Category Archives: International Creative Talents

CINEMATOGRAPHER SHOWS BOTH SIDES AT THE SAME TIME IN PARENT, TEACHER

Chris Lew is someone who enjoys learning. Though he has served on numerous productions as Cinematographer, he is adamant that being creative is not about being comfortable. Anyone who pursues growth comes to the realization that growth only comes about through tension, stress, and (hopefully) release. He accepted the DP position on the film “Parent, Teacher” with the understanding that it would be difficult in a number of ways for him. What he had not expected was that this would be his closest foray into actually becoming a passive actor in a film. It’s an interesting and unusual experience that began when the film’s writer/director Roman Tchjen approached Chris to be the DP for this tense film.

“Parent, Teacher” tells a story that is not completely unheard of. What it does so ingeniously is to communicate the emotional temperature of a room during a stressful situation. In “Parent, Teacher”, a father meets with his son’s teacher after school when his son is accused of attacking a classmate. Who is right and wrong in the situation becomes increasingly harder to define as the father and teacher argue their beliefs.

Roman Tchjen has a long history of collaborating with Lew, creating a high level of trust and understanding between them. When Tchjen wanted to present a story in a very non-traditional manner, he was firm about the need for Chris’s involvement. While most films display the commonly used and accepted approach: shooting coverage, having a protagonist with a clear goal, a clear villain whom the hero must overcome etc., Roman wanted to create something that was more honest and lacked a clear answer because in real life these types of issues aren’t black and white. Going into the film, Lew and Roman made the commitment to have as few cuts as possible. The entire film was to be split it into two takes, foregoing any coverage, any establishing shots, or cut aways. This is the cinematography equivalent of riding a bull at the rodeo while being handcuffed from behind. All of the “go to” tropes of a DP were stripped away leaving Lew to formulate an approach that would still stimulate and entice the viewer. Chris communicates, “We focused solely on the performance and the conflict between these two people. This goes back to taking risks. After reading the script I knew it wasn’t written to be the most visually stimulating film so rather than making the visuals flashy, which Roman really didn’t want, I instead thought of ways to make it immersive and use that to make the film engaging and interesting. It was this approach that contributed to the decision to shoot extremely long takes. It took a lot of work for Roman and even more so for the actors. There were many sessions leading up the shoot where everyone practiced their lines. Once they were feeling comfortable, I came in for my own rehearsal to see how we could block the camera. I needed to know at what point I was going to be on each character and if we were going to see some lines spoken on camera or off screen. Making sure I was on the right actor for an expression was key too. It was a lot like a dance that the actors and I were doing together!”

A reason for which Roman was so insistent concerning Lew coming aboard as DP was due to his style. Just as director’s have a signature which leads many to hire them, Lew has been recognized for his ability to enable the audience to have an intimate experience via his choices and camera work. It appears effortless for Chris to make the camera unnoticed in any way and at the same time pick up every nuance in the actors faces. The question of how does the action on screen affect how much the camera moves really comes down to the content. Film is art and art is subjective. For Lew it comes down to the content of the scene and the emotion the he and the director want to convey.

“Parent, Teacher” required extensive preproduction for Chris which is very atypical for a DP. The story and the unique approach necessitated Lew being there for rehearsals. Because the camera essentially appears as a mute third party witness, Lew needed to almost “perform” as another participant in the scene. Every project prior to this one had this DP engaging in the typical method of planning the scenes out based on the locations with the director as they reviewed photos. By contrast, in this production the camera was very much a character in itself, with blocking and queues that needed to be timed down to lines. If Lew and Tchjen wanted the film to feel completely out of the norm they were going to have to start with this beginning stage. Long takes helped with this. When the father first walks into the classroom at the beginning of “Parent, Teacher”, the camera follows him in but then hangs back as he walks over to the teacher to shake her hand and sit down. This was the wide establishing two shot to set the scene. As the teacher starts to explain what had happened, the camera begins to slowly creep in. Lew’s advance is so slow and subtle that you don’t even notice as he moves in to a close up. Chris describes, “Eventually we’re out of the two shot and just on the father when he starts to explain that he doesn’t see anything wrong with his son’s actions. I wanted to isolate him in the frame at this point to represent that he is in his own world. He’s clearly an immigrant and not used to Western ways of handling situations of violence. The teacher becomes increasingly frustrated as the two cannot agree on what is right and wrong, all the while the camera is slowly getting closer and closer. I tried to hide the walk in with the camera panning back and forth between each character. Just before the climax of the argument, the father has given up and is lashing out at the teacher, feeling targeted and attacked for his beliefs. Here, the front of the lens is inches away from the actor’s face. You see every detail of his expression and all the frustration in his eyes before he jumps up away from camera breaking the tension. Essentially I wanted the entire conversation to be one slow, imperceptible push in that brings the audience closer as the tension rises.”

