Category Archives: Producer

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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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.

 

 

Film Producer Kseniya Yorsh’s Creative, Kinetic Approach to Movie Making

Film producer Kseniya Yorsh’s approach to cinematic excellence is a high-powered mixture of meticulous attention to detail and an impressive grasp of comprehensive overall scope of any project. Although a relatively recent arrival to Hollywood, Yorsh’s brief yet fruitful career trajectory encompasses a broad spectrum, including music videos, feature films, documentary and shorts—four of which were screened at the Cannes Short Film Corner. Most recently, Yorsh produced Visitors, an engrossing Science Fiction short drama that’s been getting a lot of attention and is set to be showcased in half a dozen prestigious film festivals across the country in 2017.

The Belarus-born Yorsh always gravitated towards the creative, a pursuit which inevitably led her to film. “As a kid and teenager I received all sorts of artistic training,” Yorsh said. “Classical piano, theater classes, film school, literary practice, and I learned 3 foreign languages. As a young adult I worked extensively in business, and all these disciplines have helped build my film producing career. Once I decided to devote myself fully to filmmaking, I came to the US, got a degree in Documentary Filmmaking at New York Film Academy and in Entertainment Business and Management at UCLA.”

Ambitious and focused, Yorsh perfected her craft with experience in almost every aspect of filmmaking. She has written, directed, acted, edited, and worked as an art director, make-up artist, production designer, even in the sound department. It’s an impressive background that’s created her near encyclopedic grasp of what a film producer must both anticipate and turn to the project’s advantage—locations, crew, casting, supervising daily operations on set—and her roster of achievements currently stands at 13 shorts and 3 feature films.

The intense, idiosyncratic Visitors, which combines themes of family dysfunction and chilling otherworldly suspense, offered Yorsh some unique opportunities for trouble shooting.

“Alon Juwal, the director, came to me with the script and the budget he had for the film and I transferred his ideas into a feasible reality,” Yorsh said. “We had some shots that were difficult from a technical standpoint. For example, we had a shot where we see the main character in a beam of light as if from a landing spaceship. We were filming at night so it had to be bright light coming from the sky, with a lot of wind, and us moving in closer and closer to his face. We had aerial shots; we had night shoots in a forest; we had a dog that we needed to film at night; we had guns, special effects.”

“When producing a short film, budget and logistical limitations make you become creative in solving technical challenges and making sure the shoot like this is done in comfortable and safe conditions for the actors and the crew. Figuring these things out was an exciting challenge for me as a producer.”

Characteristically, Yorsh met every concern head on and turned in a flawless finished product. Her vision and drive not only set Yorsh apart but also unfailingly impress her colleagues. “I first met Kseniya a few years ago and was immediately impressed by her clear vision, discipline, imagination and passion,” Sergei Stern, the film’s musical composer, said. “When I was recommended as a composer for Visitors, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Kseniya was the producer. She and Alon built a great team around this wonderful project and I think we did a solid, beautiful film that combines visual beauty with an emotional, dramatic story.”

Released in late 2016, the film—like just about every project Yorsh takes on—has been well received by audiences and recognized with awards at the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival and New York City International Film Festival. And since then, she has already produced an feature film and 2 shorts and has another currently in pre-production.

“I love producing because it’s about seizing an opportunity where one doesn’t exist before,” Yorsh said. “It’s about bringing people together and being able to recognize unique skills in a person and link it to someone else’s skills or written material. I love seeing people shine professionally and I love bringing good material to life.”

Chinese Film Producer Yuxiao Wang Nails the Mark in Hollywood!

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Producer Yuxiao Wang shot by Yiting Lyu

While the face of producers may not appear on movie posters or on the big screen, Yuxiao Wang’s name appearing in the credits is reason enough to get excited about a project. That’s because she has been singularly responsible for the development, production and distribution of a large number of incredible projects. In the process, the emergence of Yuxiao as a leading figure in the global film industry has marked a new wave of super-producers from China taking over Hollywood.  

In addition to her association with distinguished companies like Huayi Brothers, Enmaze Pictures and Sky Culture Entertainment, Yuxiao’s hugely successful run in the entertainment industry has been made clear by her involvement in numerous noteworthy projects in the US. Her romantic drama film “Yesterday Once More” starred Lauren Mendoza, who also worked with Academy-Award winning directors The Coen Brothers on “Hail Caesar!” and will appear in the upcoming mystery crime-comedy “Suburbicon” with George Clooney and Matt Damon. The cross-cultural themes are a direct reflection of Yuxiao’s multi-cultural background, as she grew up in China, but studied in Japan and the United States. Her film’s concerns are also evidence for her abilities as a producer who tells stories that transcend boundaries and resonate with audiences around the world.

