Category Archives: Film and TV Crew Interviews

Cinematographer Alberto Bañares’ Creative Serendipity

ALBERTO-1Spanish cinematographer Alberto Bañares’ unerring eye and passionate involvement with all things visual have won him a reputation as one of the top hands in his field. Bañares’ style—driven by a singular flair for creating evocatively composed shots that deliver a communicative impact—enhances any film, video or television assignment, and is distinguished by a consistency of tone and rich atmosphere that is irresistible to any viewer.

His immediately recognizable, arresting technique seems like the work of a dedicated craftsman with generations of deep experience, but the astute, ambitious Bañares achieved this striking of level of quality while barely out of his teens. At age 18, the Barcelona native was studying Economics when a sudden realization took hold.

“At university, I realized quite early that my future wasn’t behind a desk,” Bañares said. “So I started writing and taking photographs on my own while studying International Business. I did a small 5 day course on script writing, and was completely astonished by what I saw and learned. That gave me the courage to move straight to film academy in 2003.”

“I studied at one of the best film schools in Spain, ESCAC [Cinema and Audiovisual School of Catalonia],” Bañares said. .”It was a very intense experience.  After two years, you had to choose your specialization, and I quickly understood that between script writing, directing and cinematography, I would naturally pick the last one.”

“Suddenly, everything made sense to me,” he said. “I was always very attracted to the camera and highly intrigued by light. Cinematography teachers seemed to me more like wizards than anything else!”

After obtaining his degree, Bañares wasted little time. Working as on-set electrician and in camera and light crews at first, gaining experience and making connections, by 2012, he decided to accept cinematographer jobs exclusively, and in 2013 prestigious talent brokers L’Agence were representing him throughout Europe.

His recent job as director of photography for a commercial from a high-end German auto maker, the striking, effects-laden Audi: The Invisible Man. The spot, promoting Audi’s pilotless vehicles using the famed horror character as protagonist, mixes wry humor with impressive visual effects and epitomizes Bañares’ signature combination of creativity, problem-solving and technical prowess.

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This was no simple task. “As a DP my role started some weeks before the shoot,” Bañares said. “This was a highly technical project for all of us, so starting the preproduction earlier than normal helped us to arrange meetings with Metropolitana, the post-production house, in order to understand their needs and the way we were going to shoot it.”

“It was a highly technical job, for sure,” director David Verges said. “To create an Invisible Man we had to shoot different layers of each shot in order to remove the actor who was ‘performing’ his moves. We used a Motion Memorizer which required us to be very accurate during the shoot as well as having to mentally “compose” the shot in our mind from the different layers we were shooting. Alberto was very helpful in this regard, as his comprehension of the technique was complete. He also has this natural quality that puts everyone at ease and is greatly appreciated by his crew and the rest of us. “

Bañares’ holistic grasp on the assignment’s complex challenges proved invaluable. “We had to be very adaptable during the shoot as we had to bear with constantly changing weather,” he said. “We had determined to shoot the main table scene during the morning but we had extremely grey skies so we had to go inside the house meanwhile the weather improved.”

“After several hours we realized that the motion memorizer shots took more time than initially thought, so we had to be very quick with any shot that didn’t use this tool,” Bañares said. “Being fast on set is something that no one teaches you when you are in film school, but after all these years as a DP I’m very used to have a high-speed on set plus gently pushing everyone in order to keep a good pace.”

The results, thanks to Bañares’ formidable skills, were nothing short of spectacular, and the spot generated significant buzz in professional circles

“Due to the unique creativity of the Audi commercial, it gained a big reputation amongst the family of filmmakers,” Bañares said. “I consider myself to be a useful asset no matter what. I like to help my directors get what they want, but I also want them to know what I like and dislike, which elements could be improved and which ones must be improved.”

His flexibility and instinctual grasp on how best to complete a shoot have allowed Bañares to rack up a spectacular roster of achievements and placed him at the forefront of the contemporary DP community.

“DPs must dissolve their egos within the director’s ideas,” Bañares said. “Sometimes a DP must be like a medium or psychologist, in order to be able to understand the director’s vision and their original vision of the project. When it’s fiction, I like to talk to the director as much as I need so I can see where everything comes from. Once I get their original idea, I subtly transform it into a light and camera concept. I love to communicate and express ideas using my tools, it’s such a rewarding process.

“Lately I’ve been quite attracted towards creative serendipity and subconscious intuition,” he said. “In order to operate the camera in a genuine way, I’m constantly exploring different, new ways to reach that state. I love that too.”

His rare mixture of technique and aesthetic sense qualify Bañares as a force to be reckoned with. “I’ve known Alberto for years but we hadn’t been able to work together until this one,” Verges said. “I was very happy to have his good taste and discerning eyes in this project. He was very focused and he always brought a creative input to each shot, to each take, in order to improve it. I’m looking forward to collaborate with Alberto on future projects.”

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Esi Conway brings her line producing talent to Britain’s Next Top Model

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Line producer Esi Conway

Esi Conway’s natural instincts are what make her such a gifted line producer and production manager. Her innate talent for pulling people together combined with her outstanding organizational skills have earned her a spot as one of the best. She has worked for many of the world’s best television stations and some of the most recognizable shows, and throughout it all, she is doing what she loves.

One of the highlights of Conway’s career was working as a Production Manager for Britain’s Next Top Model. The mega successful television show, based off America’s Next Top Model, gave the line producer the chance to be both a fan and a large contributor to the show’s success. Having already been familiar with the Top Model brand because of the American format, she jumped at the opportunity to work for the British version.

“It was a great opportunity to get a diverse range of experience working with leading figures in fashion, acting, and the arts. The fast-paced nature of reality television meant that I would be kept on my toes, with story lines moving and impacting the brief of the show on a day-to-day basis,” she said.

Conway worked on the series for its first nine series, and is largely responsible for making the show what it is today. After the first season, she was given the chance to work primarily on the show’s foreign shoots, allowing her to travel ahead of the production team, and immersing herself in the country of her choice while negotiating deals with local talent.

