Zara Michales on Making an Impact

It’s become standard for well-known actors to represent companies in huge commercial campaigns.

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Zara currently fronts a huge campaign for Australia’s Colonial Bank. 

Acclaimed actor Zara Michales however does things a little differently. While Australians have seen her image plastered across TV and computer screens all over the country (and by extension, around the world) for Colonial First State’s savings campaign, Zara distinguished herself from fellow Aussie and The Mentalist star Simon Baker (himself known for fronting bank ANZ) by including her family in the campaign as well.

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It was a personal touch such as this which speaks to the integrity around which Zara’s career has been built – only taking on projects if she has a personal connection to them, rather than serving her ego. And it’s for this reason that she was tipped for a profile in our publication as an artist making an impact in all the right ways, through creative choices that help make the entertainment industry a better one to work in.

“I think it’s really important to only do things that you’re going to be proud of, and the Colonial campaign was one I knew I could look back on with fondness because I got to work with my parents – how good is that?”

She adds with a laugh, “I mean, everyone’s parents drive them crazy sometimes but they’ve been so supportive of me over the years so I knew it was really awesome to spend time on set with them.”

Zara’s starring role in the commercial campaign has attracted millions of eyeballs online and on the TV where the spot was first shown, and is a testament to the credence of her body of work that a respected company like Colonial wanted to work with a TV and film actress like Zara.

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“The company represents security and family, things I value a lot – so it was definitely something I wanted to be a part of when my agent called me about it.”

Of course, Zara wouldn’t have been approached to front a multi-million dollar company were it not for the credibility she’s built over many years in the entertainment business, attracting a growing fan base each year she adds a roster of projects to her resume.

Starring appearances at events like the Australian premieres of Snow White and the Huntsman and Thor: Ragnarok also can’t hurt. Zara adds with a laugh, “It’s always lovely to get invited to those events and help support other filmmakers and actors, especially Aussies doing well.”

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Zara alongside fellow Australian star, Avenger’s star Chris Hemsworth.

More important to Zara though were her involvements with UN International Women’s Day Breakfast, and her volunteering with the National Stroke Foundation. Each event, hosted by well-known newsreader Chris Bath, also boasted the attendance and support of fellow celebrities such as Sandra Sully, Kris Smith and Sarah Murdoch, just some of the high-profile entertainers like Zara who have merged entertainment with philanthropy.

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Zara at the UN International Women’s Day Breakfast.

Undeniably important to Zara though is her actual craft, as evidenced by her role in the feature film 2:22. In that fan-favourite feature film which attracted attracted notices from leading publication The Wrap for its compelling storyline, Zara took on the critical role of Ellie.

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Zara worked alongside Hacksaw Ridge’s Teresa Palmer and Game of Thrones’ Michiel Huisman.

Zara’s character was specially written for her, as she had originally auditioned for a different character months’ prior. The award-winning director Paul Currie, himself known for producing the Oscar-winning Hacksaw Ridge, wanted to meet with Zara to figure out what type of character he could write into the script for 2:22. If there’s a definition for ‘making it,’ our writers could be forgiven for using that hallmark of Zara’s career as an example. It’s not often that an acclaimed filmmaker like Paul customises his film to fit in an actor, but with the reputation Zara has cultivated over many years in the industry, it should come as no surprise she found herself on set working alongside fellow household name, Teresa Palmer.

“I remember first meeting Teresa at the Table read during pre-production. She was so lovely and was a very down to earth girl.”

The shoot proved to be demanding and challenging in all the right ways, as Zara’s character was crucial to the developments of the thrilling script.

Zara’s character of Ellie works in Air traffic control with Dylan, played by Game of Thrones’ and The Haunting of Hill House’s Michael Huisman’s character ‘Dylan’. Ellie, in true Zara-fashion, offered a funny and edgy character to the roster of roles in the film as she was Dylan’s ‘bad influence’ who likes to have fun.

“I took Dylan out and about on the town to get his mind off the major incident that happens at the beginning of the film where two planes had almost collided under his supervision.”

If it weren’t for Ellie, Dylan wouldn’t overcome his guilt and insecurities – crucial to the next set up that leads to the movie’s famous plot-twists.

At this point in the conversation with Zara, she wants to hold back from revealing too much about the feature’s plot so that readers can enjoy the film on their own via Netflix.

“It’s so gratifying to be an actor who’s a part of the Netflix family,” Zara says with a smile.

Zara’s work on 2:22 is just one in a number of edgy film projects that, she believes, helps innovating the film industry to challenge audiences in the most impactful way possible.

“I love playing vastly different characters…I’ve always try to work with the director to flesh out what the character needed to be in the life of the project.”

Indeed, Zara’s played everything from a tough and ruthless army officer to the spunky, sassy, confident, hot blooded girlfriend.

In Crossing Paths, Zara joins the trend established by Black Mirror by taking part in an interactive film, where she plays the leading role of Lena.  The director of Crossing Paths, JJ Winlove, is also in talks with Margot Robbie’s company LuckyChap Entertainment to produce a feature script.

It goes without saying that Zara’s on a great run; something though which hasn’t come out of luck, but instead due to hard work and smart choices.

“I’ve had to work really hard, and developed new skills along the way.”

For her role in US series Childhood’s End, which was filmed in Australia, Zara had to perfect a Latin American accent with a coach. The hard work paid off, as she proved to be critical to the show’s storyline.

