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.

 

Natasha Khan Mayet is one Indian Actress Making a Huge Splash in Hollywood!

Natasha Khan Mayet
Actress Natasha Khan Mayet shot by Paul Smith

When internationally acclaimed actress Natasha Khan Mayet was growing up in South Africa, she knew her future would be a creative one. Since beginning her acting career over a decade ago, Natasha has become known for her roles in Mother, May I Sleep with Danger with James Franco and Tori Spelling, Metropolitan Detective, and 2 For Flinching. In a time when actresses like Priyanka Chopra are protecting national security in Quantico and Deepika Padukone is making moves in XXX: The Return of Xander Cage, Natasha Khan Mayet proves actresses of Indian descent can make it in the big time on a global scale.

One of her most recent projects, Trafficked, is proof of her incredible accomplishments as globally renowned actor. In that film, Natasha shares the silver screen with Golden-Globe nominated actress and American movie star, Ashley Judd, well known for her roles in the blockbuster Divergent franchise, Olympus Has Fallen and Double Jeopardy. Natasha admits that Judd is “one of [her] favorite actresses,” so it’s no surprise that she’s proud of the esteemed production. The story of Trafficked concerns three girls from America, Nigeria and India who are trafficked through an elaborate global network and enslaved in a Texas brothel, and must together attempt a daring escape to reclaim their freedom.

In her key role as a woman who is kidnapped by Albanian mercenaries and sold to a group of Italian men, Natasha steals the audience’s attention every time she is on screen, such is the power of her captivating performance. She proudly explains that the filmmakers needed an “Indian woman with strong acting skills,” and that she was the only actress who fit the bill.

Given the critical impact her scenes have on the film’s plot development, it’s easy to describe her role as the heart of the film. The emotional depth of her role and its critical importance to the film’s story was clear while shooting. Natasha tells us how “[t]he scene where we were tied up and at the mercy of the Albanians was pretty raw, and as I stood there tied up with other girls we literally felt as if we were their prisoners.” She goes on to say that “the scene became so real…a couple of us were already crying because the moment was so real to us.”

Not only was Trafficked shortlisted for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, it was written and produced by Siddharth Kara, author of the internationally acclaimed book Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. Kara is also a leading professor at Harvard and a lecturer at UC Berkeley, attaching greater credibility to a film project that not only brings an audience to tears, but has a politically charged message that will ensure its global success.

Further to that, Natasha confirmed her exceptional acting skills in Trafficked by working alongside award-winning director Will Wallace, who won a feature film prize at WorldFest Houston for his hit comedy Cake: A Wedding Story, starring Major Crimes and The Closer TV star, G.W. Bailey. Another one of his projects, the romantic drama Red Wing starring Hidden Figures star Glen Powell and the late Bill Paxton, was an additional credit to why Natasha was so excited to play a critical role in Wallace’s latest project.

Natasha’s authentic relationship with her craft is reflected not only in her involvement with Trafficked, but the diverse range of roles she has played in a number of other high-profile film and television productions. She explains that “acting constantly challenges me,” and that “it allows me to explore the different aspects of myself, grow and constantly evolve, and tell a different story through each role that I play.” So while Trafficked represents a recent silver screen highlight of which Natasha was a key reason in its success, she is also experiencing extraordinary triumphs on the small screen too.

Film Poster for
Film Poster for “Trafficked” directed by Will Wallace

Most recently, Natasha was seen playing the critical role of Helena Michaels in the Amazon-Prime original series Music & Murder. Appearing alongside Atlanta TV star Tony Scott, the formally-trained actress added a great depth of intrigue as the mother of lead character Chastity Michaels, and thus provided important emotional life to a storyline about a talented music video producer who avoids life on the streets and finds success, only to be framed for murder.

In further support of her reputation as an actress capable of playing complex and fully-rounded characters, much like her South African compatriot Charlize Theron, Natasha plays reporter Angela Lee in the upcoming television pilot Stimulus. In this provocative series, Angela is torn between reporting the news and uncovering the truth, in a story that raises significant questions relating to race, politics, religion and prejudice.