Chris felt the camera needed to be handheld to create this immersive feeling, to make the audience feel like another person in the scene. It was a decision that Chris would have regreted if not fully committed to achieving the goals he had set for this film. The challenge was the length of the takes and the physically demanding nature of the equipment he chose. “Parent, Teacher” was shot using the Alexa XT which is a large, heavy camera. Hand holding it, trying to keep the frame steady for such long takes is extremely difficult.

Producer Kegan Sant admits to being overwhelmed upon seeing the final product. He declares, “When you are in preproduction of a film you have a vision in your mind of what you hope it will look like. I can honestly say that the idea I had for ‘Parent, Teacher’ pales in comparison to what you see when viewing it. Christopher was essential to the way in which the story was presented to our audiences. His incredibly striking camera work and expert understanding of shadow and lighting allowed for the film to reach impressive narrative heights. The way in which he reflects the overall despair and confusion of our main character throughout the frames is what makes Christopher such a valuable asset to any production that seeks out his talent. His efforts throughout the film solidified the film’s high standing and reception. We would not have received the same overwhelmingly positive reaction without his talent as cinematographer.”

Snowblink set

Chris Lew admits that his work on set left him consistently soaked in sweat from long takes wielding a heavy camera. However, he also admits that taking a risk and trying to create a film which stands apart from the norm is something that he will hold onto much longer than an aching back or sore arms.

Production Designer Shuhe Wang contributes to the delightful horror of ‘Inside Linda Vista Hospital’

Making something from nothing is what all filmmakers achieve every day. They are creators, they are storytellers, and they are artists. Shuhe Wang knows this well. She takes the pages of a script and transforms them into sets. She creates a visual world, turning each nothing, such as a meaningless prop, into something, creating a masterpiece. She is a one-of-a-kind production designer.

While working on films such as Stay, Dancing for You, Red String, and Cartoon Book, audiences were given the opportunity to see Wang’s ability to transform a drama into a completely immersive experience, making it evident why she is considered one of the best. However, this past year, Wang has brought her extraordinary talent to a new genre: horror. Working on the film Inside Linda Vista Hospital, Wang’s production design skills were on full-display, helping to fully immerse audiences in the terrifying story.

“This is a classic horror style film, so I focused more on how to show and even amplify the emotion and tense by color, texture and overall set dressing. Even each small prop can be an important storytelling step. That quite an adventure for production designer,” said Wang.

Inside Linda Vista Hospital tells the story of a young girl who wakes up in a hospital surrounded by police covered in the blood of her boyfriend. With the help of a video camera, she slowly pieces together what happened, and she may not like what she finds.

“Horror stories are connected with our real lives, but with different point of view. I needed to find and create the elements to scare the audience and keep the emotion of the storyline in the right place, and at the same time the elements should make sense in the world.
Color and tone are always the most important parts in designing a horror story. Even a tiny subtle difference would affect the whole feeling of the set,” said Wang.

The film has gone one to do exceptionally well at some of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. It was an Official Selection at the Festival de Cannes Short Film Corner and the Pasadena International Film Festival, it won Best Director and Best Horror at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, Best Editing at the United International Film Festival, and Film of the Year at the AFMA Film Festival of Young Cinema 2017.

“Horror story is always a popular style, but there are a bunch of these type of films that are terrible when it comes to actual storytelling, that is what divides a good horror film from a bad one. This film is a good one because it shows a tense, strong and simple story, which perfectly matches the horror genre, so I think the film totally deserves all those awards,” said Wang.

The production design directly contributed to the film’s success. She had to design in accordance to many special effects and stunt work, and the film is set in a true historical building, and the cultural importance of this influences the story in an important way. To make the set highlight this, she researched and applied this to her work.

