Category Archives: Film

John Wate brings authentic Japanese culture to ‘Samurai Headhunters’ documentary

Whenever John Wate steps onto a film set, puts his eye to a camera lens, and starts making a movie, he is living his dream. Directing is a pleasure he can’t compare to anything else; it allows him to be in tune with what is happening in front of him, and all his senses go into overdrive. He spends every day doing what he truly loves, and this passion translates directly into his beautiful work.

For this German native, making a good movie is all about the research. He always aims to find the perfect story and the right characters, with the singular goal of leaving an impression on his audience. With his work on the Smithsonian’s Epic Warrior Women film series and movies like Samurai Warrior Queens, he does just that, showcasing why he is an industry-leading director in his country.

“I would say as a director you are a storyteller, and the way you have lived and seen the world will organically shape how you tell your stories. I found that the world is a treasure trove that has so much to offer in terms of stories and characters. Once I find that ‘one thing’ that interests me, I can start digging and I usually find gold,” said Wate.

Wate has spent many years directing masterful films and television series, including the TV movie Samurai Headhunters in 2013, that allowed him to explore a unique part of world history. It is a documentary on the dark and brutal side of the samurai warrior clans featuring the life of peasant Masa who is forced into the ruthless world of the samurai.

For over a thousand years, the samurai have been celebrated as an aristocratic warrior class. Exceptionally skilled and loyal until death, their very name has become a byword for honor and dignity. This film reveals the unknown dark side of the samurai – a fascinating tale of greed, treachery, extreme cruelty and violent death. Based on newly discovered samurai war manuals, Samurai Headhunters reconstructs the life of a young peasant farmer who is press-ganged into a warlord’s army. Driven by his love for a village girl of noble birth, young Masa quickly rises through the ranks from simple foot soldier to venerated samurai commander. But his reward is to be one of betrayal, lies and finally forced suicide by his fellow samurai. Interwoven with this dramatic story, two British historians track down remarkable new evidence from ancient war manuals that show the true, dark world of the samurai. The drama documentary also features a living samurai master and his students, as well as CG animation, stunning re-enactments, original costumes and historic locations.

“Everyone knows the samurai as loyal, courageous fighters with a strong moral code – but not many people know that this is only part of the story. During the almost 200 years of civil war in Japan the samurai got rewarded for their deeds in battle, which often meant for the number of heads they had taken. The film explores the unknown dark side of the samurai, how they cheated, lied and murdered to gain favors and advance their careers, the forbidden love between warriors, the atrocities of samurai warfare, and the danger to rise to fame in such an environment. I found all these facts about the dark side of the samurai as grizzly as they were fascinating,” said Wate.

After great success with his previous film, Ninja Shadow Warriors, Wate teamed up once again with Urban Canyons Producer Sebastian Peiter and together with researcher Anthony Cummins, they researched and built the concept for the film. Living in Japan at the time, Wate not only had extensive experience, but he also had direct links to the famous Japanese film studios in Kyoto, and through all his previous other documentaries had direct access to Japanese cultural icons, such as sword masters, swordsmiths or traditional armourers. He was the ideal director for the job.

“You need to have a feeling for Japanese manners and that what they say is not always what they mean. I think a lot of the fascination for the samurai comes from the exotic mixture of stoic readiness, their manners and proper conduct in life and in battle. But if you want to show that, you have to know HOW they did certain things and why. You can’t just use a Western blue-print to invent what the character would do. At that time I lived in Japan, I spoke the language and understood their manners and hints, like that a certain gesture can reveal the opposite of what has been said. The timing, the tempo or movement of people speaking at formal gatherings. These are all subtle things that can build an authentic exotic flavor that is fun to watch,” he said.

Samurai Headhunters has been extremely popular since its release. It has aired in over thirty countries, not only on television channels but also various exhibitions about the samurai culture. It is currently showing in the prestigious Kunsthalle Munich, a German national art museum.

Actor Kevin Clayette is stuck in a dystopian future in ‘Doktor’

Headshot Kevin Clayette (Photograph -Lauren Orrell)
Kevin Clayette, photo by Lauren Orrell

As a seasoned and celebrated actor, Kevin Clayette still tries to approach his craft, and his life, from the mindset of a child, by always being open to and excited by new experiences, and to love and believe like a kid. With this approach, every time he steps onto a film set, he is excited by the opportunity to play make believe and tell stories. He gets to be that little five-year-old that is always inside of him, not caring what others think and simply enjoying his life. For this New Caledonia native, there is no greater sense of joy.

At only 25, Clayette has already had a formidable career, becoming a recognized leader in Australia’s entertainment industry. Audiences everywhere recognize him from the long running soap opera Neighbours, in which he played fan favorite Dustin Oliver, and in the award-winning feature film Emo the Musical, in which he showed off his versatility as a triple-threat.

