Category Archives: International Creative Talents

BIG STUDIO OR INDIE, THEY’RE ALL IMPORTANT TO DIRECTOR/PRODUCER JOHN ALBANIS

Education is a good thing but, consider that education alone is not indicative of the ability to master something; it’s a springboard to jump into the race. Specifically, when it comes to artistic endeavors, vision and mastery of skills easily defeats the knowledge base of how something “should” work. One can understand painting but it doesn’t make you a painter. A knowledge of the complexities of music theory does not make one a songwriter. Film school does not make you an accomplished cinematographer. While scholarly endeavors may get you in the ballpark, they won’t insure that you will make the team. Of all the aforementioned art forms, film is the newest and thus the idea of attending film school was not available until recently. The pioneers who crafted this art form and by whose hands it evolved were the men and women who learned “on the job.” Considering the fact that film has permeated almost every culture and region of the planet, they did their jobs quite well. Following in the footsteps of these giants is John Albanis. This producer/director had not planned on entering the film industry (moving from Calgary to the UK to pursue rock stardom) but made an artistic switch when he discovered he had a natural skill set that lent itself to this medium. With no formal academic film training, John learned from those he worked with; those who recognized his ability for accelerated learning. Years later, he has cultivated quite an impressive career which rests on both huge blockbuster productions as well as carefully and emotionally crafter indie art films. Feature Films, TV movies, music videos, even recording studios make up the eclectic life of this immensely talented Canadian filmmaker.

John Albanis’s work on major studio films is instantly recognizable and is not confined to simply one genre…unless that genre is “successful.” Some films perform well at the box office and also have a second life on downloads and streaming services, as is the case the Hector and the Search for Happiness. As Co-Producer on this 2014 film starring Simon Pegg, John had the herculean task of taking the production across the planet to locations which included: Canada, the UK, South Africa, China, USA, India, and Germany. The Story and its locations are entertaining and seamless, something which Albanis is quite proud of achieving.

Contributing his full range of abilities to the film Psychic Driving, John was director, producer, and writer of this Film Noir. Inspired by the great political thrillers from the 1970s films like Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View, All the Presidents Men and based around the CIA mind control program in the 1950’s called Project MK-Ultra (a secret program that ran experiments on human subjects, often without their knowledge), Psychic Driving’s theme was perfectly suited for the Film Noir genre. It also allowed Albanis to indulge his creative side to great length, exhibiting his multiple talents. Utilizing his connections in the film industry allowed for a quick and impressive production schedule. John relates, “When I work on studio films, I build such great relationships with the crews whom I work with. One thing I quickly learned is that there are so many talented artists who are on the verge of breaking. In the case of Psychic Driving, I had recently completed working on Miramax Films’ Shall We Dance. This was pretty early in my career; I was a director’s assistant at that point. But the director, Peter Chelsom, had me very involved creatively so I worked closely with all department heads. I forged relationships with (main Camera Operator) Peter Rosenfeld and (Art Director) Sue Chan. I had written Psychic Driving shortly after the studio film wrapped and I gave the script to both of them. They immediately signed on as Director of Photography and Production Designer respectively. Since we all have contacts in the studio system, we were each able to bring those resources to this small, indie film. That’s why it has such ambitious production values.”

Not content with Feature Films or Indie Films, John also lent his production talents to a series of highly successful made for TV films (for CBS) starring Tom Selleck. Jesse Stone: Stone Cold, Jesse Stone: Thin Ice, and Jesse Stone: No Remorse were all presented in a period of five years.

As he prepares for the next obvious progression in his career, Albanis confirms, “Los Angeles is still the heart and soul of the film and television industry; it’s where all the main players are and where all the deals are being struck. I’m transitioning from being a hired gun producer/director into developing my own projects from the ground up and Los Angeles is the best place to do that. Last year, I purchased the TV rights to a book called The Mirror Thief, which I’m developing with Peter Chelsom to direct into an 8-hr series. It’s a mind-bending thriller that follows interweaving narratives of three driven men all connected by the alchemical possibility of a mysterious book, and shifts from 16th century Venice, Italy— where famed glassmakers perfected one of the world’s most wondrous inventions, the mirror (an object of fearful fascination)— to the seedy Venice Beach waterfront of the 1950’s, to the glitzy trappings of the Venetian casino in 2003 Las Vegas.”