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Another show in which Zara appeared, the US SyFy mini-series Childhood’s End.

“In the first episode my character Freya abducts and interrogates the lead Ricky Stormgren played by Mike Vogel.  From this point of the story onwards the plot catapults forwards and everything more or less descends into chaos.”

In real life though, Zara’s less of antagonist and more of an agent for positive change. Something she hopes to do in the near future as she gears up for a role in a US feature film.

“I’m really excited,” Zara adds with a smile.

The same can be said we’re sure for our readers.

Adam Flipp photographs luxury California fashion brand Johnny Was

Adam Flipp2From the moment Adam Flipp began exploring the art of photography, he found himself enchanted by its limitless possibilities. He knew early on that he was destined to explore a career in the medium and set out to become a still life photographer specializing in advertising. However, with his vast technical knowledge, he soon found himself in the fashion world, and he knew he was meant to become a fashion and portrait photographer.

“I think it was my destiny as my great grandfather owned a large fashion manufacturing business in New Zealand and I realized I had an understanding of fashion as it was in my blood,” he said.

Now, Flipp is a sought-after photographer in his home country of New Zealand and abroad. Millions have seen his work, whether on television with Australia’s Next Top Model, or in print, like in Marie Claire. He has shot for Nike, Canon, Converse, and more, with internationally renowned brands seeking him out for his extraordinary talent.

Across the pond, Flipp has been making quite a name for himself as well, working with well-known American brands, including California fashion company Johnny Was. Johnny Was is luxury boho chic clothing and accessories with vintage inspired style, which Flipp knew would make for a creative and fun project, and it was right in his wheelhouse. The Johnny Was Australian wholesaler reached out to the photographer after seeing work he had done for Grazia, knowing he could turn their campaign into a success.

Just like the universal and timeless appeal of a great song, Johnny Was designs clothes that cross cultures and defy trends. With a bohemian spirit and a true sense of authenticity, they take our inspiration from anything that is beautiful, genuine and special—a striking piece of artwork, the luxurious hand-stitching on a vintage dress or the natural simplicity of a vibrant bougainvillea. Their signature embroideries and effortless silhouettes are unparalleled. After more than 30 years of their artisan-inspired stitch work and luxe fabrications, the undying allure speaks for itself. For the woman looking to showcase her personal style, while appreciating the thoughtful details of timeless techniques. An aesthetic that embraces their California-based lifestyle but always with a global vision. It’s the gorgeous details in life that make it beautiful, and that’s what they strive to create with Johnny Was. Embrace the beauty, look beyond and enjoy the journey.

“The vibe and the clothes are beautiful. Working with brands from America is a dream come true for me as I consider the US to be at the center of the world for professionalism. My aspirations and influences are all based there,” said Flipp.

In 2018, the Jonny Was team traveled to Sydney Australia to shoot two catalogues at iconic locations in the country. Flipp shot the Spring 2018 catalogue on Sydney harbor and famous palm beach area. He shot the Summer 2018 catalogue on Hyams beach south coast NSW, which features some of the whitest sand in the world. These two catalogues were some of Johnny Was’ most successful catalogues to date.

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“It’s fantastic. It is really great to be able to shoot such a successful catalogue to a very established brand,” said Flipp.

Flipp had never worked with the Johnny Was team before shooting that Spring catalogue, so he didn’t know what to expect. He quickly earned their trust, showcasing his extensive experience which proved essential to the job. They shot on ships, with horses, and in mega mansions, all settings he was very familiar with, which ensured a smooth shoot.

Whenever Flipp arrives on a job, he focuses on the energy of the models, making sure they are happy as that is what will come across in the pictures. He was pleased to discover Johnny Was was also all about good energy and he therefore managed to capture that in every shot.

“The team from Johnny Was were amazing. They traveled all the way from the United States, but still managed to keep the energy up the whole trip. They were so professional and a pleasure to work with,” he said.

Stay up-to-date with Flipp’s work by checking out his website.

A Chat with the Stars: Q&A with Colombian Actress Juliana Betancourth

Hailing from the small town of Don Matias, Colombia, Juliana Betancourth dreamed of one day becoming an actress since she was a little girl, and today is one of the country’s most recognizable stars. She has worked alongside renowned talent and greatly contributed to the success of celebrated productions like Therapy and Bite! as well as working with some of the world’s most recognized brands on national commercials, like Walmart.

Extending her talents to music videos, Betancourth knows how to captivate an audience within the few minutes of a song. One of her career highlights was teaming up with hit hip-hop artist Casso Blax on his video “How to Treat a Woman.”

This video was published on platforms such as The Link Up, YouTube and other download platforms. It was presented on musical channels and had a great reception in the European urban genre. After this success, Casso Blax was hired to perform in different places and cities. This song is also found on Spotify and iTunes.

You can watch the video here, and in the meantime, check out the interview below.

TTN: Why did you want to work on this project?

JB: After having worked in television, cinema, theater, and commercials … the only thing I was missing was being in a music video. Maybe because I never wanted to be in one before, I felt it was more modeling work than acting … and wow I was wrong!

When Cris Samuels, the director, looked for me through my agent, he told me about the great reception Casso Blax had in the United Kingdom, and he explained that the message of the video dignified women and love.

I felt that this could be the ideal project for making my first music video. Later I would make two more videos in Los Angeles for other artists.