Another hit on Clayette’s resume came with the 2015 science fiction horror flick Doktor. Shot at the legendary Fox Studios in Australia where many popular films, including The Matrix, have been filmed, this award-winning film tells the story of an ancient man who is awake during surgery, triggering an hallucination, but also an allusion of a disturbing new reality.

“I liked that even though this story is set in a dystopian world and therefore quite far fetched from our current reality, it deals with themes such as money and power that are very real in our world. By talking about the reality of those issues, of those vices, we allow very important conversations to happen. Projects like these make you think and question our society and yourself. It’s a very interesting topic to reflect on,” said Clayette. “What does money do to you? Would you rather live a happy and fulfilled but short-lived life, or a lonely but long life thanks to money and corruption?”

In Doktor, Clayette plays the lead character of Gulham. In the dystopian world, Gulham is taken from the ones he loves after receiving a mysterious phone call. During that phone call, he made a deal with the devil and agreed to give his life in exchange for his family and loved one’s safety. He is then mistreated and drugged and dragged into a room before the film’s big reveal. Gulham is very ambiguous, but he is a good man, trying to do whatever it takes to save his family and loved ones. He is very brave.

Clayette knew that as the star of the film, he had to put everything he had into creating an authentic and captivating performance. Every morning, he would go through the entire script and storyboard before going on set, and every evening after leaving he would focus on creating the backstory for his character, imagining what he had been through, and then visualise what the next day would look like.

Clayette also had to prepare for his many emotional scenes, needing to portray a devastated character who sacrificed his life and knew he would never see his family again. In another scene, he was dragged down a corridor on a leash like a dog, and he had to show that hopelessness just with facial expressions. Such a challenge was exciting for the actor, who exceeded all expectations.

“Everyone in the crew was absolutely lovely, from the director to the producer to the makeup artists. It was very challenging emotionally on many levels to shoot some of the scenes I had in the movie. I liked having to get in the mindset and shoes of someone that lives a completely different life than the one I have,” he said.

Clayette had to portray a vastly emotional and dynamic performance despite the role being action focused with minimal dialogue. Using only his body language, he put everything he had into the role, creating many intense and dramatic moments in the film that greatly contributed to its later success.

Doktor was screened at many prestigious international festivals around the world. It took home Best Experimental Short Film at the Cutting Edge International Film Festival and was also selected to be showcased within the open competition category of AACTA’s Social Shorts (the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts). Clayette still feels honored by the film’s vast success.

“I’m really proud of this project and the hard work that everyone put in. It’s incredible to know that independent movies with smaller budgets can still have such an impact on our world,” he concluded.

Zichen Tang uses cinematography to show a story, not tell it

The importance of cinematography, says Zichen Tang, a master of his craft, does not lie with whether an image is real or not, but if one can make the audience believe it is real. With this approach, Tang continuously transports audiences to different places and times, immersing his viewers in the world he has created through his work. He likes to express himself through his art, knowing his fans enjoy his individualistic approach.

“Cinematography is sharing your story not by telling it, but showing it,” he said.

Throughout his esteemed career, Tang has proven time and time again why he is a sought-after cinematographer in his home of China and internationally. Whether creating a viral video, like the humorous and enlightening Unspoken Rules of Chinese Gift Giving or an award-winning film such as The Last Lesbian, Tang’s talents are always on display.

Yet another success story for Tang came last year with his award-winning film The Somnium. It is the story of a single mother who can’t recover from the loss of her beloved son and joins a research program to live in a dream state of her memories, while her mom fights with her to keep her in the present reality.

“The story was interesting. When I first read the story, it reminded me of an episode of my favorite show, Black Mirror. I always wanted to make a film like that. I like it because it’s not an ordinary ‘happy ending’ film, but the type of story that makes people think. On the surface, it alarms the potential harm that technology could bring to us, but deep down it was the mom’s choice that caused the tragedy. So, the core is really about humanity,” said Tang.

The Somnium premiered last year at the Los Angeles Independent Film Awards, where Tang was nominated for Best Cinematography. He was awarded Best Cinematography at the Los Angeles Film Awards, where the film also took home Best Director and Best Editing. The film made its way to several more festivals throughout the year, winning more awards and enthralling audiences all over the world with the help of Tang’s work.

“I was thrilled when the awards started to be announced one by one, while at the same time I feel we deserved it. Everyone on this project was talented and worked really hard. They believe in the story,” said Tang.

Tang was asked to come on board by Director Jingyu Liu, who had always wanted to work with the cinematographer after seeing his work. Tang was eager to form a partnership, advising her on her previous film, Shallow Grave, which was nominated for Golden Reel Award. When Liu sent Tang the script, he knew instantly this would be a great project for them to take on together.