“No two days were ever the same, from setting up a make shift production office in the middle of the Moroccan desert to working with Jimmy Choo to come up with challenges for the contestants in Malaysia,” she said.

It was an executive producer of the show that Conway had previously worked with that recommended her for the position on the show. He knew from first-hand experience that she was a skillful line producer, with experience in negotiating deals with brands and thriving in a fast-paced environment, and would be a great fit on the show. From there, all those that worked with her on Britain’s Next Top Model were instantly impressed. Robert Pearson, currently a senior producer for the hit show Real Housewives of New York, worked with Conway in Argentina on the show. Together, they went ahead of the team to work out challenges for the contributor, and meet with contractors. He describes working with the line producer as a pleasure.

“Esi is a level-headed problem solver and an excellent people manager.  She is a dedicated team member who is able to motivate others. Her can-do attitude is an asset as well as her commitment to any project,” said Pearson.

Conway agrees that working with Pearson was a great experience, and the relationships she gained from working on the show was part of what made it invaluable. She also thoroughly enjoyed the opportunities the show gave her to work with local designers and creative talents, and gave them the chance to showcase their capabilities on a show watched by millions.

“I love the varied nature of the show, knowing that each day would come with a new set of challenges and problems to solve. I loved working with people in different countries across the globe to pull together to make a great show. I also enjoyed seeing the ideas and concepts come together seeing the contributors getting excited by the challenges the team had thought up or about receiving one the prizes that I had negotiated,” she concluded.

From her work with BBC, MTV, Animal Planet, Investigation Discovery, and many more, there is no doubt to both audiences and colleagues as to why Esi Conway is internationally recognized as an extraordinary Line producer/ Production Manager. Those first nine seasons of Britain’s Next Top Model were just the beginning, and now, years later, the world is not only appreciative, but also thankful for her talent.

Taiwanese Filmmaker Diana Chao Directs Visually Stunning Content for Innovative Subjects and Product

The renowned filmmaker Diana Chao has been reaching audiences worldwide through her directorial work for several years. Her past experience spans commercial work, short films, and even features, a few of her most celebrated titles including The Restoration, which Chao both wrote and directed, the informative short film PSA titled Violence in the Closet, and the US-China collaboration, Finding Mr. Right. As a result of her past achievements, Chao was asked to direct two key projects over the past year: an upcoming short film titled Match, and a hit promo video for an innovated product called Emora, both of which have been great successes.

After watching Chao’s first independent short The Restoration, Domingos Antonio, the producer and actor of Match, insisted she direct his forthcoming short. Chao had been referred to Antonio by Brazilian director Alexandre Peralta prior at a film festival.

“Match is a story about the apathy and the emptiness of the virtual relationships through smartphone dating apps,” Chao explained. Initially, because of her strong aversion to dating apps and websites, Chao found it humorous that she was hired as the director of the project. In order to understand the world her characters lived in and accurately depict their loneliness, Chao had to dive deep into the world of online dating and do her research via friends who regularly use various dating apps.

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Diana Chao working on Match

“I didn’t end up enrolling in any dating apps myself,” Chao said. “Some close friends of mine had been using different dating apps (Match, OKCupid, Tinder, etc.) and through them (both male and female users) I got to know the differences between the ways in which these apps functioned and how they targeted different markets. My roommate back then was planning to start online dating, so we went step-by-step through creating her a profile, held discussions involving what types of people would be attracted to certain types of photos and profile descriptions, and then tested our choices and analyzed our results.”

Chao chose to focus on Tinder the most, as the app model created for Match closely resembled the real-life dating app.

Fellow director and 1st AD, Jing Ning, who’s directed commercials for Mercedes Benz, BMW, Audi, and Volkswagen, worked closely with Chao as the 1st AD on both Match and Emora, thus receiving a good impression of her worth ethic in both short film and commercial capacities.

“Chao has a keen insight and fine sentiment,” Ning said of her coworker’s talents. “You can see those qualities in every film that she’s ever done. She created a dark and romantic tone for Match that gave the film a unique and artistic feeling. She brought out our actors’ deepest feelings to tell a story without dialogue, which exemplifies her solid directing skills.”

Match was completed in 2016 and is currently hitting the film festival circuit, including the 2017 CineGlobe International Film Festival at CERN in Switzerland, the 2016 Port Douglas Film Festival in Australia, and the 2016 Los Angeles Brazilian Film Festival in both the United States and Brazil.

Last spring, Chao completed directing the exciting commercial for Emora, a new product created by Innovart, a team of young Taiwanese inventors in the United States. In short, Emora is a smart accessory designed as a bracelet that allows one to express themselves and connect with people via color. This customizable bracelet allows one to show their style and mood by fine-tuning its colors and brightness with elegant gestures, and also has a pulsating light which fades in and out with one’s heartbeat.

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Diana Chao directing Emora

The making of the commercial was comprised of a one-day shoot at a standing set at 2010 Studios in Gardenia, California. According to Chao, the amazing Art Department of the shoot was responsible for creating seven different locations within one space – an apartment hallway, bedroom, dressing room, studio, office, bakery, and café – and did so with astounding success. “Besides the prep day prior to the shoot, the Art Department was basically setting up Location B while we were shooting Location A, and striking Location A while we were shooting Location C. The encounter of a design team, which here in this case is the team that designed and created Emora, and our entire production team must involve labor, but I was thrilled by their passion and faith in their product. Without their patience, flexibility and trust on our ability of execution, this video wouldn’t have been possible,” Chao recollected.

John-Scott Horton played the lead male of the Emora commercial, though this wasn’t his first time working with the accomplished Chao. Horton also starred in Diana’s film The Restoration back in 2013.