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BRIAR NOLET HAS TAKEN “THE NEXT STEP”

While the entertainment industry is for the most part based around youth, it’s rare that we see someone truly grow up on camera. Ron Howard, Drew Barrymore, and a select few have come into their own and lasted in the business. In what would appear to be the most recent individual to fill this template is Canadian Briar Nolet. An artist of impressive dance and acting skills, Nolet appears on Temple Street Productions “The Next Step” about a group of young dancers. The Canadian program is equal parts astounding dance and a (fictionalized) depiction of the lives of the characters. As the youngest cast member of this program, Briar began as a member of J Troupe (the in-training group) but was so skilled that she was quickly was moved up to A Troupe and cast on the show. Throughout the several seasons of “The Next Step”, fans from across the globe have seen Briar grow from a young girl into a woman, mirroring the evolution of her acting and dance abilities. As a fan favorite, Nolet has traversed the planet with the live performances that “The Next Step” has toured with including; the UK, Australia, Europe, Canada, and many other destinations.

“The Next Step” has won many awards (Canadian Cinema Editors Award, BAFTRA, Canadian Screen Award, etc.) and received numerous nominations, but that’s not what made the show an international success. Fans from different cultures connected with the young cast members, the stories, and their struggles to pursue their dream. Frank Van Keekan (Creator of “The Next Step”) confirms that Briar was a focal point of this reaction and the show’s success. He states, “Briar Nolet burst onto the scene of The Next Step as a member of J-Troupe. J-Troupe was the junior troupe in the dance studio. We specifically designed J-Troupe to be a training ground for new actors, getting them ready to move into A-Troupe once they were old enough and if they showed enough talent. Briar was one of the few actors that made it through the ‘system’. Her dancing and acro abilities were unparalleled. We were continually gob-smacked by her performances. After a couple of seasons, we quickly had plans to grow her into one of the main cast members. As soon as she arrived there, Briar excelled, becoming one of the show’s regular cast members. During that time, and with very little effort, she grew a massive fan base and quickly became one of the stars of The Next Step. She has gone on the live tours which travel the world over. Briar is easily one of the show’s most beloved cast members and one of the show’s most in-demand characters. It’s been amazing to see how she has gone from a young J-Troupe member, to being one of the show’s stars. It’s all due to her amazing work ethic, her immense talent, and her star quality.”

Briar’s role on “The Next Step” is Richelle, a feisty and talented dancer who is singularly focused to become the greatest dancer she can. Possessing more attitude than friends, she exemplifies determination. Nolet describes, “Playing Richelle on The Next Step, really grew my skills as an actress. I have similar characteristics to Richelle; however, she does have an edge that I don’t really share with her. In saying this, it’s fun to experiment and portray emotions that are different than how I [as Briar] would react to certain things.” It is notable that one of the reasons Richelle has become such a favorite to fans of the show is for this unique personality. Richelle doesn’t fit the mold of the status quo, which many of the show’s admirers appreciate in both the character and Briar’s portrayal.

Something that Nolet does share with her character is the sacrifices which a dancer must make to pursue this passion. The life of a dancer, whether real or fictional, is one of giving up time with family and friends to hone your craft. The same cause and effect applied to Briar’s work as an actress. Richelle was perhaps communicated so well by this actress because she could completely empathize with the character.

The immense talent of Briar’s dance abilities is well documented and displayed on “The Next Step.” Pushing the limits of where dance stops and acrobatics begin, her performances on screen were often unbelievable. Briar is more than amused to share as she states, “I would say something that sets me apart from everybody else is that I have no fear. As a dancer, I will always take risks and try different things that sometimes nobody could even think was possible. It’s a shock to everyone that such a little body can do that. I also have a crazy amount of energy and determination and I think that helps separate me from other people. I am one to of course be safe but at the same time just go for things. Sometimes I honestly throw my body somewhere and hope that I find my feet. Ha. A lot of my tricks that not many people can do come from just trying the impossible. These are moves I have been doing for a long time and am very comfortable with, to the point that sometimes I don’t even have to think about it. The difficulty level is the same no matter where I do them. Obviously, on camera they can edit if I mess up a trick they can make it look like I didn’t but,  on stage you can’t do that so you’ve just gotta go for it. I get super pumped up and excited when I am doing these things, I absolutely love it.”

