Category Archives: Hollywood

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

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Film Director Claudio DiFede’s Date with Cinema Fate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Actor Philip Moran Totally Recalls his big break

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Philip Moran as the immigration sergeant in 2012’s Total Recall.

For many actors, their breakout comes from a gruelling audition process, waiting in a room with hundreds of others, hoping to be the one left standing. There are call backs, and screen tests and waiting games, creating a stressful situation that eventually turns into something. After the process is over and everyone is cast, the rest is history. For actor Philip Moran, his career-changing role came quite differently, when he played the immigration sergeant in the 2012 blockbuster Total Recall.

Some people attribute luck or chance to their success, but Moran is not one of them. His unwavering belief that he will do something and achieve something ends up becoming a manifested truth. This is what happened with 2012’s Total Recall, starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, and Jessica Biel.

“It is quite extraordinary how it all happened. I felt assured that I was going to get an actor role in this blockbuster movie. I didn’t know how it was all going to happen, but I sensed it would. I posted all these positive-notes around my house to help create a strong inspiring expectation. I started making phone calls and tracking information to make things happen. For the first time, I joined the Actra union,” said Moran. “I got onto the set in a less significant role, and gradually caught the attention of Len Wisemen, the director of the movie.”

Wisemen, married to the film’s co-star Kate Beckinsale, had seen Moran on camera, and handpicked him to take on a more challenging acting role, telling Moran he could be a bigger asset to the film. The next day when Moran walked on set, he felt like the star he would soon become.

“At one point, I actually remember there were three cameras on me, and Colin Farrell, a great actor, was standing in my scene, but there weren’t any cameras on him. I felt like a star,” Moran said, almost still in disbelief. “And it felt really special. You have to get up and make it happen for yourself. You can’t wait for people or things to come to you.”

Now, Moran is the star of the upcoming feature film Adams Testament, filmed in late 2015, working alongside an all-star cast. The role has already been official selections at film festivals and brought Moran himself an award nomination at the 2017 INFAME awards. This success, he says, can all be contributed to that one fateful day in 2012 on the set of Total Recall, and the strong desire to want to be something more.

“For some reason, I was expecting it, like it was part of my universal plan. During filming, I was walking on the set as if I was one of the main actors. When Len Wisemen asked to talk to me, I was definitely very excited and felt my plan was working. Even though I believed it would happen, I was still a bit shocked, but I knew it was happening,” he said.

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Philip Moran is from Toronto, Ontario.

The role was Moran’s bread and butter. Having attended school years before to train as a police officer, he had training on firing a gun, which was one of the requirements of the role. Everything was working out for him. He was prepared, excited, ready, and expected the perfect opportunity.

“I brought my mother and my sisters to see the film at a Cineplex theatre, and they saw me on the screen in a big feature film. People were paying to be there. It was great,” said Moran. “My mom thought it was wonderful. I brought her to things before, like small film festivals and short film premieres, but nothing as special as seeing a big blockbuster movie and seeing your son on the big screen and his name scrolling in the cast list.”

The role provided Moran with the breakthrough he needed. From there, he became sought after and recognized in the industry. He started creating some acting workshops, and shared excitement with other people through those classes. Director Rafael Kalamat was inspired after seeing Moran’s acting scene, and offered his services as Moran’s personal publicist. Kalamat was then motivated to open his own production company and in 2015, he cast Moran as the starring role in his film Adams Testament.

“Philip is a flexible actor who can be a lead in an independent feature like Adams Testament or a day player on a Hollywood blockbuster like 2012’s Total Recall,” said Kalamat.

Moran said the scene came with a price, as it was a very popular scene in the original 1990 Total Recall film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. In Moran’s scene, Colin Farrell, disguised as someone else, is sneaking through immigration at the airport. When the officers realize it is him, a fight erupts. Wanting to make the scene not only as memorable, but better than the original film was important to the director.

“There were a lot of stunts, and a lot of bullets shells flying. That whole scene, it’s one cut. There were 450 background people on set, and approximately another 50 were stunt performers. It was so exciting,” said Moran. “I remember in one take I got hit with one of the machine gun shells and when it hit me on the cheek, it burnt. I saw the red mark, I got some gun powder in my eye when I held the gun up in the air. But being a professional I flinched and continued filming. It was a sacrifice, because that’s what good actors do.”

Working on the film was Moran’s first career-changing role acting with an ensemble cast, which he says gave him an amazing opportunity to learn from some of Hollywood’s best. After previously working as a warrior on the 1995 film Johnny Mneamonic with Keanu Reeves, this was his first opportunity since then to combine stunt work with his acting skills in a major film. For Moran, it was kind of a déjà vu.

“It’s funny, because my first film I worked on was Johnny Mneamonic back in 1995. The movie was about a man who had something in his brain that bad people wanted. When you think of 2012’s Total Recall, it’s a lot like Johnny Mneamonic and the 1990 Total Recall combined. There I am almost 20 years later, working on a film combining the two. It was magical. I came full circle to realize my career was made,” he said.