“I was thrilled after reading the script. It was still a draft, but I could already tell its potential. The director and I have very similar tastes, so during pre-production, instead of trying to convince each other of things, we were inspiring each other. Often there would be many disagreements between cinematographers and directors, but on this project, we seldom had a disagreement. Instead, we have been focusing on finding better and more creative ways to tell the story, making the process rather delightful,” said Tang.

Making The Somnium was fun and rewarding for Tang. As a cinematographer, he was heavily involved in the script, putting his heart into the project from the very beginning to the very end, going through almost 20 drafts as it changed from the first draft to the final production.

“I was developing the story with the director all the time, and during that process, we had been talking about how we should shoot it as well. Often filmmakers have a problem when they find out something in the script is wonderful in theory but can’t be expressed visually. That was never a problem for this project. I was a visual consultant during script development and made sure this is a story that would be best told in the form of film,” he described.

The Somnium was just one of Tang’s many award-winning projects last year, and he has a lot lined up this year to continue his success and keep showing the world his outstanding talent as a cinematographer. It wasn’t always an easy path to get to where he is today, but he always persevered, and it was well worth it. He knows he will never stop learning new tricks of the trade and is eager for every new project he takes on.

“The best way to make it in cinematography is to learn from others. There’s a saying, ‘good artists copy, but great artists steal.’ It’s not encouraging plagiarism or anything, but saying that we should watch what other artists have done, think why they did it, and learn from them,” he advised.

Producer/Director Xueou Yu experiments with magical realism in award-winning film

Xueou Yu was just a teenager when her mother bought her a book titled Top 250 IMDb Ranking Films.  At the time, it seemed like a simple gift, but it quickly changed her life forever. She began watching some of the films in the book, and before she knew it, she had watched all 250. After immersing herself in the dynamic artform, Yu became in love with cinema. She could travel to far lands, go back in time, learn about different cultures, all while sitting on her couch.

Now, Yu is a celebrated film director and producer in China and abroad. She is known for her work on films like VincentKa Ka Ka Ka, and Donna, as well as commercials such as Sirui Pocket. She is known for her expertise in her craft, with over 60 thousand followers on social media, who look for her posts providing feedback on current movies and television shows.

“I think film is a tool to expand our lives. To me film can maximize our life experiences. I want to spend my life giving others this kind of experience,” said Yu.

One of Yu’s first tastes of international success came with her dynamic drama Asa Nisi Masa. At the time, she was very drawn to magical realism in film, the mix of surreal and reality greatly attracting her artistic mind. She wondered what she could create with this in mind, and began exploring ideas that would draw people in while also challenging them. That is when Asa Nisi Masa was born.

Asa Nisi Masa follows a man who has never believed in magic, when one day he walks into a bar and finds out the bartender has found his true love by the help of a genie. The genie lives in the men’s bathroom in the bar, and is there to grant wishes. Yu also wrote the script, on top of producing and directing the film. It is a simple and funny story, and she wanted to convey that one never knows what will happen, even if it is something you never thought possible.

When Yu first started working on the film, she had difficulties finding a cast and crew as many were unsure of what they deemed a “weird” story. However, Yu had an important outlook: when making films, if the crew doesn’t believe in what they are creating, they won’t create a work of art. Commitment, she finds, is one of the most important aspects of filmmaking, as it is such a collaborative effort. With that in mind, she worked tirelessly to find the right people who not only could execute her vision, but who believed in it as well, and her hard work paid off.

By Reina Du
Xueou Yu on the set of Asa Nisi Masa, photo by Reina Du

Asa Nisi Masa premiered at the 2017 Blow-Up International Arthouse Film Fest, where it was an Official Selection. From there, it saw great success, and went on to win awards at the International Independent Film Awards and the NYC Indie Film Awards 2017. Such success could never have happened without Yu, who was the driving force of the film.

“I created this project to experiment with the language of film. I think I successfully created a mysteriously odd world. I was able to spread many of my weird thoughts and I had a lot of freedom to really do what I wanted, because I was also producing it. Experimenting is always fun, and even though there are some technical aspects that some would question, I created exactly what I wanted, and it really resonated with audiences. It is a reminder for myself to never stop experimenting,” she said.

At the early stages of pre-production, the most pressing question was asked: how will they show a genie? Was it going to be animated, or an actor in costume? Yu decided on the latter. She thought that by making the genie seem like a regular person, it further portrayed the idea that although the idea was magical, it could happen in the real world, with genies walking among us. To blend the magical aspect, she had two characters sitting at the bar based on a painting by René Magritte, adding that artistic touch for viewers. She truly mixes the surreal and real together to create a unique feeling.

“They call it magic realism, but to me the realism part is always more important because that’s how we live in this world. In this film you still see the realism play a big part,” she said.