TTN: How did you become part of it?

JB: Cris researched my career in Colombia and Spain and  knew that I had just arrived to live in London, so he looked for me. In England, there is no strong Latin presence, so they still see women from Latin America as very exotic.

This was precisely the kind of character he wanted to show. Someone who had good chemistry with Casso Blax but who in turn contrasts racially. We had a couple of meetings, he introduced me to the artist, we did camera tests, we went to see him sing live at an event. I met his work team and his followers. They really wanted me in the project and I was convinced that it was the right one for me to break into music videos for the first time.

TTN: What was it like working with Casso Blax?

JB: He is an artist in his genre. He composes the lyrics of his songs, the music, makes live presentations. We had a very professional and respectful deal, he was very praised for the fact that I wanted to work on his music video and that I also like his music.

It was essential that we had trust and respect between the two of us, because as an actress I need those spaces to be able to do my work, especially in sensual or romantic scenes.

Casso is a singer who has had to fight a lot in his life to achieve success, has overcome the barriers of racism and an elitist industry.

TTN: What was it like working on this project?

JB: Due to the previous meetings, there was already a friendly chemistry between all of us, so the shooting day was very simple, Casso and I got in front of the camera, the song started to play and we did what we were feeling.  If I wanted to dance towards him, or embrace him, while he sang or interacted with me, I did so naturally.

The directions of the director were very simple, he did not want to interfere with the organic moment, and wanted the interaction to feel natural. I always avoided accepting sensual woman projects, specifically to avoid stereotypes, but as I said before, their argument convinced me.

TTN: What was your character like?

JB: I was Casso’s official girlfriend in this video, the woman he chooses over all other women, the only one who can seduce him, and with whom he wants to spend his time.

A Latina woman with sensual movements, loving, powerful and fragile at the same time. It was a very organic character, the perfect balance between that seductive woman we all carry inside, and the woman who falls deeply in love with his masculine and protective figure.

TTN: How did your character fit into the story of the video?

JB: The whole song is written around her, that character that should be his queen, who does not have to compete with anyone else for his love. It shows Casso rejecting the seductions of the other women, but not those of my character. He talks about how he should treat her well so that she stays with him all her life.

In addition to acting skills, I had to have skills for a specific dance, sensual, but not vulgar. I needed to know how to express the rhythms of this song with movements.

TTN: What did you like about working on this project?

JB: From the beginning I liked the way Cris approached me, inviting me to meet the artist first, his music, his followers, he was in charge of showing me the music record support that Casso had and the recognition in his industry.

We were a couple with chemistry and my participation could open doors in Latin American countries and Spain. The recording was very easy and quiet, without many shots, everything was very fresh and I felt very comfortable. It’s a song that I liked. The admiration, in this case, is a determining factor for me.

TTN: What do you like about the video itself?

JB: Urban music has been sadly characterized by having misogynist lyrics, in which it is socially accepted to denigrate women or to advocate that men may have several women. This song says the opposite, speaks of monogamy, to value the woman you have, to be a true man. And this is more in alignment with my way of thinking and my values.

For the other two music videos that I have done “Déjame Ayudar” by JC Gonzales and “Si me dejas Ahora” by Fernando Rodríguez, they have been songs that defend the empowerment of women.

TTN: How does it feel knowing the project has been such a success?

JB: Knowing that my image has been going through all these European music platforms is very rewarding, as it is seeing that Casso’s career continued to rise after our video together. I never imagined that participation in a music video could bring me so many other projects. Blax fans, for example, became fans of mine and they now follow my work.

 

Photo by Jhonatan Tabares 

Mohit Soni Refuses To Slow Down

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Producer Mohit Soni

While there are many international talents that come to Hollywood from across the globe to pursue their filmmaking dreams, few have been able to seamlessly transition quite like Mohit Soni. Having worked on over 30 projects since 2013, the Rajasthan-born producer and director made major headway in the industry in a relatively short amount of time.

A testament to his incredible work ethic and ability to network within the film industry, he has worked on movies starring international celebrities such as action star Paul Logan from the films Code Red, American Warfighter, The Sandman, Circus Kane and more. Soni collaborated with Logan on Loss of Grace, a high-profile film that has been shrouded in secrecy, for which he not only managed day-to-day operations but the overall production.

While there are some producers that strictly handle the logistics of a particular project, Soni is more involved, and is genuinely interested in the motivations of the artists that he works with. He also has collaborated with writers with respect to polishing and writing skills, hiring the right talent for certain roles, and assisting with conflict management and logistics. He has also has negotiated showings in various festivals and competitions with respect to projects that he was involved in, as well.

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Mohit Soni’s film “Hinjews”

Soni truly realized his love for production when he worked as a producer on Hinjews, and realized that he loved putting the puzzle pieces together when it came to completing a successful film project. He also loves putting his social skills to use, whether it involves mediating between personality clashes, figuring out the financial breakdown of projects with others, helping to oversee post-production, or marketing the project on a large scale.

Another notable project that Soni was heavily involved in was the 2017 movie Bridging Color, a touching South Korean drama directed by Chang Hyung Park. The movie follows a world-renowned arrogant artist that goes colorblind, and the resulting revelations that he has about his ego, status, and life in general. The touching movie has been widely praised in festivals around the world. The film was awarded at the 2017 Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards, the 2017 Rochester International Film Festival Awards, and the 2017 Short To The Point International Film Festival, and earned nominations from six other prestigious festivals.

