creative individuals take themselves too seriously, there will be peers among them who remind us all how absurd they seem.

It has increasingly become commonplace for filmmakers to feed upon themselves, recycling films and themes from the past, sometimes even repeating the same current day premise but with different casts. While Diamond Planet shone a light on laughable concepts in modern film, Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon turns its gaze to the film industry’s lack of originality and ingenuity. It seems that the current M.O. is to go for a wide audience that assures box office rather than fosters new ideas and artists; at least for the most part. Greenwood had a clear idea for a sequel which immediately follows the action of the first film. In Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon, Ollie Swagger (the filmmaker from the original Diamond Planet) steals the idea for the “Diamond Planet” that was pitched in the first film. He’s going to try and sell the idea to a studio at the annual pitchtime event. Unfortunately for Ollie, when he was bragging about it the night before the meeting, his nemesis overheard him. The next day when they are seated together, Swagger starts into a pitch about “Diamond Planet”. In the film’s premise, the Diamond Planet will cross between the sun and the earth, magnifying the sun’s rays and burning the earth to a crisp. The government wants to send optometrists into space to change the curvature of the Diamond Planet rendering the rays harmless. However, Swagger’s nemesis jumps in, pitching his movie “Emerald Horizon” about a giant emerald planet and ophthalmologists in space. We, as the actual audience, see cuts back and forth between trailers for these films as they are pitched. Each trailer becomes more and more ridiculous until they’re basically turned into one complete parody of a movie; to which the studio’s representative responds “I like it, but how about a hamster!” The unseen wink with which Greenwood delivers the humor is obvious to all. One need not look too far into recent movie productions to see evidence of this scenario. Cutting to the core of the movie’s lesson, Troy notes, “Anything that tries too hard to purport itself is funny.”

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Due to the nature of “Diamond Planet” (the spoof movie) being a science fiction suspense thriller, the production value and the cast for this sequel necessitated a sizable increase from the original Diamond Planet. Because the original was so successful, it helped to propel much of the original cast and crew into busier careers and thus some key players proved unavailable for this sequel. Luckily the popularity of Diamond Planet attracted the interest and involvement of a large number of respected Canadian actors (both films are Canadian productions). This included noted theater and film actor Stuart Bentley. Greenwood’s prowess at a multitude of production roles, in addition to the script is what enticed Bentley to join the cast of Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon. He comments, “Over the years, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with Troy Greenwood on stage and in film. In a production of Inherit the Wind Troy gave a masterfully understated and relatable performance of the accused schoolteacher, Bertram Cates. Troy effortlessly navigated this difficult character, drawing in audiences and critical approval. I had the opportunity to act in Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon which Troy wrote, directed, and starred in. Troy had written a wonderfully funny script, and easily navigated the tricky job of acting and directing in his own production. He took great care of his cast and crew, and kept the production flowing on time, while being careful to ensure that every needed master and coverage shot was captured to realize his artistic vision. Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon was a great success with judges and audiences and continues to be one of my favorite film projects of the past several years.” In addition to Bentley, the considerably larger cast included notables such as Jesse Collin (Fargo), Helen Young, and many others. Troy remarks, “Stuart, Louie, and Helen were all a breeze to work with. Stuart’s presence as the president had a great gravitas to it.  He really milked the moments of humour in the script, nailing the timing of lines to keep the pacing moving as the film progressed. Helen was also wonderful to work with. I had an interesting shot envisioned where the camera rotates around her before landing on the president; she was a trooper repeating the sequence a number of times while we worked out the technical kinks with the camera movement.”

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Another positive aspect of any sequel is that the success of the initial production allows for a higher production value in the second installment. The aforementioned larger cast and a greater array of interesting locations (including the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory, and the Springbank Airport Flying Club), were augmented by state of the art VFX. Greenwood relates, “I invested money to buy specific models we needed through a 3D modelling page.  Specifically, I got two distinct space ships for the two different versions of the trailer within the film, and planet models for the solar system, and then a diamond model so that my VFX artist could place them into the editor and articulate them to create the sequences you see in the film.” In fact, Troy concedes that he had to make sure the graphics were not too professional, in order to add to the humor of the trailers and the actual film itself.

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Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon represents a blind spot in the film industry. While a considerable number of studios and filmmakers steer towards repeating proven ideas rather than creating new ones, Troy Greenwood has found a way to turn that concept around and use it against the very premise it represents…and still be wildly entertaining. Greenwood refers to comedy as a unique beast, remarking that you can plan all you want but often what is required is to just sit back and watch. Be careful filmmakers, you are being watched.

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COELHO CREATES MAGIC BEHIND THE LENS

The film You Cast a Spell On Me is about relationships and magic. Movie magic gives us the escapism and captivating storytelling that we all desire. This magic doesn’t happen without the relationships and communication amongst the creative professionals who produce them for our enjoyment. Director of Photography Johanna Coelho’s job title may imply that she is solely focused on imagery but one of the keys to her success is the emphasis she places on communication in filmmaking. No matter what vocation you are involved in, communication may be the most important factor to success. Johanna’s shrewd understanding of this fact and the benevolent manner in which she utilizes it has made her a much sought after DP in the film industry. As a fluent English speaker who was raised on the outskirts of Paris, Coelho has a heightened awareness of the subtleties of communication and how different individuals receive and interpret information. Of course, being from France makes her very aware of romance; which made her the ideal DP for this production. Talent, communication, and a connection with the story being told were the components of the magic that she created for You Cast a Spell On Me.

It’s an obvious statement but, anyone who speaks more than one language has spent a greater amount of time dissecting and contemplating communication. It creates a deeper understanding of your own intentions as well as those of others. Life can be easier or more difficult based on the level of communication. The success of many films are based on the abilities of its creators to establish a rapport with the audience as well as to accurately depict the vision of the film. Fantasy films like You Cast a Spell On Me require someone like Johanna and Tosca Musk (director/producer) who can manifest visuals that don’t exist in our actual world. Speaking about Coelho’s work on the film, Musk declares, “Johanna’s cinematography work on this film was extremely impressive. She lead a full crew in an enjoyable environment and created visuals that were really uplifting to the story. There were also a lot of magic tricks happening in the story, and in collaboration with the art department, she brought these magic effects to life. Almost everything was done practically and it looks amazing; like real magic! She is a pleasure to work with. She was fully committed to the project and the vision I had as a Director. Johanna also was very mindful of the work of other departments, giving them their space when needed but also collaborating with everyone to have a smooth and organized shoot.”