Needless to say, Yu is a determined and talented filmmaker. She is a leader and an artist, and knows how to captivate an audience through her work. Asa Nisi Masa is just one example of what she is capable of, and audiences around the world can continue to expect great things from this filmmaker.

She believes her passion is why she has seen the success that she has, and encourages all those looking to follow in her footsteps to truly be in love with filmmaking.

“Don’t go into filmmaking because you think it looks cool or can bring you fame and you make what would please a crowd. Do it because it is what is in your heart and find the subjects you really love and just keep going. Don’t pretend to be the person who you are not, and don’t be ashamed of what you can’t become. Focus more on doing the things that you really love. This is an art, it takes talent and a lot of commitment,” she advised. “If you have both those things, never give up.”

 

Photo by Daren You

Romantic Comedy at its best: Producer Ricky Cruz captivates audiences with ‘Mixed Orders’

Love has been the inspiration of art since the dawn of time. From Shakespeare writing “I love thee with a love that shall not die, till the sun grows cold and the stars grow old” to the Beatles harmonizing “All You Need Is Love” to Jack giving Rose his share of the iconic door in Titanic, love has been one of the most captivating themes throughout art, literature, and film. Throughout his life, it has been the unsuccessful pursuit of love, intimacy and relationships that, for Ricky Cruz, have made such great stories. These stories were always something that he wanted to share with the world because they are so universally enjoyable and uncomfortable.

“I began working on an anthology of quirky romantic comedy short films centered around unsuccessful endeavors into love and relationships. These were supposed to highlight the flip side of the coin when it came to conventional love stories. I always wanted to see the growth behind the guy who is left at the altar, because there’s something so familiar with that element of tragedy,” said Cruz.

With a celebrated career as a producer, Cruz had dedicated his life to telling stories that enchant audiences, and love is an underlying theme in most of his most decorated works, from the LGBTQ coming of age story Foible to drama Honor, telling the story of a woman forced into an arranged marriage by her parents. Another of his more recent projects, Mixed Orders, dives deep into such ideas. Cruz was keen to create the film because he believes seeing love stories through this specific lens is a great way to get a sense of the sort of films he is eager to bring to life in the future.

Mixed Ordersis the first film of the anthology and introduces audiences to the main character and repeat offender of the series, an offbeat lovable innocent who hopefully most will relate with because of his terrible instincts regarding intimacy. It explores the idea of knowing who you are and the importance of patience. Embracing a light-hearted tone and quirky voice, Mixed Orders gives a glimpse into Darren’s uncomfortable and premature marriage proposal to his girlfriend Clare, who is finally coming to terms with her own homosexuality.

Mixed Orders is a film that is pleasant and bitter sweet with a moment of incredible self-realization and personal growth and sometimes that’s what we need or want to see as an audience. I love the unconventional and going against the grain, and what I believe this film does is turn what would and should be a messy scene into a beautiful feel good exchange in a display of the unconventional being made easily palatable. The film has such an honest and charming tone that it’s hard not to just smile at the end of the whole thing. There are no bad people in this sort of situation, just two people who are trying to be honest with themselves and happen to generate some friction because they’re on different pages, which happens in life all the time,” said Cruz.

Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 1.26.20 AM

Not only did Cruz produce Mixed Orders, but he also wrote the script and directed the film. He wrote the series of films a while ago and was eager to get the first one off paper. He wanted to articulate his quirky twist on a love story. He felt he owed the material an accurate rendition of the story he saw in his head because he wanted it to be familiar with some variables that he threw the audience, which is why he also took on the role of director. Leading the team, he knew he could create just the masterpiece he envisioned.

“I think selfishly, I considered myself the expert on these sorts of situations in real life which made me feel more than qualified to bring the story to life on screen and show the audience how absurd but true this character and story may be.

Cruz wanted the film to be a short and sweet story with unconventional and off beat elements. There was a lot of footage, with the actors often going off script and improvising certain takes, and Cruz managed to keep his vision throughout while incorporating such unique twists and turns. Often, some of the lines he never expected to be memorable when writing became his favorites once the scene had been shot and edited, creating a final cut he couldn’t be more proud of.

“I recommend Ricky Cruz for any and all projects, he will not only bring them to life but make them better than you could ever imagine,” said Reinaldo Garcia, who played Darren in the film.

Mixed Orders has won Best Actor and Supporting Actor in a Short Comedy at the Actors Awards, Best Romantic Comedy at TopShorts Film Festival and Best LGBT Short Film, First Audience Award, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Editing and an Honorable Mention for Direction at the South Film and Arts Academy Festival. Such success could never have been possible without Cruz, as the film was his brainchild.

