Category Archives: Producer

Mariana Mendez seizes adventure project ‘Viviendo Van’

Ever since she was a child, esteemed film producer, Mariana Mendez, has had a knack for organization. Regardless of the activity she was taking part in, be it a school project or planning a birthday party, she always seemed to naturally advance into a leadership role and handle all decision-making responsibilities with ease. It is almost as if these qualities were ingrained in her DNA and as she grew up, she found an expert way to couple her love of organization and leadership with her passion for the art of filmmaking. She’d catch herself renting movies just to watch “the making of” the film in its bonus features. Seeing how scenes were shot and hearing how actors would talk about their experiences on set made her feel alive in a way she couldn’t put into words. Instead, she put those emotions into an unwavering determination to rise as a producer in the film industry and she has since established a reputation as one of the most invaluable professionals on any project she lends her talents to.

“When I realized that I could pursue a career in film, I looked at all of the roles and crew member descriptions to decide which interested me most. After reading the description of a producer, I just knew that it was the perfect fit for me. I wanted to be the one lifting an entire project from the ground and making sure it runs smoothly until completion. I wanted to be the one organizing, overseeing, and problem solving. These qualities come very naturally to me so it just felt like a no brainer,” told Mendez.

When it comes to growing a project from the ground up, Mendez is a natural. She has seemingly effortlessly been the mastermind behind a number of reputable films such as Viva El Rey. Despite her prowess in the art of film production, however, she is also well versed in the world of producing for reality television. Early on in her career, Mendez was approached with an idea for a reality sports television show that she and her filmmaking partner, Rodrigo Courtney, could produce via the production company that they had started together, Mindsoup Entertainment. After listening to the pitch for the show’s premise, Mendez felt compelled to give it her personal touch and help ensure that it made it to local Mexican audiences in a big way.

Viviendo Van is an extreme sports reality show that follows former kite surfing world champion, Sean Farley, along his adventures around Mexico. The vision for the show was to cast Farley’s life in an exciting, adventurous fashion and the result, for Mendez, was the successful execution of an enjoyable passion project. To her, it felt more akin to a vacation followed by cameras than it did “work.” Once she had sorted all of the show’s permits and logistical details, she was able to experience the excitement and unpredictability of Farley’s love of extreme sports.

Mendez learned quickly that there was a place for planning on this project; however, there was an even more prominent place for improvisation. She knew that as a crew, they would have to accept the reality that certain scenes would require them to merely “go with the flow” and adapt to whatever situations unfolded. It was both thrilling and relaxing, all in one, and Mendez considers herself fortunate to have even been a part of it.

While Mendez was busy taking in all of the joy and excitement associated with the project, her co-creatives were learning of the level of competence she possesses as a producer. She provided them with a platform that they wouldn’t otherwise have had to showcase their skills and to produce something that audiences wouldn’t be able to get enough of. She also managed to raise all of the funds necessary to allow their budget to appear as though it was an afterthought and to seize every opportunity available along the way.

The show was shot in Cuixmala, a beach town along the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Its importance in society was twofold: it contributed to Mexico’s tourism industry by showcasing some of the beautiful locations and landscapes that Mexico has to offer, as well as reminding audiences that there is a large place in life for taking risks and chasing adventures. It is easy to become complacent in today’s society and Mendez, along with other cast and crew members, were determined to remind audiences that they should always find time to actually live in life. As soon as the final product was released on YouTube and Vimeo, Viviendo Van was purchased by OnceTV and renewed for several subsequent seasons. It is no secret that it would not have seen such success if it hadn’t been for Mendez.

Since Viviendo Van’s release in 2012, Mendez has gone on to work on a number of other award-winning projects such as Zero Hour and OverAgain. She is currently working on a project that holds very dear to her heart called Inzomnia.Keep an eye out for its release in 2020 and see for yourself exactly what makes Mendez such a desirable asset in the industry she loves so much.

Advertisements

Living her dream, Sherry Du is both producer and explorer

As a producer, Xiangrong (Sherry) Du considers herself almost an explorer; she searches for a script and voyages deep into the story; she locates the heart and soul and finds exactly the right way to portray it. That is why she loves what she does, and that is just what makes her so extraordinary at it.

“Producers take words on a page and make it real on a screen. It’s really cool to me,” said Du.

Throughout her career, Du has used her sought-after talents to create captivating stories. Her films such as AugustFront Door,and Eyes on You have been great successes at various film festivals, taking home awards and impressing audiences. Her work on the commercial for KYJ sausage went viral, amassing millions of views after just a short time online.

With such success, it may seem hard to identify one outstanding project that stands out in her mind, but when asked about the highlight of her career, Du knows that without a doubt it has been working on the film Autumn Ghost.

Autumn Ghost is about a banker, Shawn, who can see ghosts like his mother Maggie. Because of his mother’s medical expenses, Shawn uses his bank clients’ money to buy stock. He loses a big amount of money and can’t put it back. Knox is a ghost who was killed by Shawn’s boss, Raven. He notices that Shawn can see ghosts and wants to ask Shawn for help. However, Knox makes a deal with Shawn: Knox helps Shawn get money, whereas Shawn helps Knox get revenge on Raven.

“As I studied the horror genre, I realized that the most terrifying thing is not simply dying, but being a ghost stuck in the veil of humanity. Ghosts cannot do anything, like they are lost in another world,” said Du.

Du actually came up with the idea for the story after watching horror films in her teens. She decided to research the genre and create a feature film. Once hiring a co-writer, they finished the script of a man who can see a ghost that helps him solve his future problems. Du had always liked stories about gods and spirits and found that the supernatural element of the script added a uniqueness to it.

After completing the screenplay, Du decided to shoot a trailer. The first step was finding a team who was passionate about her story, which Du found in Director Jing Ning and Cinematographer Will Job. The next step was finding a location. They needed an entire office that would be big enough for a film crew. Du managed to entice a company by suggesting that with production design, their office would be spruced up and modernized.

When shooting the trailer, Du felt something truly special. It was her first time ever writing a script, and she was amazed to see the character’s in her brain become real people when portrayed by the actors. When the visual effects were added, it brought everything together. She truly felt like her story was coming alive.