You Cast a Spell On Me is a romance/fantasy film about a young and handsome warlock named Matt. His power is that he can charm women into finding him irresistible, literally. As one can expect, a young man with this power is apprehensive to settle down with one woman. This journey Matt takes towards finding his soulmate and depicts him losing his powers, others gaining powers, and the conflict and happy endings that one finds in romance films. Due to the nature of Matt’s character, many production departments were required to understand and work together to help create the visual “trickery” to produce the action in this film. The responsibilities of the Director of Photography can vary depending on the personality of a director. Some directors like to have a full control of the creative visuals. They have a very specific idea in mind and have a precise shot list with lighting references they want reproduced for the film. Other directors do not really want to (or know how to) deal with the visual part. They just want to focus on the actors. When similar minds meet…Coelho explains, “Sometimes you have a director in the middle of the two previous options, one that will want to share the creative approach with you. It’s a really fun process when this happens because the two of you have imaginative brains talking together about shots and exchanging visual references to find what would be the best for the story. Tosca Musk is that Director, and it was amazing to prep this film with her because we would really support each other in the process. One idea would lead to another idea and so on, giving life to ideas that might have never existed with only one person brainstorming. We were also both very open minded about each other’s input and this really helped the process.”

This template trickled down through Johanna’s ten-person camera crew. This DP makes sure to involve them in the pre-production process (especially the Gaffer and Key Grip) to keep everyone aware of the plan and prepare for lighting, etc. Johanna understands that a happy and respected crew of professionals are more motivated to work and share in a vison than those who are merely “punching the clock”, a mindset we can all relate to and understand. Perhaps one of the most overlooked parts of communicating on set is with one’s self. Coelho reveals, “It is hard to stop for a second, and really look at the frame and lighting and be sure it’s the right setup. Focusing on one thing at a time is very important. If you do everything in order, your job will go much faster. You can switch back and forth between things quickly but each thing needs to be given its own respectful moment. It is also really important to know the blocking of the scene, because you don’t want to start lighting and discover in the middle of a take that your light is in the wrong place for your actor. So following the steps is key. It’s true that with everything going on at the same time, you can get lost in your own thoughts. It happened on one of my early student movies in 2011 at AFI and I was really angry at myself for having lost my point of view on the film. A teacher who watched it pointed this out to me and told me that when he would get confused on set, he would step out into the bathroom, turn the lights off so his eyes wouldn’t get distracted, take a deep breath, and remember what the movie should be for two minutes. Then he would come back on set fresh and clear minded. This is probably one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received. I don’t go hide in the restrooms, but I do step outside into an empty corner where no one is talking to me and take a deep breath and think for two minutes. When I come back on set everything is fine and back in place in my mind.”

While those of us in the audience are blissfully unaware of all the moving parts behind the scenes of the shows and films which entertain us, the talented professionals creating them are always thinking of us and our subconscious desire to not be taken out of the film. None of that would be possible with the oversight of someone like Johanna Coelho. You Cast a Spell On Me was filmed in a staggering fourteen days; an incredible achievement for such a high quality production. This is only possible with someone such as Coelho who is planning out and paying attention to every possible time saving opportunity. Whether communicating with the AD to prep things while waiting for the actors, or planning the lighting so that the post production process runs more smoothly (Johanna states, “Colorist are key and they should have much more recognition as they’re always saving your back and make your work look better. I was happy I could assist in ways that helped the colorist. We would discuss it together for each shot.”).

It’s an obvious statement that every DP needs talent and the eye to find the images which the director needs. There are so many professionals in the world, it is those like Johanna Coelho whose ability to create a positive and efficient environment for filmmakers the set her above the rest.

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ARCIONI’S ECLECTIC TALENTS PAVE A NEW PATH FOR TODAY’S EDITORS

There is no questioning the fact that the way the world disseminates and receives information and entertainment is forever changed. “Appointment TV”, a staple of the home viewing industry only ten short years ago, is almost nonexistent thanks to the DVR. You can watch a film that was released in the theater within almost three month’s time on a plane. Digital Downloads now result in more viewers watching on their computer or smartphone than any of the traditional means previously commanded. News and entertainment go everywhere on the planet and they get there quicker than ever before. While this has caused previous models to take a financial hit, it has also produced an industry that has more creative professionals involved in production that at any point in history. The belief is that that not everyone succeeds but, as the saying goes “the cream rises to the top.” Ana Arcioni is among this new breed of professionals. A highly in demand editor with a widely diverse resume, Arcioni has the ability to work with productions around the globe who seek out her consummate abilities. Empowered with a wider sphere of influence than that afforded to previous professionals means that editors like Ana are offered a host of diverse opportunities, something which is a part of Arcioni’s list of desirable qualities. Productions like the animated film Reality Takes Place, EATV (Educational Access Television), and Premiere Pictures International Inc. are just a short list of the employers who have enlisted this talented editor to make their creations even greater than before.

When Ron Merk, owner/president of San Francisco based Premiere Pictures International Inc. approached Ana about working on the company’s new S.E.Q.U.E.N.C.E. project (as a film/video Editor and Artistic Supervisor for Trailers, Promos, Teasers, and interviews), it seemed to her like an opportunity to be really creative and on the ground floor of something new to the industry. It also gave credence to the company’s belief that Arcioni could display their technology and approach to the best and brightest of the industry. The owner and president of Premiere Pictures International Inc. declares, “Ana’s work with S.E.Q.U.E.N.C.E. proves to the world that It does exactly what I had in mind; it gets the viewer intrigued and want to ask ‘what is this and when can we see it?’ Editing has its own rhythm and pace, and the project itself is going to tell you when to stop. I love that Ana can read my director’s mind and put together a video like if she was? reading my mindWe’re in the business of giving great editors great tools, look no further than Ana Arcioni as proof of this.” In addition, Ana participated in the projects Outrageous, Repeace, and Harvest during her time at Premiere Pictures International Inc..

Ana’s work with EATV is yet another example of the difference in content that she edits. Ana utilized a variety of skills at EATV; doing promos, intros and station ID’s. Some of her editing work with EATV has been viewed at the Festival of Moving Image 2016 (Roxie Theater in San Francisco) and the animation film festival at the Niles Essany Film Museum. Working with producer Jody Yvette Wirt, directed by Maya Prickett, and starring Maya K Chenille, Shoebox Circus was one of the most popular productions at EATV. Shoebox Circus’s content is meant to appeal to a mainly young audience, something that Ana sees as inconsequential to her role as editor. She states, “The fact that the programs are dedicated to children or adults is only a subtle difference, as in the case of a program of urbanism or any other nature. Politics, art, geography, travel, cooking, science, new discoveries, astronomy, there’s an infinity of things. I love them all as long as there is variety. What I love most is the absence of routine. One of the most appealing factors in my line of work is diversity. For Shoebox Circus, Jody raises the idea and gives the tone of the idea. I work with that idea with After Effects editing to have a product which matches that idea. I’m happy to be working with Jody because she has a unique voice and that makes it interesting for me.”