There is no doubt that Moran’s experience on 2012’s Total Recall ignited his career, and being singled out by a top Hollywood director justified any struggles he would have or had already experienced. Since that time, he maintains that having belief in yourself and the right attitude, combined with skill and opportunity, will get anyone wanting success to where they need to be. And it looks like that plan is working out pretty well for him so far.

“I felt like I was on my way to something but I didn’t know what. People are always saying you can’t see what’s ahead, and I tell them it’s based on what’s happening to you now, your interpretation of it, planning your work, and working your plan” he concluded.

Navid Charkhi Dances Into His Second “Descendants” Movie

Working 15-hour days is nothing when you love what you do and you’re having a good time doing it. For Iranian-Canadian dancer, Navid Charkhi, it is working with esteemed director, Kenny Ortega, the cast and the choreographers on Disney’s Descendants 2 film that makes long, grueling days fun in front of and behind the camera.

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Navid Charkhi with Kenny Ortega on the Descendants 2 set.

“The way Kenny talks to the actors and dancers, and presents his acting or movement ideas to the cast– I feel he sees everything happening already and when he gives direction to the cast it is usually brilliant. There’s always a wow factor when you see his demonstrations,” says Charkhi.  “I watch closely and follow his steps behind the scenes.”

Who wouldn’t when working with a three-time Emmy award-winner who has directed projects like High School Musical, choreographed timeless films such as Dirty Dancing, and collaborated with heavy-hitters Michael Jackson, Bette Midler and Gene Kelly?

Charkhi and Ortega actually have similar reasons for getting into show business. Both were inspired as boys by dancers they idolized. For Ortega it was Hollywood screen legend, Kelly that moved him toward a career in the entertainment industry. Charkhi grew up watching Michael Jackson on television and was mesmerized, copying and learning from the popular recording artist and dancer’s moves. Charkhi admits to being a bit starstruck by the Descendants director’s history with the King of Pop.

“Kenny has worked with Micheal Jackson himself. Hearing stories of them working just brings tears to my eyes.”

Ortega is pretty impressed with Charkhi, too. The director recalls that Charkhi proved himself a standout right from the very beginning.

“I could not believe how much talent and skill he demonstrated at the initial auditions for the production,” remembers Ortega. “Usually dancers take a few takes and auditions before beginning to impress the director and the production crew. However, this was not the case for Navid.”

Dancer Navid Charkhi

Indeed Charkhi’s natural instincts when performing complex dance moves became an asset during the three-day Descendants 2 audition.

“On the first day over 400 people showed up and more than 200 of them got cut,” he says.

Co-choreographer, Tony Testa, explains that those who could not keep up while learning a new piece of choreography each day were cut from the production. Charkhi, on the other hand, has quickly made himself an “irreplaceable asset to the film,” according to Ortega. Not long after the initial auditions Charkhi was assigned to working alongside Testa, as he was the only dancer able to keep up with the changing challenges throughout the production.

“[Navid] is able to instantly adapt to any type of dance depending on the style of the production, which is an extremely important characteristic for a Descendants 2 dancer to have,” explains Testa.

In addition to versatility, characterization is also extremely important for a dancer working in the film industry. Ron Oliver directed Charkhi in the film Mostly Ghostly 3, for which Charkhi was promoted as assistant to choreographer, Richard O’Sullivan and helped to create choreography and prepare the cast for filming the sequences in just three days. Oliver is quick to express how well Charkhi works under pressure but, as a director, also gives insight into Charkhi’s acting abilities.

“Navid’s dance aesthetic is extremely distinct from the rest of his peers as he is able to portray character emotions through his dance moves,” states Oliver.

In the first Descendants movie, Charkhi got to play a baddie that wreaks havoc on a village. For Descendants 2, which is set to premiere in summer 2017, he still gets to explore his dark side, this time as a pirate. According to Paul Becker, who co-choreographed the original Descendants film, it’s a far cry from Charkhi’s real-life personality, however.

Navid Charkhi

“Navid is a generous spirit and great to work with,” insists Becker. “His giving nature comes across in his dancing. I have had the pleasure of hiring Navid as a dancer on [multiple] projects and always welcome the opportunity to work with people like him.”

Charkhi’s combination of generosity, work ethic, talent, and ability to adapt to any style or genre makes this Descendants dance principal one to watch as he ascends to great heights in Hollywood.

BRIAN MANCINI PRODUCES A MEDITATION

There is no question that modern life is drastically different for some individuals. Modern technology now supports lifestyles in a way never before possible. There are inevitable events and occurrences though. This is the basis of the film A Meditation. This film is the story of  Michael, a middle-aged man recently unemployed from his job teaching film. Michael meets a young woman responding to his Craigslist ad selling a DVR. The two begin an intense and consuming affair that has Michael questioning the meaning of love, sex and happiness. Brian Mancini is a producer on this film starring Harold Perrineau (Romeo + Juliet, Lost, 28 Days Later) as Michael. The film presents the options for modern technology to be a benefit as well as a hindrance. Although we love our gadgets and the ways in which they connect us, we should not lose sight of the basic need for interacting with others as well as ourselves through introspection. We can connect physically but intimacy, as with true beauty, is much more than skin deep.