Mixed Orders‘ successful reception makes me excited for the release of the remaining films comprising the anthology of unsuccessful love endeavors. It’s a huge relief to finally have a reference film to ensure the tone and approach remain consistent. While the styles of the upcoming films may differ, I feel more settled knowing that this comedy is understood and appreciated by audiences so I’m very excited at the prospect of being able to watch our repeat offender from the series in back to back short films and truly explore the uncomfortable and bittersweet romance I’m very familiar with on screen,” he said.

Be sure to keep an eye out for the remaining films in this delightful series.

 

Top photo by Arthur Marroquin

Producer Elena Bawiec brings Flamenco dancing to the big screen with new film

ElenaAs a film producer, Elena Bawiec works tirelessly each day to ensure a project comes together, and that is what she loves. Each time she steps onto a set, she is living her dream: sharing stories with a worldwide audience. She has always had a predisposition for this type of work, where it is a mixture of communication, organization, and managing people. Most importantly however, she knows that as a producer she has to understand the story, what works and doesn’t work dramatically, and what will resonate with audiences. It is this final piece of the puzzle that has allowed Bawiec to excel to the forefront of her field, as a natural born storyteller. She knows that no matter the project, film or stage or even a commercial, it comes down to people and the story that is being told.

“I enjoy watching a story begin as an idea on a blank page and then morph into a screenplay draft; then into a bustling film set with hundreds of people making one vision come to life; to visual effects, sound, and music taking over in post; and finally, when we see the first shot in a dark movie theater with an audience,” she said.

Throughout her esteemed career, Bawiec has worked on countless acclaimed films, showing the world just what she is capable of as a producer. These include award-winning hits such as The SuitcaseBlood Brothers, Megan, Only Light, and much more. She has a lot to look forward to this year as well, with many projects in the works. Her highly anticipated film, Incendium, will soon be making its way to the festival circuit.

Incendium is about the essence of creation and the correlation between life and death, visually expressed through movement. This story takes audiences on a breathtaking journey that emphasizes the equilibrium that everything with a beginning inevitable must have an ending; this is the beauty of the inescapable cycle of life. The concept behind this cinematic essay is that contrary forces cannot coexist without one another.

In conjunction with cinematic beauty, this filmic essay focuses on dance – in particular a bold reinterpretation of Flamenco.  The language of dance is universally relatable, as dance is communicated via showing, not telling. Creation is further displayed through the interplay between the heroine and the four mighty forces of nature: water, fire, earth and wind. The film explores an unpredictable force of kinetic grace, centering on the personification of the cycle of life.

“When do we get to work on something so purely visual, so raw, so fascinating? Incendium is a rare visual feast. It is one of those projects that seldom comes along, and you just have to grab it. Incendium completely captivates you with its beauty and power,” said Bawiec.

The director, Greg Strasz (VFX: Independence Day: Resurgence, Stonewall It Follows) has tremendous experience in Visual Effects and Bawiec knew that he is an exceptionally visual person who could create magic with a project like this.

“There was no question as to whether I wanted to be part of this project. The dancer, Mariam Vardanyan, is so talented, passionate, driven. The sheer hours and effort she put into training for this shoot were awe-inspiring. Now I, as the producer, needed to create the support system to have this project come to life,” said Bawiec.

As producer, Bawiec handled budgeting, scheduling, hiring and managing the crew, pre-production, location scouting, logistics of the production, and post production. Elena had agreed upon keeping the footprint small. This was a very intimate experience for Mariam, and for her performance it was beneficial to have as few people as possible, and Bawiec and her team accomplished great things with a much smaller crew than they are used to.

“We went all out with this film. We shot underwater stunt sequences, we shot with fire, we shot on a dry lake bed, and in Death Valley, at night, during the day, in the heat and in the rain. This was quite an adventure. Sometimes we literally fought the wind,” said Bawiec.

The result of the crew’s efforts is a visual spectacle that is a can’t miss. Be sure to check out Incendium and to be carried away by the artistry of the dance and the film as a whole. It is exactly films like Incendium that drive Bawiec, and she plans to spend the rest of her life dedicated to bringing powerful and visually stunning stories to the big and small screens.

“My goal is to tell stories that matter, stories that come from the heart and take the audience on a journey. Entertainment will always be a business; there will always be the bottom line and the investors to get paid, but I do not think you can really be financially successful in the long term if you do not make films that mean something to people, that spark a reaction. I think finding this balance between the creative aspect of our work and the money aspect is very important. Projects that I have currently lined up, are these kinds of stories, which show complex characters trying to make sense of the world around them. Some are based on true stories, some are thrillers or action, and others may be sci-fi, but it’s always the human condition we talk about no matter the genre. Films help us make sense of this world and to understand ourselves better,” she concluded.

Producer Guoqing Fu brings China and America together with award-winning film ‘Underset’

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Guoqing Fu

Filmmaking allows China’s Guoqing Fu to explore the unknown psychological world and explore his endless creativity. He feels a thrill whenever he embarks on a new project, with the purpose of reflecting and exaggerating social phenomena, to arouse resonance in people’s hearts.