Proving that her work bridges the gap between child and adult is the animated production Reality Takes Place. This inspirational drama discusses friendship, positive perspective and thinking, as well as death vs. life. The topics can be light and then switch quickly to having substantial gravitas. Reality Takes Place was selected and screened at: City Shorts Film Festival at Diego Rivera, Artist Television Access, Festival of the Moving Image, and the Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema. Ana felt that her work on this production revealed things to her about editing as well as the role of all filmmakers. She explains, “Reality Takes Place is drawn and animated by myself using the Adobe Flash program. The voices are recorded in a small studio through Pro Tools, as well as the Foley effects. The first-line editing was made with AVID. The tweaks, and retouches (including sound design) were made with Final Cut Pro. On and off it was a total one-year project. In my opinion (and I know that not everyone will agree) every independent filmmaking process starts from the editor’s point of view. The more you get to edit and the more you gain experience at it, the more expert you become in shooting and in directing because you know what you want, you know the type of shots that you need. If an editor has a say in the production, or has a good relationship with a director who listens to him/her then the film benefits. I think the editor is the one who understands the most because they have the film in their head and know what shots are needed in order to make the finished piece look good. The editor can advise the director with insight like “don’t do that because it will be impossible to fix in post” or the opposite, “don’t worry about that because I can fix it in post. Being a part of any production is about teamwork. Of course I see the importance of my role as an editor. I also understand that my greatest asset is my ability to make everyone else’s work look even better, that’s why I enjoy editing so much.”

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Film Director Claudio DiFede’s Date with Cinema Fate

The movie business is fraught with ambition, cynicism and expedience—qualities diametrically opposed to producer-director Claudio DiFede’s gentle, artistic nature. The Canadian-born DiFede, who is equally at home working in television and motion pictures, betrays a gentle, individualistic aesthetic that is a refreshing divergence from hard driving commercially-fixated attitude which so frequently saps the creativity from mainstream Hollywood projects.

Claudio’s aesthetic, part vulnerable hesitancy, part determined auteur, part pop culture guerilla is showcased in his unusual, career defining documentary film “Calling Spielberg.” The story is one of fateful twists and human foibles that reflects the film maker’s distinct, creative philosophy.

The origins of “Calling Spielberg” goes back to the early 1990’s, when the 22 year old Claudio was barnstorming through Tinsel Town, tuxed up and cheeky enough to finagle his way into the People’ Choice Awards ceremony at Sony Studios. This was a star-studded, formal affair with tight security which the charming film maker easily bypassed. Backstage following the presentations, Claudio came to face to face with his greatest idol, the legendary director Steven Spielberg.

“It was a once in a lifetime thing—by chance if you will!” Claudio said. Like my whole life had lead up to that moment in time. It was crazy! Spielberg had just accepted the People’s Choice Special Tribute award and I found myself, backstage, just walking right beside him. It was one of those things I’d always thought of, ‘what would you say to Spielberg if you met him?’ Well, it happened, it took a lot of chutzpha but I introduced myself and I told the biggest Director in Hollywood: ‘Take it to the bank,’ I told him. ‘You and I are going to work together one day. For a split second I thought ‘WTF did I just say to him?’ He smiled, asked my name again and replied ‘Sure kid, why not?’”

Emboldened, Claudio repeated the feat weeks later, but at even higher profile affair: the post-Academy Awards Governor’s Ball at Shrine Auditorium, a big night for Spielberg whose “Schindler’s List” had just won seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.

“It happened again a few weeks later, after the Oscars,” Claudio said.  This time I found my chance, I hugged him and face to face I told him that I can only imagine what it must be like to create such an incredible, moving film as Schindler’s List. He replied ‘Thank you,’ and told me it had taken a lot out of him. I then asked, ‘So, when can I call you?'”

DiFede today would not elaborate much more on the conversation or on his reply “I don’t want to give out too much on the film,” he said. “But let’s just say; it was encouraging.”

“I drove home that evening, roof down and I remember I couldn’t contain my emotions any longer. So I let out the loudest scream!” Claudio said. ‘The fact he remembered my name from our first meeting—it was a feeling I cannot describe. We all have dreams and this was mine. It was nothing short of a crazy euphoria.”

Was it just a lark, a childhood fantasy that had unexpectedly played out? Time passed. Claudio moved along with his life, fell in love, married, and started a family.

“I never called the man,” he said. “I had the chance, and I never did. I was asking myself that question. Then It occurred to me, I must be the only human being that never called Steven Spielberg when he asked someone to. What if? What if I did call? I was thinking there must be a lot of people in my situation that have left behind many of opportunities maybe even regrets and dreams left behind. We all once had aspirations, dreams – did I miss my opportunity?  there was one way to find out.20 years later, and that was to make ‘Calling Spielberg.’”

“When I first started working with Claudio I didn’t really have any formal training in filmmaking,” Mike T. King, editor at Big Coat Productions, said. “I jumped at the opportunity. Claudio’s attitude was infectious, which got me excited to hop onboard. The amount of time and effort he has poured into ‘Calling Spielberg’ is incredible, inspiring even. It is his passion project.”

Still in post-production, Calling Spielberg promises to be a fascinating examination of the human condition. Unorthodox and compelling, equal parts documentary, philosophical seeking, self-examination and show business truth-telling, it’s a rich, multifaceted achievement.

“Things happen for a reason, and we simply cannot give up on our dreams,” Claudio said. “I have matured and what my goals were in my 20’s compared to what they are now are very different. My goal now is to truly be who I am, living out my life doing what makes me happy. Honestly, I consider being a dad, fatherhood, as my greatest achievement.“

But Claudio’s romance with film remains profound. “Professionally, I was involved in Canada’s first reality TV show, and that was a great experience,” he said. “And being part of the American Film Institute, just being immersed with such talents from all walks of life was wonderful. To collaborate with my AFI fellows was a cherished experience. I am passionate about storytelling, through television or the big screen, either way its storytelling.”

Claudio’s commitment and emotional involvement with storytelling is a compelling, legitimate creative force, one that is certain to soon reach a wide international audience.