Brian’s reputation as an exemplary producer caused Joe Petricca (director/writer/producer and Executive Vice Dean of the American Film Institute Conservatory) and Maggie Biggar to seek out Mancini to work on A Meditation. Petricca states, “I was impressed by Brian’s dedication to the craft. Each thing that he brought to set made the film better. I’ve always found him to be an extremely innovative producer, with a great attitude towards the craft and the partners he works with.  Regardless of the budget, Brian’s work is always top quality. I admire the way that he can manage very large teams and simultaneously have the ability to multitask various high priorities. It’s an overwhelming situation to contend with and yet, a great producer like Brian seems to handle it with ease…which is exactly why I wanted him on A Meditation.”

The film stars Harold Perrineau and Samantha Colicchio in the leading roles and was shot entirely on one set. Mancini admits, “When shooting in one location, everything is dramatically easier. Just not having to completely unpack and pack up every day saves a great deal of time, which can be used to shoot. There are always challenges; for instance, the neighborhood might get cranky or someone might decide to blare rock music while we’re shooting an exterior. It’s easy enough to handle this by obtaining the permit and notifying the surrounding area ahead of time that the production is going to be at this location. That doesn’t negate all obstacles though.” Explaining the seemingly never ending role of a producer, Mancini comments, “The Producer’s job never ends. In post-production we are tirelessly carrying the project towards the finish line. From watching the edit and giving notes, scheduling turn over from the editing room to color correction or post-sound, accounting, credits, applying to festivals…the list goes on and on. There is a long calendar of deadlines that needs to be met and it’s very easy for projects to get stuck in post-production. Producers need to keep making sure everything is working to the schedule and if it isn’t, find a way to get it back on schedule.”

Brian’s spent his youth in Unionville (and later in Ontario, Canada) with many outdoor activities like: hiking, hunting, camping, etc. As with anyone, he understands that technology has become ubiquitous. He empathizes with the audience of the film, stating, “Technology is undoubtedly making a lot of things easier in everyday life but in another way, it’s taking a lot away. It’s become a safety for a lot of people, myself included. I feel lost and useless if I don’t know where my phone is. However, I think it’s important to find a balance and to get away from it at times. Every few months you can find me in the woods camping where I have no cell service and am just hiking up a mountain with a backpack of essentials. There is a stress technology puts on people to always be online and connected and it’s great to leave that in the city.” Though the internet (via Craigslist) the two main characters in A Meditation meet and connect in a very physical way but they are still forced to deal with their emotions in a traditional manner. A Meditation is an interesting study about where we draw the lines of interaction in modern life. Just as organisms evolve in their physicality, we are in an era in which social interaction is evolving. What makes Michael especially intriguing in this film is that his life is undergoing a transformation in terms of work and his romantic life. It’s one of the core messages of the film that enticed Mancini to come aboard. Brian confirms, “To think ‘Am I a good enough person?’, ‘Am I liked?’, ‘Can I be better?’, to realize one’s plan about what’s next in their life and to find what they want to achieve next…I think everyone has been there or is there. It’s rewarding to me to help present those ideas to the public. The thought that somewhere in a theater, there is someone who is encouraged by a film I helped to make…maybe something as seemingly small as keeping the day’s schedule on time insures that we stay on budget and therefore we can pay the salary of the best professionals out there…I love that feeling and want to keep doing it to the best of my potential.”

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THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE OF MASTERY TRANSLATES GERMAN INTO CELTIC

Almost every aspiring musician has this dream; a huge band playing a show at a gigantic venue suddenly needs someone to fill in for a show, then they like you so well that they ask you to stay on the gig. It never happens, right? Wrong. Yes, it’s the stuff that dreams are made of but it does happen from time to time. The part that isn’t so highly glamorized is the crammed preparation and the nerves that can make one “lose their lunch” hoping that you’ll make it through that first gig without everything crashing down on top of you (to say nothing of those dreams in which you arrive to school only discovering you are only wearing underwear). The true music professional can only hope that his years of preparation have honed their instincts to a point where all will be fine. A great example of this is the tale of German guitarist Stefan Hillesheim. As a celebrated Blues, Rock, and Jazz guitarist in his homeland Stefan was enjoying a fulfilling life as a musician when he was asked to fill in for the internationally popular Celtic Dreams. The incredibly popular touring musical show Celtic Dreams features a unique mix of modern rock with traditional Scottish, Irish, and Celtic folk music, with an eclectic mix of dancers and other visual performers. Celtic Dreams regularly perform to sold-out audiences all over the world, and have been the subject of many press articles in Europe and abroad.