“As the eighth art form of humankind, film is the crystallization of the first seven art forms, which perfectly interprets the inner artistic passion of filmmakers. The artistic and creative pleasure that cannot be obtained in the real world can be infinitely expanded in the film world,” he said.

Throughout his career, Fu has shown why he is an in-demand producer in his home country and abroad. This is exemplified with his films Gum Gum, La Pieta, and Over, to name a few. He has a sincere desire to educate and entertain the masses through his work, with no plans on slowing down.

“My goal is to better disseminate Chinese and American culture, making more collaborative projects and bringing more culture and art into the film world,” said Fu. “I feel that the film and television cooperation between China and the United States has great potential. I am willing to be a pioneer and keep working hard.”

The producer became one step closer to that goal with his film Underset. Taking place in the Republic Era of China, after the main character, Qianyue Zhang, was married, he went to his hometown to find his friend, Mingtang Wang, but he accidentally finds a dead body in his hotel room. The police take the owner of the hotel, his wife, and all the hotel customers into custody. Qianyue’s wife and her father arrive to learn about the incident, but it is all too much for him to accept, eventually leading to his death.

Premiering last June in Beijing, Underset was a great success in both China and America. Not only was it an Official Selection at many prestigious festivals around the world, it took home several awards. These include Best Feature Film and the Diamond Award at the Hollywood Film Competition, Best Feature Film at the Hollywood Film Competition, Best Original Music and Best Production at Macau International Movie Festival, Best Feature Film and the Platinum Award at the NYC Indie Film Awards, and Best Feature Film at The European Independent Film Awards.

“I am very honored as one of the most vital members of the team. It’s my first time being a producer on a truly Chinese feature film. When I heard about the awards from my friends and crew members, I was excited,” he said.

Fu was a co-producer on Underset, taking on key responsibilities like script selection, hiring team members and setting up the team. He coordinated every single department, solved any and all problems on set, ensuring everything went smoothly without any delays. He always did what needed to be done to stay on top of things, making a strong team and a great film.

Most important for Fu, Underset is a Chinese domestic film. The production environment is very different from the United States, but this producer is determined to be a bridge between Chinese and American film cooperation, a large and challenging task he is more than willing to take on.

“It was hard, but I think it was worth it. It was my first time managing a whole production in China. In the beginning, I needed to care about all the parts, because it makes me learn more about the Chinese film industry. It has some advantages, but it also has disadvantages. I love those experiences, some of them are challenging, but challenges make me stronger and a pro for next time,” he said.

Keep an eye out for Fu’s future works.

Sound Mixer SiYao Jiang terrifies audiences with ‘Slicker’

As a sound mixer, SiYao Jiang spends his day on film sets and television productions, always experiencing something new. He comes to work each day prepared to not only excel technically, but creatively as well. He knows the importance of sound when watching your favorite movie, being able to take audiences to a different place and time through what they hear.

“I am not that kind of person who can sit in an office all day, I need to move around, and production sound mixer is the perfect job for me where I do audio and recording in different locations every time. Secondly, I get to meet different people during different sets,” said Jiang.

Jiang has spent his career impressing worldwide audiences with his talent. He has worked on national commercials with leading brands, like the Japanese air conditioning company Daikin, and on award-winning film productions, such as Apple, as well as Bag of Worms and Starf*cker. He is incredibly versatile, knowing just how to bring on the laughs or terrify audiences, just as he did in the horror Slicker.

Slicker is a suspenseful horror film about Eddie, a cocky businessman who is lost in the middle of nowhere with an empty tank of gas, and no idea what direction to take next. He finds himself seeking help from a pair of locals who are hiding a deep disdain for outsiders, and a dark secret. The help he finds is not what it seems to be, leaving Eddie fearing for his life. He is faced with a decision, and his choice leads to grave consequences.

It was the first horror Jiang mixed, so it was an interesting experience for the sound editor. He found the story fun, but also slightly disturbing, and he wanted to help scare the audience. He also found that the film was more than just a scare tactic, as it teaches something at the very end.

Slicker has gone on to see tremendous success at many film festivals around the world. It even went on to win several awards, including second place at the International Horror Hotel, and was selected into the End of Days Festival this past summer.

“I feel great that Slicker did so well. After all the challenges that the sound team faced and working so hard to overcome them, it is great that other people recognized our efforts,” said Jiang.

The setting for this film was in a forest, and Jiang found shooting in such an environment challenging but fun in terms of sound. The environment was pretty difficult, with lots of people being bitten by fire-ants, including him, and the weather was very humid, so it really restricted the range of the wireless. The first day of shooting, the system wouldn’t turn on and the mic wasn’t functioning as it was getting wet. Luckily, he had a backup and it was smooth sailing from there. He made sure to come prepared with alternative options every day afterwards.

