Category Archives: Hollywood

20 QUESTIONS WITH WRITER SARAH WALTON

You write films which present the plight of modern romance. How does romance differ today from the romantic films of your childhood?

Classic 80’s rom coms like Overboard and Housesitter were much soppier than most modern rom coms. They were more fantasy based, more farcical, over the top and fun. I think audiences found corniness more palatable back in the 80’s.

In the 90’s rom coms became more realistic, more drama based rom coms like Sliding Doors and 40 days and 40 nights, high concept ideas based in reality.  Now rom coms are often quite reality based like He’s Just Not That Into You and Bridget Jones’s Dairy.  Personally I love them all, but I have to admit I’ve not seen many Woody Allen rom coms. They feel too gritty for me, but I know I shouldn’t knock it till I try it!

It feels as if society is slowly becoming more accustomed to violence and graphic, sometimes aggressive sex scenes and becoming less comfortable with cheesy love stories and romance.  I don’t know who decided it was “uncool” to like romantic comedies – I imagine someone or more likely, a group of people who had been through a lot of pain and were angry at the world.  It seems audiences are more comfortable seeing character get slaughtered on screen than they are with seeing true intimacy.  Love definitely feels more natural to me than violence and I’m passionate about making more corny lovey dovey content to counteract the violence and hate spreading like a disease in the world.  Romantic comedies have the power to remind us of the love inside of us.

What is it about romantic comedies that appeals to your sensibilities as a writer? 

Rom coms appeal to me because I’ve always been obsessed with love. I’ve been so fascinated by observing and experiencing the power of love and how it transforms people and their behavior.  I didn’t start out writing rom coms.  I fell for the mainstream view that rom coms were “uncool” and although I loved them I stayed quiet about it.  In the industry they’re most often not taken “seriously” – certainly in Australia – They don’t usually win Academy Awards (although that seems to be shifting). In my 20’s when I was an actor/writer I was the epitome of a tortured artist, I smoked cigarettes, drank too much alcohol, I fit the Hemingway stereotype perfectly. The first feature I wrote wasn’t a romantic comedy and it was horrendous. I was trying too hard to be clever. It wasn’t coming from the right place. It was coming from my head instead of my heart. I threw it all in and decided to write something fun instead – a film I wanted to watch, which I admitted to myself was a cheesy romantic comedy set in my two favorite places – a tropical island and NYC!

As I matured and I cared less and less what other people thought I began to speak my truth.  I decided to do the seemingly impossible, the unheard of, the bravest thing a filmmaker can do – come out of the romantic comedy closet and admit my love for them once and for all! And not just cool Woody Allen rom coms, but the cheesy, soppy ones that make people gag.  It was a shaky road, initially I was embarrassed, but once I embraced my true self as a corny rom com lover and expressed my passion for rom coms with conviction, I found that other people came out of the woodwork and admitted their secret rom com love.  I once dated a guy who lived in a sharehouse with a group of guys who had what they called “Rom com Sunday”! They’d all huddle around the TV nursing hangovers and watching their favorite rom coms (and no, they weren’t gay! I can vouch for that!). Some people have told me I inspired them to uncover the love from rom coms they never realized they had or were too embarrassed to admit. It’s a pretty liberating experience that I’d highly recommend 😉  Rom coms being “uncool” is kind of ridiculous, but what’s more ridiculous is caring whether people think we’re cool after we leave high school. 

Different cultures have their own perspectives on romance. How would you describe your Australian homeland’s unique sensibilities towards romance?

Australian romance can be pretty pathetic. In Australia, the sophisticated method by which a man lets you know he likes you is usually by ignoring you or teasing you.  I recently wrote the joke “You know you’re a true blue Aussie when”: 1. You understand the importance of vegemite to butter ratio; 2. You only know the first 2 verses of The Australian Anthem. 3. You call your best mate dickhead.  Excuse my French there, but you get the point.  Banter is a huge part of the Australian culture.  What we call “giving each other shit” is an endearing process by which us outback simpletons bond.  I lived in London in my 20’s and my experience dating there was that this culture comes from our British roots. Men in London were even more reserved. I find in the US and Europe men are more forthright in asking you out. This was such a novelty for me at first, I loved the confidence and straight shooter method, but at the end of the day I feel that in all cultures there’s too much emphasis on the initial “wooing” period at the beginning of dating which can be fun if you’re just dating around for the experience, but essentially it’s kind of empty and fabricated.  I find when people stop playing games and trying to be something they’re not and really get to know each other as friends, they’re more likely to find a compatible match and then from there true romance and love blossoms and flourishes.

As a screenwriter who lives in Hollywood and is female, you have a very authentic voice for the types of films you create. What responsibility do you feel to your audience in regards to creating films that are based in reality? 

I feel my responsibility is to create more female driven stories as well as smash stereotypes and challenge old unhealthy relationship paradigms. I don’t know about making sure that the films are based in reality, as I like a good farcical rom com that’s more fantasy based. I think it’s important to laugh as dysfunctional relationship patterns if I portray them in films, but I’m conscious not to encourage dysfunctional relationship patterns or promote them as healthy.  At times I’ve taken my responsibility as a writer and filmmaker too seriously and lost the true goal of rom coms for me which is to laugh at our pain and to enjoy the ride and experience love and joy myself within the process – basically to have fun! When I’ve agonized over the kind of messages my films are sending I’ve ended up writing preachy material and losing my true intention.  If I stay centered in my intention to tell stories from love about love, I find that’s when my best work comes through.  When I’m in my head I’m coming from my ego and my writing begins to feel fabricated.