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Diana Chao on the set of Emora

“Truthfully, I wouldn’t have done the project [Emora] if I hadn’t been asked by Diana, but I instantly said yes because I was excited to work with her again. She used much of the same crew that worked on The Restoration and I was reminded of how good she is at assembling the team,” said Horton. “Diana is great at delegating, has an eye for aesthetic, is very efficient, and is a very effective leader. Her artistry is suited for major feature films and was not compromised for a smaller project.”

Emora was ranked as number nine in the top 17 products of CES 2017.

The CES is a global consumer electronics and consumer technology trade show that takes place every January in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Winning it’s 9th position on the best 17 products out of all of the products of 2017 shows that Emora is commercialized. With this being the product’s sole commercial, it shows the impact it’s had on showcasing and promoting the product.

 

For more information on Diana Chao, please visit:
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm6371027/
https://dianachaos.com/

For more information on Match and Emora, please visit:
For MATCHhttps://vimeo.com/184096007
For Emora: https://myemora.com/

 

German TV Writer-Producer Kirsten Ittershagen Runs Her Shows with Passion, Precision

Driven, versatile and passionate, German television writer-producer Kirsten Ittershagen, who works as a Showrunner for German and international TV series, has ascended to the top of her field thanks to a powerful combination of raw talent and creative vision. In a decade’s time she went from an entry level aspirant to become the creator, writer and producer on one of the nation’s top series, Alibi Agency, a program that deftly combines comedy and drama into a singular, intriguing format.

The road which led her from a career in advertising to television and Alibi Agency was one marked by fate and determination, an odyssey that began when Ittershagen was a child and came to fruition, years later, after a dramatic leap of faith. “I’ve been a TV fan since childhood,” Ittershagen said. “It all started with Love Boat, Magnum, P.I. and Beverly Hills 90210. My mom was always concerned that I didn’t read as much as my sister did—I came home from school and enjoyed the afternoon by watching German and American TV shows.”

“It became my passion,” she said. “Even during my studies of Sociology, Cultural Studies and Psychology at the University of Hamburg, I still watched TV in the afternoon or evenings. After I graduated, I began working in advertising but still dreamed of a career in the TV Industry. I had to follow my passion in order to be happy and very spontaneously, I quit my job, moved to Berlin and decided to be a writer. It was a big risk, but luckily it worked out.”

Against some steep odds, Ittershagen’s determination and skill began to pay off. Starting as an intern at GrundyUFA (an independent TV subsidiary of the fabled UFA film studio), Ittershagen soon graduated to working out plots as “storyliner” moved on to story editing and before long found herself the head writer on popular, long-running dramas Unter Uns (Among Us), Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten (Good Times, Bad Times”) and the writer-producer of Verbotene Liebe (Forbidden Love)

“My biggest dream came true,” Ittershagen said. “I got job writing for the company which produced my favorite TV series that I’d watched for years.”

A story teller second to none, her ability to imprint a unique twist on a familiar scenario has served her well, and Ittershagen managed it in a particularly demanding sector of the industry—the high pressure world of TV series. This is an arena of inescapable deadlines, where a writer must not only meet an almost impossibly tight schedule but also maintain consistent quality and narrative poise.

And she did it with impressive skill. “Kirsten combines exceptional creative talent with the management strength necessary to run a room of writers, each of whom has their own character,” said Jan Diepers, Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten executive producer. ”I remember several occasions where it seemed impossible to continue with a storyline; whether due to budgeting reasons or an unforeseeable incident, but Kirsten never lost focus or her positive, creative attitude. She would usually return from the writer’s room with an even better idea and solution.”

 

Ittershagen’s extraordinary talent isn’t just known in Germany. As a passionate traveler Ittershagen loves to work internationally and for different cultures. For the international company FremantleMedia, Ittershagen worked in Croatia on the show Ruza Vjetrova (Rose of the Wind) for Croation broadcaster RTL, heading up their international writers room. Typically for Ittershagen, the show become one of the most successful in that country. She also developed a TV series called The Mall for the same company, set in Dubai and marketed to air in the Middle East.

 

Following this international success she also became the first German writer-producer invited to join the faculty at Serial Eyes Program, the groundbreaking European postgraduate high-level TV series writing and producing program in Berlin, where she mentors up and coming European scriptwriters and producers.

Her creation and subsequent success of Alibi Agency was almost inevitable. “Ten years ago I had the idea about a guy who helps people to cheat on their spouses” Ittershagen said. “I started research and found an actual alibi agency which offered all the professional lies, fake worlds and realities you need, hiding an affair, two families or even a disease like cancer or HIV from bosses or a job in porn or escort from families.”. I’m a very honest person and I was fascinated and disgusted in the same time. But I realized, in creating these stories, how important is to discuss the value of truth and, also, the easy way out with lies. It resonates with audiences and they reflect on their own lives—‘Would I do the same? Who I can trust?’  And now, on top of that, ten years later, we live in a world full of lies, in the news, the internet, all around us. Whistleblowers coming out with some truths we never wanted to hear, or did we? That’s why Alibi Agency mirrors the contemporary feeling of society.”

 

Her precision, vigor and ability to consistently turn out world class scripts earned her a formidable reputation among her peers—her daily drama shows average 4 million viewers each, and earned her the prestigious German Soap Award in 2012 for “responsible social and humanitarian storytelling” for her teenage HIV-themed story of  the show Unter Uns (Among Us).

Her background in sociology and psychology lend canny depth to her scripts and Ittershagen’s crisp, articulate dialog, sense of pacing and sheer reach of storyline benefit every project to which she contributes. For Ittershagen, with an already significant level or professional achievements, the sky is the limit; as Jan Diepers points out, “Kirsten has an extraordinary ability to spin ideas further than most writers I know.”

And the multi-faceted Ittershagen—writer, producer, series creator, showrunner—wouldn’t have it any other way. “It is an astonishing feeling when you see your ideas, characters and stories come alive on the screen,” she said. “Television is a mass medium that has major impact on society and I want to use it for greater good. I see my purpose as a writer in sending important, uplifting messages to my audience. There is enough fear, pain, violence, hate and terror out there—I think the world needs hope, love, light and laughter. And as a TV writer I have the chance to make the world a better place, at least a little.”