“I like challenges, and this project is really challenging. Lots of wide shots, limited space, and super humid environment which makes the sound team very difficult to work with. Luckily the production gives us enough time to sort the problem out,” he said.

Watch Slicker and prepare yourself to be terrified.

Filmmaker Tom Edwards Strikes a Balance between Producing and Directing

Tom Edwards
Producer and director Tom Edwards at the Napa Valley Film Festival

It takes a very unique talent to effectively balance the work of a producer and director simultaneously on a project. Though it is no easy task, it is one where filmmaker Tom Edwards has proven his skill time and time again.

One of Edwards’ recent projects as producer and director is the music video for folk-punk artist Sunny War’s single “Gotta Live It,” which premiered last year to great praise on Vice’s Noisey outlet, which is known for showcasing hot new music and music videos.

Edwards captures the juxtaposition of melancholy sadness and perseverance present in Sunny War’s “Gotta Live It,” which the artist says is “a very personal song about my struggle with alcoholism, my dysfunctional love life and the confusion I face daily participating in this rat race society.”

Prior to directing and producing “Gotta Live It,” Edwards directed and produced the music video for Sunny War’s  “Goodbye LA.” That first time collaboration obviously ran smoothly because the artist called him back again for “Gotta Live It.”

Working with Tom is very chill. He has a nice easy going personality but at the same time he is very organized. [He] is good at what he does… he plans every shot, communicates the ideas with you beforehand… and actually follows through,” says Sunny War. “He is also always willing to listen to any crazy ideas you might have and is kind when explaining why those ideas are crazy and won’t work.”

Though Tom Edwards’ boundless creativity as a visionary director is evident in his work, his ability to balance what does and doesn’t work from the standpoint of a producer in terms of managing the budget, shoot days and all of the other odds and ends that go into producing are what make him such a sought after talent.

“As the producer I was working with a very limited budget. It was important to find the right location and that the filming could be completed in one day. As director I needed to make sure that my vision aligned with Sunny’s and that she was happy with the idea before I started to shoot. The last thing you want when working with an artist is to find out after shooting that they don’t like the final video,” explains Edwards.

“It’s essential to have good communication skills to ensure both sides of the party agree on the expectations. My role as producer was about coordinating crew, finding locations, getting permits and making sure we had the right amount of gear to tell the story. I like to keep all the logistics out of the way when I’m directing, it’s important to make sure I have my undivided attention on the artistic choices and performance.”

Some of the other music videos Edwards has produced and directed include “Fire” from  American ukulele virtuoso Taimane, The Main Squeeze’s “Only Time,” Westside FX “War ft. Bro Burch,” Calix’s “California Dream’n,” “Bad Blood,” and more. He’s also directed and produced commercials for brands including Lamborghini, The Sirius, Garrison Bespoke and the Shaolin Temple.

While he’s made a name for himself as a powerful producer and director in the world of commercials and music videos he’s no stranger to producing and directing narrative films.

In 2013 Edwards wrote, directed and produced the film “Ninety One: A Tainted Page,” which earned multiple awards including those for Best Overall Film, Best Actor and Best International Baccalaureate Film at the Shanghai Student Film Festival.

Actor Anson Lau, who plays the lead in the film, says, “I’ve always known Tom for his passion for making films… When he puts together a project he’s always enthusiastic… When he directs he knows exactly what he wants.”

Over the years Edwards strength as a producer has also led him to be tapped to produce a long list of projects for other directors.

He explains, “Aside from directing and producing my own films, I find a lot of pleasure helping others and bringing their visions to life. I enjoy being critical and being able to provide valuable feedback.”

One such film where Edwards proved critical in the success of the film as a producer behind the scenes is the 2016 dramatic sci-fi film “Visitors” starring Kei’la Ryan from “Escape the Night,” “The Doctors” and “American Hashtag.”

“I worked with Tom on a large number of projects, from commercials and music videos to narrative films. He always blew me away with his creativity and hard work. His work on the film ‘Visitors’ was significantly important and was one of our best collaborations,” says “Visitors” director Alon Juwal. “Tom had a large creative input both in the development phase and in the production phase. He contributed greatly in the writing of the screenplay and managed to lock some amazing crew members for the project.”

A film about two siblings who return home to their estranged father’s house after a long absence, only to find their home being invaded by a group of uninvited visitors from another world as the night progresses, “Visitors” made a strong impact on audiences and festival judges across the globe.

In addition to earning the Honorable Mention Award from the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival and the Festival Award from the New York International Film Festival “Visitors” was nominated for several awards at festivals including the USA Film Festival, Vail Film Festival, Phoenix Comic-Con, Newport Beach Film Festival, and more.