Celtic Dreams tour manager was in a high pressure situation when the guitarist for the show was suddenly unable to perform. This extremely popular show relied on the professional execution of the complicated musical pieces to excite the audience and support the dancers and other performers. The guitarist was essential to every performance due to the fact that Celtic Dreams takes on a contemporary rock influence with their traditional music, making it more accessible to a wide age range of audience members. The fact that the music was quite complicated and required flawless execution of the many transitions from piece to piece further exasperated the situation. Celtic Dreams tour manager Oliver Stahl needed to find not just “a guitarist” but, “an amazing guitarist” who could read complex charts and play shows to huge audiences with basically no rehearsal. Luckily for Stahl, he was in Germany and was able to contact Stefan Hillesheim. Although not focused on traditional Irish music, Hillesheim was particularly enabled to take on the task of this music for Celtic Dreams as he reveals, “I started listening to Irish folk bands like the Dubliners, the Pogues and the Fureys when I was about eight years old. My Uncle is the lead Singer and Guitarist of the well-traveled Irish folk band Limerick. My Parents took me to his concerts from my early childhood on. When I started playing electric guitar in my early teens, I really got into Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher (both are Irish guitar legends). I love the way they combine traditional celtic music with Blues and Rock.” As an accomplished and lauded guitarist in Germany who also possessed an understanding of the inherent lilt of traditional Irish music, Stefan was an easy choice to fill in for Celtic Dreams. Oliver Stahl comments, “Stefan performed as a lead musician and guitarist on multiple occasions for Celtic Dreams. His knowledge of both modern rock styles and traditional Celtic folk music made him perfectly suited for us. I truly could not have asked for a more versatile musician. Stefan was with us for multiple performances, all of which were held in major venues in large cities. I must note how versatile a musician Stefan is and how this added to the success of each of these shows. His ability to jump between and blend styles on both acoustic and electric guitar (and occasionally bass) was astounding! It brought a fantastic energy to each of our performances. The shows that Stefan played in were performed to sold out audiences and I’m positive that his playing was a major factor in garnering these huge

audiences as well as the press and great reviews. Stefan played a lead role in ensuring the success of every show he performed and has been an essential player in boosting Celtic Dreams reputation and success as a whole. Stefan is known throughout Germany as an incredibly skilled and accomplished musician who has made a name for himself as both a session player and bandleader.”

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While Stahl was nervous until he found Hillesheim, Stefan’s uneasiness began at this time. You could almost say that Stahl “gifted” his concerns to Hillesheim. That’s not to say the guitarist wasn’t excited to play with Celtic Dreams…quite the opposite. Stefan was contacted three days prior to his first performance with the band and had to learn three hours of music; including medleys and complicated transitions. Daunting task ahead of him, as a true professional, Hillesheim understood that the production was depending on him to fit perfectly into an ensemble that was already running smoothly. In respect to the music, Stefan wanted to play authentically stating, “Every genre of music has its appropriate vocabulary. When you play Irish or Scottish music you have to stick with certain clichés because this kind of music has a long tradition. Even though there is room for interpretation and improvisation, it wouldn’t be authentic if certain elements were missing. For example, the typical triplet based rhythmic in Irish step/tap dance music is the foundation of this musical language and is a requirement. For traditional Celtic Folk tunes like ‘Scarborough Fair’ or ‘Star of the County Down’, I would definitely play an acoustic guitar because that is what people expect and want to hear. Modern Irish music like the Corrs or the Cranberries often features electric guitar so that would be my weapon of choice in that case. Overall it depends on the ‘Vibe’ of a song. I play the instrument that fits the song best and compliments the singers as much as possible rather than playing what I personally prefer, even if that sometimes means committing to a less ‘flashy’ or interesting guitar part.”

Hillesheim is more often seen performing in a Blues club (with popular German band BlueSide), at a large outdoor musical festival, or even at major concert venues (as he did recently with Liquid Blue at the Staples Center in Los Angeles) but all of these ensembles are the contemporary Blues or Rock bands with which he is more commonly known to perform. Having spent decades in groups of this type, Stefan is extremely familiar with them and points out one major difference that he had to adjust for in playing guitar with Celtic Dreams…dancers. He remarks, “Celtic Music has a lot of colors to it. Many of the tunes are quite danceable and have sort of a jumping, galloping character to them; others are almost hauntingly emotional, melancholic, and full of heartache. I had the advantage of playing behind a number of great vocalists before so I was familiar with that role but the Dancing/Step Dance groups added another component to the show and I found myself playing behind a line of dancers.” Stefan more than exceeded the hopes of Celtic Dreams producers and performers as proven by the fact that he was immediately asked to finish out the tour as their guitarist. Not content with expressing this “accent” in his guitar playing, Hillesheim has currently relocated to the US to pursue his career and further his exploration of the American musical style of the Blues. If Stefan’s history tells us anything, we can be certain that this internationally acclaimed guitarist will be recognized amongst the latest generation of Blues guitarists.