BEING NAKED CAN TEACH YOU MORE ABOUT YOUR SELF VALUE THAN JUST YOUR PHYSICAL ATTRACTIVENESS

One of the most popular and highly rated dating shows on TV in the UK right now is Naked Attraction. Just as the name states, contestants are viewed and selected in a state of complete undress. Most of us worry about being judged with our clothes off in a dimly lit room in front of our significant other, the thought of doing so in front of other people we don’t know AND on camera is unthinkable. This show would not even be thinkable without the involvement of one of UK reality TV’s most successful Associate Producers known as the master of casting, Grivas Kopti. The UK is extremely diverse and it is precisely this reason that the production chose Kopti. Grivas has been recognized for his work in the areas of LGBT representation, gender equality, multiculturalism, and celebrity culture. As a millennial who grew up with social media and the internet, Grivas and many of his generation are not encumbered by the prejudices and social constraints of previous generations. Say what you will about those of Kopti’s age but, global social interaction has made them aware of the joy and struggles that all people share, resulting in a graceful acceptance of the differences that challenge us all, hopefully creating a sense of unity. The outgoing nature Grivas possesses, as well as his stringent work ethic has made him a sought after commodity in Reality TV. The list of successful shows that have made use of Kopti’s talents are too numerous to name them all but include; Celebs Go Dating, Unbelievable, Words of Churchill, Mandela: The Prison Years, and Stripped and Stranded.

Naked Attraction is one of the most popular programs on TV of 2016 thus far with its recent ratings spiking upwards of 2 million viewers per episode. Reality TV relies on the viewer’s investment in the cast with shows of this type. Naked Attraction relies on Grivas to find the compelling people and their stories to provide the interest that keeps viewers coming back. The title alone will cause a certain portion of the population to tune in but it won’t keep them there or bring them back. Kopti’s role is part detective and part therapist. Kopti is adamant that Naked Attraction is only interested in casting individuals who are themselves motivated to be on the show. There are times when participants change their minds or their family and friends convince them that it isn’t such a good idea for them to be involved; Grivas supports this idea, often encouraging them to go away and consider whether it is truly the right choice for them. This Associate Producer doesn’t envision the show as salacious but rather as a way to achieve greater self-discovery and catharsis. Kopti describes, “I saw the contributors go on a journey, which was inspiring. They learned so much about themselves. Many learned to truly appreciate their body and what made it unique. Being complimented on your shapely thighs that you always thought were fat is so lovely and precious. As you can imagine, a lot of people’s vulnerabilities and insecurities were revealed, which I think is a beautiful thing.  You can’t really let down your guard and be capable of truly loving yourself and others if you don’t make yourself vulnerable. No stone was left unturned. We discussed it all – preferences, past sexual escapades and fetishes. People were extremely honest.”

As the leading associate casting producer, Grivas was in charge of managing the contributors. This can be a tall order when you are tasked with making someone feel comfortable being both naked and on camera. Grivas has always been able to communicate well with individuals unknown to him. Being able to discern who would handle the experience well without becoming overwhelmed or intimidated was key to Kopti’s role in Naked Attraction. He describes the characteristics he was looking for, stating, “Likeability is they first thing I look for. You want the audience to warm to them and subsequently root for them. Two attributes that serve contributors well during filming as well as after are confidence and charisma. Someone who can be strong enough to appear on television with their clothes off and handle anything they might read about themselves on social media afterwards. People aren’t always so kind online. Just as important is intelligence. The whole show works well and is engaging because our contributors can maintain a conversation with our presenter, articulating their thoughts and reasoning behind their selection process as they are selecting who they’re choosing to go on a date with. Ultimately, each main contributor will lead half of the show which is a broadcast 30 minutes. They need to have a strong character and conviction.” With a viewership of 1.4 million on its premiere episode (up 82% on the slot average) and consecutive increases, the show has been an instant success for Studio Lambert. The show’s Executive Producer Mike Cotton (Emmy nominee for Undercover Boss) confirms, “I am positive that our enormous success is due to our collaboration with Mr. Kopti, as it is his leading role that brought us much of the success that we have. His unique talent to be able to cast contributors and contestants for the program showcased his truly unparalleled ability as an associate casting producer.”

While some viewers or even critics may point to a voyeuristic factor that brings a viewing audience to Naked Attraction, Kopti has much more high minded goals for contributors and the TV public. Grivas declares, “We are bombarded with messages daily by mainstream media on how we should look and what and who we should find beautiful. In a subtle way, we wanted to call BS on that and tell the truth, inspiring our considerably big influential audience of the 16-35 age bracket. Not one size or color fits all and beauty can be many things. Couples in interracial relationships still report facing prejudice, which is shocking and something we wanted to address. Why is this still happening? Is some of this generation expressing intolerance taught by their elders? A lot of questions were raised but ultimately, the magic in this show is that we can talk about it honestly and respectfully. I’m very proud that we were able to represent those labeled as disabled. I think we communicated quite effectively that being classed disabled doesn’t render you any less sexy or capable of a fulfilling, loving relationship. We had a good few disabled contributors, visibility is key. Above all, they were fantastic characters with a lot to offer – regardless of their circumstances. One of the underappreciated strengths of my generation is that it is very hard to shock us. Naked Attraction isn’t just about the naked part. Every individual has a story to tell; things they have overcome and personal triumphs they want to celebrate, that’s the real message of our show.”

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MASTER FILM EDITOR TAKASHI UCHIDA’S LIGHT TOUCH STRIKES COMEDY GOLD

Whether film editor Takashi Uchida is assigned a drama, fantasy or action film, the Japanese born craftsman always delivers a crisp, distinctive cut which enhances the impact of any story. Equally adept at complex narrative dramas—he worked with ten different directors on Actors Anonymous—or the walloping animated adventure of the Netflix Kong: King of the Apes series, Takashi’s technical facility and innate grasp of any subject’s subtly and nuance is uniformly excellent.