The idea of shooting a trailer first is to gain investors for the film, something Du is responsible for as the producer. The trailer itself has been making its way to several film festivals, impressing audiences and critics. It was an Official Selection at the CARE Awards Around International Film Awards in Berlin, Orlando Film Festival 2017 and the Creation International Film Festival 2018 Winter. It won Best Trailer at 15 Minutes of Fame Film Festival 2017 and Glendale International Film Festival 2017 and Best Horror/Thriller/Sci-fi Short at the London Independent Film Awards. Most recently it took home the Diamond Award for Trailer at EIFA Winners Spring 2018. Needless to say, such a response gained much recognition for the film, and Du is very excited to begin production.

“Even though it’s hard to produce a feature film from scratch, trust me, it’s worth it. I want to thank my director, my team and my actors. I can’t wait to get the film started,” she said.

Be sure to keep an eye out for Autumn Ghost.

Olivia Jun rises in the face of stress for stellar HUAWEI Mate 10 commercial

Olivia Jun headshot
Olivia Jun

When Olivia Jun was just a child, she remembers watching her first movie and existing in a state of shock for the remainder of the day. She felt as though a door to another world had been opened. She saw people unlike her, in a life entirely different than her own. She realized that there must be more, there must be a world out there that was much larger than she thought. As she grew up, she allowed her love for film to inspire her and to guide her thoughts and interests to a better place. She immersed herself into the culture, history, and sciences of film. She absorbed as much knowledge as she possibly could about the industry and how to excel amongst the highly talented individuals who keep it alive. She never silenced the desire within her to become a filmmaker and today, she is well known for being a highly versatile, well-respected film producer.

So, what does an average day in the life of someone like Olivia Jun entail? Without fail, Jun tends to be one of the first people to arrive on set for the day and nevertheless, one of the last to leave. She spends every second in between undertaking tasks like ensuring cast and crew members are fed, monitoring the set up for the actors’ dressing rooms, liaising with department heads to ensure that roles and responsibilities for the day are clearly outlined, and much more. If an issue has arisen, she diligently opens lines of communication with everyone involved to make sure that they are able to come up with a seamless solution. Toward the end of the day, she proactively meets with each team to discuss preparation for the following day, and then finally, she determines how much of the budget was used that day and how best to manage remaining resources for the remainder of the project. To her coworkers, it feels almost as if she is capable of being in two places at once as she is always on her feet and she is there when someone needs a hand. Without Jun’s contributions, it is unlikely that many of the films and commercials she has produced would have ever been the successes they were. She was an invaluable asset in the creation of films like Esther, and Donna, as well as commercials for companies like eHi Car Service and HUAWEI Mate 10 Cellphone Commercial.

Earlier on in 2018, HUAWEI Cellphone Company put out a request to their contacts in the industry to recommend a highly skilled producer who would have the talent and expertise necessary to create a cutting-edge commercial for their company. As a direct result of Jun’s pristine reputation, she was asked to come on board for the project and to produce their commercial, HUAWEI Mate 10 Cellphone. Jun was particularly thrilled to join as the commercial was to be shot in the United States; however, the rest of the project would take place in her home country, China. She enjoys any opportunity that allows her to showcase her skills as a bilingual, culturally aware producer and she feels as though this ability gives her a leg up ahead of her competition.

The advertisement depicts a young man assuming a number of different roles in order to show off the multiple functions of the phone. The aim was to highlight the phone’s versatility and the knowledge that no two individuals will use it the same way; however, the phone is capable of accommodating each different variation of use. They wanted consumers to understand just how highly intelligent and convenient the phone is to have and Jun, along with the rest of the crew members involved in the commercial, did an exceptional job of making consumers feel as though the HUAWEI phone is the phone missing from their lives.

Jun joined in this project at a time after its former producer had to leave as a result of certain cultural and language barriers. Because of this, tensions were high amongst cast and crew members and her clients were very stressed. Astonishingly, even amidst difficult time constraints, Jun remained calm, patient and determined to bring her clients back to a place where they felt confident and excited about the project. Without wasting any time, she immediately began selecting and preparing set locations, organizing shooting schedules, and rebalancing the budget in such a way that actually afforded them an extra day of shooting without going over budget. Her clients were blown away and were relieved to know that they had hired a producer who could not only get the job done, but get it done well.

“The plan I came up with was very organized and it saved us a lot of time, lowered our risks, and allowed us to complete the shoot much better than we had originally anticipated. During the shoots themselves, everything was well organized, safe, and smooth. The director got more than he wanted in the first place and the entire cast and crew were left feeling content and excited about the work we had done. It was a great feeling,” told Jun.

In addition to her prowess as a producer, Jun was such a prominent member of the entire project because of her ability to speak Mandarin and address the communication barriers with her Chinese clients that hindered the project with their previous producer. Her experience working with both Chinese clients and American clients increased the value she brought to the table and it also helped her to choose cast and crew members that would compliment their shared interests. On top of that, she entered a very stressful situation when she first joined the project; however, she has an affinity for looking stress directly in the eyes and refusing to back down. She keeps her sights set on delivering her very best and knows that if she comes up short, she will have no regrets regardless. Somehow, however, she never seems to come up short in the end. She loved embracing each challenge she was handed and was proud of the final outcome. Once again, the HUAWEI Mate 10 Cellphone Commercial exceeded all of her clients’ expectations and added yet another high calibre commercial to her repertoire.

Ultimately, the commercial premiered at the cellphone’s launch event in Munich, Germany, as well as on a worldwide lifestream. It was also released on Youtube, youku.com, tencent.com, and more. To date, it has just shy of 500,000 views and counting. Jun is extremely proud of how far they came when she first joined in on the project and she can’t wait to see what additional success this advertisement will bring to the phone’s selling story. Making her beam with even more pride, however, is the fact that in June of this year, HUWAEI made another commercial for their new cell phone called NOVA 3 and hired Jun as their bilingual producer after witnessing her expertise for the HUWEAI Mate 10 Cellphone Commercial. Stay tuned for its release next month.