 

Breakout Child Actor Samuel Faraci Stars In Three Upcoming Movies

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Samuel Faraci

The award winning child actor, Samuel Faraci, has three hit movies making their first debut to audiences around the world over the next few months. In “Country Crush,” “Blood Hunters” and “The Headhunter’s Calling,” Faraci shares scenes with some of Hollywood’s most riveting stars. While all three films differ in genre, they all share one surefire similarity: they all succeed at showcasing Faraci’s sought-after talents.

“Country Crush” is an upcoming musical drama from writer and director Andrew Cymek (“Night Cries,” “Agency of Vengeance: Dark Rising” and “Dark Rising: Warrior of Worlds”) that follows a city girl named Nancy Taylor, played by newcomer Madeline Merlo, who meets good-hearted Charlie Bishop, portrayed by Munro Chambers (“Degrassi,” and “Turbo Kid”). After sparks fly and a promising romance begins, Nancy and Charlie return to New York City where Nancy’s music career is beginning to flourish, until she’s faced with a choice: Will she continue along her career path as an opportunistic music producer, or follow her heart instead? One Tree Hill’s Jana Kramer (“One Tree Hill,” “90210” and “Entourage”) also stars in the film.

“I portray Cody Bishop Jr. in “Country Crush,” who is a sweet, good-natured boy who idolizes his dad. Cody’s father is Charlie’s older brother,” said Faraci. “and a soldier who serves his country overseas.” The film was shot in the Canadian countryside of Northern Ontario during the Summer, “A beautiful landscape that was close to forests and lakes,” Faraci fondly described. After a one of a kind experience working alongside the widely known country singer and actress, he commented, “Watching her work, I realized how hard it is to sing and perform at the same time. Jana is very sweet and a wonderful actress.”

The theatrical release of “Country Crush” will be introduced this fall, the home video launch set to take place on the Q1 of next year.

Additionally, in just about a month’s time now, Faraci’s second film titled “Blood Hunters,” directed by the acclaimed Tricia Lee (“Silent Retreat” and “Clean Break”), will be presenting its world premiere at the Horror Channel FrightFest Film Festival in London, England on August 29, 2016. Faraci plays a boy named “Hunter” in the film, the lead character’s son. “I auditioned for the role of Hunter and got a quick and positive response. I was so happy because I knew how good Tricia’s work was,” Faraci said.

The indie horror flick stars Leo Award nominee Lara Gilchrist (“Bates Motel,” “Rookie Blue” and “Supernatural”) as Ellie Barnes, a single mother who overdoses and wakes up in a medical facility to find that everyone around her is dead – and that she’s nine months pregnant.

Faraci is no stranger to the style of this elevated genre creature feature, as his prior film credits consist of the full-length film “Antisocial 2” and the horror TV series “Hannibal.” Elaborating on his character in “Blood Hunters,” Faraci explained, “Hunter is a precocious boy whose mom has not been the most attentive and whose dad has never been around. He has learned to not only take care of himself, but of his mom who leaves the stove on, food too long in the fridge or forgets to go to appointments. He understands more than his mom thinks he does, but loves her very much and will defend her to the end of the earth.” Furthermore, Faraci describes his scenes in “Blood Hunters” as, “Pretty emotional.”

“The Headhunter’s Calling” is the rising star’s third upcoming project, a Mark Williams (“The Accountant,” “Flawless” and “Shuttle”) family drama, follows a ruthless corporate headhunter played by Gerard Butler (“The Ugly Truth,” “P.S. I Love You” and “300”) who arranges jobs for engineers and is more focused on his job than his family. When his child is diagnosed with cancer, Butler’s character puts his overtly successful career on hold, leading to a clash of his personal and professional priorities.

“I play Kyle who is one of Ryan’s classmates. Ryan is the son of Gerard Butler’s character,” Faraci explained. “Kyle has an exchange with Elise, Ryan’s mom, when she stops by to get Ryan’s homework at school.” The character Elise is played by Boardwalk Empire’s very own Gretchen Mol (“Boardwalk Empire,” “Life on Mars” and “Mozart in the Jungle”).

Originally, Faraci had auditioned for the main role of “Ryan,” but didn’t book it due to physical traits the character needed to match. Just days after this unfortunate news, the casting director invited Faraci to perform the role of Kyle without the need of a new audition. “While I didn’t work directly with Mr. Butler,” Faraci also mentioned, “It’s exciting to have your name involved in a big production with A-List talent such as Alison Brie (“Community,” “BoJack Horseman” and “Mad Men”), Gretchen Mol, Willem Dafoe (“Spider-Man,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Finding Nemo”), and Alfred Molina (“Spider-Man 2,” “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angie Tribeca”).”

“The Headhunter’s Calling” will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, also known as TIFF, this September.