Takashi’s instinct for what a story requires and the impact even a single frame of film can have to achieve a specific dramatic goal is masterly, and these formidable skills were recently brought to bear on a new type of subject for the editor, the fizzy tween comedy Jessica Darling’s IT LIST, an Amazon online release starring Disney TV actress and YouTube phenomenon Chloe East.

Adapted from the sixth of Megan McCafferty’s best-selling teen novel series, the middle school-set prequel presented a unique new setting for Takashi. The titular ‘It List” passed down by a sibling to her little sister when  she enters junior high, touts “the 3 Ps: popular, pretty, perfect” as Jessica’s requisite goals for survival. Intrigued at the prospect of exploring new thematic territory, Takashi didn’t hesitate.

“I was introduced, by a mutual friend, to editor Daniel Hanna, who was a good friend of the director, Ali Scher, and I joined the team as co-editor,” Takashi said. “After I started the project, a couple of Japanese friends said they had read the novel as teens and told me how the books actually became an important part of their young lives. So, I was really proud to be working on a project that I hoped would stay in the audience’s heart like that, as a bright spot in their own youth.”

Takashi doesn’t just inhabit a story, he carefully manipulates the action in a way that elevates each sequence. “In order to express the youth and freshness of the story, we were using a very playful editing style, making creative transitions,” he said. “But at the same time, however comedic it is, there’s still dramatic arc in each character and the editor’s job is to reconcile these two elements.”

Takashi’s deft handling of the story’s content paid off. “Takashi is a great editor because he is dedicated and detail oriented.” Scher said. “He’s also a fantastic storyteller. He can see where the story in a scene is and flush it out in the cut in a way I might not have thought of. That’s what a great editor does—brings the director a new perspective on something they’ve looked at a gazillion times. It’s always very exciting to get to see your film in a new light, the great editors understand this and push the envelope with their first cuts. Then it’s all about collaboration and marrying the two visions. Takashi excels at this because he doesn’t bring his ego to the table. The edit should never be a fight, but rather a dance, where the two partners each bring a lot of passion and a lot of give. Takashi is a great dance partner.”

Together with Hanna, the emotional content was carefully addressed. “In this film, we are trying to capture Jessica’s nervousness and struggle in this new place,” Takashi said. “It is her journey to find out who she is and also what it means to stay true to yourself. As an editor, crafting a narrative to express her emotion was the most important thing and our goal was, always, to build character and express their emotion.”

“There were a lot of challenges,” Takashi said. “I learned so much from editing this film. I was really lucky to work with such a talented director, Ali, and Dan, a great co-editor. Also, a lot of times the editor really has to work on shaping up the acting in post-production, but I didn’t have to worry about it at all—these kids were so talented. I am really proud of it and I believe this film will remain in the audience’s heart along with many other classic teen movies.”

The mutual pleasure which radiated throughout the IT LIST team imbued the finished product with great warmth, charm and appeal, and connected them on both a personal and professional level. “Takashi was such a joy to work with,” Scher said. “He was innovative and hard working. It takes a lot of determination and perseverance to be a great editor and Takashi worked a scene until it truly sang. I personally could not be more pleased with the work that Takashi did and the way the film turned out. I would definitely work with him again, no question.”

 

International Sound Designer Xiao Hou is the King of Foley

Xiao Hou recounts mimicking 1930s actions to recreate perfect sound

 

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Sound designer Xiao Hou brought his world-class talent to “Until the Dust Settles,” an award-winning short film from director Alex Gangi.

 

Xiao Hou is an international sound designer with a passion for the craft burning so bright it pushed him to move his entire world from China to Savannah, Ga. in pursuit of his Masters Degree in Sound Engineering. However, Hou’s devotion to sound had its root far earlier than his post-undergraduate days.

“I’ve always been a big fan of music,” he said. “I love recording and mixing it, and really got a chance to explore live sound while in college for several years as an undergrad in China. So one day I told my parents that I wanted to dedicate myself to sound, to audio, to anything related to sound. Luckily, my parents supported me. To study abroad is a lot of energy, time and money, but my family was fully on board.”

The investment and dedication would pay off. Hou got a call in Jan. 2013 to work as sound designer on the short drama film, “Until the Dust Settles.” The story follows a father and his two sons who reconnect while traveling through the American Dust Bowl in 1932.

The call to Hou came after various colleagues sang Hou’s praises to the sound supervisor — Mike Patterson (“Battlefield Hardline” and “The Walking Dead: Michonne”) — who is a fellow Savannah College of Art & Design alum.

Patterson raves about Hou. “As the leading sound designer of the film, Xiao absolutely excelled in his duties of recording custom sound effects to reach a more realistic aesthetic for the film. He recorded these sound effects in an environment similar to the location of our main characters in the early 1930s to achieve a more realistic vision for the film as a whole,” said  Patterson. “While an uninspired sound designer could have easily pulled catalogued noises from sound libraries, Xiao took it upon himself to go the extra mile.”

Hou recalls director Alex Gangi’s high standards for the film’s quality and sound. But it wasn’t Gangi that pushed Hou to supersede expectations — Hou’s hard work is innate and is one of the reasons he’s amassed many outstanding achievements in film. His brilliant sound can also be heard in titles such as Lionsgate’s “Compadres,” in commercials for Paris Hilton and the LA Clippers and in other acclaimed short films such as “Once” and “God Save the Queen.”

“It was very challenging,” Hou said of “Until the Dust Settles.” “The director wanted to have really great sound, so I sifted carefully through the sound library, but for some actions I couldn’t find the exact sound I wanted, so I ended up recording the sound in my kitchen, and bathroom.”

Hou carefully explains the delicate and intriguing process of “foley,” whereby sound designers mimic on-screen actions to recreate precise sounds. Hou adds that since the film was set in the 1930s, he had to be very careful and precise while re-enacting. “I had to custom record by myself and cut those sounds into the film,” he said. “In the end, it turned out pretty great.”