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Briar’s fans will be happy to know that the upcoming season of “The Next Step” shows Nolet (as Richelle) to be one of most focused upon leads for the new storyline. As Briar Nolet’s star continues to rise, admirers of her acting and dancing can be certain that this talented young woman will be pushing herself to the surprise of all who watch.

PERUMAL BRINGS A NEW SLANT TO A LONG RUNNING HIT REALITY SHOW

We’ve all spent time (maybe too much time) surfing the internet and looking at random videos. While it is admittedly a time snatcher, compared to channel surfing it’s much more expeditious. This ubiquity of videos is often used by those of us who are looking for new entertainment or as an addition to our favorite programs. You can’t deny that you have found yourself on a social media platform or YouTube going down the rabbit hole which would eventually lead to you programming your DVR, downloading the season of a show, or heading to your local theater. These videos are promotion; we know it and the producers of these videos know it. There’s a science to making such a brief production interesting enough to capture and hold our attention. Editors like Vishnu Perumal are master of this. They have an algorithm in their genetic code which allows them to create a cut that will make us follow them right down the path. Vishnu was in charge of the social media operations for “COPS” where he edited numerous promos and interviews for the four time Emmy Award nominated series.

As a decades long production, “COPS” is a guilty pleasure for many, Perumal included. As a longtime fan of the show, he admits that it was a surreal experience to be working and seeing the iconic logo and the song (everyone knows it) on his computer screen. Vishnu was tasked to cut selected scenes from each week’s episodes. His audition for the production would be the template for his role. Karen Hori (Head of Production for Langley Productions, “COPS”) was impressed by his reel (specifically on “Sexcapades”), invited Perumal to meet and spontaneously asked him to cut a quick 3-minute interview of a Police Officer narrating and explaining his process as he arrived at a domestic disturbance call. She was immediately impressed with the spot and offered Vishnu the editing position.

One might assume that “COPS” producer and show runner (Zach Ragsdale) would want sensationalized content to capture the attention of viewers. Vishnu reveals that this was not the goal. He remarks, “I would approach the edits in the promos and interviews generally the same as I would for all my other projects in that I would first and foremost focus on the story and making it the most interesting piece of content that I could possibly create. The show is primarily focused on the police officers, so each web cut had to convey the entire story in a one to two-minute sequence. The focus was on telling the story in the way it always has; the way that audiences/fans have always watched it and enjoyed it. There was a sort of template, but a template that made sense. The show was all about the cops and it was important to focus on them and their duties. We didn’t want to stray away from that formula.”

As any fan of the TV series would expect, viewing countless episodes is both a shocking and oddly amusing experience. The program depicts both the sobering and ridiculous elements that occur day to day in the careers of these public servants. The temperament of the show is carefully crafted and is a major component of why “COPS” has been so successful. The news presents these types of stories but lacks the emotional quality that “COPS” so adeptly delivers. Editing these smaller productions, Perumal needed to assimilate to this tone while viewing the uncut and raw versions of them. Creating these presentations for social media platforms gave Vishnu deeper insight as to what the public finds so enticing about the program. “I think social media has had a huge impact on the entertainment industry, allowing fans and viewers a sense of community for their favorite shows. Managing the website, Facebook group and the YouTube channel, I discovered that there are many people out there who are huge fans of the show and will genuinely interact and show their support whenever they can. Social media provides the immediate feedback that there are genuine fans out there and it keeps a show relevant. Before social media, the only way to really figure out if a show is popular was through the ratings system. But now with social media, it vocalizes the popularity of a show directly through its fans, which is beneficial in having a show run for so long.” states Perumal.

 

Editor/Colorist Liang Xia Expertly Combines Technical Precision and Nuanced Emotion

The film industry is home to an army of specialty craftspeople and technicians, each working in distinct specialized niche disciplines. These widely varying duties abound in the post-production field and while many seem almost esoteric in their limited scope, some actually have a critical impact on the finished films emotional appeal and ability to directly reach an audience.