Producer Huanglizi Sun Strives for Excellence

When an audience views a motion picture they’re completely caught up in the onscreen action and story line, but there’s so much more going on behind the camera. Out of the small army of the production crew’s specialized artisans and craftsmen, there is one driving figure head—the producer—and Chinese film producer Huanglizi Sun excels in that capacity. Sun’s combination of enthusiasm, aesthetics, superb organizational skills and instinct for great storytelling qualify her as one of the brightest rising forces in international cinema.

Sun’s lifelong romance with visual storytelling made her career path almost inevitable, especially since she came of age with a major contributor to the form right in her own backward.

“I grew up in Changsha, also called ‘Star City’ which is the capital of Hunan province,” Sun said. ”Changsha is where China’s second-most-watched TV network, Hunan Television, is located and after graduating from Nanjing University of the Arts, I interned there, as assistant to the directors and producers of the 2012 Hunan TV New Year’s Concert and Spring Festival Gala.”

It was invaluable experience which led Sun to gain key insight on her professional destiny.

“After months of hard work, I realized that I wanted to become a film producer rather than a TV producer: Sun said. “Not only because I am interested in filmmaking but also always on the lookout for great stories to tell in a cinematic way. I decided to move to Hollywood where the movies are made and learn how to ‘tell’ a story as a filmmaker.”

It’s a particularly demanding role, one that encompasses virtually every aspect of a production. “A Film Producer is a person who oversees the production of a film, Sun said. “Film Producers plan and coordinate various aspects of film production, such as selecting script, coordinating writing, directing and editing, and arranging finance.”

Based in Southern California, Sun’s drive and  peerless instinct quickly distinguished her.

“I started my career as Associate Producer in Mobscene Creative Productions,” Sun said. “I coordinated multiple editors with different producing teams and acted as liaison with clients. Everything had to happen simultaneously, on a tight deadline, with a very little margin for error, since the broadcasting schedule is on the line. It honed my ability to prioritize tasks and manage a workflow, while also being adaptive and flexible in the process to the ever-changing schedules of all parties involved.”

At Mobscene, Sun quickly found success: “I produced a web-series ‘Talking to Hollywood with Betty Zhou’, which airs weekly on China Central Television Channel (CCTV) 6, Tencent and IQIYI and it quickly gained a large viewership.”

Moving on to a position with fast rising company Big Monster Productions, Sun quickly identified a unique property—the multiple award winning 2015 short, ‘Cara,’ and is currently in the process of transforming it into a full length feature

“It explores many themes and motifs that are both timely and timeless—society’s expectation of women, coming of age and the athletic soul,” Sun said. “The story focuses on a fifteen year old swimming athlete who dreams of success with the national swimming team. Two weeks prior to her most important competition, Cara learns she is pregnant. In her last attempt to reach the top, Cara needs to confront the biggest challenge of her life— a decision which could make it or break it for her.”

“In the context of a feature, those themes can be explored in more depth and detail.” Sun said. “Transitioning Cara from a short film into a feature is a decision rooted in the belief that it has the potential to succeed both critically and commercially, given that it tells a story people will truly care about.

Huanglizi Sun on the Cara set
Huanglizi Sun on the Cara set

This is where Sun’s holistic grasp on the filmmaking process really comes into play and is certain to provide the production tremendous advantage.

“Writing a short film is one thing, writing a feature can be an entirely different process, one that  presents an entirely different set of challenges,” Sun said. “The story will be significantly more complex than the original and may go through many drafts and revisions before we are satisfied. The next step is going into production and this will also prove to be a challenge—both logistically and financially. It will take meticulous planning, many supporters and a great team effort to truly bring this vision to life.”

Sun’s ability to identify, anticipate, and troubleshoot any unexpected complication or mishap is invaluable in itself, but her comprehensive vision also extends beyond film production and reaches into other key aspects of the business, branding and marketing.

“Ms.Sun is an essential member of our team,” Big Monster president Wentao Wang said. “Her expertise in producing different types of media, ranging from films, promos to branding content is paramount to Big Monster’s success. With an acutely honed ability to judge a project’s potential and the great taste to back it up, she ensures that Big Monster only brings in a roster of projects of the highest quality. From the timely story of “Cara” to pioneering the future of multi-channel network, Ms. Sun single-handedly paves the way for Big Monster to thrive for years to come.”

Having already proven herself both at home and in Hollywood, Sun is clearly a cinematic force to be reckoned with.

“I want to make successful, memorable films, focusing on small characters with big impact that definitely have the potential to take many by heart,” Sun said. As a producer, her mixture of ambition, pragmatism, artistry and understanding of what makes a story worthwhile all combine with ideal symmetry, and what really drives Sun is one simple fact: “Making films is my greatest pleasure.”

 

 

Producer Kegan Sant helps TELUS give back with inspiring charitable campaign

It seems funny to Kegan Sant that there was once a time where he thought he wanted to be a director. Many people going into filmmaking initially see themselves leading the film set, and Sant was no different. However, when he found his way into producing, he realized it was exactly where he was meant to be. Sant understands the nuances to the role, that it isn’t just balancing a budget. The producer is responsible for making sure every single aspect of the production goes off without a hitch. That, for Sant, is what makes it so thrilling.

“I like to be busy and being a producer, there is always something to do. No matter how simple a project is, attention to detail is everything to me. I find that fun and challenging. Not many positions offer the flexibility in schedule, opportunity to see the world and ability to employ thousands of people over short periods of time. It’s invigorating to work with different directors as everyone has unique ways of working and dynamic thought processes. It’s incredibly satisfying to conceptualize a project with a director, budget it out, execute it, and see it come to life in post,” said Sant.

Sant’s passion for what he does translates into every project he takes on. He is perhaps most well-known for his work on the Westjet Christmas Miracle, one of the first real people/real time commercials that went viral online. He also made the award-winning Grey Cup flagship commercial for the CFL, What We’re Made Of, and last year, his work on Woods Is There campaign celebrated the company’s 100th anniversary and Canada’s 150th birthday while captivating viewers across the country with stunning scenery. His work extends to film, and his movie The Bear went on to several international film festivals, taking home prizes and impressing viewers and critics alike.