Exploring themes of perception and individuality in a meaningful way, Bridging Color,  which was released on Amazon this week, served as Chang-Hyun Park’s first commercial film, and Soni was integral to bringing his creative vision to life. From inception to completion, Soni’s participation as the film’s producer ensured that the production was executed smoothly.

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Poster for “Bridging Color”

In addition to his long list of film credits, Soni produced the music video “Ishq Nashila” by actor, rapper and film star, Sapra. Exploring the dangers of substance abuse, the video emphasizes the idea that love is more powerful than any drug, with Sapra conveying a positive message over a hypnotizing, pulsating instrumental. The expert cinematography and lush imagery helped propel the video to over 100,000 views on Youtube. Soni was inspired by the personal connection that Sapra had to the subject matter, considering that one of his close friends had fallen prey to drug addiction. Soni says he was attracted to the idea of creating a musical narrative rather than a typical music video, and the fact that it also had such a positive message.

The collaboration also led to Soni producing Sapra’s music video “Coco,” which explored the idea of how detrimental cocaine addiction can be. Here, Soni was able to experiment more with cinematography while again communicating the idea that passion is more important and real than a drug can ever be, and that drugs are a momentary escape rather than a real solution.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, Soni displays his versatility through his work on Blood and Water, a Victorian-era period piece about love, family, and deception. Soni was able to step in when necessary, adapt to different personalities, manage conflict, and fill in for certain roles for emergency purposes, as well.

Unlike many other producers, Soni is deeply passionate about the products that he is involved in, and enjoys working with other like-minded creative spirits. It is clear that Mohit Soni truly feels rewarded on every unique project that he has been a part of, and his abundant passion will only lead to new projects and broader horizons.

 

South African Producer Ricky Cruz starts Production on Horror Film “Night of the Macabre”

Producer Ricky Cruz
Producer Ricky Cruz

When award-winning filmmaker Taylor Paluso (“Unholy Night”) of Standard Motion Pictures  was looking for a strong producer to join forces with on the upcoming feature film “Night of the Macabre,” South African producer Ricky Cruz instantly popped into his mind. Though Cruz has only been in Hollywood for a few years, he’s quickly made a noteworthy impact– the proof lay in the 15 or so awards he’s earned from festivals around the world in a relatively short amount of time.

In search of a producer with a celebrated track record of award-winning films and a strong grasp of the film’s concept and desired tone, the production team behind “Night of the Macabre” didn’t need to look further than Cruz. Having collaborated with Cruz on several occasions before, such as the film “Red Christmas,” which was chosen as an OFFICIAL SELECTION of the Horror Haus Festival last year, director Taylor Paluso knew Cruz was the perfect producer to bring on board his new horror film.

Paluso says, “I have had the pleasure of collaborating with Ricky on previous projects. He is a hard working, results driven individual who would be a valuable asset to any production. Plus we collaborate extremely well together so it was imperative to have him onboard Night of the Macabre.”

The upcoming horror film “Night of the Macabre” centers on a despondent traveling nurse who finds herself in an increasingly dark and menacing situation after accepting an invitation to spend the holidays with a colleague.

“The sinister and creepy atmosphere of the film sets the stage for a powerful narrative following one woman’s journey to find the will to live again,”  explains producer Ricky Cruz. “‘Night of The Macabre’ played directly into the current preferred genre I was looking to explore. After reading the script, I also realized I had an ideal location available and in mind to be used for the film, which production was still looking to secure and access to and some potential name talent who were a great fit for some characters in the script.”

With an upcoming slate of horror and thriller films on deck, such as the film “AntiHero” directed by Screen Actors Guild nominee and 48 hour Film Project Award winner Michael McCartney, Cruz felt that “Night of the Macabre” was the perfect addition to his creative roster.

“I have been a fan of horror films for as long as I can remember and have always wanted to contribute to the genre I hold so close to my heart. There’s something so wonderfully twisted about the juxtaposition of a holiday like Christmas, which is typically associated with joy, filled with horror and terror,” says Cruz. “With the recent success of the short film ‘Red Christmas,’ I was eager to return and creatively explore the horror genre. Horror films have time and again proven their commercial potential and repeat viewership and ‘Night of The Macabre’ is a horror film that offers the opportunity to produce a terrifying film with the interesting backdrop of Christmas.”

Last year Cruz dazzled horror fans with his performance in the starring role of Rico in Paluso’s film “Red Christmas,” which revolves around a serial killer’s plan to dispose of his most recent victim on Christmas Eve and the mishaps that ensue with the arrival of an unexpected guest.

“You don’t have to speak a certain language to get scared or appreciate the powerful contrast present in a Christmas horror film,” says Cruz.

Without giving too much “Night of the Macabre’s” plot line away, we can say that the film’s main character, the nurse, finds herself in a dark situation where ill-intentioned individuals work to overpower her through the use of ancient rituals– an element of the story that Cruz found particularly exciting.

He says, “The script explores a personal area of interest in the form of pagan rituals and sacrifices, that I have long considered to be a great fuel for suspense and horror films, with some of my favorite films in the genre centering around cults and their respective terrifying practices.”