Great is an understatement. “Until the Dust Settles” went on to win a handful of awards and festival selections: winner of the Savannah Film Commission Award at the 2013 Savannah Film Festival, winner of Best Student Short at the 2013 California International Shorts Fest, a nomination for Best Student Short at the 2013 We Like ‘Em Short Film Festival, 2013 official selections at the LA Shorts, Cincinnati Film Festival, Orlando Film Festival, Big Bear Lake Film Festival and Bald Shorts Film Festival, and 2014 official selections to the Macon Film Festival and Speechless Film Festival.

“I’m very happy to be the behind the scenes person. I have always been obsessed with sound. I call myself an audiophile,” said Hou.

His passion for the field oozes out of his pores, as he subscribes to magazines, reads articles and continues to keep his skills fresh and sharp. “The most important learning process is working on projects,” Hou said. “The ultimate dream would be to continue working on exciting projects and traveling to work with other countries. I’m an international person and so my goals aren’t limited to just the United States, but all over the world, working with different people.”

Q & A with Cinematographer Ross Radcliffe

Cinematographer Ross Radcliffe
Cinematographer Ross Radcliffe on set of “Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet” shot by Dallas Childers

It’s not often you’ll find a cinematographer with the eye of a skilled artist and the mindset of a trained athlete, but that’s just what cinematographer Ross Radcliffe brings to the table. Well-versed in the technological aspects of filmmaking and seemingly indestructible in any harsh environment, Radcliffe possesses a unique combination of talents invaluable to the industry. He is able to keep up with the greatest extreme athletes in the world, giving viewers the opportunity to experience life’s adventures in corners of the globe we’d otherwise never see.

Radcliffe has been directly responsible for capturing cutting edge footage included in some of the nation’s top-rated shows including Travel Channel’s critically acclaimed series Jackson Wild as well as The Last Alaskans, Animal Planet’s second-most-watched series last year.  A professional lacrosse player turned cinematographer, Radcliffe has dedicated thousands of hours to perfecting his craft, and has captured breathtaking images from the Alaskan Yukon to the great African plains while keeping up physically with the world’s most extreme sporting.

No stranger to the frigid Alaskan temperatures, Radcliffe displays his strengths flawlessly for multiple shows based in the Alaskan climate. One show in particular, National Geographic’s Dr. Oakley: Yukon Vet, showcases this cinematographer’s visions magnificently. Without Radcliffe’s sharp eye, technological ingenuity, and physical stamina, Dr. Oakley’s life-saving emergency surgeries performed in season 2 may have never been captured. Radcliffe’s contribution to the production not only brings picturesque scenery and landscapes into homes worldwide, but it also opens up the doors to catch a glimpse of science and biology so uniquely fascinating, yet otherwise unobtainable.  

Last week I got the opportunity to interview Radcliffe about his work as a cinematographer. In our interview, he opens up about what led him to pursue a career in the field, his views on the relationship between technology and storytelling, and the importance of physical fitness in his field of work. For more information on Ross Radcliffe, be sure to check out the interview below.

 

Where are you from? When and how did you become a cinematographer?

RR: I’m from Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada, on Vancouver Island. I became a cinematographer in college; I was actually a star athlete on both the lacrosse and track & field teams- I was even drafted to play professional lacrosse- but unfortunately, after sustaining a series of bad injuries, I made the tough decision to put an end to my athletic career. I quickly turned my attention to camera work, dedicating all the time I’d previously spent training my body into training my eye behind a camera. Before long, I was producing my own videos, which lead to an internship with Susie Films, a full service, pitch to post production company. That internship turned into a full-time job, and before I knew it, I was shooting content for reality TV, commercials and short films. I now work as a freelance cinematographer for National Geographic, Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, and Travel Channel. As a cinematographer, I specialize in the projects that are both physically and technically demanding.

What does the work of a cinematographer entail? What are your responsibilities?

RR: To be a cinematographer is to be a visual storyteller. I get to craft images that effectively move the audience through a story, with all the twists and turns of emotions along the way.  As a cinematographer, I test and select camera and lighting packages that will best tell the story at hand, and I communicate with the director to best craft the image of the story they strive to tell. I think a big responsibility of mine, due to the type of projects I shoot, is to stay on top of my physical conditioning. When I film a subject, I want to make sure their are no barriers between the story and the audience, so I have to be a pro at following along, no matter the conditions or situations might be. In my field, a good cinematographer blends into the situation to let it play out as naturally as possible.

What do you think makes good cinema?

RR: I believe that good cinema comes from the relationship between technology and storytelling. When those two things work well together, people will watch.

What has been your favorite camera to use so far and why?

RR: My favorite camera is the Sony FS7. This new camera, capable of filming footage in 4K resolution, is the perfect camera for adventure-based cinematographers like myself since it is lighter than its predecessors, and has the ability to shoot a wide variety of profiles to suit all types of projects, and can be outfitted with a variety of third-party accessories. To that end, the Sony FS7’s native E-mount lensing system can easily be adapted to use both Sony and Canon lenses, which are both phenomenal lines of lenses.

Can you tell me a little bit about the projects you’ve done?

RR: I was the director of photography on The Travel Channel’s show, Jackson Wild. The show revolved around the Jacksons, a family comprised of the world’s best professional kayakers. During this production, I followed the Jackson family to Germany, Austria, South Africa, England and Zambia, where I faced the crazy challenge of keeping up with them- physically. Being an athlete myself, I was able to capture mountain biking through Europe and waterfall jumping in Africa but, for the record, running around Africa with a 40 lb camera on your shoulder isn’t easy!