“Claudio is a talented director and pays a great attention to detail,” composer Mark Dunnet said. “He never gives up until he gets that perfect shot or performance”.

THIS CANADIAN ACTRESS PROVES THAT HER ACTING AND DANCING ARE ON POINTE

Lanie McAuley is a dancer, and she plays one on film. In real life, McAuley made the switch from concentrating on a dance career to choosing acting as her focus. However, she returned to dance with her role in Center Stage: On Pointe. It’s not often that one gets to appreciate who they were as a younger person and who they are just a few years later with such contrast. As a gifted young dancer from Canada, Lanie moved to New York when she won the audition for a production there. These days, as a successful actress she spends her days on film sets. Though she still pursues a creative life, the avenue which she pursues flexes different muscles, literally and figuratively. McAuley is a self-described practical person yet the vocations she has chosen to pursue seem to contradict that idea. A dreamer who began her professional career a little more than a week after high school graduation (with great success), it seems impossible to imagine her doing a job which involves a nine to five schedule and a 401K. Lanie’s view of herself is probably a product of her middle-class work ethic coupled with a desire to work her entire life at something which inspires passion in her. Even when she alters her path, Lanie McAuley always finds her way back to doing something creative…sometimes a number of things at the same time. It’s serendipitous that years after leaving dance for acting, Lanie’s acting career has brought her back to dance to star in the sequel to her all-time favorite dance film, the original Center Stage.

A young Lanie followed her sister’s footsteps into dance. At 18, McAuley attended a dance competition called New York City Dance Alliance, where auditions were being held for a tap/jazz show called Revolution. Her dance teacher suggested she go to the audition just for the experience; hundreds of female dancers were narrowed down to four and soon, Lanie was offered a spot in the show. She had just graduated from high school a week before. Suddenly she found herself moving into an apartment in Queens and taking the train to Manhattan every day for rehearsals. Literally overnight, she went from high school and living as her parents’ sheltered little girl to living alone in New York with a full time dance job. The hours were long and it was both physically and mentally exhausting. She was the youngest member in the cast and had to learn quickly. It was a quick and amazing kick off to adulthood and a professional career in dance. In addition to the achievement of being in a successful New York production, Lanie also made it into the finals of So You Think You Can Dance. Her focus changed from dance to acting as she became keenly aware of certain factors. She reveals, “I was clear on my love of dance but I started questioning how viable my career options were in that world. I’m a very practical person and the idea that an injury can blow your entire career seemed so frightening to me. I’d been acting since I was a toddler and acting had always been a part of my life. Though I still loved dance, I’d always wanted to make acting more of a focal point in my life rather than a side interest. I think my background in dance has been a huge asset in helping me gain roles as an actress. It made me very comfortable performing, whether on stage or in front of a camera. My dance training definitely gave me a posture and poise that I never would have had otherwise. I also think growing up in the dance world (particularly ballet) gave me a lot of discipline. Being an actor requires a lot of discipline, involving everything from memorizing sides, to committing to a scene, to taking care of yourself emotionally.”

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It has often been said that nothing worth having comes easy. This can be true even if you have a head start. When McAuely’s agent called her about the audition for Center Stage: On Pointe, the actress was ecstatic. The original [Center Stage] is her favorite dance movie of all time and a highly motivated actress with a strong dance background was required for the role. Lanie’s character, Wendy, is meant to be a strong dancer who’s the measuring stick against which Bella (played by Nicole Munoz) is compared at the audition. The legendary Director X was involved in the production and ran a rigorous dance audition composed of ballet and modern dance styles. McAuley notes, “Auditioning for Director X was an intimidating experience. At the dance audition, I remember doing the ballet combo and him saying, ‘Again. Again. Again.’ I think he was testing my endurance. By the time I’d done it four or five times at 110%, I was exhausted. I had to hold my breath when they spoke with me afterward to hide how badly I was panting.” Lanie was awarded the role of Wendy in the film. Her costar, Nicole Munoz comments confirming the facets which made McAuley such a vital part of the film, “Captivating to watch, Lanie performed a contemporary dance solo. Her commitment and bright energy inspired the other dancers and raised morale on set. Multi-talented, Lanie was able to bring the character ‘Wendy’ to life by bringing an emotional depth that touched the cast and crew. We were filming on a tight schedule. Being a true professional, Lanie was able to bring a powerful energy to each take. Never once stumbling, she was always more than prepared. Lanie stands out from the crowd with her multiple talents, each and every one of them groomed and ready to go.”

Center Stage: On Pointe premiered with great success on the Lifetime network. While Lanie feels fortunate to have been in the cast of this popular film as well as challenging herself to unearth her dance proficiency, she concedes that she feels a reaffirmation that she made the correct choice in acting. She declares, “I think the main similarity between a career as a dancer and as an actress is that both careers are based on art and passion. Most people don’t enter these careers for the money; they enter them because they love the work. There are definitely some big differences between the two. Truthfully, acting is more lucrative, if you’re able to find success in it. There just doesn’t seem to be the same kind of funding and opportunity in the dance world that it deserves. There are certainly people who are enterprising enough to have thriving careers in dance (I’m so impressed by their drive and initiative) but for me, my passion for dance didn’t run deep enough to create those opportunities for myself. That’s likely because my practical brain couldn’t rationalize the risk of injury and the deterioration of opportunity with age. One of the coolest things about acting is that you can act professionally at any age. Acting is the art form of life…and life is all ages. When you’re 75 years old, there’s still a role for you. That’s a big part of why I focused on acting as my career.”

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VON SCHWERIN: A MODERN INTERPRETATION OF ORWELL IN PEACEFORCE

Award-winning director David Gerson describes Beatrice von Schwerin professing, “Beatrice is the epitome of a doer. A producer who always gets the job done as effectively as possible, inventively, and with deep respect for the directors she works with. She grew up a member of the Swedish nobility, spending her youth hunting in the south of Sweden. I believe that hunting nature in her is what makes her such an excellent producer. She treats a film shoot like the hunt; a task to be cautiously, precisely, and effectively maneuvered.” Gerson has worked with von Schwerin on a number of productions such as: Automatic at Sea, All These Voices, Destiny’s Child, and others. Having worked closely with her he knows well that Beatrice can be seen leading the charge just as should would during a hunt. These days, von Schwerin is respected as a producer with many productions to her credit. It’s fitting that Gerson views her as a huntress as we revisit the first film she produced, Peaceforce, as the subject matter is a hunt…a hunt which is much more complex than it appears to be. Beatrice concedes that her forthrightness, determination, and loud speaking voice, are all products of her noble lineage and rearing; attributes that serve her well in leading a film production. More at ease facing challenges on set than relaxing in her family’s castle, this Swedish baroness prefers a life of creative pursuits in an industry that cares nothing about her heritage and yet appreciates every ounce of her talent and hard-work ethic. A dissection of her first production shows that the very template for her approach was a solid foundation which has served her and the films she enables to result in many achievements.