I do take integrity seriously though. It’s important for me to not be swayed by external influences that focus purely on making money.  I have no problem with making money – in fact making money is good – it’s how we make more films – but I’m conscious of staying true to the heart of the story and making sure it isn’t lost in the process. This is where it’s important to have strong instincts and learn when to compromise and when to stick to your guns.

I think that the lasting effects that films have on audiences emotionally is largely neglected.  There have been many studies on the neuroscience of how film affects our brain and emotions, but it doesn’t take a neuroscientist to observe the effect the media has on our mind and our emotions.  We can experience these effects ourselves simply by observing the way commercials affect us and get into our heads. I don’t know about you, but a commercial has the power to make me cry or crave a chocolate bar so bad that I’ll be sure to eat one after I’ve been exposed to a luring commercial.  The amount of money spent on Super Bowl commercials is ludicrous and speaks to the power of the moving image on our sensibilities.  In the same way that I’m conscious about what food I feed my body, I’m conscious of what I feed my mind – the amount of negative images I expose my mind to.  I rarely watch television and I almost never watch the news.

It’s undeniable that we’re influenced by our environment- thought processes, images, sounds are all embedded in our mind when we’re exposed to them. When we’re repeatedly exposed to a succession of images, we feel the emotional effects this can have an impact on our daily lives and how we interact with others. This is why I’m so passionate about making more films that evoke and spread love, laughter and joy and remind and encourage people to live from their hearts. 

For the film JUMP, an original soundtrack was written that was inspired by 80’s music, as was the tone of the film. What do you love so much about the 80’s and what is it about this era that infers lighthearted fun? 

The 80’s music and films represent the heart and joy of our inner child. It’s fun, lighthearted and most often about love, dance and enjoying life – “dancing in the street”, “dancing in heaven”, “girls just want to have fun” …  you know how it goes.  I grew up listening to love song dedications – songs that come from love have always resonated with me.  In saying that I feel the same euphoric rush, the same joy in my heart when I listen to Linkin Park music as I do when I listen to Whitney Houston belt out a tune. Punk, rock and sometimes even heavy metal music also speaks to my heart. I think it’s about the space the artist was in when they performed the piece of music – I can feel their intention if it comes from love then it doesn’t matter whether it’s rock, pop or country music. 

The main character in JUMP is a 37-year old secretary who manifests her own release from an ordinary life. Presenting a female lead in her late 30’s is (sadly) far from the norm for Hollywood films these days. What inspired you to present Melody at this stage of her life for this film? 

Melody’s age was the most important part of the film for me.  To portray a character who is considered in society “old” as not only facing her fears, taking a risk and chasing her dreams at the age of 37, but also the fact that the odds are stacked against her in terms of being paired with her worst nightmare dance partner who exacerbates her “Stiff Leg Syndrome”. I’m incredibly passionate about shattering ageist attitudes.  Growing old is a beautiful process – ageing should be celebrated! I’m becoming fitter, healthier, more active as I’m getting older and continuing to push myself outside my comfort zone is an important part of growth.  If we’re not growing, we’re not really living.  Life is growth. If we don’t continue to grow we turn into rocks. No one wants to be a rock. 

The Dating Ring is a film in which you had the male and female leads presented in an emotional role reversal.  Are you constantly looking for new ways such as this to twist the romantic comedy template and how difficult is this to achieve? 

Yes, I love exploring gender role reversal and smashing stereotypes.

Although I still relate to the basic ideals I tend to have different views and opinions to mainstream society – tend to naturally think outside the box, so I don’t find it difficult to come up with new ways to twist the rom com template. It’s just the way I think.

In my experience there’s a different kind of love that’s largely neglected in romantic comedies that I’m excited to delve into in my films – what’s most commonly known as true friendship love or unconditional love.  I feel the current definition of romance is false, fleeting, lacks substance if it’s not grounded in true love.  What is romance with someone you don’t really know yet? You get swept up in the romance, but then once that fades away and you get to know the person you may realize you’re not compatible.  Romance without truly getting to know someone is like coloring your hair. At first it looks luscious and shiny, but eventually it fades and your turn colors show you can keep putting dye in your hair and each time it glows again, but after time your hair becomes brittle or the dye builds up and you have to keep treating it.  It’s a lot of work.  Why not just enjoy your hair in its natural state? Why not just be yourself when you’re first getting to know someone and then once you know you’re a good match, let the romance develop naturally from there.

I’d go even further to question the way we perceive the “opposite sex” in terms of attraction and how it can steer us away from creating deeper stronger bonds and platonic friendships with each other.  What if when we had children we didn’t’ tease them when they had a friend of the “opposite sex”.  What if we refrained from saying “oooh is that your girlfriend?” – or is that just me?  It’s harmless and well-intended, but what if from a young age we encouraged kids to see the other gender as equals – as mates.  Relationships based on a foundation of friendship are more likely to last and to grow unconditional love filled with respect and void of fear based love which includes jealousy, control and insecurity. 