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Yuxiao Wang at the 12th Chinese American Film Festival

Two projects in particular stand out for Yuxiao when discussing her resume. The psychological drama “Harmonica” is another favourite of Yuxiao’s, as it gave her the opportunity to showcase her unique ability of transforming an ordinary location into an extraordinary one on screen. The shoot in reality took place in contemporary Los Angeles, but Yuxiao “worked really hard…to make things look like [they were] happening in Europe” circa WWII. Her other project “Locked” also brought her together with “That 70s Show” and “My Crazy Ex” TV star Corey Landis, as well as Leanne Agmon from the Emmy-nominated “Blue Bloods.” In the film, a man loses his wife and creates an imaginary world in which he fights with himself to save his wife and find the truth of her death. While A-listers marked the film’s screen time, the sounds of “Locked” were helmed by “Spiderman 3” composer, Aldo Shllaku.

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Film poster for “Harmonica” by Ye Kuang

Yuxiao’s success in securing an all-star cast and production team is not a feat that should go unnoticed; it’s something producers are rarely able to pull off because of the politics of Hollywood and the demands of actors and crew. Yuxiao’s exceptional capacity to communicate, envisage an inspired story, coordinate financing and wrangle impressive team members are all factors in why she has developed such an outstanding reputation to which industry professionals continue to flock.

Special effects, TV stars and award-winning crew members aside, “Locked” is a highlight on Yuxiao’s impressive resume because of its selection for the 70th annual Cannés Court Metragé as well as its prize of Best Narrative Short at the Los Angeles International Underground Film Festival in 2016. The outstanding final cut is a direct product of Yuxiao’s creative vision and executive talents, and ultimately proves how she marries creativity with business in a way that only the best Hollywood producers can. As she admits herself, she is “very good at management, which helps a lot in scheduling and budgeting projects.”

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Film poster for “Locked” by Ye Kuang

While she may have strong ties to her native homeland, American directors and studios can’t seem to have enough of her and are keeping her firmly placed here. Her distinct ability to ensure a production is delivered not only on time and on budget, but also in a manner that is artistically inspired, functions as a magnet for other filmmakers in need of effective producers. As she proudly attests, she has “four projects coming up this year.” The series “100 Reasons of Not Being an Emperor” is headed to an online streaming platform (details need to be kept hush-hush), while three feature length projects showcase her wide-ranging story-telling interests: one deals with a female prison, another a psychological thriller and another an adrenaline fueled romantic caper.

A hugely impressive resume aside, it might just be the fact that people like Yuxiao’s personality for why she has built such a fantastic name for herself. As she simply puts: “I am friendly, considerate and kind, so people don’t get mad at me…it is important to let the conversation continue when you meet someone.” In Hollywood, a little nice clearly goes a long way.  

 

EVGENY TELEGIN: EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS IN THE COMMERCIAL INDUSTRY

The difference between good and great is most easily revealed when the pressure is on. One’s true abilities rise to the surface when instinct and “thinking on your feet” is all that is afforded. If you want to be considered the best of the best you need to possess these skills as well as surround yourself with professionals whom also embody them. Dmitry Venikov is CEO of Trehmer CGI and the in-house director of this elite Russian production house that specializes in design and three-dimensional work. When Unistream (money transfer company) needed to create nine commercials in a very immediate time frame, Venikov was relaxed knowing that expert producer Evgeny Telegin was at the helm. Telegin’s work with many international brands such as Nike, IKEA, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, and countless others gave him a proven record to handle any situation with all global and domestic clients. His respect and countless international connections in the industry reinforced his ability to insure his productions were received with high praise. Telegin’s reputation as welcoming obstacles was an attractive attribute as well. The Unistream project would test this as it required nine commercial spots to be filmed in one day! When the person in charge is relaxed and confident, this demeanor trickles down to the entire production team. As proof, Evgeny and his team delivered their work ahead of schedule and with the high level of production imagined by Unistream. With apparent pride in his voice, Venikov professes, “, It was a saving grace to have such a legendary producer as Evgeny at the helm of the production. The Unistream commercials were a triumphant success due in large part to Evgeny’s ability to handle multiple things at once while still performing each task at the highest level of skill possible. Given the strict deadline at hand, Evgeny was a lifesaver by hiring an outstanding crew and cast, which included the celebrity host of Russia’s version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, along with coordinating set construction and the preparation of the shoot. The commercials called for finding representatives of different nations, who could speak their language fluently while acting on stage.  This task was not easy to approach in such a short amount of time; however, Evgeny found everyone at a rapid pace, and they all turned out to be the perfect fit for the client’s needs.  As a result of Evgeny’s producing, the commercials aired all across Russia and CIS countries, driving Unistream’s sales up 300 percent.”