Set to begin principle photography early next year, Cruz and the team behind “Night of the Macabre” are already fully involved in the planning phase of the production. Cruz is currently handling the pre-production logistics for the film, such as location scouting, facilitating communication between film departments, acquiring permits, insurance and scheduling the actual day to day flow of the production’s filming schedule. Once filming begins Cruz will also be an active member of the production team as a multi-faceted coordinator taking care of the film’s talent management, general production office and unit management.

“The opportunity to demonstrate my versatile producer abilities excites me not only because of my love for the genre but because of the opportunity to bring and implement my signature brand of off beat character humor into the genre,” says Cruz.

Through the plethora of award-winning projects he has brought to the screen over the years as an actor, director and producer, such as the films “Foible” and “The Neighbor,” which were awarded at the 2018 IndieFEST Film Awards, and “Pigeon Hole,” which took home the Jury Prize from the Lisbon Film Rendezvous, Cruz has become revered for his offbeat style. With more than 15 awards under his belt, all of which lend themselves as proof of his extraordinary talent and unique creativity, Cruz brings a special flavor to the modern film market.

“I love a hybrid blend between outlandish characters and awkward and uncomfortable humor because not only was that the humor I grew up on, but I think it is the most honest depiction of life,” explains Cruz. “I am attracted to real and relatable stories told through the perspective of a dynamic character. The projects that I produce differ from on another in very extreme ways but they all share a root in that the message being conveyed is being told through and/or by a quirky and unconventional means.”

With several projects on deck, such as the upcoming film “Anti-Hero,” a hand full of music videos that are yet to be announced and now, the film “Night of the Macabre,” Cruz is busy doing what he loves and bringing exciting stories to the screen.

Costume Designer Lucy Song’s Attention to Detail Shines in “The Poison of Grapefruit”

Often times, the way in which a person is dressed offers one of the biggest and most immediate insights into who they are as a person. A viewer, if looking closely, forms a judgement, whether consciously or not, in regard to this person’s attitude, mannerisms, and beliefs. In a way, one’s costume becomes a visual introduction to their story, and the same thing goes for the characters in a film. A film’s costume design is a key component in building its characters and pulling us into their story, something world renowned costume designer Lucy Song knows all about.

Originally from Seoul, South Korea, Song was always fascinated and inspired by the world of costume design, but it was in Los Angeles while studying fashion design where she leaned fully into her passion.

Costume Designer Lucy Song

“Having a strong fashion industry background built the necessary foundation for me to bridge the move to being a costume designer,” Song explains. “They are very different jobs, but they utilize a lot of the same skill sets, which allowed me to marry both fields together and develop a unique style and approach to the costume design industry.”

Without question, Song’s cross-training in the field sets her apart from others. With a larger understanding of the garment industry, her ability to dress her actors exceeds far beyond the industry standard. In fact, Song’s extensive training has even enabled her to craft stunning and elaborate costume pieces by hand, if necessary.

A critical part of the costume designer’s job is the ability to capture what a director wants to articulate about a character on a visual level. In this sense, Song is nothing short of brilliant.

“Many directors have a vision of the film’s mood and tone, but not the exact costume design or look,” says Song. “[I then do] the necessary research to present key costumes based on mood, color, texture, tone, time period, and character personalities presented in the script, so that the director’s exact visual statement is captured.”

From her research, Song creates a lookbook and costume plot for each character with hand-made sketches and photos to present to the director and the production team. Once the script is cast, she goes in again, this time tailoring her vision to each individual actor. What audiences see on screen is, in essence, the final step in a much longer process, that of which Song makes look easy and, well, rather seamless.

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Poster for “The Poison of Grapefruit”

A beaming example of her strength as a costume designer can be seen in “The Poison of Grapefruit,” which was chosen as an Official Selection of the Marina Del Rey Film Festival and the Los Angeles Film and Script Festival.

A film set primarily in a courthouse, “The Poison of Grapefruit” takes the audience into the heart of a murder trial, and into the mind of an “obnoxious but fascinating anti-hero.”

The film’s costume design is poignant and beautiful, without being distracting or cliche. As Song tells it, “My job as a costume designer in these types of situations is to provide costumes that serve the characters so the story can be conveyed in an authentic tone. I enjoyed designing the formal prison guard uniforms from that time period, as there were several details to capture; all the shapes, textures and accessories were very interesting to research and put together.”

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Actors Mason Shortland, David Air (center) & Timothy Haug in “The Poison of Grapefruit”

When designing clothing for a film, precise attention must be paid to the color pallet. Too bold, and it can result in upstaging the action and importance of the scene itself, and too mute, and the action can be swallowed by the surroundings. To avoid this, Song refrained from using orange or white prison uniforms, and instead chose dark blue and sage uniforms to ensure an effective result. Her ability to blend while still drawing enough attention to detail is profound in the industry.

It’s easy to be pulled from the context of a film by background costumes in a scene that don’t fit into the film’s visual statement. Song didn’t only focus on the main players in the story, but she paid close attention to the background actors in “Poison of a Grapefruit” as well. Song dressed the actors in complementary tones, all while staying on schedule and true to the film’s budget.

Song’s commitment to the director from beginning to end was also exemplary. “The director needed a very specific time period to be represented, so it took some time to ensure we met that vision, but I honestly had so much fun doing it that it got me through some sleepless nights,” Song recalls.

“The vibe I wanted to create with the costumes styles was in the vein of a period drama. I ended up going with tones and colors of browns, cold navy blues, and blacks to represent and stay within the tone of the story.”