Hollywood is still the biggest producer of films in the world. What are the challenges in this modern era for a writer in this current time here in Hollywood? 

I don’t see challenges as a bad thing, it’s an opportunity to adapt and grow. The addition of platforms like Hulu, Netflix etc. is definitely changing the game, there’s definitely a plethora of content being made and it seems there’s more opportunity to get alternative stories made, as these platforms are open to a wider range of ideas and concepts rather than being restricted by the constructs that the bigger channels and studios adhere to.

What’s the average daily routine for a screenwriter like yourself in Hollywood?

Everyone has a different process. I know some writers write for 4-6 hours a day while some write for 2 hours in the morning or late at night. Some work for 8-10 hour days. It depends on the individual. For me it varies. I can work for long periods without a break, but I can also work really well on short spurts.

You present romance and comedy in your screenplays. What is it about the blending of these two genres that works so well and has become such a popular combination? 

Romantic comedies are love and laughter – love and laughter are the two most powerful forces in human nature.

One of my favorite Gandhi quotes speaks to the power of love: “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”

There’s still an overhang of an old perspective that hate and anger are power and that love, vulnerability, kindness and compassion are weak. The truth is the opposite. It’s much harder to be kind in the face of aggression than to bite back. True strength is love and I think people connect to this truth in a good romantic comedy.

Laughter is the most positive and powerful human expression of joy and happiness and can be medicinal in its effects.

Crying as an expression of sadness is an important element in the therapeutic effects of film. Repressed sadness is what causes anger, bitterness, resentment and can lead to damaging behavior. Crying as relief is incredibly transformative and can allow the audience to connect with a film on a deeper level.  

How important are romance and comedy to you in your personal relationships? 

Imperative. I love to laugh – I laugh at everything. I can’t have people in my life who don’t make me laugh. But seeing as most people make me laugh, I’m an easy audience. Romance to me means open, regular expressions of love which is one of my favorite things to do. I do it to people I don’t know that well and sometimes strangers which can be awkward, but fun, funny and incredibly rewarding. I much prefer a card with a meaningful message or a cheap thoughtful present than an expensive gift. I guess I see romance as kindness in a way. Random acts of romance should be a thing.  I think because I do it often it comes back to me tenfold. Recently I was having a bad day and I went out for ice cream with a beautiful friend who encouraged me to “let it out” and cry (in public!) and a kind stranger came up to me, opened his arms out and hugged me. We were in Venice, so I thought he was a tree hugging hippy (I hang out in these circles sometimes, so I get it) but it turned out that the stranger was the director of one of my all-time favorite romantic comedies and now we’re friends. 

Are most of your moments of genius (in screenplays) the result of personal experience or imagined experiences? In other words, how much of your writing is based out of first hand experiences? 

My favorite moments in my films spring from a fusion of real life and being connected to the present moment – usually after or during meditation, listening to music, an inspiring conversation or exercise.  I have a vivid imagination and a tendency for exaggeration which bodes me well in comedy, but the best comedy for me comes from the truth and organic moments that pop out in presence.

Studying The Meisner Technique for 3 years as an actress I developed an obsession for organic moments – the magical moments that shoot out of us like lava when we’re in the present moment.  These are gold for both performance and writing.  This is also why I love improv. I like to use improv to help inspire ideas as well as when I direct or perform.

Real life is a huge influence on my work – like all writers I observe and soak up my environment like a sponge.  I see the beauty in everyone, I see peoples pain, their joy, their hidden emotions and stories – sometimes I feel I can see through people – that sounds creepy, but you know what I mean. Don’t you? 

Do you consider the films which you write to be therapy for the audience or how to” instruction?

I see my films as relief – escape from daily life. Have a laugh, take a load off. Laugh at our pain – therapy in that sense.  Laughter and tears are very therapeutic and a good romantic comedy will do both.

Most rom coms shouldn’t be modelled as a how to… more like how not to.  Sex and The City modelled and promoted dysfunctional relationships by making a fairytale out of Carrie and Big’s romance.  There she was, an intelligent, successful, beautiful woman with a group of good friends – a strong support system who chose to be with a man who disrespected her and strung her along for 10 years and left her broken hearted time after time – even on the alter.  This is the kind of love that happen when we don’t have a strong sense of self-worth. 

How does a screenwriter like yourself find romance in Hollywood while pursuing a career in such a difficult field? 

I don’t. Just kidding. I have incredibly fulfilling and nourishing relationships with friends and family.  I’m not interested in the traditional or modern dating structure – I did it to death in my 20’s and it was fun – and then it was painful, and now I’m done with that.

What is the DNA of a great romantic comedy? i.e. the required traits. 

The formula for a great romantic comedy is love plus laughter equals joy. A rom com needs to be relateable even if it’s a fantasy based rom com, there needs to be an element of truth.

I’m interested in exploring a different definition of romance than our current understanding of it in mainstream society. I believe romance should come later rather than at the beginning.  It should start slow and increase as your relationship develops.  The current model shows and abundance of romance in the first couple of months or the “honeymoon period” and then once there’s commitment and safety often people get complacent and the romance fades.  Id’ like to see that turned around. This would make for a long term sustained relationship full of romance.  A higher love is achieved when two people love themselves fully and don’t need or expect the other person to make them happy.  They take full responsibility for their own happiness and merely join together with someone else who is whole and complete.