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Beatrice worked in the Danish film industry for 9 years before producing Peaceforce. Denmark is one of the strongest countries when it comes to film production in Europe. Copenhagen has a solid film industry and is equipped to modern standards. In many ways it mirrors the productivity of Hollywood’s industry and community. Peaceforce was the first film on von Schwerin’s long list of producing credits. She confirms, “This is the first production where I realized that I really, REALLY wanted to be a producer. I knew that if I could get the cast and crew through all the challenges, then I could do anything. This film was the ‘AHA’ moment in my career, the one that made me love my job even more than I did previously.” Jonas Allen of Miso Films recognized her talents and placed her in the Producer role for the film. Peaceforce is loosely based on the George Orwell essay “Shooting an Elephant.” The film is set in the near future, in a world where capitalism has run its course. Daniel, a young Peaceforce officer, meets Jesper, a prominent local citizen. Jesper claims that an elephant is running amok in the city and killing people. Spurred on by his idealism and desire to do good, Daniel follows Jesper deep into the heart of a desolate city. Daniel believes he can make a difference by helping the wounded and dealing with the elephant. Not long into his mission, Daniel discovers that he’s in way over his head when he meets a little girl who is the sole survivor of the group that cared for the elephant. Daniel understands that he has been misled by Jesper. Jesper and his hungry entourage keeps breathing down Daniel’s neck. Fearing for his life, Daniel feels forced to make conflicting promises to Jesper and the girl. Soon Daniel finds himself confronted by the magnificent beast, a live elephant. Daniel desperately searches for a way out of this dilemma as he has no desire to kill the beautiful animal. The mob grows ever more impatient and hungry for blood. Daniel finally relents and shoots the beast, thereby betraying not only his own word, but also all that he believes in. It’s an epic and tragic tale. The components used to portray the action on-screen were grand as well. Peaceforce was a challenging shoot, with many different pieces that needed to match. Beyond the typical cast, crew, and locations logisitics, there were elephants, children, extras, & VFX to contend with on this production. Recognizing early on that she could lead with positivity to create momentum, Beatrice began with the animals. She recalls, “We spent two days shooting in a field outside of Copenhagen, close to a circus, where we rented an elephant for the shoot. One day was spent with the elephant and one day with the extras. We had three elephants on set with us and we used one of them. Elephants are flock animals and if you split them up, they are not happy. To contend with this, we had the two elephants not used in front of camera, close by so that they could be in contact with one another. Every now and then during the shoot, we’d have our star [elephant] head over to the others for some down time. It was a great and exciting day for both us and the elephants. I always try to have a positive attitude, no matter how challenging the day may be. I know that if I’m smiling and keeping positive, it trickles down to the cast and crew. It’s always important to show kindness and respect and I try to do that. I don’t separate my crew members from cast members. I really want everyone to feel equal, like one big happy family!” It’s a template that resulted in a happy and committed production family and a successful film as well. Peaceforce received a nomination at the Robert awards (Danish equivalent to Academy Awards) and garnered a Canal+ Award at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival. Director Peter Gornstein couldn’t be happier as he notes, “Making Peaceforce with Beatrice was such a positive experience. I have known and worked with Beatrice for more than 8 years. We have won international awards together as well as developing several other projects. Beatrice is truly a one of a kind person and producer. Her positive energy and go getter mentality is something that spreads to everyone that she works with. Not only does she have a fantastic personality but her skills, and more importantly, her moral compass are beyond reproach. I’ve had to face some tough obstacles in the course of projects we’ve worked on together and no matter how hard or difficult the situation was; Beatrice would always guide me towards taking the high road. When I’ve wavered I have always been able to count on Beatrice to help me make not only the right choices for the projects, but also the moral choices.”

It isn’t always easy to keep that sunshine attitude. Persevering through the sometimes tedious portions of filmmaking are the obstacles that teach von Schwerin how to remain cool and collected. She describes, “Sometimes it’s not going over schedules or obtaining a piece of gear that is the challenge. Quite often it is just getting all the bricks in the puzzle to fall into place! We had so many moving parts on this film. It took what felt like (at the time) an army to get it made. The shoot was only two weeks, but the VFX was done in post and took almost 10 months to complete. When you are coordinating between VFX artist Ivo Horvat being in LA and the Director being in Copenhagen, you sometimes wonder where you are and what time it is.” These days, Beatrice von Schwerin knows exactly where she has been and she is considering heading to Hollywood as she fields offers to be a part of city that is the epicenter of film. One thing is for certain, Hollywood could use another producer who puts a smile on everyone’s face.

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HEARING LOVE IN A “THUNDERSTORM” WITH XIAO’OU OLIVIA ZHANG

“There’s poetry in everything. Even in traffic.” It’s statements like this that led Jean Paulo Lasmar, writer/director of Thunderstorm to seek out Xiao’ou Olivia Zhang to supply the sound for this film. Zhang is a respected sound designer who has garnered acclaim in the film industry for her unique and creative approaches in the industry. Lasmar declares, “Olivia is a very clever, sensitive, and professional filmmaker and storyteller. She has worked on the film on set and in post. She knows how every aspect of filmmaking works and how they depend on each other. These skills give her a very mature and solid understand of story, emotion, and character, as well as production limitations. Due to this knowledge and proficiency, she was able to add different layers in Thunderstorm, through sound design and mixing, taking what we initially had and making it work by adding a personality to it, ultimately adding other layers to the story. Olivia was quickly persuaded to work on the film by Jean’s discussion of his interest in getting very creative with their approach to the cacophony that is downtown Los Angeles traffic and its personality in the film. For a sound designer like Zhang who finds her greatest excitement in the freedom that independent films afford, this easily became a production she wanted to be a part of creating. Olivia confirms, “He [Lasmar] came to me and said he wanted me to use sound to separate them [the two lead characters] and then to unite them together through these subjective moments. I couldn’t pass on the film because the story is so real and there’s so much I can do with sound to enhance the emotions.”