Sant’s creativity is ignited when he believes in what a project represents, and his 2016 commercial for TELUS was no different. The commercial promoted #TheGivingEffect, a campaign to encourage acts of kindness. With every act of kindness, big or small, TELUS encouraged citizens across Canada to share themselves giving back to their community with the hashtag #TheGivingEffect, with the goal of having the entire nation help each other. TELUS would then select up to five individuals who took part in the challenge and award them with $5000 to donate to the charity of their choice.

“I think this campaign is important because it sways social consciousness in the direction of doing something about problems and issues they see. It lets people know that everything counts – small or big and that it doesn’t have to be material or monetary to count. Having more of that in the world is inspiring change in the right direction and I believe this stemmed from the actual employees of TELUS giving back to their own organizations, which inspired the corporation to do the same. Truly the spirit of giving,” said Sant.

The campaign began with a 90-second video with short stories ranging from an informal bottle cleanup on a beach to a young woman shaving off her long hair to support a sick friend. The tagline is “every act of giving inspires another.” The commercial was shot in over five locations in just one day in April of 2016. There was a national TV buy for this campaign and it also lived on an online platform. It was also picked up and recognized by a couple of national marketing magazines.

“I liked that we were able to defy all norms on this project, like shooting in several locations in a single shoot day with actresses that had special FX makeup, and first-time experiences like shaving their head. I liked that this project pushed boundaries and forced me to constantly think on my feet. Being able to produce a job that matched the director’s vision was incredibly satisfying and having a happy production company, agency, client and director means I did my job well,” said Sant.

What is perhaps the most interesting and challenging part of the commercial is the scene with the girl donating her hair for her sick friend. Sant had to find an actress that was actually willing to shave her head for the scene and donate her hair. He vowed that they would make it happen, despite the casting director being confident they wouldn’t find one. The director, Stash Capar, had a vision, and it involved an actress actually shaving their head. Sant made sure to deliver. At the last minute, Sant found an actress who was happy to show her support for the cause, really selling the authenticity of the piece. Because of his commitment to the project, Sant immensely impressed all those he worked with, who he now continues to collaborate with to this day.

“You know you’re in good hands with Kegan. No matter what problems befall the project, he will find solutions and the show will go on. Kegan is the hardest working producer I know.  He finds efficiencies and strategies that other producers later mimic. He is an agent of change in the world of commercials.  An example of this was the Westjet Christmas Miracle spot, which Kegan masterminded. His methods were later copied, spawning an entire genre of copycat “surprise and delight” commercials,” said Stash Capar, Director.

When Sant was given the opportunity to work on #TheGivingEffect it felt like he had come full circle. As a teenager, his first “real job” was working for TELUS in their customer service department. He remembers wondering what it would be like to produce a commercial for them one day. Getting to do so while promoting a good cause and giving back to his community was more than he could ever have dreamed of.

“It’s a great feeling to know that the project was so successful. I’m happy to have delivered a job that met the expectations of everyone involved and was instrumental in reaching people, promoting the idea of giving back. It’s on my reel as a heartfelt piece of emotional storytelling, not only for the final product itself but the messaging it shares,” he concluded.

 

Photo by Kevin Sarasom

Ireland’s Jonathon Ridgard talks producing ‘America’s Got Talent’ and working alongside his idols

Hailing from Galway, Ireland, Jonathon Ridgard has come a long way both geographically and figuratively since he received his first camcorder at just eight years old. Even at such a young age, he had a passion that was more than just a childhood hobby. Now, Ridgard is a renowned supervising producer in Hollywood, and is responsible for bringing some of your favorite shows to the small screen.

“My parents recently found old home videos where I am running around interviewing everyone in the family. My brother was sick in the hospital, having his appendix removed and I have the camcorder with me, recording an interview with him – asking him how he feels, and to describe what was happening. With this camcorder, I used to film family parties, birthdays, christenings and cut them together to make short videos for people. I guess I always had a keen interest in telling the stories of what was going on in people’s lives,” said Ridgard.

Ridgard is currently busy getting ready for the highly-anticipated ABC reboot of American Idol, premiering March 11, working alongside such superstars as Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan, and Katy Perry. Ridgard previously produced the show’s 15th and final season on FOX and is glad to be back on such a celebrated program.

American Idol is far from Ridgard’s first taste of international success. This sought-after supervising producer has an esteemed resume, including Simon Cowell’s The X-Factor in the United Kingdom, Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word, and Undercover Boss, during which time the show was awarded an Emmy for “Outstanding Reality Program”.

“It’s hard to pinpoint a single highlight of my career. It would probably be working with Simon Cowell. He is someone I grew up watching on TV. He is an incredibly talented Executive Producer and on-screen talent. Working with Gordon Ramsay is also another career highpoint. I served as Senior Producer for his live show. Overseeing a team of producers and associate producers. I was tasked with creating new, interesting and fun pieces that would feature Gordon. I worked with Gordon on these developed ideas and then we would film them and turn them around in post to feature in the following weeks’ episodes. I am a big fan of Gordon, both as a Chef and a television personality. He is one of the nicest and easiest people I have ever had the pleasure of working with. And of course, being awarded an Emmy for contribution to Undercover Boss is also an incredible highlight. To be recognized for my contribution to such a successful show at an early age was, and still is, a very proud moment,” said Ridgard.

Ridgard is also known for his outstanding work on Simon Cowell’s Got Talent franchise around the world. Beginning with Australia’s Got Talent in 2010 followed by Britain’s Got Talent and contributing greatly to their success, Ridgard received a call from the show’s Executive Producer, Sam Donnelly, asking him to be a part of the U.S. version for its eighth season. Knowing that America’s Got Talent is one of the most iconic shows on American television, Ridgard immediately accepted. The show was about to go through some big changes, from new judges to a shift in the format, and he was ready to lend his talents to making the show an even greater hit than it already was. Ridgard achieved his goal. Since joining the team, the show has continually grown in ratings each year, something that is almost unheard of for a reality competition show that has been around for over a decade.