“It was a dramatic and kind of emotional showing story. I watched a lot of classic experimental and psychology films to get more inspiration and insight into how to let the audience feel the inner world through the production design,” said Wang.

This commitment to both the genre and the film impressed all that worked alongside Wang on Inside Linda Vista Hospital. The director, Jun Xia, knew no one else could do the job but her.

Working with Shuhe was a great experience, she was familiar with each of the details of the whole story, and her plan for working was effective for the shooting process. Shuhe is sensitive with color and designing, and she knows how to create and decide the correct textile and color to present the emotion. That is actually a really important part of the horror genre,” said Xia.

Xia approached Wang to work on his film, knowing he needed the best to make the film the success that it eventually became. When he sent Wang the reference of the visual style, so knew she wanted to take part in the project, as it was quite similar to the style she always loves.

“I felt confident and interested in designing this film after talking about the film and the story. Jun is a talented horror film director, he is always enthusiastic, and he is really insistent on what he wants which is good for making a great film,” Wang said. “What I really liked was how I could see how the set dressing worked so well when the lights and performance came together. It makes the visual complete and seemed like we accomplish the original idea of the director.”

There are many nuances to production design that are easy to get lost in the big picture of a film, but with Wang as the designer, audiences are sure to take in each and every part of it.

Editor Minghao Shen talks impactful new film ‘Cartoon Book’

Only someone that truly loves what they do can enjoy it the way that Minghao Shen enjoys film editing. His understanding of his craft and his commitment to the artistic elements of it allow him to excel at what he does. Not many people are lucky enough to be so talented and so passionate about their work. Shen is one of those fortunate few, and on top of this, he is considered one of the best Chinese film editors right now.

While working on award-winning films such as Red String, Emily, Inside Linda Vista Hospital, and Stay, Shen’s editing skills were extremely evident for both audiences and critics.

“I am a creative minded person, so I love the re-creative part of editing a lot. There are many ways to make a film, and I feel editing is one of the best ways to engage in the filmmaking production,” said Shen.

Shen engaged in both the filmmaking production and with audiences with his work on the film Cartoon Book. Cartoon Book is about a little boy who tries to go against the school and teacher under severe rules. Afterwards, it seems that the teacher gradually controls the boy by using his vulnerability and letting the rebel boy become a tool to manage other students. The boy draws cartoons, but he feels it is hard to choose between his desire or his morals when the teacher bribes him to be her spy who needs to betray his friends.

“It is a kind of classic tone film, so rather than edit it ‘correctly’, director more like to keep the smooth and stressful feeling by editing. That is why I, as the editor, needed to understand the story indeed,” said Shen. “We had a lot of footage, so it was quite a lot of work at the beginning. But, all the effort and hard work was worth it.
The director had her own style for the entire pace of the film, and the film had really good results.”

The film went on the be an Official Selection at the prestigious Cannes Short Film Corner where it premiered last year, as well as the Berlin Student Film Festival, the Goa Shots International Short Film Festival, and the Accolade Global Film Festival Competition.

“I had a feeling that the film would see a lot of success in festivals, so when I found out the film got some awards I was not surprised, and I think it deserves even more and bigger awards,” said Shen. “The director is good at screenwriting. The first time I read the story I was so intrigued and really connected with the story. I was really looking forward to work with the director and making great film, which we did. It was not the first time we worked together. We know and understand each other very well. She is natural born storyteller and I always looking forward to work with her.”

The film was written and directed by Shuhe Wang, who had previously worked with Shen on her film The Regret, and was immediately impressed by his talents. Knowing they work well together, and that she needed the best to make her new film a success, she reached out to Wang to join her on Cartoon Book.

“I worked with Minghao on my award-winning short film Cartoon Book. I was the director and he was the editor. We worked together really well. He was so full of thoughts and understood the story deeply. When we were on set, Minghao watched the footage carefully on each shooting day. His did the rough cuts very quickly and helped me to get the overall storyline,” said Wang.

Shen was vital to the successful of the film. He says working on Cartoon Book was unlike any project he had worked on in the past. He read a lot of the director’s notes and talked about the story more than just the editing technique with the director. He would meet the cinematographer and communicate about the shot, knowing they all needed to be on the same page for the overall tone of the film. This understanding of not just his role, but the entire filmmaking process, is outstanding.