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Actors Mason Shortland, Mike Capozzi, and Timothy Haug in “The Poison of Grapefruit”

Not only has Song created such a world, but it all works together aesthetically– each actor’s costume seems to compliment the others, all while staying visually exciting and perfectly executed.

While many people are involved in the production of a successful film, the costume designer is an integral and often overlooked part of the equation. Lucy Song is an exceptional costume designer, creating masterpiece after masterpiece, giving each actor the gift of furthering his story visually, and sometimes even enhancing an actor’s performance by providing confidence and believability. The film industry is truly lucky to have talents like Song, and audiences everywhere await her next project with excitement and anticipation.

Producer Clara Levy Brings Powerful Stories to the Screen

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Producer Clara Levy at the Deauville Film Festival

Producing a film or television series requires an immense amount of planning, impeccable attention to detail in terms of financing, a unique style of diplomacy and the capacity to work with a plethora of different personalities and the ability to see the overall picture and end result before filming ever begins. While the actors and directors often earn the most credit in the public eye, the producer behind a project is arguably the most instrumental contributor. Without them, a project simply wouldn’t happen.

One of the beautiful things about the film industry is that every once in a while a motivated leader who’s eager to help others tell their story comes along, and that’s certainly the case with producer Clara Levy. Hailing from France, Levy moved to Los Angeles in 2017 where she helped kickstart Blackpills’ US production branch. Helping to place the Blackpills’ name on the tongue of everyone in the industry, Levy has continued to produce award-winning and globally recognized productions for the company, such as the film “Dead Women Walking,” the series “Junior,” “Do Not Disturb,” “Bonding,” “First Love” and more.

Though she is now a highly sought after producer, her entry into the film industry several years ago unfolded after a stint of working in Parisian politics. In 2013 Levy was working at Paris City Hall for Anne Hidalgo, who made history and international headlines for becoming the first female mayor of one of the most well-known cities in the world. There, Levy coordinated press campaigns for the mayor and organized massive campaigns such as the Global Conference Of Locally Elected Women, all experiences that would prepare her for the logistical skills necessary to become a Hollywood producer.

After her stint at the Mayoral Office, Levy embraced her love of film, and joined Canal+, where she helped with marketing critically-acclaimed series such as The Bureau and Spiral, and was also instrumental in creating unscripted content and documentaries.

Soon after she was hired on as a creative executive at the Blackpills office in Paris, which eventually led her to Los Angeles where she was the lead producer on the critically-acclaimed film Dead Women Walking, a film about women on death row directed by Hagar Ben-Asher. Hagar Ben-Asher had previously been nominated at the Cannes Festival for The Slut.

Dead Women Walking received standing ovations at some of the most respected film festivals in the world, including the Tribeca Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, and dozens more, which has led to many discussions about a distribution deal with various major studios. The production featured an almost all-female cast and crew, including well-known actresses such as Ashton Sanders (featured in the Oscar winning-film Moonlight), Dot Marie-Jones (Glee), and Lynn Collins of X-Men fame.

"Junior"

Since entering the film and television world as a producer, Levy has continued to work with the best of the best. In 2016 she began working closely with Zoe Cassavetes, daughter of the legendary John Cassavetes, on the Gotham Award nominated series Junior.

Junior is one of the first projects that Levy worked on as part of the Blackpills team, and it is special in that Zoe Cassavetes had such as specific vision for the film. Centering on the theme excitement and danger of adolescence, Junior follows a 16 year-old whose mother’s new boyfriend tempts her to explore a darker side of herself. Zoe captured the coming-of-age experience in a fresh and modern way, and Levy helped bring Zoe’s subtle genius to life.

“[Junior] tackles adolescence in a way that we can all relate. It makes you travel in time and go back to this place when you are still exploring who you are and discovering it slowly,” says Levy. “I loved being so close to an auteur such as Zoe. Her directing is very special as it brings so many additional layers to her story. It’s something very hard to achieve and she mastered it.”

Levy recently worked on the soon-to-be-released anthology series Do Not Disturb, which marks the directorial debut of internationally-known actor Jude Law. The upcoming series was chosen among thousands of series for the Cannaseries Festival, which takes place before the Cannes Festival, one of the most well-known film festivals in the world.

Do Not Disturb takes a unique look at the private lives that we hide from the world, and is unique in that the series isn’t loyal to a specific genre. Starring celebrated actors such as Monica Belluci (The Matrix Reloaded), Jack Huston (Kill Your Darlings), Ralph Ineson (The Witch) and Edward Holcroft (Vampire Academy), Do Not Disturb brings to life the wide array of experiences that take place behind the “Do Not Disturb” signs on hotel rooms. The series is dedicated to telling personal stories that incorporate different genres and unique characters that hail from all over the world, and explores the more private and dark aspects of human nature in general.

“Do Not Disturb is really an unidentified artistic object ! It brought together so many talent and artist on such an intimate theme,” says Levy. “The theme of the project, looking into how people deal with their secret life and their dark side was amazing to tackle, and it felt that the anthology format gave us the opportunity to really explore so many side of this human problematic.”

"Bonding"
Poster for “Bonding”

As if all of this wasn’t enough, she has also been working diligently on the upcoming series Bonding, which was co-produced by Anonymous Content, the production company that was instrumental in such critically-acclaimed series as True Detective, The Knick, and Mr. Robot. Netflix purchased the series and the series is expected to launch sometime this month.