New Year in Trehmer_2

When dealing with advertising, casting is always important. For a production discussing finances, trust is paramount. Telegin needed a star for the Unistream commercials who embodied both of these traits. Everyone in Russia knows Dmitry Dibrov; not only for his work as the host of “Who wants to be a millionaire” but also as a journalist, actor, director and musician. Highly detailed planning and preparation made the filming occur smoothly, while Evgeny credits Dibrov’s high level of professionalism (delivering everything in almost the first take each time). This highly respected and recognizable celebrity, coupled with a delivery of the message in each geographic area’s authentic language, allowed consumers to feel comfortable in a number of ways.

The communication between Dibrov and the other actors in these commercial spots reveals a truly Russian (and areas surrounding Russia) scenario. It’s quite different from what many American advertisers or even American citizens experience. It also further reinforces the challenges which Telegin and his team faced in preparation for the production. Evgeny notes, “Unistream is very popular for money transfer within the country but mainly targets post-Soviet countries like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Armenia, etc. It’s not a secret that many neighbors of Russia come to Moscow seeking jobs. They send money that they earn back home to their families. That was the target audience for this campaign. Our goals for the commercials were to be easy to understand and informative in terms of benefits. We came up with the idea of Dmitry Dibrov doing his own small investigation about why is it that every second Armenian or every third Kazak sends money back home through Unistream. He is asking at the Unistream “random” customers why they choose Unistream. They all say in their native language what they like about it: fast service, broad network, and low rates. In the end of every story Dibrov repeats “low rates” the way the customers just said it in their language. It also adds some familiarity and comfort with Dibrov saying words in the customer’s native language.” To help create the “everyman” feel of these commercials, many first time actors were cast to interact with Dmitry. Instead of an overly polished and slick feel to the performances, viewers felt that those seen in the commercials were just as believable as themselves, which transferred the message that this was an appropriate service for them to us in their own lives.

Talent, experience, and connections are a requirement of every producer, but Evgeny points out one attribute that is often overlooked…awareness. He confesses, “I think a good producer has knowledge of what is popular, what is trendy at the moment. For example, there was a time in Russia when viral videos were very popular. If you know these kind of tendencies, you can come up with interesting and fresh ideas for great productions. No doubt that all the world looks closely at productions done in the US. I would say it’s the main course of style and techniques. You might want to monitor this direction if you want to succeed. Another direction would be international festivals. You see who wins or is nominated so you can find some young and unknown talents to offer to your clients. These young talents are fired up to work and extend their experience in other countries while the clients/agencies are happy because you bring something new and fresh to the productions. It’s a win-win. You must be sure that this young director will be able to produce the results you expect. You have to use your ‘6th producers sense’ based on your experience. Being an effective communicator allows you to tell if it will work out or not.” Telgin requires the same traits that Dmitry Venikov attributed to him. His achievements give increased validity to the professionals he works with, bringing those with a similar desire for exceptional work cultivates greatness at all levels. Delivering greatness is what drives this exemplary Russian producer to get up and face a new challenge every day.

 

Executive Producer Angel Cassani Continues to Bring Hit Actions Film to the Screen

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Angel Cassani (left) and Hector Echavarria (right) on set of the upcoming film “The Pastor”

When watching an epic film, our eyes glued to the screen and our physical bodies seemingly frozen in time, it can seem as if the real world, the one outside of the theatre, completely disappears. After all, that’s one of the many reasons so many people love the medium– for the escape it provides, the possibility of spending time in another world, and experiencing life from a different perspective.

No viewer sits in their seat contemplating the magnitude of effort and the multiplicity of collaborations that took place between departments before the film’s visual story reeled them in– yet they remain tantamount to the project’s creation.

The directors, editors, DPs, actors, writers, costumers and production designers come together, uniting their creativity with the single goal of taking something abstract and turning it into something we can experience– but first, someone had to go through the deliberate process of hand selecting each creative and forming a team where everyone’s talents could be fused together. Someone had to go through the process of pitching the project to studios and raising the funding to actually make it happen– and that person, more often than not, is the film’s executive producer. Someone like Argentina’s Angel Cassani.