“After careful review of the [Visitors] script, there were a few scenes that needed more attention. In one scene, the main character is blasted with a beam of light as if a spaceship about to abduct him. We had to make sure that we could get a rig and the right people to achieve this,” recalls Edwards about some of his key contributions to the project.

Edwards’ personal experience writing and directing projects have endowed him with an unparalleled understanding of what needs to happen on set for a director to be able to effectively make their vision come to life; and this is one reason why he has proven himself as such a powerful producer.

Director Alon Juwal adds, “All of my collaborations with Tom ended in successful productions. He brings a great deal of enthusiasm and grace to each project that he signs up for. Tom takes every small task that he is given with great seriousness and simply brings amazing results. He is fast, extremely efficient and a very hard worker.”

The ever busy producer and director is currently working with writer Phil Giangrande on the upcoming dystopian film “Now It Begins,” which takes place in a future society where resources are scarce and poses the question over whether it is ethical for a father to be replaced by artificial intelligence.

Edwards is also working with an a LA based production company on what he says is a “Very exciting series of educational videos that will launch sometime this year.”

Though he’s not yet able to announce the details on the upcoming video project, with such a track record of successful productions already under his belt we know it’s one you will be hearing about very soon.

China’s Zanda Tang talks love of animation and the importance of research

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Zanda Tang

Hailing from Dalian, a coastal city in Northern China, Zanda Tang has made quite a name for himself both in his home country and around the world. With a unique style, he has become a leading Animation Concept Artist. He adopts a variety of painting techniques, always adapting to what each new project requires to best tell the story. He is constantly learning, staying up-to-date with the latest styles of painting, allowing him to jump out of his comfort zone and bring innovative ideas to whatever film he takes on.

“Animation is the least restrictive tool for spreading your ideas. It can be more exaggerated and imaginative than a movie. Compared with the words in books, it can more accurately convey your design and details. Now more and more movies use animation to help with shooting, which makes me more confident in this industry,” he said.

Tang has worked on a number of award-winning films alongside decorated colleagues. His film Lion Dance took home nine awards and was an Official Selection at over 30 international film festivals. He saw similar success with Diors Samurai and Baby and Granny, captivating audiences around the world. No matter the project, Tang makes sure to extensively research all aspects of the story, leaving no detail left behind.

“For example, if I were to design a kettle in an animation project, I would put in the work required to make it more than just a simple kettle. First of all, I would collect a lot of information about the kettle based on the story background and character information of the project. I would collect information from various fields, such as screenshots of illustrations on the ancient painting network, pictures of movies, pictures of goods online and even descriptions in books. When you have a lot of information elements, then the really interesting part starts. You can put all these different elements together and eventually you can design multiple designs based on the identity of the owner of the kettle and the environment. Each object becomes its own character, and that’s when the creativity of animation really shines,” he said.

This determination and talent is exemplified time and time again throughout Tang’s career. Last year, he had great success with many projects in China, from promotional campaigns to informational material. Early in 2018, he began working on Completion of the Compilation of the Chinese Dictionary for Baidu, the popular Chinese search engine. Tang’s work was similar to the Google Doodle, and was seen by millions.

The dictionary was compiled by more than 300 experts and scholars from Sichuan and Hubei provinces on March 9, 1968. The list includes about 56,000 words. It is the largest Chinese dictionary in the world with the largest collection of Chinese words and the most complete definitions. It is a large-scale Chinese special reference book for the purpose of explaining the shape, sound and meaning of Chinese characters. Tang took on the role of characters, props and environment designer. With the compilation of more and more materials, it gradually formed a huge Chinese dictionary, and the dictionary closed after it formed. Bai and Baidu were finally written in the data card.

In the Spring of 2018, Tang also had the honor of working with the China Academy of Space Technology on a 2D animation project. The video created shows the ancient beacon fire that was used to transmit information, and then the wild goose satellite appeared to complete the transformation of modern social satellite information transmission. This is followed by a demonstration of the practical application of the constellation of subsequent satellites in human society. Hundreds of them circle the earth and connect with each other, all of them reflecting the theme of “satellite application, light up life!”

Tang took on the visual design of the video. He used the planar design, because the proportion of the chopping screen is special. In order to make better use of the advantage of the ultra-wide screen, he used large scenes in the design to better show the world, the ocean and the universe.

Undoubtedly, Tang has had a formidable career in animation, and has no plans on slowing down. It was not always an easy road to get to where he is now, with times of self-doubt and the struggle to create. He is so glad he persisted and never gave up, and he encourages all those looking to follow in his footsteps to do the same.

“Having personality and style is a good skill. In this industry, having good painting skills and understanding more diverse painting styles is a foundation. Don’t be afraid to learn other people’s styles and don’t linger in your own safe zone. Challenge yourself so that you can bring yourself more surprises,” he advised.