I’ve fallen into the expectation trap in past relationship, but when I took a 2 year break from dating and focused on me I noticed the ebb and flow of emotion, joy, and love within me and it became clear when I was going through challenges that it came from me – when I no longer had someone else to blame! These themes that surround love are what I’m fascinated in examining further and portraying in my films. 

What film did you not write but wish that you had and why? 

Disney’s Enchanted because it’s a magical fantastical musical with a message of love and believing in wonder and the good in people.  I write music into my films and there’s usually at least one scene where characters sing and/or dance, but I’m yet to make a musical feature. I write songs, so it will happen one day in the not too distant future. 

Describe your idea of a nightmare writing assignment for a film idea. 

Anything on violence or an empty sexualized rom com focused on aesthetics – anything that would contribute to the negative body image content that we already have an abundance of.  Many films are highly sexualized these days – they focus on physical attraction and base the development of love form this foundation of initial attraction or chemistry.   The problem with this is that it fades, it’s not sustainable long terms.  Societies obsession with image breeds insecurity competition and fear which are not compatible with true love which is ultimately what people are searching for whether they admit it or are aware of it or not and what compels people to watch romantic comedies. Enjoying fashion, beauty etc. is totally healthy, it’s the relationship we have with it – when we gain our sense of self and our worthiness from image that’s when we can run into problems. The paradigm – this obsession with superficiality – is flawed and perpetuates itself in a cycle of destruction. 

What is the most avoided topic in romantic comedy films and why? 

I don’t know if there are many avoided topics in rom coms these days. Pretty much anything goes. You hear to steer clear of religion and politics, but I’ve seen some of the best comedic moments on these topics. 

You’re obviously a very creative person; how do you maintain that constant flow of creative ideas over an entire career? What is your personal means for doing this?

 Mediation, yoga, dance, running and spending time with good friends is usually the best inspiration for me as a writer.  The heather and happier I am in myself and my life the more creative ideas flow through me.  I’ve found I’ve still managed to churn out decent work when I’ve been stressed and overworked, but it’s less enjoyable, so I prefer the healthy, happy method!

 Finish this sentence; the best thing about Sarah Walton is….

 Can I say for me what the best thing about “being” Sarah Walton is?

For me it’s that I love everyone and this brings me so much love and joy. It’s not that I don’t find people challenging like everyone else, but I always find a way to connect to empathy and love people regardless of what behavior they display. I see people as who they truly are, not their behavior. My upbringing gave me many gifts, but the one I’m most grateful for is having parents that are so different. My father was brought up in a poorer, small town non-religious family with 11 children while my mother was brought up in a fairly well off suburban catholic family.  This polarity allowed me to relate to a wide range of people. I grew up camping and staying in fancy hotels, so I appreciate the beauty in simplicity while also enjoying the glamorous lifestyle without placing any importance on the superficiality of material things.  I was also blessed with enough make or break me challenges in my life to force me to discover self-development and well-being practices that have changed my life dramatically and lead me to explore new ways to find happiness, love and joy in life regardless of external circumstances. It’s an ongoing process and sometimes I’m like – I’m done! I want to go back to how I was before, ignorance is bliss! – but I know it’s not and I’ve found ways of achieving natural highs through dance, meditation, yoga, laughter etc. which is a pretty good incentive to stay on this path!

Bonus:

Finally, what do other writers say about you when you are not listening?

What others say about me is not really any of my business, but I know sometimes people comment on how cheesy and mainstream my work is thinking that it’s an insult, when for me it’s a huge compliment. I enjoy hearing other people’s perspectives. It makes me laugh.

Art Director-Motion Graphics Designer Ilya Tselyutin Thriving in Hollywood

Art Director-Motion Graphics Designer Ilya Tselyutin works in one of the most fascinating, fast moving and over looked fields in modern media. Motion Graphics is a constantly evolving, creatively fertile niche that entails creating everything from eye-popping feature film title sequences to innovative television commercial applications. It’s a complex mix of graphic design, animation and cutting edge technology that requires innate resourcefulness, meticulous attention to detail and the ability to bring life to  a very broad spectrum of images—qualities which the Russian-born Tselyutin has no shortage of.

 

“While studying computer science at university, I developed interest in 3D graphics,” Tselyutin said. “I was always curious how this technology worked. At the same time I started looking at works by some famous graphic designers and learned about typography. I wanted to bring all of this together – 3D graphics, animation and design. Also, I drew my inspiration from title sequences from Hollywood movies, as well as the special effects in sci-fi movies.”

 

A painstaking, gifted craftsman whose outstanding work has been recognized with international awards—Silver winner for Art Direction at Cannes Corporate Media & TV Awards, and a Silver Win for Graphic Design/Animation at PromaxBDA, both in 2013—Tselyutin has distinguished himself with an impressive roster of career achievements. All this has led him to the field’s epicenter, Hollywood, where he enjoys a position at the prestigious Troika Design Group, a top branding and marketing agency that specializes in working with entertainment and media companies

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“Troika is one of the most notable companies in the industry,” Tselyutin said. “I had learned about it a while ago and they were looking for a lead motion graphics designer to bring the quality of 3D graphics to the next level. Paul Brodie, the Managing Director, was closely following my work and invited me to join the company in 2016, where I am currently working as Art Director/Motion Graphics Designer.