Clearly, Natasha’s recent work shows she is an actress who sticks to her artistic values. She elucidates that she loves “any project or role that challenges” her, and that it’s crucial for the production to “tell a story that is in some way important and conveys a message.”  

Cinematographer Jon Keng captures beautiful moments in award-winning film “The Stairs”

Growing up in Singapore, Jon Keng was always interested in photography. This love for still images eventually grew into something more. This lifelong passion of looking through a lens transformed from still images to filmmaking, and now he is an internationally successful cinematographer.

Working all over the world, Keng has shown his extraordinary capability as a cinematographer on a variety of films. His work on the award-winning film Fata Morgana was screened at some of some of the world’s most prestigious film festivals, and this trend continued when he worked on Cocoon, Home, and Tadpoles. Last year, his film The Stairs premiered at Ashland International Film Festival 2016, where it won the grand prize of Best Short Film. It also was screened at the Festival 2016, the USA Palm Beach International Film Festival 2016, and the USA River’s Edge International Film Festival where it went on to win the Special Jury Prize for Best Film.

“It feels great to be validated by the success the film has been receiving,” said Keng.

The Stairs was initially conceptualized as a television series, based around a gay, high end male escort and the lonely men he meets each week. The film follows an older man who hires a male escort for company on Christmas Eve, finding an unexpected kinship with the young man in this late-night exploration of solitude, intimacy and the basic human need for connection.

“I was attracted to the script of The Stairs initially. On the surface, it seemed very ‘undramatic’, with the entire story centered around a long conversation scene, but digging deeper, I began to uncover many subtly hidden emotional beats and arcs that each character goes through. I thought this was very tasteful and I made it my challenge to make the piece visually arresting to keep the audience engaged through the long dialogues,” said Keng.

Keng describes the style he filmed in as very calculated, as he tried to focus on emphasizing each specific beat during the long dialogues in the scenes, in order to make sure that the audience fully understood what was occurring, which largely contributed to the success of the film.

“I also played around with themes of escalating visual connection between the two actors in the film, building up to a final point of disconnection,” he said.

Keng worked alongside an all-star cast and crew on The Stairs. The film stars Tony award nominated actor Anthony Heald (Silence of the Lambs, Boston Public, Red Dragon). It also starred Kelly Blatz (NCIS, Fear the Walking Dead, Aaron Stone) who co-directed the film with the writer Zach Bandler (Switched at Birth).

As a director who has worked and will continue to work with Jon at every opportunity, I can say without hesitation that he has the rarest of talent in cinema: instinct. Cinematography isn’t just a technical job where someone points a camera for you at the actors or figures out where the lights should be. A great cinematographer is as much a storyteller as the director or screenwriter. Watching Jon work, he is truly “one” with the camera. It’s an organic part of them. He makes it move like a human being in a way that draws the audience into film. He has a sense for the lighting that evokes the perfect emotional response for that moment in the story on screen. He possesses nuance, sensitivity, he is a leader in their own right, without whom a director would be lost. That type of talent cannot be learned or taught, because it’s God-given. Jon has it. He is an artist in the most profound sense of the word,” said Bandler.

All who worked with Keng on the film were impressed with his cinematographic instincts. Meg Steedle, an actress known for her work in Boardwalk Empire, Grey’s Anatomy, and American Horror Story, was a producer on the film. She describes Zeng’s work as masterful.

“Jon’s was a dream to have on set. He ran the camera, grip and electrical department with an efficiency and effectiveness that kept the film running on time while still capturing beautiful moments on screen. For a producer, someone like Jon is the ideal,” said Steedle. “He’s got a ridiculously bright future ahead of him in this industry and I intend to hire him every chance I get.”

The opportunity for Keng to work with such a distinguished cast and crew was a vital aspect to his experience working on The Stairs. Blatz and Bandler knew what he was capable of, and were very open to collaboration. This gave Keng the freedom he needed me to push himself visually and experiment, and watching the actors provided inspiration.