Chinese born Editor/Colorist Liang Xia is a prime example of this. His is a uniquely demanding position, one that requires a masterful sense of nuance and subtlety, balancing the aesthetics’ which a production’s setting and style requires while subtly enhancing the film’s overall mood and emotional appeal. Xia achieves this with a both comprehensive attention to minute detail and an overarching perspective on the sweep of the entire film.

“There are three different things that a colorist does,” Xia said. “First, I adjust the exposures of the footage. A lot of things, such as lighting issues, weather, location and cause the cinematographer to get incorrect exposures. In most films, there will be several shots under or over exposed and colorists fix those issues in post-production, making sure each shot is the correct exposure and matches other shots.”

“Second, Colorists need to correct unnatural colors or unwanted colors. Sometimes, color temperature of the lighting is not accurate, or if the camera setting isn’t right, the color in footage will not be correct. Even when every setting is right, the camera sensor will receive more light and colors than we can see, and there will be some unwanted colors, or the contrast will change. Colorists fix all these problems during the process of color correction. And after this process, the color will become very accurate and satisfying to audience.”

The third aspect of the colorist’s job is the most important, and also where Xia excels.

“Color can also express emotion,” he said. “As we know, red means passion or blood, blue means cold or peace. Colorists can also use color theories to emphasize emotions in scenes, chapters or even whole films. A subtle change of color tone is not very obvious to audiences, but when they watch the film and see the color, they will have a natural, almost subconscious reaction to the color tone. In this way, a colorist enhances the film, allows it to further express subtexts and emotions.”

His work on the recent feature film Strawman exemplifies Xia’s perfected mix of vision and expression. A gritty look at a youth forced into a life of petty crime to support his siblings after their parents abandon them, Xia’s atmospheric approach and attention to detail further burnished director Tian Xie’s impactful drama.

Xia is driven by a fascination with the human condition and the inescapable drama of common life. It’s a combination of sensitivity, aesthetics and technique striking an unusual balance between meticulous technical precision and broad emotional strokes. For Xia it’s almost therapeutic and this unusual artistic perspective enhances every project undertaken and has, in a few short years distinguished him as a professional force to be reckoned with.

Strawman was the first time I worked with Liang,” director Tian Xie said. “Besides his editing concepts and skill, Liang has very good vision and a feeling for color, so his color correction is excellent. Liang had a five-year experience in studying paintings, including traditional Chinese painting and watercolor. I think that’s an important reason for his excellent sense on color. When we worked on Strawman, I told him the story takes place in summer, a hot summer. Liang did some adjustments on his color panel and created an ideal overall look, immediately. That color tone was what exactly I want, and I said, ‘that is the one.’”

Xia’s lifelong affinity for both art and film created the perfect combination for his profession. “I’ve loved film since my childhood,” he said. ”After high school, I studied TV and film directing in college. After I came to U.S. to study film, I found my logic and patience gave me a strong advantage and decided to work on editing. Then, during my post-production study, I found I am sensitive to color, so I started to study color theories on my own and also took some class about film color grading.”

And it’s working. Strawman took Best Foreign Feature at 2016 Los Angeles Independent Film Festival and Best Feature Film Diamond for director and editor at the 2017 NYC Indie Film Awards, and led to an on-going collaboration with he and director Tian Xie, most recently on the short Promise. In fact, Strawman and Promise each won a Gold Remi Award at 50th WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival. Additionally Strawman officially selected in the 19th San Francisco Indie Film Festival, the 6th Richmond International Film Festival and 23rd New Jersey Film Festival.

“I love editing and doing color,” Xia said. “My goal is to keep working on indie films. In my opinion, indie films more focus on humanities and society. I want to have more chances to edit more indie films. It not only provides me editing or color jobs, but also makes me connect to the real world.”

*I like dramas that focus on people who are often ignored or marginalized by society, and these give me the chance to using my post-production skills to build complete characters—and to build a complete me.”