 

At Troika’s Design Department, Tselyutin has successfully undertaken jobs for a disparate series of high profile clients. “We have a very busy schedule with plenty of projects coming my way every day,” Tselyutin said  “The most interesting projects so far have been for AT&T Sports Network and ESPN College Basketball. The video for AT&T included working with the client’s static footage. As a lead designer on this project I suggested using a special technology in Cinema 4D software to cut the static footage into several pieces an then project them onto 3D models, and the result made both the team and the client happy.”

 

Tselyutin’s gift for surpassing expectations is a result of his widely varied cultural background and educational experience. With a Bachelors of Arts in Information Technologies and New Media from the Kuban State University, Krasnodar, Russia and a resume of jobs all over Europe, Tselyutin brings a refreshing international perspective to any project assigned him.

 

“While I was studying computer science, I started working at the local TV channel as a designer discovering the world of 3D graphics,” Tselyutin said. “I developed interest in design, typography and animation and after graduation, I moved to Moscow to work at the national largest TV network Channel One Russia, where I had the privilege to learn from the best and most experienced broadcast designers in the country.”
 

“My work brought me around the world,” Tselyutin said. “For example, I produced a 3D mapping show in at the Technology University of Mangalore, India. In 2013 I moved to work at VUCX creative agency in Cologne, Germany. Working and living in Europe with its variety of art museums, exhibitions and strong school of design was a great experience that helped me expand my portfolio and explore motion graphics even further.”

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For the driven, ambitious Tselyutin, whose formidable resume is already packed with enough accomplishments to stand as the full measure of a professional career, it is only the beginning. “I am eager to continue my personal development as an artist, 3D professional and art director while growing professionally within the company,” he said. “I see myself working on large-scale commercially successful projects.”

“My motto is: be curious, be professional, never give up.”

CLOAKED IN CONTRADICTION WITH JANE JOHNSTON

As time passes, the natural evolution of things can bring previously separated entities into close proximity and result in direct interaction. For example, in the past television was often looked upon as the less able and qualified sibling of feature films. Modern technology (streaming services, downloads, etc.) has brought about a modern golden age of TV. The shows available from the deluge of networks has given birth to productions that rival and sometimes exceed those of the silver screen. The ever increasing visibility of Hollywood A-listers on TV proves that these individuals recognize the quality of work being presented on the small screen these days. While not as obvious to the viewers, the talented men and women behind the screens are also found vacillating between feature film and television productions. Producers, directors, cinematographers, and others have embraced both mediums with respect to their quality work.  Costume designer Jane Johnston is one such respected professional. With a long list of film credits that includes: The Ghost and The Whale, Mission Impossible II, Last Cab To Darwin, and Macbeth (for which she won and AFI Award for Best Costume Design), Johnston has been vetted many times over. Like the marquee names she has worked with on feature films, Jane has lent her talents to a number of TV films as well. Whether adding to the authenticity and emotion of the story or assisting the actors to play against type and find the essence of their character, Johnston’s thumbprint is always there in every production.

Jane signed on as costume designer for 2015’s “A Deadly Adoption” without any information about the cast; she simply wanted to work with Emmy award-winning director and producer Rachel Lee Goldenberg. Having worked with Rachel before, she was certain only the most talented would be involved. “A Deadly Adoption” would afford Johnston the opportunity to work with two of Hollywood’s biggest names, Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig. In contrast to what one would presume, the film is a drama. With the two leads playing against type and public expectation, Jane would need to create a look for both of them that trepidatiously went down the path of seriousness. Always approaching the character first rather than the actor, Jane notes, “I just needed to get my head into the character and not think about the actors comedic past. I dressed them as if it were any two actors playing these roles. Both of them were so great to work with. They took their roles and their jobs seriously so it was the same approach I’ve had on other films. In this case the characters that were being played by Will Ferrell and Kristin Wiig were reasonably conservative and as they were playing it ‘straight’, there wasn’t meant to be anything that alluded to the humor they are known for. This also helped to contrast to the latter part of the film where things start to go awry and the craziness begins.”

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Johnston’s process is to read the script (often multiple times) to discover who the character truly is…in much the same manner as the actors approach it. Preparing looks for the characters based on her own interpretation and conversations with the director, producer, and cinematographer, Jane finds that the fitting process with the actors often aids them in connecting to and discovering the characters. Many subtleties are taken into consideration. Jane explains, “Robert Benson (played by Ferrell) is a conservative man and it seemed to me that he came from the Midwest. He had been through some challenging times in his life and was ‘back on track’. I dressed him in classic clothing such as chinos and long sleeve button through shirts. His look didn’t change much until the later part of the film but it always remained true to his character. I think it was important to have the character look ‘straight’ particularly as it was being played by Will Ferrell and his fans will automatically have projected humor onto him. Kristen Wiig’s [role as] Sarah Benson was a little more ‘quirky’. She ran a stall at the markets and sold fresh breads and produce so I wanted her look to have that quality about it. She was also a busy mother and wife. I dressed Kristen in a few pairs of overalls and t-shirts and sneakers. She still looked cute but in a practical way. Again her look didn’t change much so it was a matter of giving the character depth and having them look believable.” Much like a game of ‘spot the difference’ anything that did not perfectly match the lifestyle and feel of these characters would take viewers immediately out of the scene and remind them that they were watching two of comedy’s biggest stars. This all meant that Johnston’s choices were highly important and ever so slight in their leanings. The film’s director, Goldenberg, proclaims, “Since both Mr. Ferrell and Ms. Wiig are arguably two of the biggest actors to star in a Marvista film, it was absolutely necessary that we have only the most talented and skilled costumer such as Jane on set. Needless to say, Jane was absolutely crucial to Marvista Entertainment as evidenced by the way that she perfectly captured the company’s brand of their films’ multi-dimensional but relatable characters. Through her impeccable costume design prowess, she became one of Marvista’s go-to department heads.”