 

For more information on Samuel Faraci, please visit: http://www.imdb.me/samuelfaraci/

Follow Samuel Faraci on Twitter: https://twitter.com/samuelfaraci

For more information on “Country Crush,” please visit: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3901944/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

For more information on “Blood Hunters,” please visit: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3646592/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

For more information on “The Headhunter’s Calling,” please visit: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1718924/?ref_=nv_sr_1

KAYLA STRADA IS MINDFUL OF HER FOOTPRINT

“It’s gotta be da shoes!” Spike Lee’s fictional character from “She’s Gotta Have It” was everywhere in the mid to late 80’s. The immensely successful ad campaign for Nike attribute the secret ingredient of Michael Jordan’s command of the court to…at least in some part, his sneakers; that was long before there ever was a Kayla Strada. Spike’s character (Mars Blackmon) had an almost supernatural belief in shoes, a belief shared by Strada, but not in regards to the NBA. The shoes she believes in are the ones of which Stella Adler speaks. Kayla confirms, “Shoes is a big thing Stella Adler always talks about and shoes are a big Kayla thing.” The young Australian actress might have Carrie Bradshaw as her spiritual guide because her choice of proper acting “footwear” has led to several successful roles including the female lead in the full length feature “Love Is…” The film has been expanded to a full length feature because of the overwhelmingly positive feedback on the original short, due in no small part to Strada’s convincing and emotional performance as Maddie, the female lead in the story. The film is the beginning of Hollywood’s exposure to Strada, an actress who has been receiving increasing notoriety and achievements in her homeland of Australia and parts beyond.IMG_3267

There are some universal experiences and themes in the world and love is likely the most prominent of these. It crosses every line; culture, religion, gender, financial. You can be a farmer in Singapore, a Member of Parliament in London, or a young actress in Australia…everyone needs it and everyone wants it. We all understand our own feelings of love but the who, how, or why in which others place this emotion doesn’t always make sense to us. This is why find it particularly attractive when an actor or actress can communicate their feelings about love in such a way that we instantly empathize. It is a gift that Kayla possesses and is prominently exhibited in “Love Is…” This production, written and directed by Stan Harrington, was quickly promoted from short to full length feature…that’s a major achievement and vote of confidence in Hollywood. Maddie and Nick (played by Bryan Lee Wriggle) are two young people who fall in love practically at first sight but their relationship stalls almost as suddenly, resulting in a search for the meaning of true love. Other unforeseen factors have immense impact on the main characters and their view of love (no spoilers here). Just as in real life, these characters have different “love languages” and struggle to understand and relate to each other in an unencumbered manner. Knowing yourself and possessing the words to express it properly help you connect with that special someone. These are the exact same attributes which allow Strada to so convincingly portray Maddie. She reveals, “When Maddie first meets Nick, she goes through a rollercoaster of emotions. A lot of what she deals with is based on certain ideas that are very original to this story. In contrast, there are some very universal experiences in the film that we all share. You see it happening and think to yourself, ‘Oh yeah, that happened to me.’ One thing I can say about Maddie is that she is very determined. That is something I can really relate to. Playing Maddie and discovering her was such a joy.” Strada further notes, “Dialogue is important and it is important how you deliver it. If the script is good, you can really play with it. The majority of the work is done for you already in the script.” Writer and Director Harrington makes this avenue a two way street commenting, “The nature of a shoot required to make a movie like Live Is…is exceptionally trying, so getting to work with actors who, not only come prepared, but also have incredible talent and insight, such as Kayla, makes everything a little easier.”

“Love Is…” has the moniker of both comedy and drama, with the obvious romantic setting. While the romance of Maddie and Nick drives the movie, it is Maddie’s best friend, Liz (played by Daphne Tenne), who supplies much of the comic relief. The bond between Liz and Maddie lifts some of the heavier moments on screen, similarly to the actresses support off screen. Tenne states, “Kayla is extraordinary at what she does, truly a professional at work. Acting alongside Kayla in this film was a journey that I will take with me forever.” Bryan Lee Wriggle (Nick) shares a similar comment about Kayla and the other actors involved in “Love Is…” stating, “It has been a privilege to work with someone like Kayla Strada. She brings a professional attitude and amazing work ethic to the set every day. I feel honored to work with actors who take control of their work and strive to make each take exceptional.”

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It is not often that a movie is required to take place in a particular city, but sometimes the location enhances the feeling of the movie in a way that is undeniable. Italy has many beautiful cities but who can think of Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” taking place anywhere except Rome? In the same way, San Francisco becomes a character in “Love Is…” The Bay, the twisting roads, the hills, the skyline, all these terrains become synonymous with the numerous and varied emotions one feels when dealing with love. Strada emphatically confirms that the locale is essential to the feel of the film declaring, “San Francisco was a deliberate filming choice! Visually, it’s a romantic and beautiful setting for the story. I don’t think the movie could have had the same impact if it were filmed in LA…or anywhere else. The way that you feel when you’re there…it makes you think about the possibilities and dream of greater things happening in your life.”