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Thunderstorm is the story of Bella and Troy. Despite all the magic around their love story, they are no longer together. Broken hearted, Troy moved to LA to forget about Bella. Six months later, she arrives in town. One night when the universe gives him the signs, he tries to win her back.  On a rooftop in downtown LA, during the first snowfall of the year, amidst manic traffic, the two deal with their emotions and differing perspectives of each other. While there is resolution to the film’s plot, what impacts the viewer is the way in which these two different people can perceive the exact same circumstances. This was the crux of Zhang’s work in Thunderstorm; to give the audience the sense of viewing the character’s emotions in a subtle way. Olivia reveals, “Sound design in drama gives a lot of freedom to craft emotions. I pick moments that are subjective and try to mimic the way our brain neutralizes our environment. When you are close to someone or want to be close with someone, your mind focuses on the sound of their clothes rustling instead of the traffic because it is the sound that this person makes. When you really want someone to stop talking and leave you alone, you hear more of the background sound while the foreground sound that’s the voice of the person becomes the irrelevant background noise. So balancing the loudness of each sound and choosing the sounds the character would hear the most give energy and feeling to these subjective moments. At the beginning, when Troy and Bella are on the roof, she really wants to leave. Viewing things from her perspective, you hear lots of traffic and noise because her focus is not there. Troy, on the hand, wants to stay and remember this last moment with her, so he hears the night wind blowing on the roof while the traffic is more of a distant wash. At the end of the film, when they both reach closure, the way they hear the world becomes similar. The traffic become less irritating for her and more realistic for him. Of course, these are all done in a very subtle way, sound design in this film is mainly to build the mood.”

Zhang often thinks of her work as relating to other art forms. Analogies are a way for her to inspire the creative approaches she is known for in the industry. She used this in her approach to the sound of traffic as she explains, “A bus in traffic always stands out because it has a distinguished squeaking sound of a higher frequency than general engine sounds. In sound design, when we put a bus in the distance on top of a traffic wash, it brings more life and energy to it. I think of it as music. It’s like a piano. The bus and occasional horn honks are like the melody of the right hand, and the traffic wash would be the left hand chords that support and carry on the life of the song.”

To access inspiration, Zhang keeps a journal in which she makes note of her life experiences, allowing her to access “triggers” that she can refer to resuscitate the emotional states she needs to impart. It’s something that goes back to her earliest memories of film and sound. Olivia recalls, “When I was 12, during summer break, I was bored and I started to go through my parents’ video collections. On one cover I saw a short-haired lady, dressed in red and smiling at me against a green background. I put it in the VCD player and immediately heard this beautiful accordion music playing on the menu page. I have played accordion 2 hours a day since I was 5. The sound of that instrument is like a brother to me. And that was the first time I heard an accordion in film or any kind of media. I felt electricity in my body that was followed by a great sense of comfort and happiness. It was a French film called Amélie by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The character Amélie does all these strange quirky things in a world full of color. I was so mesmerized and surprised that films can tell stories about people’s current life, and the current life is just as troubled and beautiful as it was in the past. Amélie carved the word “film” permanently in my heart. Nowadays when I think of film, I always see her and hear her faintly in the distance.” The poetry that Xiao’ou Olivia Zhang finds in common things like traffic sounds is obviously a product of the poetry that resides in her own heart.

 

 

BRAZIL’S VICTOR LUCENA GAINS CRITICAL ACCLAIM AND FANS IN “ARRUFOS”

Stage actor Victor Lucena knows a great deal about love. Yes, he has leading man looks and charisma but that’s not the reason. As a lead actor in the play Arrufos (translated as “Tiffs” in English) by XIX Theater Group in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Lucena explored various representation of love. Every actor uses a part of themselves and takes something with them from a role. As a celebrated theater actor in Brazil, Victor is recognized for his willingness to take on complicated roles as he did in Arrufos. The play received awards from the Shell Theatre Awards, the Sao Paulo Art Critics Association Awards, the Sao Paulo Theatre Co-Op Association, and countless others. As the lead actor in this production, Lucena’s ability to emote and relate to the three different characters he performs as in Arrufos was the driving force which led to these achievements. We all know about love but to communicate its various representations in a way that we can all relate to takes an actor of great skill and sensitivity. This Brazilian thespian’s decision to focus on theater rather than film is because of the changing nature of each performance that he thrives upon. Rather than embracing the security of a perfect take, Victor basks in the uncertainty that performing in front of a live audience grants. This is an appropriate metaphor for the changing aspects of love in each of our lives, which again points directly to Lucena’s astute attitude and ability at performing his roles in Arrufos.

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Victor’s work with the XIX Theater Group has driven them to become one of the most beloved and respected of their kind in Brazil; it’s an attribute that Luiz Fernando Marquez (director of XIX Theater Group) does not take lightly. Marques declares, “Victor has an endless collection of credits. There can be no question that our incredible critical acclaim and commercial success is entirely thanks to Mr. Lucena’s leading role. Arrufos consistently achieved massive commercial success through sold out shows with large audiences, resulting in numerous awards. Victor’s unprecedented skillset allowed him to convey three extraordinarily different and crucial characters in such a way that the audience was able to understand the overarching theme of the production. Victor’s versatility as an actor was an invaluable asset to the creation of this production.” Lucena is the type of actor who delights both his peers and his audience, a testament to his talent and his professionalism. He is also quick to throw accolades to his director and co-stars as reasons behind the acclaim that Arrufos received. The actor notes, “Luiz Fernando Marques is truly talented, particularly in the way that he is able to take on the audience’s perspective. He is able to approach it with a fresh set of eyes each time and understand how the audience will see things, rather than getting lost in a director’s mind. My co-stars: Rodolfo Amorim, Ronaldo Serruya, Juliana Sanches and Janaina Leite…they all have such passion and presence! I’m fortunate that their performances challenged me to work at such a high level. Working with the best forces you to become even better…which is why I do it.”