“I love that the stories we tell on a show like America’s Got Talent could potentially inspire people to get out there and follow their dreams. Maybe someone at home might see an 8-year-old dancer, or an 82-year-old juggler, or a struggling comedian, and these stories might resonate with them and their own story and it might push them to reach their full potential,” he said.

Working on the show was difficult but immensely rewarding for Ridgard. Not only did he enjoy working closely with the judges, Mel B, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel and Howard Stern, but he travelled the country to find the talent that would be showcased on screen. Every year there are tens of thousands of applicants looking to be on the show, and it is Ridgard and his team that find the ones that will connect with audiences and therefore make the show a success. Going through such a large pool of applicants and narrowing them down can be hard and Ridgard would sometimes feel the pressure, but he let that fuel him. Not only did he understand that it was important to the show to find the right people, he understood the responsibility he had: people’s lives were in his hands. Ultimately, he made every decision based on what he knew from his vast experience would make good television and which contestants could ultimately go on to win the show.

In addition to this, Ridgard also had to decide how to tell the contestants’ stories. Some of the applicants have sad or traumatic backstories, and Ridgard knew that the way these stories were told were almost more important than the actual act; they could affect the viewers lives and needed to be told sensitively and in a way to inspire the contestant and the millions of viewers around the world.

“Telling people’s stories and getting to travel the United States while being one of the first people to see undiscovered talent and knowing that these people had a chance to win $1 million and go on to worldwide fame, well, it was an invaluable experience,” said Ridgard.

With such vital responsibilities, everyone on set recognized the producing team as the core of the show. They were the ones that worked in and were responsible for casting, setting up auditions and auditioning talent, filming back stories and interviews and ultimately being the go-to people for every other aspect of the show. It’s because of this that the show is successful and Ridgard is very proud of that.

“I was lucky enough to work with Jonathon as a producer on America’s Got Talent in 2012 and I was immediately struck by how creative he is. He walked onto a big team and quickly became a standout producer with his fresh approach to problem-solving in the field, his can-do attitude and ability to motivate the team around him. Many producers aren’t able to both supply creative, amazing ideas to take the show from good to great and execute them well, seeing them through to the final product, but Jonathon is skilled at both. He just gets it, the entire process, which I’m sure comes from his long, established career in this industry back in the UK. I love working with Jonathon as he’s extremely gifted at what he does, and I hope I get a chance to work with him again,” said Lindsay Tuggle, Supervising Producer.

After his tremendous success on America’s Got Talent, Ridgard was then asked to help launch the premiere season of Asia’s Got Talent. The spin-off is billed as the biggest talent show in the world with talent stretching across 15 countries from India through to Japan. Asia’s Got Talent delivered ratings ten times higher than its nearest English-speaking rival on its season one premier. Ridgard was contacted by FremantleMedia Asia to oversee the creation the show, based in Singapore. As a consulting producer, he was tasked with getting the show off the ground, imparting his expertise to the Asia team and showcasing how the Got Talent format was produced. He helped to develop the show from nothing, implementing casting plans in every country from India across to Japan. He was instrumental in casting the show, choosing the very best, interesting and diverse talent across all 15 countries. He also cast the two main hosts. Later, he worked with the full production team so they would understand how to produce interviews, b-roll, and stylized reality scenes that would fit in with the franchise. Asia’s Got Talent was one of the most successful show launches for AXN.

“I feel very proud to have worked on a franchise that is known globally. It’s been a career highlight and seeing the show continue to succeed is incredible to see. Being able to make people’s dreams come true is something that we actually do as producers. As cheesy as it sounds, seeing someone go from small town girl/boy achieving their dreams with the world at their feet is a job that not many people get to do, and it never gets old,” Ridgard concluded.

Producer Mickey Liu went back to high school for ‘Sail the Summer Winds’

STSW on set with postcards and slate
Mickey Liu on set of Sail the Summer Winds, photo by Aijia Che

Mickey Liu knows that every day he steps onto a film set, it will be different than the day before. Every new project brings something new, and every experience is distinctive. Because of this, he always feels like he is learning something new, and no matter how seasoned of a producer he is, he finds that sometimes his experience can mean nothing in the wake of a new challenge. He is consistently exposed to talented individuals and brings teams together to create a masterpiece. For him, that is the best feeling in the world, and he loves what he does.

“Producing is about lots of instant decisions and last-minute situations, which is challenging and exciting. What’s more, I get to read many good stories… and a lot more bad ones,” he joked.

Hailing from Shenzhen, China, Liu has become a renowned producer. His work on films such as An Ill-Fitting Coat, Marie, Nocturne in Black, and Tear of the Peony have made headlines around the world. He knows what it is to tell a good story, and consistently manages to bring his films great success. However, the first time he truly felt this was in 2014, with his feature Sail in the Summer Winds.

Sail in the Summer Winds tells the story of Michael, a 30-year-old white-collar worker, who is always recalling memories with his 6-year desk mate Cammy and best friends Leon, Joyce and James about when they were 17. Back then, these high schoolers were faced with the biggest challenge of their life – the College Entrance Exam. Michael didn’t know what his future held but got an early admission to Cammy’s dream school; Cammy had feelings for Michael but couldn’t say it out loud; Joyce, once a model student at school, failed to live up to expectations at the very moment; Leon wanted to be an artist but was torn between reality and dream; James worked really hard, but things didn’t turn out great for him. Just like every coming-of-age story, they grew up and changed through the best years of their youth.

“I think the story of the film is important because it is a story focusing on friendship in high school. We’ve seen enough saccharine high school dramas on screens and they almost always center on how to get the guy or girl you like. American high school culture is very different from Chinese high school culture. I think the story provides a fresh perspective of Chinese high school life. The story would remind people of their dreams and courage, and maybe they would want to reconnect with friends they haven’t been in touch with for years,” said Liu.

When the Director of Sail the Summer Winds, Lanxin Yu, approached Liu over social media to produce the feature, Liu was immediately intrigued. Yu went to the same high school that Liu attended and wanted to film the movie there. Upon reading the script, Liu knew he wanted to be a part of the film, as the words took him back to his high school days and brought back memories of his younger self. He knew many others would be able to relate, and his partnership with Yu began.