With “Love Is…” making the switch to full-length feature film and Kayla as the female lead, the young actress is hoping to explore more opportunities in Hollywood. Having experienced a good deal of fame and success in her homeland, she is excited about the roles she might land as well as the possibilities of working with those whom she has admired in film. She states, “I really hope to work alongside the people whom I look up to in the industry; the Cate Blanchett’s of the world who take their work to another level. I had the opportunity to work with Mena Suvari and it was a real moment for me. I realized, not only do I get to learn from her talent but it was also nice to see how humble she still is. There is always something creative going on here in Hollywood. It really is the heart of entertainment. I think I had to be here to truly understand that.”IMG_3268

U.K.’s EMILY RICE ENRICHES HOLLYWOOD, BLENDING TRADITION AND CONTEMPORARY

British born composer Emily Rice is a member of the club of young composers who began as serious instrumentalists but angled into the path of composition. While many gifted performers seek the adulation of a live audience, a subset chooses instead to influence and affect generations of audiences by writing music to interact with other art forms; in Emily’s case, film and television. The choice to have your work be supportive and shine the spotlight on another’s performance implies both talent as well as a complementary nature. No doubt, her early years as a cellist in London taught her the importance of each individual’s role in an ensemble, as well as the emotional impact the entire group could elicit on an audience. Following a successful series of compositional endeavors in the UK, Rice began fielding offers from Hollywood with highly successful results.MV5BMjIzMTUyNjIyMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTAzOTYzNzE@._V1_UY1200_CR165,0,630,1200_AL_ (336x640)

Najmia is a film about the last days of a pregnant twelve-year old Yemini child bride before undergoing labour. The uneasiness of the subject matter in terms of social conformity and the life endangering experience of Najmia coupled with the presentation of this piece led to a win in 2015 at the Forum on Law, Culture, & Society’s International Short Film Competition. Ethical discussions were bound to arise concerning the situation in the film but Rice states, “Our main focus was to communicate the topic of humanity, especially towards the central character Najmia. The film ends ambiguously with Najmia giving birth and the audience is left not knowing whether she survives the labour or not. The film’s aim wasn’t to make judgment on child marriage and the pregnancies that result from these marriages, but to raise awareness about the need for proper midwife training and better sanitary conditions in these situations.” The film required a score that would match the intensity of the story being displayed on screen.IMG_3063 The compositions Rice created more than achieved this goal, as proven by her nomination for Best Composer at the Underwire Film Festival in 2015 (Najmia has received four nominations in addition to those previously mentioned). Rice took some extra precautions to assist the filmmakers in avoiding any preconceptions by the audience. She comments, “We wanted the audience to come away thinking that Najmia could be any young woman, not just a young woman from the Middle East as depicted in the film, and this is why I avoided using ethnic instruments. Also, emotion is something that strings provide very effectively. As a string player (I started my musical life as a cellist), they were the obvious choice.” Emily used an early musical form known as a passacaglia as a base to create the cue in the climactic scene in which we realize that the main character is in trouble. The composer’s knowledge of the prejudices that we may carry with us helped the filmgoer experience the true message that was intended.

2015’s award winning Clone Counseling is a stark contrast in subject matter to Najmia. A comedy that concerns a man in couple’s therapy with his clone; the film needs to evoke a completely different color of the emotional spectrum when it comes to music. Emily worked hand in hand with Aaron Burch to compose a sonic backdrop to set the proper tone. The subject matter of technology and its contributions to society are not lost on Rice and her approach to composing as she utilizes a blend of organic instruments, loops, and electronics.  Highly recognized composer Bruce Broughton (Academy award-nominated, Emmy award-winning, and ASCAP award-winning) recognizes Rice’s abilities and achievements. He relates, “In all of the musical combinations, whether large or small, whether with live musicians or with electronics, regardless of the demands of musical or dramatic style, Emily does a fine job in demonstrating her skill in approaching and successfully negotiating a broad range of contrasting and dissimilar requirements.”IMG_3058

As an artist who is cognizant of the evolution of TV and Film and the need for the compositions that accompany it to grow, Emily constantly seeks out new challenges and ways to widen her palette. In addition to live action films, animation has been popular for many decades and continues to change with technology. As continued validation that Rice is clearly a respected and contemporary member of the film and music community, the Los Angeles Live Score Film Festival recognized and selected her to score the animated film Cowboys in a Saloon (awarded Best Picture at the Los Angeles Live Score Film Festival). The score was recorded by the LA based ultra modern ensemble the Helix Collective. Emily takes an active interest in the live music scene in Los Angeles but it is her deep love of film and television composing that drew her to the city and industry. Her achievements working on commercially successful films such as the Jerry Bruckheimer production “Deliver Us from Evil” (Grossing $65 MM) and the $100 MM Worldwide hit “The Last Witch Hunter”, starring Vin Diesel, have benefited from Rice’s focus as well as longer formats like the WGN’s TV series “Underground”.