Levy’s curated and managed several writer’s room in Tel Aviv, all while developing and producing an astonishing portfolio of award-winning series during her time at Blackpills, which has been praised as “the future of TV” by French newspaper Le Monde. She has proved quite instrumental to Blackpills’ success, most notably because of her motivation, work ethic, and discerning eye for talent. That is why it is no surprise that in March 2017 she was promoted to Director of Development at Blackpills, where she works in her present capacity. Levy is responsible for signing talent of all kinds, including writers, directors, and digital talent to help create compelling content and grow the company. She now builds and maintains partnerships with all major US agencies and management companies.

Clara Levy is not afraid to sign new talent, shake up the status quo, or introduce new ideas to the companies that she works for, so she often proves to be a much more incredible asset than they first realize. She consistently stands out as being able to help true visionaries tell important and relevant stories, and it’s very clear that Clara Levy is not stopping anytime soon.

 

Compositor Ranran Meng takes audiences back to 1970s NYC for HBO’s ‘The Deuce’

For Ranran Meng, compositing is like decorating a building; as the final step of the filmmaking process, her role as a compositor, is to make a scene look complete and beautiful, just as an interior decorator would a room. She makes the footage look the best it can possibly look, ready for audiences all over the world to be taken in by the story, transported to different places and time, and to be purely entertained.

Meng has put her extraordinary touch on many of the world’s most popular recent films and television shows. These include Netflix’s hit rom-com Set it Up, Amazon’s award-winning television series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and the Emmy-nominated film Fahrenheit 451, to name a few. Her talents extend to commercials, collaborating with iconic brands like Microsoft, as well as virtual reality, having worked on the Harry Potter franchise award-winning video game The Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them VR Experience in 2018.

Last year, Meng also worked on the second season of HBO’s Golden Globe nominated series The Deuce, starring James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Based in 1970s New York, this show gives a raw and gritty portrayal of the prostitution business that was so publicly executed at that time. As a result of police crack-down, the characters are forced to venture towards relatively safer and more discrete forms of the same work.

Meng, already a fan of the show’s first season, was happy to use her talents on such an enticing story, even if it meant she would be exposed to some spoilers.

I have not watched any show talk about the porn industry before, so this was a really unique project to be a part of. The story involves the government and police corruption, the violence of the drug epidemic and the real-estate booms and busts that coincided with the change. It really allows viewers to imagine what 1970s New York City was like,” she said. “I love the old stories and the older looking sets, it’s like seeing something from the past, even if it is not a true story. It gives an idea of what the old society was like, making it real for audiences.”

When working on The Deuce, Meng had a tremendous amount of responsibilities, making sure the VFX would really allow audiences to transport back in time to the 1970s without being noticeable. To do this, she used compositing techniques like 2D tracking, 3D tracking, roto and paint skills. In the original footage, there were modern things in the background that wouldn’t work with the time period, so she used her software to replace this with older images, making every detail work for 70s New York City.

These small details included erasing modern road stripes or signals and replacing them with the older styles, which meant she had to 3D track the scene and simulate a 3D scene of it, and then use paint techniques to paint out a newer, cleaner, no-stripes road image. She would then project the new painted road image on the 3D space and bring in a 2D plate, and then add new render stripes footage. Finally, after bringing back the cars, she used 2D tracking and roto/paint skills to do the motion work and to simulate the exact same traffic lights and shadows to bring them back to the scene. This made the scenes still have the same shooting elements, but with a perfect, older environment. Viewers may not notice things like the road signals in the background of a dramatic scene, but they would notice them if they were modernized, which is why Meng takes such care and pride in her job.

“This project is the story about the 1970s in New York, so it is interesting to make a modern city into an old-time city. I enjoyed the process of seeing how the city changed. It let me know how accurate the scene should be for output, as even a little light sign should be changed back to that period. It really magnified my attention to detail,” said Meng.

Meng’s work allowed The Deuce to be more believable and precise, allowing viewers to have the ideal entertainment experience from the couch of their homes. She used advanced high compositing techniques to achieve photoreal effects, making her indispensable to putting together such a high-end television show.

“I am proud of myself to have been a part of this great project. The post-production did a very good job and presented a real 1970s New York City to the audiences. I had a good experience working with my team and I am very much looking forward to the show’s next season,” she concluded.

The Deuce will return later this year on HBO.

Zichen Tang uses cinematography to show a story, not tell it

The importance of cinematography, says Zichen Tang, a master of his craft, does not lie with whether an image is real or not, but if one can make the audience believe it is real. With this approach, Tang continuously transports audiences to different places and times, immersing his viewers in the world he has created through his work. He likes to express himself through his art, knowing his fans enjoy his individualistic approach.

“Cinematography is sharing your story not by telling it, but showing it,” he said.

Throughout his esteemed career, Tang has proven time and time again why he is a sought-after cinematographer in his home of China and internationally. Whether creating a viral video, like the humorous and enlightening Unspoken Rules of Chinese Gift Giving or an award-winning film such as The Last Lesbian, Tang’s talents are always on display.

Yet another success story for Tang came last year with his award-winning film The Somnium. It is the story of a single mother who can’t recover from the loss of her beloved son and joins a research program to live in a dream state of her memories, while her mom fights with her to keep her in the present reality.