Production Designer Andrea Leigh essential to award-winning video for Thugli’s “Sic Em”

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Production Designer Andrea Leigh

Andrea Leigh is not just a production designer. She is an artist. She is a creator. She produces a specific world, completely designed with the goal of portraying a message, or developing a character, or evoking a feeling in an audience member that no human being on the screen saying their lines could. Being able to do that through her work gives meaning to every job she works on, and she is outstanding at it.

Working on several award-winning and celebrated projects, such as the film Friends Like Us and the web series Whatever Linda, audiences and critics at the world’s most prestigious film festivals have appreciated Leigh’s work. She also has worked on many celebrated commercials, including the award-winning Prickly for Scotts Weed B Gone, the viral E.L.F. Play Beautifully advertisement, and the insanely popular 2015 Teleflora Mother’s Day campaign that received international media attention and 11 million YouTube hits. However, Leigh’s success does not end there. She has also worked on some captivating music videos, including Downtown for the Juno award-winning rock band The Sheepdogs, as well at the Thugli music video Sic Em.

“The guys of Thugli were great. They loved the director Amos LeBlanc’s vision and loved how we brought all their ideas to life,” said Leigh.

Amos LeBlanc has directed a controversial video that was widely successful, and he had won “Best Video of the Year” the previous Much Music Video Awards (MMVA). The tone of the Sic Em video was dark and thoughtful, and this made Leigh want to work on it.

“It was great working with the director Amos Leblanc, he had a very clear aesthetic image that he wanted to portray, clean, modern, dramatic skyline, lots of smoke and special effects. He was always interested in hearing what kind of changes I thought we could make art direction wise. It’s nice to have your creative vision valued when shooting something so specific and thoughtful,” said Leigh.

Music videos are usually long days packed with many shots and not enough time, but this was a two-day shoot that Leigh used to her full advantage, and had the time to do exactly what she wanted. That also meant they had that magic hour lighting two days in a row, something she describes as quite spectacular.

“That’s one of my favorite shots in the video, where the guys are all standing in single file formation with the magic hour sky behind them,” Leigh described. “The cast was a blast to work with. It was a night shoot so naturally things can get a little silly when everyone’s trying their best to stay awake. Lots of jokes, lots of laughs. It always helps on a long shoot when the cast and crew hit it off.”

With the help of Leigh’s eye for production design, the video went on to win the Much Music Video Award for “Best Dance Video.” The music video also earned over 75,000 views on YouTube, sparking widespread popularity among fans and critics. Leigh says she feels like they really accomplished something with the video, and the producer Geoff MacLean says it wouldn’t have been possible without her help. MacLean is a very respected and accomplished Executive Producer. Vision productions is an iconic production company that has produced work for several internationally renowned artists, such as Prince, Rihanna, Drake, The Weeknd, Calvin Harris and countless more.

“The music video is, thanks to Andrea, a fascinating visual production which instantly captures the attention of the viewer. She coordinated closely with the director, the choreographer, and other experienced creatives on set to determine the placement of the props, and the organization of the set. While the entire production is a visual achievement thanks to Andrea, specifically her work arranging the set for the dancers, as well as the props and décor for that segment gave the music video its down to earth and ‘back to the basics’ feel, which was the goal of the client. I credit a great deal of the video’s success to Andrea’s leading role, and attribute her with much of the music video’s all around commercial success and critical acclaim,” said Geoff MacLean.

“Andrea’s achievements throughout her career are reflective of top performing production designers and art directors in her field. The success of her productions is indicative of this fact, to be sure,” MacLean added.

Watch the Thugli Sic Em music video here.