One of the reasons that Victor was so lauded for his work in Arrufos is in regards to his multiple performances in the play and their believability. The production is a research into the history of love in Brazil, and was written into numerous skits and sketches which show the differing ways love can be perceived, given, and received. Despite wildly different depictions of this highly complex emotion, the overall theme of the play is the strength and prevalence of love across time and space. As a leading actor for Arrufos, Mr. Lucena performed three leading characters: The Priest, The Doctor, and The Lonely. Each character is a different look into various aspects of love. The Priest acts as a conduit of the influence of the Catholic Church in the 1700’s on love and faith, the Doctor establishes opposition to the church and the science of love, and the Lonely represents the lack of hope in life when loneliness is prominent and how love conquers it. Victor explains the acts of the play, “It is a really fascinating emotional curve for the actors involved in this play. The first act is so deep, dark, and heavy. Regardless of all the speeches we all have in it; it seems too silent. In order to create that atmosphere, we all would breathe together for a few minutes and then, about 15 minutes before play starts, each actor and actress would get quiet and start concentrating for it. The second act is much lighter. We took the heaviness off of the atmosphere to break away from the First Act, which is kind of relief for the actors and the audience. The Third Act was a joy! It was especially fun because we break the fourth wall; that was something that I felt really confident and comfortable with. A play is a live organism and as so it is always varying. While a song can be performed in the same way night after night in an orchestra, that’s impossible for a play; it depends on so many different variables. I think consistency is the most important achievement for a good performance but you have to explore new places at the same time.”

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When a performance is as recognized by both consumers and critics, it’s natural to be curious about the preparation of the actor. For his roles in Arrufos, Lucena immersed himself with inspiration for the mood by reading books and watching films about the different presentations of love. He even created a specific playlist which he would listen to for 30 minutes prior to each performance. This gives credence to the idea that art inspires art. While Victor admits to ignoring critics during the run of the play, he admits to one self-congratulatory moment. He reveals, “During the First Act, as the Priest, I’d have to hide under a tiny bed, change clothes and “sing” a prayer in the complete darkness. To do all this, I had only about two and a half minutes, which is the time the character of the father had to give his speech. I’m 5’11’’ and the bed is about 5’5”. I truly believed that there was no way I could do all of this in such a cramped space, but I did and every time. When  I finished I’d secretly celebrate.” Perhaps it is this attitude, that of a man who focuses on the little things rather than worrying about grand acceptance from critics, that communicates Lucena’s joy of the stage and all its possibilities to a welcoming group of admirers.

BRAZIL’S RODRIGO BRANCO BECOMES A STAR BY SUPPORTING THE FAME OF OTHERS

For all of those who proclaim television to be a detriment to one’s life, please kindly consider Rodrigo Branco. This Executive Producer/Communications Director/Social Media expert has built a life out of his work in TV. His roots in TV can be traced back to his youth, a situation that his own children are experiencing. Branco has become one of the most successful executives in his field in all of Brazil. His status is earned with years of working his way up the ladder in TV production. Having become internationally recognized for his work on multiple domestic and international productions, he most recently has turned his attention to the TV community in the US and the opportunities it affords. It’s quite a story, a young boy in Brazil who follows his dream and effects millions around the world. It proves that hard work is rewarded and there is a chance for everyone to pursue their goals no matter how unbelievable they might seem.

As a young boy in Sao Paulo, Rodrigo used to live with his grandmother while his mother (a ballet dancer) was often out on tour, working to pursue her own artistic endeavors. This situation created two prominent factors in Rodrigo’s future. First, the understanding that following a creative dream is valid and secondly, TV was a fixture of life. Branco’s grandmother was a TV fanatic to say the least. When his mother took Rodrigo with her to a TV station for a taping, the two worlds collided. As a 10-year-old, he was amazed by the environment as well as the fact that they would tape three episodes in one day. The sudden realization that every production was not live, yet seemed to be so when viewed on TV, was like discovering the secret to a magic trick. Years later, Branco would begin his own TV career on the Marcia show. This show is one of the most popular talk shows ever on Brazilian TV. Rodrigo was with the show for more than a decade and explains, “The Márcia show was my high school, college and university! I started as a trainee and eventually became the executive producer. It was the hardest, and at the same time, the most positive show I have done in my career. According to VOGUE BRASIL, Márcia is the Brazilian Oprah. I’m proud that our ratings proved that we were number 1 every day. There is no secret to achieving this; I used to work 16 hours a day from my start as a trainee and all the way up to being EP.”

Many people sacrifice their personal life to be a part of TV production, especially those who are highly successful. Branco did the opposite and made his life and career intertwined. He met his wife when he was a trainee on Marcia and has become a father while working on the show. As the EP of the show, he worked most closely with the show’s star and namesake. He notes, “Working 16 hours a day, 6 days a week; Marcia became my second mother. We spent Christmas, New Year’s Eve…all the good times and bad times together. She has the most brilliant career in Brazil and she decided to share it with me. I think this interaction is what made our work so successful!” Rodrigo’s work in particular was recognized early in his career. In 2002, he was awarded the Premio Jovem Brasileiro [Young Brazilian Award] for his work with the Marcia show (he received this award again in 2011 for his work on the Miss Universe Pageant) …at the early age of twenty years old. Branco also received the Communication Merit Award, granted by Academia Brasileira de Ciencias, Artes, Historia e Literatura (Science, Art, History and Literature Brazilian Academy) which he refers to as the greatest honor of his professional career. Marcia is known for her show being about people, their families, and struggle. She wanted an individual steering that show who was doing it for more than the money; a person who was truly passionate about the work. Marcia recognized these traits in her early interactions with Branco. She declares, ““I met Rodrigo in his first day as a trainee in TV Bandeirantes. I immediately knew he was special. A few months later, I told him he would be the executive producer of my show and in only 3 years it became true. We had a great and fruitful partnership. He is incredibly talented!”

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Besides giving Branco a literal family as well as a professional family, TV has also given him the ability to travel the world. Experiencing locations such as; Israel, Paris, Spain, Argentina, Mexico, and all the states of Brazil, have helped Rodrigo to understand how different and yet how incredibly similar the people of the world can be. In particular, his US visits have motivated him. Branco communicates, “The TV Industry in the United States is the most professional and competitive in the entire world. There is no space for amateurs there. I have hopes of working there because it would challenge me to be the best in the US. The resources and the technology in the US are the example to the world. If a professional wants to learn how to do their job better, they need to stay close to the best! Marcia was discovered by an American Director who taught her how to do TV. Nobody does TV and Entertainment better than Americans. I could see this with my own eyes at the Latin Grammys, Miss Universe, and from studying American Shows and formats. I’ve had an extraordinary career but I am only 33 years old and I want to be better and bigger.  The only way to do that is to learn from the best. My passion is t work with talent and communication not only in TV, but with social media and other formats as well.” When contemplating Rodrigo Branco’s life, it is impossible to septate his story from the inclusion of television. When discussing it, Rodrigo himself comments, “My life was built inside a TV. My childhood was spending time with my grandmother, bonding over shows and their topics. I saw my mother performing on TV and she took me ‘inside’ television for a perspective that not many people witness. I have made many of my closest friends through my work in TV, as well as meeting the woman who became my wife. Now my children understand TV because they see their father using it to provide for them as well as understanding, as my mother showed me, that you can be creative, challenged, and rewarded with that pursuit. They realize, as I do, that I am able to make the magic that we see on the screen.”