“Working with Mickey is always a pleasure. His great sense of humor makes everyone chilled and relaxed. When it comes to the set, he’s sensitive, responsive, and caring to every crew member and tries his best to make the set an enjoyable working environment that everyone wants to come back to. When we were shooting Sail the Summer Winds, most of the crew members were first-timers, but he was very patient and made our set run like a real Hollywood set. In addition, his charisma held the crew together, not just as an efficient team, but a real family. Mickey is one of the most creative people I’ve ever met. He always has brilliant ideas about the story and has a deep understanding on the structure. Therefore, as a creative producer, he gives clear notes to writers, constructive advice to directors and inspirational directions for promotions. He’s easygoing and reliable, making him the one person on set that everyone trusts,” said Yu.

As the sole producer of the film, Liu’s work was essential for the film’s success. He held the team together and drastically improved their efficiency, while still providing ample amounts of encouragement and boosting morale. He provided critical creative notes at the script development stage, created the shooting scheduling and supervised the pre-production and production. During post-production, he personally designed the merchandise and arranged for the film’s distribution.

Liu also trained the crew and brought professional help to the production, as he was the most seasoned filmmaker on the set. The majority of the crew were young volunteers looking to experience film production, and therefore required a lot of training. Because of him, he had everyone on the crew working extremely well despite their lack of previous experience.

“Although it was challenging, I actually enjoyed training the crew a lot. They were very smart and hard-working ‘students’, so it felt very rewarding seeing them successfully applying the training to their work. The atmosphere was very loving and full of energy. I loved that good vibe on set very much,” Liu described.

In addition to all of this, Liu employed some American methods of film production to this Chinese movie. The Director was pulling herself in every direction, taking on many tasks beyond what she needed to do. On Chinese film sets, this often happens, as they are very director-centric. Liu however, having experience on American film sets, talked to the director and told her how they could make everything more efficient, and she just needed to focus on her main duties as a director. In the end, it worked seamlessly.

“Producing this film was a very unique experience because I think it would be almost impossible to have this selfless of a cast and crew ever again. Everyone gave their one hundred percent for free and they never complained and never lost morale while working long hours in hot summer. It was definitely a labor of love and I was very moved by what they did and shooting at my high school brought back so many happy memories,” said Liu.

Sail the Summer Winds premiered in August 2014 at a theatre in Shenzhen and then went straight to DVD, where it sold well locally. It was covered by local newspapers and television stations in China, where it received very positive reviews. It is now available to stream online.

Liu and his team decided to donate all the proceeds from the film to his local high school, to support the film and television club there. Liu wanted to motivate the next generation of young filmmakers to follow their dreams, and in his footsteps. For those looking to do so, he offered the following advice:

“Find the stories you really love and try to make them happen. Don’t pursue certain types of stories just because they are “hot and trendy”. It takes such a long time to get them made that you may give up if you don’t love them enough. When in doubt, you can always go back to why you wanted to pursue a career in producing. It can actually give you a lot of strength. It’s all about the nuts and bolts, and your instinct is usually right,” he concluded.

 

Top photo: Zihao Qin and Mickey Liu on set of ‘Sail the Summer Winds’, photo by Aijia Che

Executive Producer Ed Egan talks reviving his childhood favorite “Catchphrase”

Headshot 1
Ed Egan

Ed Egan has been a television addict all his life. Ever since he can remember, he has loved watching television, and knew from an early age that he would work in the industry. Now, he is an executive producer working on some of the world’s biggest game shows. He is not only an industry leader in Britain, but internationally as well.

Ever since he began working in the industry, Egan has had ideas for new formats and ways to tweak current ones. Starting from the bottom, he worked his way up to executive producer and showrunner, now being able to create the shows that he has always wanted. His work on ABC’s hit 500 Questions was then recreated in Germany and the United Kingdom after its success in the United States, and he developed the concept for ITV’s 1000 Heartbeats, which went on a very successful run for the network. He started Tipping Point at its inception, which now has hundreds of episodes, and his newest series, Genius Junior starring Neil Patrick Harris, premieres this Spring on NBC.

Despite this success, however, the British native says the highlight of his career came when he revived the classic game show Catchphrase. The original was a childhood favorite and was one of the shows that gave birth to his love of television. Being able to bring it back to air, and film it in his hometown where the show first began, was a special moment for this seasoned executive producer.

“I had been a massive fan of this show when it was on TV when I was young, and so I jumped at the chance to bring it back to our screens so that people could watch it again, or discover it for the first time. The show is perfect. It is the ultimate play-along show, which I love, as people can’t help but try to shout answers out when they are watching. It is a game show that anyone can play and is suitable for the whole family which is quite rare these days. It appeals to people from 8 to 80,” he said.

In the original series, two contestants, one male and one female, would have to identify the familiar phrase represented by a piece of animation accompanied by background music. The show’s mascot, a golden robot called “Mr. Chips”, appears in many of the animations. In the revived version of the show, the same format remains, but there are three contestants and there is no particular attention paid to gender.

Egan’s thorough understanding of the original format was essential to bringing the show back and making it a success. He knew just what was important for the new version to be a hit again. He was able to bring on board some of the best game show producers and production staff in the country, and together they knew the right type of contestants to cast and the right level to set the gameplay at. Not only did he update the format, but he got a younger generation interested in the show, applying to be contestants and also watching each week. The casting producer of the show, Helen Finnimore, was extremely impressed with his talents when they worked together.

“I have known Ed Egan for many years as both a television production professional and a friend. Without doubt, he is one of the most respected executive television producers in the industry. Prior to being head-hunted to relocate and work in the United States, Ed had worked on many internationally recognised programmes here in the United Kingdom and has maintained his position at the forefront of the entertainment business through these incredible accomplishments,” said Finnimore. “I had the pleasure of working closely with Ed on the Catchphrase revival series here in the UK in 2013 and again in 2014. Ed is a rare talent, one of the few executive producers I have met who truly understands the British and American audiences. He’s fantastic to work alongside, maintains a level of professionalism throughout and moreover, has an unparalleled ability to develop and adapt new and exciting formats. This unique flair has become his trademark in the industry both sides of the pond.”