KEN KARPEL: DIRECTING FOR NETFLIX, CAR COMPANIES, AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN

Eclectic. This may be the most appropriate word to describe the work and life of Australian director Ken Karpel. The background, experiences, and influences that led to the work of this multiple award-winning director is the plot to a movie in itself. While his early years are exotic and full of character (sometimes ridiculously so), the mixture has created one of the Australian industry’s most unique and successful directors. Karpel’s creativity has manifested numerous successful and lauded commercial campaigns for internationally recognized companies such as: Nestlé’s, Kellogg’s, Jeep, Adidas, Hyundai, and countless others. While clients sometimes raise an eyebrow about his methods, the results are undeniable. These achievements and awards include: ‘Best Integrated Campaign’ at the 2014 PromaxBDA Global Excellence Awards (Jeep); 2014 ASTRA Industry Excellence Award for Best Consumer Advertising Campaign (Nutri-Grain), 2014 Best Brand Integrated Spot at PromaxBDA ANZ Awards (Kellogg’s), a 2013 PromaxBDA Global Excellence Award for ‘Best Integrated Campaign’ (Topdeck), 2013 PromaxBDA ANZ Award in the ‘Best Integrated Campaign’ Category (Adidas), a 2012 Promaxbda ANZ Award for Best Sponsor Integrated Spot (V-Rentals), and many others.

The Award-winning and world travelling director is a long way from his early days growing up in Ukraine. His most recent professional ventures prove that Ken is always on the move and looking for a new challenge. A boy from Kharkov isn’t the most obvious choice to helm a documentary for Netflix about an Australian Hip Hop group but Karpel has used his unique upbringing and perspective to bring insight to all his work, no mater the subject. He grew up speaking Russian and watching…well, non-age appropriate films. He recalls, “I used to lie to my dad about sleeping in daycare so I could watch the R-rated Jean-Claude Van Damme opus ‘Bloodsport’… I was three at the time. That was the first movie I remember watching. The second was ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ and the third was John Waters’ ‘Cry Baby’. I did not watch any age appropriate TV until I moved to Sydney, Australia when I was five. Having newly emigrated to Australia, Ken’s parents were focused on work and providing for their family while Ken was fixated on film and TV. When his grandparents forced him to stop watching TV to go out and play with the other neighborhood kids, Karpel used the opportunity to recreate his favorite films with these make shift actors. He relates, “We watched Karate Kid and started practicing karate on each other in the park; after Home Alone we developed an intricate plan to catch burglars that ended up in me ruining my grandparents couch; following Happy Gilmore we all became interested in Subway and golf.”

Ken moved from film fan to participant at age seven when, after being inspired by Goodfellas (yes, at age seven), he immediately began writing films about his family and friends, complete with storyboards. He cites Quentin Tarantino with being the first person whom he noticed with three credits in Reservoir Dogs: actor, writer, director. He began to investigate what a director’s role was and study its intricacies.

Years later, when asked what it is about the profession he loves, Ken states, “I love every aspect of it. Pre-production is great because you’re figuring it out and that’s the best it will be. There’s no compromise yet. I love playing it all out in my head over and over again trying to visualize it before it’s even shot. Being on set is fantastic because there’s so many people there trying to achieve the same goal. I love the problem solving aspect of it. You’ve thought about this moment for so long and now something’s gone wrong…or it’s not working out the way you thought and everyone’s looking at you to solve it. I love that high-pressure environment and adrenaline; solving problems and collaborating with everyone for this common goal. There’s nothing like the moment when something magical happens that you didn’t anticipate. Where the camera moves in a direction and the light hits it a certain way or the performer does something you didn’t plan. I just love finding things in the moment. It is exciting to me. I also enjoy being in control of every single element in the frame. You’re creating a reality that you’re in charge of and it’s representative of your perceptions. You’re making something you hope people will relate to but it’s really a part of yourself. You’re putting yourself out there.”

One of Ken’s most recent projects is his work with Collider & Particle films. The production is a mini-documentary to promote Baz Luhrmann’s Netflix TV show “The Get Down”. The content piece follows Australian Hip Hop act ‘Horror Show’ as they prepare to perform their biggest show. It looks at the birth of hip hop in the Bronx during the 70s, and draws a line between that period and its continued influence on artists today, some 40 years later. Karpel envisioned a documentary in which the audience would be swept up in the artist’s world and experience it through their eyes. He would shoot each environment in one unbroken take. The camera would create a pace and perspective that which enables the viewer to feel as if they are in the room alongside the group. Once they begin their show on stage, when they’re in their element is when the real excitement of the concert is communicated. This took some convincing.

Ken concedes, “I’m glad we were able to convince the Artists and their management to let us shoot the live show on stage with them. We needed an up close and personal view of the show from the artist’s perspective, not the audience. Their whole tour, and thus their story, was building up to this show and from a narrative point of view we needed to be there on stage with them as close to their faces as possible. We ended up shooting so close to them you could see the sweat dripping from their brow.”