Since diving full force into his film career as an executive producer back home in Argentina nearly a decade ago with the dramatic action feature film “Never Surrender” starring Hector Echavarria (“Death Warrior,” “Unrivaled”), award-winning actor James Russo (“Django Unchained,” “Not a Stranger,” “Donnie Brasco”) and Patrick Kilpatrick (“Minority Report”), Cassani has gone on to produce a plethora of hit action films.

“To me it is one of the most exciting parts of the film industry, as you take an idea, develop it into a script and then you bring all the elements together and make into reality what was written on paper,” explains Cassani about his work as a producer.

Since the 2010 release of the MMA-driven cage fight hit “Never Surrender,” Cassani has made incredible strides on an international scale as the executive producer of critically acclaimed films such as the fast paced assassin film “Hell’s Chain” from Latin American action star Hector Echavarria from “Los extermineitors,” one of Argentina’s most successful action films in history, the action-packed love story “Death Calls” starring Echavarria, Yolanda Pecoraro (“Dancing Still,” “Death Tunnel”) and Ron Roggé from the two-time Golden Globe nominated series “Stranger Things,” and Echavarria’s recent film “No Way Out,” which stars “Machete” bad boy Danny Trejo as the villain and the ever- stunning Estella Warren from the Leo Award winning film “Transparency.”

Considering the heavy film competition in Hollywood, it’s easy to see that it takes more than just a good story to get a film into theatres; but thanks to Cassani’s invaluable producing efforts and gift for rallying support, “No Way Out” has gained distribution from industry leader Lions Gate. The film is slated to have its U.S. theatrical release later this year.

“The story was intriguing and fascinating and it combined my two favorite genres: Action and Drama and it was largely filmed in South America,” Cassani explains about producing the film.

“The biggest challenge was matching the scenes we filmed in Hollywood with the scenes that we filmed in South America- we really had to pay attention to the details.”

Another film Cassani executive produced, which is definitely worth taking note of, is the 2013 film “Chavez Cage of Glory” directed by, and starring, Hector Echavarria. The film definitely has its brawls and action thrills, but it offers more on an emotional level than any old fight film.  “Chavez Cage of Glory” follows Hector Chavez (played by Echavarria), a father and former fighter who, struggling to cover his son’s medical bills, returns to his fighting roots in the underbelly of L.A. in order to give his son the care he needs– even if it means risking his life. Released in 2013, the film garnered a major theatrical release across the U.S. thanks to Cassani.

About the genre of films he chooses to produce, Cassani explains, “Action drama as it is the most after sought genre from buyers around the world.”

Spoken like a true a businessman because, while he loves the art and process of filmmaking, he still know what sells, which is a necessary point for any executive producer who wants to be successful in the industry.

His previous work as a leading figure in the finance industry endowed Cassani with a strong foundation as both a money manager and fundraiser, two integral strengths that have proven to be major assets in the film industry, and have helped him to create a powerful reputation for himself within South America, and abroad, as one of the most effective executive producers in the industry today.

Cassani also has several other upcoming films in the works, such as the Christian faith-based feature “The Pastor” (which promises to offer a heavy dose of action) starring Echavarria and Saturn Award nominee Kevin Sorbo (“Hercules,” “Andromeda”), which is slated to be released later this year, as well as the martial arts action film “Duel of Legends,” which is currently in post-production.

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Film Poster for “Duel of Legends”

Starting off in China in the late 1960s, “Duel of Legends” revolves around Dax, a young boy whose parents are murdered leaving him to fend for himself until he is taken in and trained in Martial Arts by a Shawling Temple Monk. The film follows him to Los Angeles as an adult where he is tasked with helping the FBI solve a case involving a massive human trafficking ring, an undercover operation that requires him to compete against the world’s best martial artists in a secret competition. While the competition may be the key to solving who’s behind the human trafficking ring, it also brings him head to head with the opponent of a lifetime, one who holds the answers to the mysterious murder of his parents.

The highly anticipated film stars Hector Echavarria as Dax, as well as Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa from Amazon’s two-time Primetime Emmy Award winning series “The Man in the High Castle” and Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson from the film “Fire with Fire” starring Golden Globe Award winner Bruce Willis (“Die Hard”) and Rosario Dawson (“Sin City”).

PRODUCER GIGI HUANG HAS AN ECLECTIC WORK PALETTE

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For Chinese producer Huang Zhe (known in the industry as Gigi) it has never been a decision of nurture vs nature but rather both. Raised and educated early on in China, she chose to pursue a career in production based on an acting experience the summer after graduating high school. While she didn’t fully embrace acting, the idea of telling stories has always been something to which she was drawn. Beijing China is known universally for Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall but, this Beijing native refers to “HuTong” as the personal defining spot in her home city. As she explains, “My favorite place in Beijing is still the Alley that we call ‘HuTong. The  ‘HuTong’ culture still retains its own character, which attracts everyone’s attention.” This fixation with authenticity, history, and character is a trait which Huang has brought to the many productions and type of productions with which she has been involved, making her an indispensable part of each. Whether aiding a director to achieve his/her vision, tweaking budgetary and scheduling constraints, or helping to produce stories which she feels emotionally attached to; Gigi has become a much sought after and respected producer in the modern film industry.