Johnston was also brought aboard by Goldenberg for Marvista’s “Escape from Polygamy.” While this production may not have had all the instantly recognizable names of “A Deadly Adoption” the performances and the look of it resulted in overwhelming ratings. “Escape From Polygamy” was rated first in its premiere, which brought Marvista to global renown. As a result, Marvista garnered outstanding profit and saw an increase in revenue. This is the story of two young people in love who persevere in a romance in the midst of their Mormon community. The challenge for Jane was to create a look for the characters that was set in a modern polygamous compound. Sharon Bordas, EVP (Production & Development) of Marvista remarks, “I was so impressed with Jane’s professional and creative presence on set. She is resourceful and inventive. She possesses and exhibits the qualities that Marvista looks for in a costume designer: an artistic eye and the ability to find intelligent solutions, especially when working with a limited budget.”

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Utilizing high collared conservative blouses and overalls and then offsetting them with slim fitting/modern clothes and even Chuck Taylor shoes, Jane blended the traditional and contemporary to inject the struggle of the characters and their actions. When asked about the incredible ratings response to “Escape from Polygamy” and her work on this production, she reveals, “It’s definitely has a self-esteem boost to it for sure! I was very proud of my work and I received some fantastic feedback and acknowledgement from many of the actors, the producer Sharon Bordas and Rachel the director. It was my privilege to take care of the actors and their characters and to fulfill my role as costume designer.”

PRODUCING A PAINFUL WAR FILM WITH “DAVID” YU HAO SU IN “RESURGENT”

Yu Hao Su is Harvey Keitel. Okay, maybe he isn’t the Oscar nominated actor but just like Keitel’s character Mr. White in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, David (as Su in known) has a reputation for being a “fixer” in the film industry. When the 2016 Action/Thriller Resurgent needed to do a reshoot for scenes which take place in Afghanistan, David was contacted to contribute his exemplary producing skills. A reshoot is so crucial to a film because it has to match the existing footage in so many ways as to seem and feel that it was part of the original filming. Any deviation from the tone and mood of the existing principal footage could derail the already massive amount of work a production has executed, to say nothing of completely distracting the audience. As the editor of this film, no one is more qualified than James Stiegelbauer to comment on the work of David on the reshoot. Stiegelbauer proclaims, “Yu-Hao was calm under pressure. When our director made last minute script changes, everyone was concerned it couldn’t be pulled off but Yu-Hao didn’t even flinch. He made a few calls and quickly got everything that was needed. Yu-Hao is detail oriented, resourceful, and is never afraid to get his hands dirty. I would ask him to work on every job if I could. We could not have finished Resurgent without his hard work. He coordinated with the actors, locations, and crew quickly making all the necessary arrangements to meet our needs. As an Editor, I’m not on set, but I do need to be in constant communication with the director and cinematographer. Yu-Hao was crucial in this communication. This ability to be able to keep the work flowing even as unforeseen factors arise and must be dealt with…that’s what the truly great producers possess.”

Resurgent is a film which depicts the story of a mercenary who must come to terms with a botched mission in order to return to the battlefield. Max, the main character (played by Manny Cartier) is suffering from the pain of his partner who has died in a military missionary with him in Afghanistan. The action and military theme of this film necessitates stunts, something which David is familiar in dealing with. Setting the table in a safe manner for these stunts is highly important to him. He notes, “We have a lot of stunt in the film. I need to make sure the stunts are done right in order to make sure the actors are completely safe. We not only have the stunt coordinator on set but also a set medic. This may seem obvious but every little situation must be planned for regardless of if it ever needs to be used. We also have a weapon wrangler on set to make sure people are aware on set, even though the weapons are just props. My job is not only to make sure the stunt scenes are well-planned but also to make sure the set is safe. I take stunts very seriously. Because it’s an action film with a lot of stunts (and we filmed in a dessert to cheat it as Afghanistan) I needed to make sure our production was a self-contained unit with everything we could possibly need at a moment’s notice. It’s not easy to shoot stunt scenes with weapon props in the desert. I need to make sure everyone is safe not only because of the stunt actions but also the difficult shooting environment.”