“It was a privilege to be able to work with Anthony Heald, a veteran actor with such a strong theatrical pedigree. I was really just transfixed watching him go through his long monologues, conveying a deep sense of emotion,” said Keng. “Kelly was amazing to watch on set, as he was both acting and directing the film. He would be acting in one moment, then switch to director’s mode and talk about shots. This takes a great amount of multitasking. Despite doing multiple overnight shoots in a row, he was still filled with energy and concentration, which he was able to bring across to the entire crew.”

Keng was also a multi-tasker on set, working all the way from pre-production to post-production, ensuring everything was executed to perfection. With commitment like that, there is no doubt as to why he is considered such an exemplary cinematographer.

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

The Pastor
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.

Hector Echavaria
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”).

Supakuma: The Japanese Music Producer Who Needs to be on your Radar

Record Producer Ikuma Matsuda
Record Producer Ikuma Matsuda aka Supakuma shot by Karlena Bucknor

Over the last few years music producer Ikuma Matsuda, known widely as ‘Supakuma,’ has blown onto the music radar with incredible force establishing a strong reputation for himself as a dynamic and diversely talented producer– especially in the rap and electronic scene.

One of Supakuma’s most recent stunners is the rap-driven club banger “Ram it Up” from LA-based artist Andre Xcellence. Engineered and produced by Supakuma, you can definitely feel the energy emanating from “Ram it Up,” it’s one that will pick you up off the couch and get you moving your way over to the club.

Despite Andre Xcellence’s Caribbean background, and the fact that reggae music is definitely in high demand in terms of current radio trends, the producer suggested they sidestep the mainstream market and go in a different direction.

“I thought it would be interesting to bring back the feel of early 2000s iconic sounds such as Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott and some of recent sound such as Nicki Minaj instead of following the current radio sound,” explained Supakuma. “The artist and his promotion team really liked the style.”

Though it was only released a month ago, “Ram it Up” has already drummed up some pretty impressive praise, with Boomshots saying: He had us from the moment he flipped Super Cat’s “Don Dada” hook over a frenetic Supakuma-produced track that sounds something like Diwali on steroids.”

The booty-shaking hip-hop dance beats created by Supakuma and Xcellence’s strong and often comical lyrics prove that these two have clearly formed a fruitful relationship. About working with Xcellence, Supakuma says,“He has great honesty to music. He always catches the concept of the music immediately and builds a strong vision of the story of the song when the music is talking to him. When the music is not talking to him, he never hesitates to speak up and say his opinion to everyone. That way I can show my idea and he shows his thoughts, which makes good chemistry. “

The music video for Andre Xcellence’s song “Ram It Up” is set to go into production shortly and is being handled by Richard Jackson, creative director of Haus of Gaga, the creative team that handles most of the clothing, props, stage sets and other visual aspects for Lady Gaga’s music videos and tours, such as the famous ‘egg vessel’ Lady Gaga arrived in at the 53rd Grammy Awards. The video is expected to be released before Coachella.

Aside from “Ram it Up,” Supakuma is currently producing and engineering Andre Xcellence’s EP, which is expected to be finished by the end of 2017.

About why he enjoys working with Supakuma, Andre Xcellence says, “Most of all I would say his spirit. He is a true student of the game. Supakuma’s  attention to detail and the way he goes about his craft of  producing a record is refreshing. To have someone who knows exactly where music is at in it’s current state and how best to release music to seamlessly integrate is priceless.”

Last year Interscope Records hired Supakuma to produce the beats, as well as record and audio engineer Reem Riches ft. Osbe Chill song “Everyday.” Osbe Chill got a huge boost in the industry in 2016 when he was co-signed by hip-hop veteran The Game, who helped spur seven-time Grammy Award winner Kendrick Lamar’s career when he took him on tour and featured him on “The R.E.D. Album”– and we all know how well that turned out.

Like all of Supakuma’s work to date, the results of Reem Riches song “Everyday” featuring Osbe Chill are flawless, it’s no wonder so many artists are vying to work with him. His beats bring a dark, chilling element to the song, which drives the vibe, but never overshadows the rapper’s vocals.