I also worked on National Geographic’s Dr. Oakley: Yukon Vet, as the director of photography. I really enjoyed being just one step behind Dr. Oakley, a famous wildlife veterinarian, through Alaska and the Yukon as she gave aide to all different types of animals. While this project was extremely demanding physically and sometimes entailed stepping in stinky animal droppings or running from an angry muskox, I was honored to be part of such a small, handselected team. Each member demonstrated such an amazing ability to wear many different hats, so to speak, and the results were well worth it. Looking back on the experience, I really loved capturing the vast personalities of the beautiful Alaskan backdrop, and using it as almost another character in the show.

Perhaps one of the most fun and challenging project I have contributed to is The Animal Planet/ Discovery Channel’s The Last Alaskans, where I was worked as a specialty camera operator and equipment mechanic for the entire second season. The Last Alaskans has garnered critical praise from top international publications around the world for its genre-busting take on the people and families who reside in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge, located just above the arctic circle. During production, the crew lives out in the field with the talent; to give you an idea of what this is like, I can tell you that every morning I woke up in a tent in -30 degree weather, and immediately started a fire. Long story short, making this show wasn’t easy, so producers gathered only the best crew in the TV industry to execute the show’s production because of its extreme physical and technical nature. With the great success of this show discussed in the New York Times and the Washington Post, I am proud of my important contributions to the production.  

What would you say your strongest qualities are as a cinematographer?

RR: I take great pride in my physical ability to endure extremely harsh and exhausting environments while capturing content. I also keep myself well versed on the latest and greatest camera technology as it hits the market, and I figure out how it can be best utilized in the field.

What projects do you have coming up?

RR: I am the Director of Photography for the next season of Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet. I have also been offered a job with Discovery Channel’s Alaska: The Last Frontier, but until I have a visa, it will be impossible for me to accept this opportunity.

What are your plans for the future?

RR: I plan on continuing to travel the world, gathering and telling stories of unique people in captivating places. I am also interested in working on feature films.

What do you hope to achieve in your career?

RR: I want to create a body of work that I am proud of; ultimately, I’m determined to tell stories that inspire and move people.

Why are you passionate about working as a cinematographer and why is it your chosen profession?

RR: Being a cinematographer is the only job I have ever had that doesn’t feel like work.  Every day that I wake up on location, I truly cannot believe how lucky I am. I’m honored and humbled to be instrumental in telling stories about people and places that would have gone otherwise unnoticed. It gives me a beautiful opportunity to put myself in the shoes of people living a different life experience than me, and I love trying to see the world from their eyes.

 

Behind the scenes: Cat Sherwin reveals a day in the life of a Make-up Artist and Hair Stylist on Australia’s leading breakfast TV news lineup

cat
Cat Sherwin

 

It’s 2 a.m. and her day has already begun.

A short meditation, double expresso and daily horoscope are the kick starters. Then it’s off to the shower, out the door and on to Seven Network Studios in the Martin Place district of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

The essential morning routine is the tried and true method for Cat Sherwin, make-up artist and hair stylist for Seven Network’s breakfast TV lineup: “Seven Early News,” “Sunrise” and “The Morning Show.”

“It’s my little bit of Zen time for day,” Sherwin said. “I find it really centers me with an aura of peace and calm for what’s often a hectic day ahead.”

Beginning with “Seven Early News,” followed by “Sunrise” and ending with “The Morning Show,” the three programs broadcast from 5 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. weekdays, with “Sunrise” continuing to air from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. on weekends.

Programming informs Australian audiences on news, sports, weather, current affairs and entertainment. It’s an ongoing barrage of talk-show TV production that only pauses once a year, on Christmas Day.

Audiences have responded and made “Sunrise” the highest-rated breakfast news program across Australia. It originated in 1991 and is carried out in the tradition of “Good Morning America.”

“Sunrise” has covered a litany of major news including the Iraq War, the inauguration of Barack Obama, the 2010 Copiapo mining accident, the 2010-2011 Queenslands floods, the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, Hurricane Sandy, the 2014 Sydney hostage crisis, the Pope’s morning Masses and many other impactful stories. Musical guests on “Sunrise” have included Usher, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, One Direction, and dozens more.

For Sherwin, her schedule varies and includes make-up and hair styling up to five out of seven days a week at the studio where she participates critically for the production of all three morning shows. She’s been making up and styling show hosts and guests for Seven Network’s morning lineup since 2008, an impressive tenure that’s featured her outstanding work in hundreds of episodes.

“The wide variety of show types offer a huge opportunity for different creativity and experiences,” said Sherwin, who estimates she styles around 5-15 different people per episode. “News has to be often quite structured and serious. Entertainment and weather presenters can be a little more fun and fashion forward. Current affairs programs are often tailored to the nature of the interview.”

“Seven Early News” is presented by Jodie Speers. “Sunrise” is hosted by David Koch and Samantha Armytage. Also hosting “Sunrise” are Natalie Barr (news), Mark Beretta (sports), Edwina Bartholomew (Entertainment) and Sam Mac (weather). “The Morning Show” is presented by Kylie Gilles and Larry Emdur.

“All main hosts are styled first before we move on to guests. We look at the wardrobe of the presenter for the day and any accessories they may have, and also take into account any particular requests the host may have, or a particular look they may want to go for that day,” said Sherwin. “Each makeup artist is given a main host to style, hair, make-up, hair extensions, lashes, then often a male host as well.”

As to guests and interviewees, Sherwin has made up a wide array of people from all walks of life, from abuse and disaster victims, to brides wanting to get married on TV, to rock stars, writers, actors, directors and many more. She’s styled Duran Duran, author Deepak Chopra and actress/model Teresa Palmer, to name a few.

Sherwin has styled for the show’s coverage of the Melbourne Cup and an Opera House concert with Katy Perry. She’s made up the needed looks for on location shoots in any elements, whether rain, cold, heat or any other challenging conditions.

Just before a guest appears on a show segment, Sherwin’s styling duties actually add a psychological component.

“You’re often one of the last interfaces before a person goes on air and if it is a guest who has never been on television before, they can be nervous,” she explained. “I believe it’s my job to help keep people calm and make everyone feel special, whilst also making them feel and look great – often in a short amount of time.”