For those of us who don’t work in the film industry, it might be hard to understand exactly what a producer does on set. For those who do work in film, it’s difficult to overemphasize the impact a producer has on any film. A producer’s role can be described as parent, police officer, president, healer, and best friend…all in one person. A producer is the person who supplies what you need even before you understand and comprehend that you need it. It’s a conflicting situation for most producers. They love what they do but they rarely are afforded the opportunity to lose themselves in the fun of watching the movie magic they help to create. David states, “Being in charge of the reshoot for Resurgent was fun, there’s no mistaking that. I just had to always be thinking a few steps ahead. There is really no time for losing yourself in the moment. It’s interesting to shoot an action film. The stunt sequences with the stunt coordinator are fun and look amazing in the film. Watching that when the film is finished is fun. There are always challenges that are unique to each film. The desert location we filmed didn’t have a phone signal or Internet. It’s very hard to run a set without this technical stuff. We ended up planning it well and got the work done in spite of this. There is nothing to complain about for me. I’m so excited to be a part of this industry. To focus on the story and tell the story from an essential human’s point of view. I believe truth and humanity is the key to delivering a story everyone can understand and connect to.”

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ALL HEED THE MESSAGE OF AWAKEN

The arts have been the creative analogous tool of creative types for centuries. This format to communicate the real life situations with which society is confronted must often be done in a covert manner. In order to avoid strife and previously held opinions, avenues like music, literature, theater, and film, are utilized to help us see things from other perspectives. This methodology often finds us sympathizing in a first person sense, placing ourselves in the shoes of others and their circumstances. Historically, great art has struck a chord in the collective society and spurred on movements that create change. This is the story told in the film Awaken by Bruce Sze Han Chen. It is a lofty idea that he proposes in the film. In order to successfully bring about his vision, Bruce obtained the successful production talents of “David” Yu Hao Su. The many accolades and recognitions that the film has received prove that this decision was well founded for all involved parties. Some of the achievements include: Accolade Competition 2015 (Winner-Award of Merit), Alaska International Film Festival (Winner-Northern Lights Emerging Talent Award), California Film Awards (Winner-Diamond Award), Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards (Best Production Design), Mexico International Film Festival (Winner-Golden Palm Award), World Film Awards, Jakarta (Award of Merit), and on and on. Regardless of geographic location, audiences were captivated by Awaken’s message, a message which was delivered exactly as its creator had envisioned thanks to the support and talent of his producer David (as well as co-producer Pin Chun Liu). As with any great artist, having the professionals around you to allow you the freedom to create your art is paramount.

Awaken is a story which is applicable to any society, political system, or theology on the planet. The heroine of the film is Sophie. She has spent her life working in an enormous factory. In this facility, the workers’ minds are controlled by the music which is ubiquitous. One day, Sophie is suddenly impervious to the effects of the music and she decides to destroy the music system in order to free everyone from its effects and the factory’s dictator who is in control. The message is thinly veiled but easily understood; be in control of your own life rather than to unconsciously follow a path which is handed down to you by others, others who may be less concerned about your well-being than their own. As a producer on Awaken, it was David’s role to assist Bruce (the director) to find a production designer, costume designer, and other principle team members. Location and casting was a particularly vital part of this film. The lead actress playing Sophie is a minor which meant that scheduling needed to be coordinated around strict guidelines. The futuristic location of a massive factory was coordinated among three different venues. To further complicate things, an enormous amount of extras were cast and then supplemented with VFX to complete the proper feel of the factory and its workers. David reveals, “We needed to create a lot of workers to show how big the factory is and how many people are controlled by the dictator. We decide to use VFX to duplicate the workers. We found an excellent VFX team to helps us prepare the work and coordinate it with the Camera and Art departments. Even though we decided to use VFX to duplicate the workers in the factory, we still needed a huge amount of extras to create the materials for the VFX team. Also the location we had for the factory was huge, so it required us to have an enormous amount of extras on set. My production team and I posted casting information online and called all the actors we knew in order to have so many extras come to our set. The VFX works is the most challenging part for me because we had a very limited budget and time to plan the VFX. It ended up that the VFX scene worked very well and it’s all because of the teamwork each department devoted.” To fully understand the role David played in Awaken, consider that the actual principal filming took five days. His preproduction involvement began two months prior to filming and his post-production work took place for three months following its conclusion. That’s a ratio of 1/20 or more. The beauty and strength of the message in Awaken solidify the fact that when creative artists of all vocations work together, they can create and communicate in a manner that reaches the public and critics. The beauty of this film lies not only in its aesthetic but also in its content, both of which are fueled by the amazing team that brought it into existence.

 

 

 

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DIORS SAMURAI IS ZHENG KANG’S ACTION/ROMANCE AT ITS NERDY BEST!

Doing your best and always giving one hundred percent are more important now than ever. Information is instantaneous these days and you can google anything in less time than it takes to yawn. Zheng Kang has always given his best and it is starting to supply dividends to his career. Belying his young age, Kang’s animation productions have already reached achievements like being used by faculty at USC School of Cinematic Arts for graduate animation classes (Lion Dance, in which he oversaw a group of professionals spread across five continents), working on the Comedy Central’s TripTank (contributing to every episode of the entire second season), and others. As such a recognized part of the animation community, his diverse creations are receiving great attention. one of his earliest productions, Diors Samurai, shows a different side of Zheng’s sentiment and may soon be made into a series production at a US network. Diors (Chinese for “loser”), gives a hint to the humor found in this action animated show. One cornerstone of Kang’s work is that it is always different, thematically and stylistically. A viewing of the Diors Samurai trailer (http://vimeo.com/189854381) reveals how different it is from his other work (https://vimeo.com/190416387 Baby and Granny for example). It is not hyperbolic to state that each new film Zheng starts receives the respect of him breaking his approach down and starting fresh each time. As both a director and an animator, Zheng Kang has learned to give each story the opportunity to become its own entity.