Originally from Japan, Supakuma has become known across genres for his work as the producer and engineer of Paramore Entertainment artists Calista Quinn’s pop single “Slumber Party,” which premiered exclusively on Radio Disney in 2016, and Maxso’s “Pressure.” He also engineered the song “If Only You Knew” by J.O Jetson, which hit no.17 on the U.S. National Radio Ranking charts in November, and Brian Justin Crum’s cover of “Creep,” which Crum sang on season 11 of NBC’s Primetime Emmy Award nominated series “America’s Got Talent.”

What’s so interesting about Supakuma’s work as a whole is the diversity of the projects he’s produced. However, considering the powerful set of qualifications, and range of influences that he brings to the table, it’s not surprising that he’s managed to produce and engineer hit songs for such a genre-diverse group of artists. Aside from producing and recording, he also plays guitar, bass, piano and drums.

About his musical progression over the years, Supakuma explains, “I started playing the guitar and was listening to rock and heavy metal, then I started to play classical music… I studied composition jazz and big band in college and now I produce a lot of pop music but honestly I fancy producing future dance music. I love the process of a very constructive and detailed way of approaching things.”

So how’d Ikuma Matsuda get the nickname Supakuma? Anyone who’s worked with the multi-talented producer and engineer can probably guess.

He explains, “An A&R from Interscope records saw how I was producing and I was playing almost all instruments and mixing very quick so he started Supakuma.”

From producing and engineering artists from some of the most popular record labels in the world such as Interscope Records and Sony Music’s The Orchard, as well as well-known independent labels like Andre Xcellence’s American Commission / Pink Money Records, Supakuma is clearly being sought out to take huge music productions from an idea in the artist’s mind and turn them into a fully realized listening experience. In addition to producing Andre Xcellence’s forthcoming EP, Supakuma is also currently working on an upcoming collab with Grammy Award winner Shafiq Husayn from Sa-Ra creative partners.

 

PRODUCER GIGI HUANG HAS AN ECLECTIC WORK PALETTE

headshot 6

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?

 

 

GREENWOOD ISN’T AFRAID OF THE ANTI-SEQUEL

sequence.Still001

There is a quote that is attributed to many fine actors that states, “Dying is easy. Comedy is difficult.” It has been repeated by Academy Award winners like Gregory Peck and Jack Lemmon (most consider Edmund Kean to be the originator) and speaks to the fact that making something seem spontaneous and light hearted takes a fair bit more convincing than a dire situation. There’s also a fairly common belief that the film industry takes itself too seriously and rejects mockery. This is a notion to which Canadian writer/producer/actor Troy Greenwood does not subscribe. As a part of the FAFC (Film Actors Fight Club), Greenwood helped create the award winning film Diamond Planet. With a very self-deprecating approach, Diamond Planet poked fun at filmmakers, the film industry, and even film students. In this production, fools abounded while intelligence was scarce. The film was so popular that Troy decided to write/produce and act in the sequel…a sequel which is in fact about a film that is not yet a film. As proof that filmmakers revel in self ridicule, Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon was embraced with greater enthusiasm than the original (winning at the Calgary Film Challenge and going on to screen at the Sun and Sand Film Festival in Mississippi). Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon is a testament to the fact that as long as creative individuals take themselves too seriously, there will be peers among them who remind us all how absurd they seem.