When STV was looking to revive the hit show, they approached Egan knowing of his reputation as a tremendous showrunner. At their first meeting, they offered him the job. Egan wanted to keep as many parts of the original format as possible, but he knew the necessity of updating the show to bring in a newer and more modern audience. The show is very graphics heavy, so he knew that one of his main roles was developing the new look for the animations, as the technology had moved on so much since the original series. Egan wanted to keep up with what people were used to seeing in the modern era of apps. To do all this, he put together a team that not only worked together well but formed a strong bond.

“I loved the fact that the team who I put together all became great friends, and it was a real pleasure to work on. It is a fun format and we had great fun making it. I became good friends with our host Stephen Mulhern, who is the nicest and most professional host a producer could hope to work with,” Egan said.

The relationship Egan forged with his host meant that they were able to be very open and honest with each other, which Egan says is essential to get the best performance from on-screen talent. It also helped calm his nerves about reviving a cherished show for so many people, but once the show aired, his worries immediately evaporated.

“I was nervous about bringing this show back as it had been such as huge show back in the 80s and 90s and I wanted people to like our new, updated and modernised version. I was so pleased that it did so well on its return and I’m very proud that it’s still doing well today,” he said.

The revival began airing in 2013 and Egan produced its first three seasons. The show is now on its sixth season, and since Egan brought it back, it has been the top-rated Saturday night show on ITV. His production and development work with Catchphrase and ITV, as well as such well-known production companies as BBC, Endemol, RDF Television, STV Productions and Warner Horizon in the United States, confirms his reputation as one of the industries go-to executive producers and a highly sought-after talent. He’s achieved a level of prominence rivalled by few in the industry and continues to build upon his achievements.  

Be sure to check out the revival of Catchphrase to see how Egan modernized a classic.

 

THE PRODUCER WITH THE GOLDEN TOUCH: BOHAN GONG

United International Film Festival Red carpet

Chinese producer Bohan Gong takes great pride in the fact that he has been a force behind many successful films in his homeland, Europe, and the US. Establishing yourself as a respected producer in one country is difficult enough, cultivating that reputation and prestige on a global scale is a situation that has only presented itself in recent times. Hollywood used to be the only major player in the game but China, Bollywood, and other locations have made their presence felt. Gong is talented and multilingual by design. His credits are instantly recognizable and he makes a point to work on both huge studio productions and independent films with themes near and dear to his heart. Bohan often remarks that the story of a film is its soul and he always seeks out his connection with this story in order to give it the respect it requires. This is not the typical comment you’ll hear from producers who are more likely to refer to their part in the filmmaking process in terms of schedules and “being in the black” but this producer is not your typical producer. Many of his peers refer to his exceptional talent in screenwriting, editing, and other facets of film. Bohan is a filmmaker who produces rather than a producer who has found his way into filmmaking. The two are inseparable in his work and the success of his many productions vets him as a leader in the modern day film community.

2017’s American Made earned $139 million and is the most recent in the long successful career of Tom Cruise. While it was an immense hit in the US, this may have been eclipsed by the film’s massive attention and earnings in China. Bohan was in charge of designing and coordinating the Chinese distribution plan for American Made. Many of today’s big budget films depend on their international box office to be a key part of a film’s financial earnings. China’s love of film and huge fan base is perhaps the most important contributor of a US production’s non-domestic box office. Gong’s insight into the workings of China’s rules such as Communicating Law procedure, applying Chinese import, and Applying related licenses (such as Chinese region “Permit for Public Projection of Films) were indispensable to the achievements of American Made in the country. James H. Pang (co-executive producer of American Made) professes, “Bohan’s knowledge of the many different international business and production practices makes his a uniquely talented producer in the industry. At the same time, he has a strong understanding of the Hollywood and China film market “game” that actually gets movies made and well-distributed. Those that invest with him do it time and again because he represents the business interests so well.”

For the Hollywood blockbuster and Oscar-award winning Hacksaw Ridge, Bohan also was key in the film’s distribution in China. Communicating and coordinating between Hollywood’s Cross Creek Pictures and China for the director (Mel Gibson) and leading actors to attend publicity activities in China, Gong helped to bring exposure to the film and open the Chinese market to western celebrities. One lasting effect of the producer’s work on Hacksaw ridge was that its reputation as a Hollywood blockbuster helped Gong to build a distribution structure for American films in China’s top tier cities like, Beijing and Shanghai all the way down to small towns.

Los Angeles Kidnapping is a Chinese major studio production that was filmed in Los Angeles. As lead producer who was part of the film since its inception, Bohan’s understanding of the working of Hollywood’s film community and the tastes of China’s audiences led to his insistence that Los Angeles Kidnapping be filmed in the US. Many of the films that were US/China collaborations frustrated Gong because it was obvious to him that they were produced by an American crew with only a few shots actually taking place in China. He explains, “I wanted to do something new. I understand how the film industries of both China and Hollywood create and work. For Los Angeles Kidnapping I still used an American crew. I knew that the stylistic approach of Hollywood storytelling and the American locations would infuse this style and quality into the film, but I wanted to tell a Chinese story. There is a different sentiment to Chinese culture in film and I wanted this to be authentic. I also didn’t hire Hollywood top tier movies stars but chose actors from China whom the audience would relate to.”

In addition to his role as lead producer, Bohan found the script, wrote and revised the script, procured financing, hired the stars, key crews, and developed the Pre-Production, Production, Post-production, marketing and distribution for Los Angeles Kidnapping. His design theory for the film proved well-founded when Los Angeles Kidnapping garnered more than fourteen wins and five nominations including: Los Angeles Film Awards: Best Action (2017), London Independent Film Awards: Best Foreign Feature (2017), and others. It was released on the Iqiyi Platform and sold to China Central TV Movie Channel. To date, Los Angeles Kidnapping has earned five times the production budget.