A great producer, much like a great actor or any other exemplary professional, feels that every project shares the same importance in the sense that it is an opportunity to create greatness. Gigi has produced a variety of commercial productions alongside notable directors such as Zhen Pan and Bianca Yeh. Working with animals, minors, brutal weather conditions, all variables are welcomed by Gigi as she thrives on problems solving. While adversity dissuades others, Gigi comments, “A producer must be a thorough and excellent problem-solver. We always stand in the position where the problem exists. There are so many details I have to think of in advance, requiring not just ‘a plan’ but a plan B or plan C for each situation.” Director Zhen Pan worked with Huang on commercials for Lepow [electronics] and declares, “It was a great experience working with Huang Zhe on the Lepow Branding Commercial. She’s such a leader, great listener, and talented individual. If you need help, she’s always there no matter what you need or which department you are in. She always thinks outside the box, managing to figure out a best way to help you solve the problem which, as a director is what I value more than any other trait.” While cats are notoriously independent/non-team players, the spots which Gigi produced with director Bianca Yeh for Katris appear seemingly effortless. It was such a positive experience that Yeh made sure Huang was signed on as producer for the spots she directed for JieLing Liquid Repellent spray, and Zephyr (high end stove/range), even though the production efforts had to be based on completely opposite sides of the country.

Most of Huang’s film productions are based around a more serious and contemplative tone. While she enjoys this approach in the film’s message, Gigi feels that it is in a large part her responsibility to set a positive an upbeat tone for the crew and cast who create the film. The 2016 film Promise Land dealt with the struggle of a man and woman of Jewish descent and their avoidance of the German military in the late 1930’s. Behind the scenes, the cast and crew were dealing with filming in very cold weather conditions. Gigi appealed to their sense of determination by appealing to their stomachs…and some very fine meals. Produced by Huang in the same year was I Heard the Flowers Blooming When I Was 80, a film which communicates that it is never too late to realize a childhood dream. This movie was originally crippled and seemed to be out of commission until its director persuaded Huang to come aboard and essentially “reboot” this project (which would go on to win for Best Screenplay at the 4th Golden Panda International Short Film Festival). One of the essential characters in the film is an old piano. As one can imagine, transporting this instrument across streets during filming was not an enviable task. Gigi’s planning of locations and “alterations” to the piano made for a very appreciative crew as well as a successful and award-winning completion. Max and Aimee, which Huang produced in 2015 was close to her as it deals with the topics of dementia and Alzheimer’s which has directly affected her own family. The film received worldwide critical acclaim and awards including a Special Mention Award: International Open Film Festival (IOFF)Lima Bean Film Fest (and countless others). Max and Aimee’s director/writer: Michael Alex Pearce was so impressed with how the film turned out that he approached Huang recently about creating a Virtual Reality version of it (which was completed in early 2017). Definitely a new type of production for Gigi but one which she threw herself into completely, as with all her projects. Kathleen Courtney (line producer of the 2013 feature film The Boy Next Door starring by Jennifer Lopez) enlisted Huang to work on this feature film and states, “I enjoy Gigi’s enthusiasm, as did everyone on set. I hope to work with her again in the future.”

Short Film Max and Aimee 1

Even though she has steered so many successful productions, Gigi leans on her early experiences and states, “I really like working behind the stage rather than being on the stage or in front of the camera. When I think of that first experience I had, after graduating from high school; when a few of my best friends and I went on a trip and filmed a movie for my friend’s portfolio to get into USC…I learned so much during that trip. We didn’t have advanced equipment, the only thing that we had was only a video camera, but we used different ways to solve problems. I still remember using small sprinklers to make the raining scene and using a bicycle instead of a moving dolly; I was riding on a friend’s shoulder and finished the high angle shot. In many ways, this experience taught me that if you want to make a film, you find a way to make it happen. My resources may be more plentiful and available, the cameras and gear and more advanced, the cast and crew more talented but, once you have a problem or snag in the production, you fall back onto what you know. For me, I learned that what I know is that I have to plan as much as possible and improvise when all else fails.” Isn’t that exactly what every filmmaker wants to hear from the mouth of their producer?