Rachael Ford-Davies of Collider & Particle Films declares, “We represent some of the best commercial directors in the business and based on his previous work, I knew Ken was the right person for the job. His high-energy visual storytelling places him in a unique position on our roster of directors at Collider & Particle Films.”

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Working with a totally different type of Australian group, Ken created a series of emotive and energetic spots that follows nine different people in the Australian Defence Force, juxtaposing their work lives with their personal lives. A total of nine 60 second spots were created. Revealing the humanity in these individuals, a series of match cuts matched the personal lives of these individuals with their Army ones. For instance, a helicopter pilot puts his helmet on to ride his bike to work and there is a match cut to him putting his helmet on in his helicopter at work; an infantry man is cutting up ingredients for a meal he’s cooking at home followed by a match cut that to him assembling his rifle at work. Always searching for an emotional aspect in a production, Ken comments, “It was important to have emotion and empathy for these people but also portray their work as energetic and fast paced. To achieve this, I interviewed each person off-camera and added their voice over to the images; this way they’re telling their own stories.  While shooting I realized that we had a lot of high energy action shots but to instill this empathy we needed a balance. I was getting a lot of very emotional stories (in the voice over interviews) that wouldn’t just work over fast-paced imagery. I decided to start shooting pensive moments with each of our characters where we see them take a quiet, reflective moment. Most of these moments were improvised in environments we found on the day: a locker room, a kitchen at sunrise, a bench following a heavy workout. The result gave the spots everything it needed: a high energy visual piece, with emotional tonal shifts that reflected the character’s difficult journey to get to where they are.

The best indicator that one is doing great work is when others seek you out your abilities and talents. For Karpel, this came in the form of his signing for representation in Australia with Collider & Particle, Target pictures in the Czech republic, and most recently Bakery Films in Germany.  As Anna Stolzenberg (Sales Executive at Bakery films) recalls, “At Bakery Films we had been aware of Ken’s work for some time. In November last year I contacted him to see if he’d be interested in discussing representation with us. Serendipitously he was in Prague directing a commercial. I decided to travel from Germany to Prague to meet him. I was expecting Ken to be older, but was surprise at how young he actually was. Over a long lunch we discussed the possibility of Ken being represented by us in the German market. A couple of weeks later Ken signed with us. Ken is an extremely talented director whose work defies advertising categories. He is able to do emotive, authentic and energetic storytelling pieces, comedic spots, visually stunning pieces and pretty much everything in between. The through line of all his work however are honest performances, a striking visual style, authenticity, heart and humor. It’s amazing to me that someone his age has already worked with so many international brands and I see him becoming one of the most in demand directors working around the world.”

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PRODUCER ZHEN LI BRIDGES THE INTERNATIONAL GAP WITH STORIES OF REAL PEOPLE

As the producer of a few CCTV (China Central Television) shows Zhen Li has gotten the opportunity to do things in the US that many Americans only dream of doing. For example, what self-aware Star Wars fan hasn’t dreamt of finding themselves with full access to the birthplace of the magic of the film series in order to become one of the films iconic characters? Li has done this…and so much more. From getting his “Star Wars Geek” on to delving deep into the political and historical relations between these two cultures, Li has revealed the comparison and contrast of two great civilizations. From his beginnings in China (Zhen won a talent program competition to become a TV host) Zhen threw himself into behind the scenes production and quickly became one of the most sought after producers in China, one who also gained access to Hollywood via his work in Chinese productions like the CCTV programs “Documentary Dream Road” and “2014 Spring Festival Star Wars Series Special Program.” Li’s time in front of the camera enabled him to quickly become a knowledgeable, effective, and respected producer.