Emily continues to immerse herself in new challenges and musical experiences here in Los Angeles. The composition and orchestration for 93 Days, about a Liberian-American racing against the clock in a foreign country against the Ebola influenced panic, demands an intensity and suspense similar to other big budget films. It’s a situation to which Rice has already proven herself to be more than appropriate to contribute.  Firefly (2016, currently in production) sees Emily being challenged with the dichotomy of wonderment and suspense. The child’s perspective of Maya (the film’s central character) has led the composer to seek a nontraditional approach in order to bring something fresh to the story. The score of Firefly is based on musical motifs, including a “monster hunting” theme. Rice reveals, “The ‘monster hunting’ theme is quite rhythmic as it accompanies Maya while she prepares traps for the imaginative monster. I’ve also used a lot of instruments that are typically ‘light’ to reflect the childlike qualities in the story…mostly harp, piano, celeste, and a small amount or strings and percussion.” Sometimes it takes a light touch and approach in a score to leave a strong impression.

Acclaimed Cinematographer Kristin Fieldhouse!

Cinematographer Kristin Fieldhouse
                                                     Cinematographer Kristin Fieldhouse

Although Kristin Fieldhouse first obtained a Bachelors and Masters in International Development and Politics at the University of Sussex in England, an area of concentration that led her to spend several years working for the United Nations across Africa and Asia, her love of photography and it’s integral role in filmmaking was something too powerful to ignore. The now highly sought after cinematographer discovered her passion for photography in her youth.

“I lost my dad and my sister at a young age – so photography helped me through that period. It was my salvation in a way, a chance to connect with people through an artist medium and express what I was feeling and going through,” admits Kristin Fieldhouse. “Later on, cinematography offered me a new and exciting challenge. The moving image was fascinating for me and I loved the idea of sequences of images to tell a story.”

After spending several years working for the UN, Fieldhouse moved to Canada where she further honed and perfected her skills behind the camera lens. “I worked and studied as a camera technician for many years working my way up through the Cinematographer’s Guild I.A.T.S.E before starting to shoot my own work,” explains Fieldhouse.

A testament to her unparalleled skill in the field, Kristin Fieldhouse was accepted as one of only 28 cinematographers admitted into the American Film Institute’s competitive conservatory program where she received her MFA. With an impressive list of award-winning projects already under her belt, Fieldhouse’s work undoubtedly speaks for itself. The cinematographer received the Kodak Student Cinematography Award for her work on the film The Man Who Found DB Cooper, as well as the award for Best Cinematography at the Milledgeville Film Festival and the John Kelly Award for Excellence in Cinematography at the Fresno Film Festival for her work on the film Young Americans, and the award for Best Cinematography at the Real Teal Film Festival for her work on the film TESS.

One of Kristin Fieldhouse’s other recent projects, Kepler X-47, has also had an incredibly successful run on the film festival circuit as it was chosen as an Official Selection at The LA Asian Pacific Film Festival, Comikazee Expo, ImagineNative Film & Media Arts Festival, NewFilmmakers Los Angeles Film Festival, The Geekie Awards, Dragon Con Film Festival, and many others. Directed by Erin Li Kepler X-47 is a sci-fi film that follows a woman as she struggles to adjust to her new life as part of a human zoo exhibit on an alien planet 5,000 light years from earth. The film put Fieldhouse’s talents to the test as it required extensive period costumes, futuristic locations and dynamic lighting choices.

Fieldhouse explains, “This project was demanding in terms of budget and I had to come up with cheap lighting solutions that gave a large range of looks from candlelight dinner scenes at tables to large soft sources above actors to give them freedom to move, but would also create an eerie look. Panavision came onboard and helped us by providing great lenses, which I netted to give a softer image and raise the black levels. I remember spending many hours testing out different kinds of stockings from stores around LA.”

Kristin Fieldhouse’s vast knowledge, dedication and substantial creative contributions to Kepler X-47 show through in the film’s end product and are proven by the film’s incredible success.

“I was inspired by the painters such as Caravaggio and wanted to be able to paint with light the way they would paint with oils,” says Fieldhouse. “We used a combination of in-camera effects and glass, with dramatic lighting, and I believe this gave the film an elevated look that took the audience on a beautiful and believable journey.”

Some of Kristin Fieldhouse’s other work as a cinematographer includes the films My Little Eye, Palm Swings, Brown Bag, He’s The Best, Borja, Future Me, Release, The Tent, Life In The Gutter, Hide & Seek and Things Go Wrong, as well as commercials for globally known brands like Nike, Coors Light and Kodak. The cinematographer has also contributed heavily to the camera departments on the films The Echo, Total Recall, The Incredible Hulk, Diary Of The Dead, House At The End of The Street, Resident Evil: Afterlife and A Beginner’s Guide To Endings, as well as the hit television shows Flashpoint, Happy Town, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures Fairfield Road, Abra Ca Debra, Nikita, Covert Affairs, Warehouse 13, Unrivaled, Latest Buzz, Unnatural History, The Night Before The Night Before Christmas, Alphas, Kenny v. Spenny and many more.

To find out more about Kristin Fieldhouse’s incredible work as a cinematographer be sure to check out her website http://kristinfieldhouse.com/ and her IMDb page http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2465060/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1