It has increasingly become commonplace for filmmakers to feed upon themselves, recycling films and themes from the past, sometimes even repeating the same current day premise but with different casts. While Diamond Planet shone a light on laughable concepts in modern film, Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon turns its gaze to the film industry’s lack of originality and ingenuity. It seems that the current M.O. is to go for a wide audience that assures box office rather than fosters new ideas and artists; at least for the most part. Greenwood had a clear idea for a sequel which immediately follows the action of the first film. In Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon, Ollie Swagger (the filmmaker from the original Diamond Planet) steals the idea for the “Diamond Planet” that was pitched in the first film. He’s going to try and sell the idea to a studio at the annual pitchtime event. Unfortunately for Ollie, when he was bragging about it the night before the meeting, his nemesis overheard him. The next day when they are seated together, Swagger starts into a pitch about “Diamond Planet”. In the film’s premise, the Diamond Planet will cross between the sun and the earth, magnifying the sun’s rays and burning the earth to a crisp. The government wants to send optometrists into space to change the curvature of the Diamond Planet rendering the rays harmless. However, Swagger’s nemesis jumps in, pitching his movie “Emerald Horizon” about a giant emerald planet and ophthalmologists in space. We, as the actual audience, see cuts back and forth between trailers for these films as they are pitched. Each trailer becomes more and more ridiculous until they’re basically turned into one complete parody of a movie; to which the studio’s representative responds “I like it, but how about a hamster!” The unseen wink with which Greenwood delivers the humor is obvious to all. One need not look too far into recent movie productions to see evidence of this scenario. Cutting to the core of the movie’s lesson, Troy notes, “Anything that tries too hard to purport itself is funny.”

DIAMOND PLANET 2 Final Cut.mp4.Still001

Due to the nature of “Diamond Planet” (the spoof movie) being a science fiction suspense thriller, the production value and the cast for this sequel necessitated a sizable increase from the original Diamond Planet. Because the original was so successful, it helped to propel much of the original cast and crew into busier careers and thus some key players proved unavailable for this sequel. Luckily the popularity of Diamond Planet attracted the interest and involvement of a large number of respected Canadian actors (both films are Canadian productions). This included noted theater and film actor Stuart Bentley. Greenwood’s prowess at a multitude of production roles, in addition to the script is what enticed Bentley to join the cast of Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon. He comments, “Over the years, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with Troy Greenwood on stage and in film. In a production of Inherit the Wind Troy gave a masterfully understated and relatable performance of the accused schoolteacher, Bertram Cates. Troy effortlessly navigated this difficult character, drawing in audiences and critical approval. I had the opportunity to act in Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon which Troy wrote, directed, and starred in. Troy had written a wonderfully funny script, and easily navigated the tricky job of acting and directing in his own production. He took great care of his cast and crew, and kept the production flowing on time, while being careful to ensure that every needed master and coverage shot was captured to realize his artistic vision. Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon was a great success with judges and audiences and continues to be one of my favorite film projects of the past several years.” In addition to Bentley, the considerably larger cast included notables such as Jesse Collin (Fargo), Helen Young, and many others. Troy remarks, “Stuart, Louie, and Helen were all a breeze to work with. Stuart’s presence as the president had a great gravitas to it.  He really milked the moments of humour in the script, nailing the timing of lines to keep the pacing moving as the film progressed. Helen was also wonderful to work with. I had an interesting shot envisioned where the camera rotates around her before landing on the president; she was a trooper repeating the sequence a number of times while we worked out the technical kinks with the camera movement.”

DIAMOND PLANET 2 Final Cut.mp4.Still017

Another positive aspect of any sequel is that the success of the initial production allows for a higher production value in the second installment. The aforementioned larger cast and a greater array of interesting locations (including the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory, and the Springbank Airport Flying Club), were augmented by state of the art VFX. Greenwood relates, “I invested money to buy specific models we needed through a 3D modelling page.  Specifically, I got two distinct space ships for the two different versions of the trailer within the film, and planet models for the solar system, and then a diamond model so that my VFX artist could place them into the editor and articulate them to create the sequences you see in the film.” In fact, Troy concedes that he had to make sure the graphics were not too professional, in order to add to the humor of the trailers and the actual film itself.

DIAMOND PLANET 2 Final Cut.mp4.Still012

Diamond Planet 2: Emerald Horizon represents a blind spot in the film industry. While a considerable number of studios and filmmakers steer towards repeating proven ideas rather than creating new ones, Troy Greenwood has found a way to turn that concept around and use it against the very premise it represents…and still be wildly entertaining. Greenwood refers to comedy as a unique beast, remarking that you can plan all you want but often what is required is to just sit back and watch. Be careful filmmakers, you are being watched.

DIAMOND PLANET 2 Final Cut.mp4.Still013

Everything you ever wanted to know about Hollywood's who's-who.