The Star Wars franchise is almost certainly the most influential and profitable in the history of film. Now in its fourth decade of production and creating fans, it shows no sign of slowing down. Generations of Americans share an obsessive affinity for the films, their storylines, and characters. China is no different in their love of the series. Producer Zhen Li was able to fulfill every Star Wars fan’s dream when he was sent by CCTV to oversee the filming of a three-part documentary at Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound titled, “2014 Spring Festival Star Wars Series Special Program.” Li confesses, “I’ve been a fan of Star Wars since I was very young, thus I was very excited to visit the company that produced the Star Wars series and meet with those legendary filmmakers. When I saw the original trilogy, I was 6 years-old. I believed that this world truly existed. Everything was so real at that time! As a mischievous boy, I had a great imagination about life in outer space. It was the beginning of my interest in Sci-Fi movies.”

Consider this; the Chinese Spring Festival is a time of year which is known for family viewing of special programming and higher than normal viewership. As the only nationwide professional film channel, CCTV-6 covers a population of 852 million. Its average annual ratings and market share in the national TV channels is among the best. The “2014 Spring Festival Star Wars Series Program” was among the top three rated programs in its time slot, meaning a viewership in the hundreds of millions.

CCTV 6 special Program about Making the STAR WARS SERIES-Li Zhen with Oscar winner Ben Burtt @ Skywalker Sound 000

Besides hiring the entire local crew for this production, Li Zhen also coordinated the shooting in Lucas Film, Industrial Light & Magic, Skywalker Sound, organized and conducted interviews with important figures, such as John Knoll (Oscar winning VFX supervisor known for AVATAR, Star Wars IV & VI, Mission Impossible, Pirates of Caribbean), Chief Creative Officer at Industrial Light & Magic; Benjamin A. Burtt (2 times Oscar Sound Award Winner known for Wall-E, Star Wars IV, Kong: Skull Island, Jurassic World, etc.);  Matthew Wood (3 time Oscar Nominee known for Star Wars I & III,  Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rogue One, Guardians of Galaxy, etc.). While the massive attention the viewers gave this series was the most rewarding, Zhen admits to a close second stating, “I was C3PO for an hour. I put on a motion capture suit which had more than 30 reflection dots attached. The suit covered my body from my head to my hands and feet. I walked in to the motion capture stage where I believe there were more than twenty-four cameras placed from different angles capturing my every movement. On the computer screen I saw C3PO moving as I do. Somewhere deep inside me, my six-year-old self was jumping in the air with joy, but I was cool and professional on the outside.”

“Documentary Dream Road” is a CCTV 32-episode series telling the story of China’s last century of history, through revolution, destruction, construction, and reform, that offers an accurate and well-rounded explanation of how this nation achieved everything it has today.  Zhen Li was a producer on this incredibly popular program. The two episodes which focused on China/US relations, the “Sino-US icebreaking” and “Big country diplomacy” were filmed in the United States. During the shooting, Li Zhen visited the headquarters of Boeing in Seattle, Microsoft headquarters, Amazon headquarters, and also visited the Nixon Memorial Museum located in the city of Yorba Linda.

Li Zhen with President Nixon's grandson Christopher Nixon Cox at Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace- producing documentary DREAM ROAD for China Central Television 002

One of the most influential US figures in American relations with China was President Richard M. Nixon. Nixon’s grandson, Christopher Nixon Cox, travelled to California to be interviewed for the program about the former president’s historic trip to China in 1972 attempting to build a bridge between the two countries. While the discussion of these two international powers was at ease, the requirements of the production was not the same. Zhen confirms, “Besides the 30 episodes shot in China, I only had a month to deliver the footage of the two episodes shot in the US. As the producer, I needed to build up a camera department and sound team within a week; then find good cameras, lighting, and sound equipment within budget…and of course negotiate contracts with them. At the same time, I got a list of people’s names to interview, but none of the them had been contacted yet. I immediately began approaching them about being in the program. By default, I was the one to interview them, which meant that I also needed to prepare more questions in addition to the ones the Chinese team had given me. All this work overlap made it quite stressful. In the end, the results were amazing…but it’s not the type of schedule one hopes for.”

Even though Zhen Li is comfortable on camera and is sometimes pulled back in front of it, he admits that his true desires exist on the other side of the camera, far from the public view. It’s the stories and the challenge of setting the essential parts in place, in a proper order, that really entices him. The eclectic nature of his work: documentaries, films, TV, all of these share one common element…a producer who propels them to greatness.