Production I.G.’s Dead Leaves (distributed in Japan, North America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK) and Samurai Jack (the American animated series on Comedy Central) both inspired Kang’s approach for Diors Samurai. He wanted an Eastern influence, time travel, a love story, all augmented by his sense of humor and wit. The tale of Diors Samurai is that of a hero who falls in love with a beautiful princess and is heartbroken to learn that their love is forbidden. A chance encounter with a magical elder reveals that he may marry the princess if he travels through time to find her in the dystopian future. He jumps at the chance and finds her, only to learn that she is now a successful police officer with no memory of him! Yota (the samurai) must divide his time between saving the city from ruthless organized gangs, trying to understand this confusing modern world, and hopefully sweeping the princess off her feet! While the story is full of action and danger, it’s the characters who drive the story and interest viewers the most. Yota is a very strong samurai but very tiny. He grew up with his lord’s daughter and was in-charge of protecting her every day. Yota fell in love with her but never told her as society would not approve of this. When the princess is selected to marry another lord’s son, Yota cannot do anything about it and is beside himself. While he is adept at fighting and killing, he does not know how to express his feelings and show love. The “Diors” or “loser” facet of this character comes from his unrequited love as well as his inability to express himself (a modern view of loser for certain). The princess in Diors Samurai is perhaps one of the most positive and well-rounded female Asian leads accessible to viewers these days. In ancient time she is very elegant, like every traditional princess in our mind. In the future however, she is tough, strong, and highly proficient with firearms. The princess possesses qualities that appeal to every type of fan and contradict stereotypical female roles.

While Diors Samurai is definitely an action program, Zheng confirms that it shares a common thread with all of his creations, “It’s a love story. People search every day for love and to find their partner. That’s a basic human need. I know that people have an immediate thought in their minds that a samurai/warrior is very serious and not in touch with their feelings. Their mission is always to protect and serve their king. I wanted to create someone who is just like normal people, someone who feels loves and is eager to get love. Yota has some strength but also has drawbacks. He might be a winner as a Samurai but might be a loser in life. That’s a universal story no matter what part of the world you are from or what you might do in your life. We all struggle for love and we all want it.”

Perhaps the most striking and apparent aspect of Diors Samurai is the mixture of Eastern artistic style with a western based theme and emotion. The clash/combination of the two serves to heighten the impact of both in this production. Zheng states, “I grew up with comics and manga. I began to draw them when I was a little kid. So my drawing style is highly influenced by Japanese anime and manga, which looks very Asian. I also enjoy western storytelling like Pixar and Disney features because they always have a clear and simple storyline. They’re character-driven, there are three acts, and the motivations and conflicts for every character are easy to understand. I enjoy Asian storytelling very much but I have to say, sometimes it’s too cultural and you can get confused if you’re unfamiliar with that culture.” Caroline Hu (formerly the Character Artist at Warner Bros. Animation and Conceptual Artist at Walt Disney Feature Animation/now the Artist at Warner Bros Consumer Products) notes Zheng’s successful integration of these two cultural traits. She relates, “Zheng’s approach to storytelling is both collaborative and diverse, and is exactly what Hollywood needs right now. It’s very refreshing to see. His successful marrying of two cultures, Asian and Western, to create a number of globally successful projects, is no small feat. Zheng’s animation and direction skills are superior. As a member of the Animation Faculty at USC School of Cinematic Arts, I often refer to his projects when addressing undergrad and graduate film students in my masterclass, even using Zheng’s materials as a teaching aid to show the students how things should be done!”

His role as director/animator has become commonplace for Kang these days but his work with composer Torin Borrowdale on Diors Samurai was one of his first entries into overseeing multiple facets of an animation production. Zheng understood that the mixing of cultures in his story, combined with the dichotomy of a Samurai in love, meant that he needed a soundtrack that would mesh with these ideas. Add to that, the need for intensity in the actions scenes and the music suddenly became paramount. Kang recalls, “I was always looking for high energy, with Japanese traditional instruments and elements in the music. Because it’s an action-comedy, high energy music can work very well with every sequence. Because the characters are Samurai, Japanese traditional instruments and elements can help build an authentic atmosphere. I found some reference music for Torin so he could understand what I wanted, but he also provided great ideas which made the final music much better than the reference music, suitable and unique! After this first cooperation with a composer, I understood how important music is for storytelling. I respect composers very much and would like to work with them to achieve great and unique music. For me it’s always a mind- blowing experience and learning opportunity when I work with my composers.”

The interest in Diors Samurai does not rely solely on the achievements of Kang’s more recent productions. With Official Selection Screenings at the: Trailer Fest Film Festival, London Monthly Film Festival, Direct Short Online Film Festival, Creation International Film Festival, and the Play Film Festival, Diors Samurai was highly noticed when it first was made available as a Short. Now, the industry that has become so captivated by this director/animator’s lauded animation productions has also rediscovered the time-travelling Samurai that began it all. Sword in hand and princess in heart, Yota is disproving his own moniker to his creator Zheng Kang.work-on-animation

Film Director Claudio DiFede’s Date with Cinema Fate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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