STORYBOARD ARTIST BINBIN MA HAS A GIFT FOR BRINGING OUT THE CHILD IN US ALL

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During film and TV award shows like the Oscars and Emmys, inevitably one of the winners will say something about their work being just a small part of the community which worked to make the production they are being lauded for. It sounds like humility unless you get an accurate glimpse into the many vocations and tasks involved in the TV and film industry. For every face you see on screen there are literally dozens or more who did their job properly which enabled the images we witness to take place in the action of the story. One of the very first people to put their hands and talent into movement in every production is the storyboard artist. Many of them never see even a hint of the glamour and excitement that surrounds the set, celebrities, and premier events involved in a production. It is their ability to take the verbal communication of producers and directors and translate them into images that will enable the cinematographer, director, and cast to use this template in framing their work. Binbin Ma is a successful storyboard artist and graphic designer with a wide and diverse lists of credits to her resume. Her recognized artistic talent is a great deal of the reason that she has been sought ought by so many filmmakers but, it also her ability to communicate and comprehend the way these same filmmakers want to frame their ideas and shots. When watching any of the number of films she has worked on, you can see the flavor of the director but there are “signature” elements of composition that those familiar with Binbin will recognize. She is able to mold her abilities to the professionals she works with while still retaining the vehicle with which they are delivered.

Skate at 16 would seem at first to be a film about a young boy’s crush and bullying. In truth, the film is about any individual coming to the point in life in which they decide to be a victim or stand up against an aggressor and suffer the consequences. It is about discovering who you are in the face of adversity, and letting others bear witness to the courage it requires. Julian is a young teenage boy who interacts with a homeless girl who is living in a skate park. He reaches out to her partly due to his kind heart as well as the fact that he finds the girl cute (further proof of the fact that he doesn’t see her as a type of person but rather, simply a person). Almost halfway into the film, he is bullied by a 21-year-old and his skate shoe is humiliatingly stolen by the bully. Julian doesn’t fight back for himself but when the bully leads a gang who is stealing Tecla’s (the girl) belongings, Julian finds the courage to stop this bully. Skate at 16 is almost Shakespearean encompassing young love, family tragedy, the overly aggressive antagonist, the revelation of inner-strength, and a potentially fatal injury which results from the confrontation. All of these emotions which Julian experiences are captured by the camera with different angles and compositions; one’s which are easily imagined as pieces of art. If the colors on screen were more primary and somewhat exaggerated, it would be easy to see them as a graphic novel. Skate at 16 is so adept at using the angle and perspective of the camera to bring audiences to the same emotional state as Julian, it’s easy to see how Binbin’s work was the early staging for this approach. The line of communication and understanding between director, storyboard artist, and cinematographer is seamless; it definitely appeared so to the Los Angeles Cinefest when they nominated this fine film. Director Mario Aranguren gives credit to Ma for the look that was achieved in Skate at 16 by stating, “Binbin’s amazing work really helped me to clarify the blocking and shot angles in my mind. Before doing this, I was a mess in the head. The process of defining the shots with someone as talented as her and then having her return to me with an even clearer representation of the ideas…it’s such an important and vital part of the filmmaking process.” Binbin describes the process for those unfamiliar with her profession, “I worked with Mario, the director of the film, discussing the shot list for each scene. After that, we started drawing the shot basic on the shot list, through the angles, character blocking, and camera movements. Because Skate at 16 is a film about sports, the character movements were sometimes difficult to draw, and also the blocking between many characters could be confusing. Because of the film’s schedule, I had to prepare everything very quickly; it took about ten days for me to finish. The great part about my job is that, once everyone sees the completed storyboards, they become very energized and excited about the film and want to get to work right away. It’s a very rewarding feeling to see something I create have such an immediate effect on other talented professionals.”

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Guillermo Cameo was so enamored with the look of Skate at 16 that he hired Binbin to be the storyboard artist for his film Robots & Cowboys. There are some similar themes between the two films (feelings of loneliness, isolation, finding one’s sense of self) but there is more of a lighthearted and whimsical look to Robots & Cowboys. There is also a sense of fighting one’s self as well as others, a feeling that childhood can often bring. The main character, Joe, brings drama to his heroic actions, even as we smile at the way he shifts genre’s in his identity and imagination. We often see wide shots when the actions is overwhelming and threatening, while close ups give a sense of comfortability and control in the same way that the backyard tent (which is a make believe tepee) is a safe and controlled environment for Madeline (the young female character). The film is set in rural Philadelphia and has moments that transport the viewer to a Spaghetti Western. Although Cameo knew that he wanted this approach, he needed Ma to relay this visual approach to the crew in a very clear manner. Achieving his vision would empower the film with sweetness as well as intensity, but being just a shade off of his intent could make it come across as shtick. Gulliermo states, “Binbin Ma is one of the most exceptionally talented and qualified graphic artists and storyboard artists of her field. Robots and Cowboys has been one of my most successful endeavors as a filmmaker, and I am certain this is due largely to the fact that I included Binbin as a leading member of the film. The film was enormously popular among festivals and awards centered around children, and garnered wins and nominations from The Kids Festival as well as the Young Entertainer Awards. Furthermore, the film won several awards from the internationally recognized International Euro Film Festival, establishing our production as one of the most inarguably successful children’s films of our field. These enormous achievements among some of the most highly regarded critics and film festivals across the world are indicative of our film’s high standing, which is no doubt thanks to Ms. Ma’s leading role.”

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Both the opening scene, depicting Joe playing with Sir Steely (a robot toy based on Ma’s little brother’s robot ideas) as well as the final scene, complete with sunset and Copeland-esque soundtrack, were shots right off of Binbin’s storyboard. Whether close ups or wide vistas, Ma has a talent for structuring things that transfers easily to the cinematography. Explaining how to communicate images in a way specific to Robots & Cowboys, Ma states, “I used a lot low angle to make it easy to see things from the kids’ point of view. When I draw with children, I always keep that in my mind, try to bring the real character to frame.” Both Skate at 16 and Robots & Cowboys have a youthful vantage but discuss the trials all of us can relate to in one form or another. Only a professional like Binbin Ma has the eye and training to enable us, as the viewer, to revert back to our earlier selves and feel what the characters are feeling, without being aware that it is the location and framing of the action (brought into reality by Binbin images) that makes it all so real.

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