The reality of Sherwin’s job requires a world of talent, creativity and poise under pressure. She strikes an imperative balance of keeping calm and centered, while also being upbeat and energetic. The nuances are necessities when considering the importance of her behind-the-camera role.

“Your work is extremely visible on the show for the world to see,” she said. “There’s nowhere to hide. You have to get it right whilst also not taking yourself too seriously or getting stressed. It’s also a lot of shift work, so it’s important to look after yourself physically and mentally.”

Sonya Downie is Seven Network’s Chief Departmental Head for Hair and Make-Up and has worked in supervisory production roles for more than 20 years.

“Cat’s work is superb. I have now worked with her for eight or nine years and her work consistently shines,” said Downie. “Cat is a wonderful, dedicated and extraordinary artist, recognized not only for her amazing creative skills, but her professionalism and integrity in the workplace. She is a joy to work with and inspiration to all those who work with her, making her a key choice for our top talent.”

After each morning show has commenced at Seven Network Studios, Sherwin wraps up by washing brushes, restocking product, organizing her kit, returning calls, e-mailing, invoicing and researching different looks for the next morning’s productions.

Upon returning home, she lays out her clothes for the next day and prepares breakfast to take on the go. Another 2 a.m. rise beckons. It’s Zen time once again. And Sherwin wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s definitely a buzz and fabulous to be part of such a big show renowned across Australia,” she said. “It sometimes blows me away how many people watch and have seen me on behind the scenes shots. Often audience members will call and ask what lipstick or blush we have used. It’s amazing that we can influence viewers’ make-up choices and how many people take an interest in what the hosts’ style is for the day. Television is a visual medium after all.”

Creating Realities in Film that Effectively Transport Viewers: Art Director Haisu Wang

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Art Director Haisu Wang shot by Tian-ran Qin

 

As the art director of the films “Is That A Gun in Your Pocket?,” “Contrapelo” and “Day One,” ABC’s hit television series “The Muppets,” the Asian television series “My Sunshine,” and commercials for major global clients including Kia, Chinese native Haisu Wang has carved out an indelible place for himself in the international entertainment industry as someone who’s skill effectively transports audiences into the world of the stories on screen, no matter how far fetched they may be.

While it is no secret that the film industry is full of oversized egos often competing for the glitz and glory, what makes Wang so special, besides his adept technical skill and unparalleled creativity, is the fact that he always lets the director’s vision for a project guide his work.

Never failing to design an atmosphere that creates the perfect environment for a story, the versatile nature of his creative vision compounded by his intuitive approach has allowed him to nail the mark every time.

“My passion is always creating environments to help storytelling,” admits Wang.

It is no coincidence that practically every project that Wang has art directed to date has received coveted accolades. As the art director of the film “Day One,” which earned a nomination for an Oscar Award at the 2016 Academy Awards, in addition to winning two Emmy Awards at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences College Television Awards in 2015, one of which earned director Henry Hughes the award for Best Director, Wang’s work garnered worldwide attention.

About Wang’s invaluable work on the film Hughes explains, “Haisu’s vision and rare skill using digital software to create some of the most challenging sets for ‘Day One’ was invaluable to our production, especially considering the geographic challenges of the location. Without his contributions it would have been nearly impossible to construct these sets in the amount of time and within the allotted budget. He is definitely a huge asset to the film industry.”

Whether he is working on a film, television series or commercial, Wang’s attention to detail combined with his logical and budget conscious approach to outfitting each set with the right props has been imperative in setting the tone and creating believable environments for each and every production he’s contributed to.

As the art director of Kia’s “Extraordinary Day” commercial, also known as “When an Ordinary Day Turns Extraordinary,” which currently has over 900,000 views on YouTube and was produced by BuzzFeed, Wang turned the sets of a simple car commercial into a project that plays visually on screen like a narrative story. From the minor knick knacks of a local garage sale, to colorful balloons falling from the ceiling after one of the character’s wins a raffle in a convenient store—Wang’s work manages to keep viewers engaged as we watch a love connection sparked between two Kia Soul drivers all started from the fact that they share the same kind of car.

For Wang, who also spent time as a visual effects artist for three-time Emmy Award winning VFX and animation company, Base FX, based in Beijing, China, art has been a major part of his life since childhood.

“I practiced Chinese calligraphy with my grandpa since I was a kid and also learned how to make shadow play puppetry with him, and I think that set the foundation of my path in art,” admits Wang.

Wang recently wrapped production as the art director of multi-award winning director Ryan Velásquez’s (“Ojalá,” “Record Breaker”) film “Drowning,” which is slated for release later this year. The film follows Gabe, played by Jovan Armand (“The Middle,” “Shameless,” “Parenthood”), an overweight teen who finally starts feeling good about himself after he musters up the courage to talk to Sarah, the girl of his dreams, and an unexpected friendship forms. However, when the high school bully and bane of Gabe’s existence makes Sarah his newest target, Gabe is forced to decide between remaining a coward in his comfort zone or standing up to the bully and fighting against injustice.

As the lead art director on “Drowning,” Wang had the difficult task of arranging a set to depict Gabe falling onto the ground combined with a montage in water. He was able to build a vertical wall on a track and dress it to appear as the floor so that the actor was able to pretend to hit the ground without hurting himself. On “Drowning,” as he has done on many of his past productions, Wang utilized his excellent CGI skills to create a revisualization animation to rehearse the timing of the scene; this assisted the director greatly in explaining how the scene could work for the actor.

Through his work on screen it is easy to see that Wang is passionate about the worlds he creates for the characters in a story; and, as all of the worlds from film to film are completely different, the versatility he’s shown across projects is just another testament to his seasoned skill in creating the perfect environment for each project on an individual level.

With “Drowning” on the verge of release, and Wang set to begin production as the digital asset art director on the highly anticipated sequel “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” later this year, audiences can look forward to seeing more of art director Haisu Wang’s ingenious work on screen very soon.