“The most exciting part of making this film was the journey of the main character. There were many twists and turns in it. It is a bit challenging for editing because the complex storyline, but on another hand, it offered a variety options for editing, and that is what makes my job fun,” Shen concluded.

20 QUESTIONS WITH WRITER SARAH WALTON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus:

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

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

Art Director Mark Nicholson brings authenticity to award-winning Adidas campaign

Creativity has always been a fundamental aspect of Mark Nicholson’s life. As a child growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, his artistic side was evident even from a young age. Over time, this childhood hobby developed into much more, and now, Nicholson is an internationally celebrated Art Director.

While working on several high-profile campaigns around the world, Nicholson’s talent has directly led to the success of each project he has worked on. He created the concept for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation competition to “Make millennial’s care more about charity work and causes happening around the world,” and their campaign Plight Map went on to win the prestigious Cannes Chimera Award. While working as an Art Director for the rebranding campaign of 118118, the project went on to be nominated for a British Arrow Award. He has worked on several popular commercials with the world’s most recognizable companies, such as Nike and Microsoft. He also contributed greatly to the success of the Adidas Break-up Service campaign.

“Adidas is iconic. It’s created work globally that has pushed advertising into new territory. This, combined with my natural interest in Asian culture, seemed like a match made in heaven,” said Nicholson.

Break up Service was a multi-media advertising campaign for the latest Japanese inspired safety wear fashion range from Adidas Originals. A film, print campaign and website followed a young man that worked for a fictional ‘break-up’ service and the danger that falling in love creates. The film won a Silver Cannes Lion Award at the prestigious international festival, as well as a Bronze BIAA.

“The campaign is one of my proudest pieces, the team we worked with in Japan – especially the award-winning director Kosai Sekine, it was all fantastic. Learning first-hand about Japanese culture whilst on location allowed us to adapt the script as we went, working with the Japanese team to make it as authentic, but as entertaining, as possible,” said Nicholson.

After having previous success with TBWA London on a campaign with the Chelsea Football Club and Adidas, Nicholson was immediately sought-after for the Break Up Service project, knowing that he had the exact skillset needed. As the Senior Art Director, Nicholson first created a mixed-media campaign idea and presented it to the client to secure funding for the project. He wrote the script, and oversaw storyboarding, design and branding. The project required a unique knowledge of Japanese subculture, which was a specific skillset that Nicholson possessed. After funding was secured, he was responsible for finding and collaborating with an authentic Japanese director, refining the script and making creative decisions whilst production was already underway. While filming in Tokyo, he was responsible for all on-set creative decisions. He also oversaw a fashion shoot that was in tandem with the TVC, advising on location and models. He was the creative advisor for the online content that a third-party agency was creating. There is no doubt that his work was instrumental in the campaign’s success. 

I had the pleasure of working with Mark while serving as Executive Creative Director at TBWA London. He was lead Art Director on the Adidas Originals campaign about a fictional Break-up service in Tokyo. Mark ran the project under demanding timescales and cultural challenges and he was rewarded with a Cannes Lion. It was an amazing piece of work,” said Al Young.

Because the film was set in Japan, Nicholson’s knowledge of Japanese culture proved to be a great asset. He has always had a longtime love of manga and anime, like the classics; Akira, Ghost in the Shell and anything Ghibli. He found that this, combined with his work on the Japanese influenced work I created for 3Mobile at WCRS, gave him a good knowledge of Japan.

“How wrong I was, there was so much more and it was fun learning along the way,” said Nicholson. “I had to create a huge style presentation. Introducing Japanese fashion styles, locations and cultural nuances. We introduced the client to Japanese Pleasure Hotels, Capsule Hotels and Cosplay so we had to be prepared. I researched Tokyo’s relevant scenes, modern Japanese art, designers and comic book pop-culture, and then created thorough presentations for the client. The more familiar I got with the culture the more interesting our ideas became, but I also had to be very mindful that we didn’t come across as a predictable Western brand looking into Asia. Authenticity was paramount, and luckily the culture naturally allowed itself to be weirdly authentic.”