Every true artist is passionate about some pet underdog cause and for Gong this is the environment. The air pollution in his hometown of Beijing has been alarming for quite some time and sparked the producer’s desire to influence the problem by using his personal talents to illustrate these problems. In the documentary “A Tip of Bottlebegr”, Bohan displayed the worldwide epidemic of plastic bottles and their effect on the planet. While there are many factors that negatively affect the environment, Gong felt that focusing on this singular topic would help the viewer to clearly understand the malevolent repercussions and perhaps by the catalyst to be more aware of similar trends. “A Tip of Bottlebegr” received the Grand Award for Best Picture at the Cherry Blossom Film Festival, Best Experiment Film at the Lake View International Film Festival, Los Angeles Film Awards: Honorable Mention Documentary, Festigious International Film Festival: Honorable Mention Documentary, Focus on Image Festival: The Best Picture Nomination, and a nomination for Best Film at the Atlantis Film Awards.

Bohan Gong has staked a fair portion of his career on the collaboration of artists and filmmakers of different countries. He sees it as the future and it is a future which creates more sincere and entertaining art because it brings even more perspectives and a diversity of talent to the art of filmmaking. Contemplating the work between his homeland and Hollywood he relates, “This artistic collaboration between China and the US will affect parts of each society. For example, nowadays, Artistic collaboration between China and the US have been promoting the communication and cooperation between China and America in factors of culture, economics, tourism, technology, education, etc. China loves storytelling and the Chinese film industry has established itself and matured quickly. In the end of 2016, China surpassed the United States with a total of forty-one thousand film screens. This has attracted American filmmakers to the opportunities China can offer them and this is good for both countries and their people. I could not have picked a better time in the history of film to be a producer from China with this relationship blossoming.”

United International Film Festival Red carpet and interview

Join Dixie Chan in honoring Borneo’s unsung environmental heroes

At the outset of her career as a documentary film producer, Dixie Chan made it a long-term goal to one day use her talents to cast a light on an important social issue. For Chan, being a film producer allows her to research compelling people, places, and customs across the globe and share them with interested audiences alike. In her eyes, it is a privilege to be able to take advantage of the social platform that her profession provides her and if she can make a difference in the life or social awareness of even one individual, she’ll have succeeded.

“Being able to tell a good, compelling story that will resonate with people for a long time requires experience, technique, patience and empathy — all elements which I believe can be honed when you are learning and working with the best in the field. During my college years, I started going to film festivals and getting more exposed to independent documentaries and films, many of which were centered around social issues. I became so fascinated by the visual and narrative power of these films and I knew I had to be a part of it,” Chan discussed.

As Chan became more and more involved in the realm of narrative documentary filmmaking, she realized that her dreams to raise awareness about socially charged issues was not at all unrealistic. In fact, she has gone on to work on several documentary films and shows that cast a light on various places and people around the world who share in her desire to educate the masses about important issues, be they cultural, environmental, historical, political, religious, etc. In her role as the producer of an upcoming project, Chan had the unique opportunity to bring viewers inside a world where a group of passionate individuals ensure that China’s ancient trees are protected and its legacy of woodcraft is preserved for prosperity. Similarly, when she acted as the Story Producer for Frontier Borneo, Chan was not only able to work in one of the world’s most spectacular rainforests, but she was able to do so whilst supporting their local environmental conservation efforts.

FRONTIER BORNEO 01

Frontier Borneo is a Discovery Channel documentary series showcasing a breathtaking, action-packed journey following the lives of remarkable men and women and unforgettable creatures on the third largest island on the planet. Interesting and unusual feats like dealing with home-made bombs in the oceans, exploring uncharted jungles, rescuing endangered animals and coming face to face with deadly creatures are all in a day’s work for the characters featured. Chan was asked to produce this awe-inspiring documentary in March of 2016 and later, when it premiered on February 28, 2017, it became apparent why.

“This project was an especially challenging production that was shot across 6 months in some of Borneo’s most treacherous terrain. Dixie was able to manage production of one shoot, which typically covers jungles, crocodile-infested rivers and seas, while doing the preproduction work of researching and casting of an upcoming shoot, all at the same time. Despite her ability to coordinate different aspects of the production simultaneously, she remains extraordinarily meticulous and hands on at every step and this enabled production to move forward seamlessly with minimal delay,” told Jacqueline Leow, Production Manager, who currently works at Beach House Pictures, one of Asia’s largest media company producing content for the international market.

Not only was she the most experienced producer working on the project, but she also proved to be invaluable to the entire initiative. She has an ability to juggle competing priorities with ease and to logistically map out every task involved with a project to such a degree that other cast and crew members are never left wondering what is required of them. For this particular project, Chan made it a top priority to establish and facilitate effective working relationships with her team, as well as the locals, due to the intimate nature of their filming location. She inspired each and every member involved to treat Frontier Borneo as a passion project, as opposed to an average job. In addition, her experience working in rural areas of China on other career projects gave her an advantage when liaising between crew members and local conservationists. Her adept understanding of Chinese working culture allowed her to bridge any cultural gaps they encountered and helped the planning, filming, and production processes unfold seamlessly.

“The rapport that I was so intent on building with the locals helped immensely in production, from accessing hard-to-film areas to getting information post-shoot, and even getting translators for interviews done in the tribal languages,” Chan reflected.

All in all, in order to make Frontier Borneo the true success that it was, Chan had to immerse herself mentally and physically into this expansive Malaysian rainforest and wildlife sanctuary. Whether they were shooting about marine conservation or mountain marathons, Chan was directly involved and on scene. To be so heavily engaged in such a hands-on Discovery Channel documentary is something that few producers can say they’ve ever done, let alone well enough to earn awards and accolades along the way. For Chan, however, being professionally recognized for her efforts meant little in comparison to the humbling knowledge that she and her team were able to truly celebrate the livelihood and struggles of the selfless individuals fighting to protect our Earth’s enriched wildlife and environment. Acknowledging the heroes of Borneo on such a large, influential scale gratifies her in an indescribable way and served as a safe reminder that she is doing exactly what she wants to be doing with her life.