As well as the film, Nicholson and his team ran a poster campaign that reflected a distinctive Asian art direction. They also created a commerce website dedicated to the campaign, which had several more fake content films showing Japanese fan girls humorously confessing that they use the break up service. The website even included a video from Akira himself, emotionally describing the origin of his service, when he had to tell his mother that his father was breaking up with her.

“Working on this campaign was fast and fun. The shoot was exceptionally smooth. The planning was exceptional, and the final product was amazing,” said Nicholson.

With all the work that Nicholson did, he still managed to overcome the “all work and no play” mantra, taking advantage of his surroundings.

“It was my first visit to Asia so that was an experience that had been a long time coming. Outside of filming, I was able to absorb the local art, animation history, and the Godzilla museum,” he concluded.

You can watch the Adidas Break Up Service film here.

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.”

IMG_3526

Anja Ellam is truly awesome with AwesomenessTV

Growing up in Toronto, Canada, Anja Ellam always wanted to entertain people. Although she had loved being on stage, making people truly feel the emotions of a character, it wasn’t until later when she realized her passion for writing. That was a fateful decision, as she is now not only an internationally recognized actress and successful influencer, but a celebrated writer.

Ellam now has shown the world why she is one of the best. Her film The Woods that she wrote went on to receive praise at many international film festivals. She worked with Verizon’s Go90 app and has written and hosted several of their top videos. The viral video What Girls Do in Cars on DangMattSmith’s YouTube channel that she co-wrote has over 1.4 million views. Working with ArsenicTV as a writer and host for their Snapchat story gets over 500,000 views a day. There is nothing this versatile writer, actress, and influencer cannot achieve.

“I’ve had a very successful career for someone my age but I like to think that this is only the very beginning. I’m very lucky to be in the place that I am, but it’s because I work incredibly hard,” said Ellam.

Ellam’s continued work with AwesomenessTV has helped make the channel what it is. As a writer for the Hollywood department, she writes for their many segments that come out on their channel daily. Her job as a host and influencer allows her to work on a wider variety of shows for the network.

“Me being an influencer helps me connect more to our audience and see what they’re interested in at the moment, which lets me write scripts that relate to them. My online presence helps me to stay connected and stay relevant on topics that relate to AwesomenessTV and entertainment news,” she said.

Without almost twenty-thousand followers on Instagram, Ellam has an impact all over the world. While promoting AwesomenessTV using social media, she has helped the videos viewership, ranging from 100,000 to over a million views.

“Anja and I worked together on AwesomenessTV’s Hollywood team where Anja wrote scripts and pitched ideas for daily episodes. She would always come prepared and would always be willing to step up when needed. I always enjoyed working with Anja and loved that she expressed her ideas and contributed to a team atmosphere. She definitely takes direction and has a good eye for what is trending and in the news. She knows what is relatable to our audience. She is super creative and always had input for stories to write and pitch ideas for stories,” said writer, host, and producer Hunter March.

Ellam writes a lot of AwesomenessTV’s daily entertainment news segments, which are targeted at teens and young adults. She says from the moment she first started working there, she fell in love, and quickly moved up due to her talent and commitment.

“Everyone was so welcoming and the company was so rapidly growing I knew that’s where I wanted to be. They’re definitely leading the way in digital media,” said Ellam. “I like that I can be open with my ideas and that even though we’re a big company, we’re still a small company where everyone knows each other. I like that my job allows me to be creative and that we reach such a large audience.”

Ellam does a lot of test shoots, but she also often appears as the main talent for the videos, hosting shows like Third Wheel and Dream Date with Brent Rivera. Their audience is drawn in by social media followers which is why having influencers on the channel are so important.

“The first time I hosted was very nerve racking because you’re in the office with everyone around you and you don’t want to mess up or take too long. But it always runs smoothly and the crew is amazing and very reassuring,” said Ellam. “It’s a good feeling because everything we put out is positive and it’s something I’m very proud of. I’m especially proud when a topic that I pick ends up with very high views because it’s something I was trusted to do and I was successful at it.”

Ellam’s followers are always eager to view her videos that she hosts or writes for Awesomeness, and she says it allows her to truly be connected with her audience.

“When I host or I’m a talent on the show I think it helps a lot because I can promote it on my social media platforms. I’m closer to our demographic and my followers are also the same demographic,” she concluded.

You can check out the Awesomeness TV channel here.