“The story was interesting. When I first read the story, it reminded me of an episode of my favorite show, Black Mirror. I always wanted to make a film like that. I like it because it’s not an ordinary ‘happy ending’ film, but the type of story that makes people think. On the surface, it alarms the potential harm that technology could bring to us, but deep down it was the mom’s choice that caused the tragedy. So, the core is really about humanity,” said Tang.

The Somnium premiered last year at the Los Angeles Independent Film Awards, where Tang was nominated for Best Cinematography. He was awarded Best Cinematography at the Los Angeles Film Awards, where the film also took home Best Director and Best Editing. The film made its way to several more festivals throughout the year, winning more awards and enthralling audiences all over the world with the help of Tang’s work.

“I was thrilled when the awards started to be announced one by one, while at the same time I feel we deserved it. Everyone on this project was talented and worked really hard. They believe in the story,” said Tang.

Tang was asked to come on board by Director Jingyu Liu, who had always wanted to work with the cinematographer after seeing his work. Tang was eager to form a partnership, advising her on her previous film, Shallow Grave, which was nominated for Golden Reel Award. When Liu sent Tang the script, he knew instantly this would be a great project for them to take on together.

“I was thrilled after reading the script. It was still a draft, but I could already tell its potential. The director and I have very similar tastes, so during pre-production, instead of trying to convince each other of things, we were inspiring each other. Often there would be many disagreements between cinematographers and directors, but on this project, we seldom had a disagreement. Instead, we have been focusing on finding better and more creative ways to tell the story, making the process rather delightful,” said Tang.

Making The Somnium was fun and rewarding for Tang. As a cinematographer, he was heavily involved in the script, putting his heart into the project from the very beginning to the very end, going through almost 20 drafts as it changed from the first draft to the final production.

“I was developing the story with the director all the time, and during that process, we had been talking about how we should shoot it as well. Often filmmakers have a problem when they find out something in the script is wonderful in theory but can’t be expressed visually. That was never a problem for this project. I was a visual consultant during script development and made sure this is a story that would be best told in the form of film,” he described.

The Somnium was just one of Tang’s many award-winning projects last year, and he has a lot lined up this year to continue his success and keep showing the world his outstanding talent as a cinematographer. It wasn’t always an easy path to get to where he is today, but he always persevered, and it was well worth it. He knows he will never stop learning new tricks of the trade and is eager for every new project he takes on.

“The best way to make it in cinematography is to learn from others. There’s a saying, ‘good artists copy, but great artists steal.’ It’s not encouraging plagiarism or anything, but saying that we should watch what other artists have done, think why they did it, and learn from them,” he advised.

Storytelling for Social Justice

Ishita Srivastava
Digital Content Producer Ishita Srivastava

Human beings have been reminded, time and again, thanks to history, that they haven’t always thought and acted in the best interest of society. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are in the world – there’s a good chance that the country that you live in might have a history of violence and injustice that still affect the way it operates today, from an individual to a systemic level. However, thanks to media, technology and the overall awareness it’s led to, more people today are focused on social justice than ever before.

One of the individuals at the forefront of this movement is Ishita Srivastava, who is a major influencer in the world of culture change. Art and entertainment are becoming more and more deeply intertwined with social justice efforts. We need not look further than examples such as the Time’s Up movement against sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood, led by actors and creatives like Reese Witherspoon and Shonda Rhimes, and Jay-Z’s work against mass incarceration, including helping to finance a documentary about Kalief Browder, a Bronx high school student who was imprisoned for years without ever being convicted of a crime.

Ishita Srivastava understands the valuable intersection of pop culture and social justice, and how all scale and influence of Hollywood on people’s attitudes and beliefs make it an effective conduit for creating a discourse about important social issues. Through her work as a digital storyteller, producer, and culture change strategist, Srivastava is dedicated to challenging society’s traditional ideas about caregiving and  gender roles and helping audiences understand that in order for us to live in a more equal and just world, these norms need to evolve.

During her seven year stint as a digital content producer at Breakthrough, a human rights organization based out of both the United States and India, Srivastava helped challenge norms and attitudes around gender by leveraging a powerful range of storytelling media and tactics.

While working as Breakthrough’s multimedia producer and deputy director, Srivastava tirelessly created content ranging from satirical films to documentaries, such as Mansimran, which was featured on MTV, and Deport The Statue, a satirical short film that was featured on globally-known media outlets such as CNN, Huffington Post, and BBC.

She was also instrumental in creating the #BeThatGuy campaign that urged men to take a concrete stand to interrupt gender violence, also a key theme of Breakthrough’s “Ring The Bell” campaign. She makes no secret of her ambitions and optimism, stating in an interview about the campaign: “We believe that it is especially important that men act as leaders and allies in what we call The Breakthrough Generation: the generation that will reach a critical mass and trigger a global tipping point that makes violence against women unacceptable in this lifetime.”

The “Ring The Bell” campaign was an incredible success, and it included sports star and former NFL quarterback Don McPherson, in addition to the critically acclaimed Colombian poet, actor, and author, Carlos Andres Gomez, who recently won the Atlanta Review International Poetry Prize. With an entertaining edge and poignant message, several of the videos went viral and one of them was even shown during the NASCAR Speedway Championship. Another example of innovative, edgy content that she produced  for Breakthrough was the Breakthrough U Puppet series conceptualized by Srivastava herself for a college-age audience, it addressed pertinent issues such as domestic violence, sexual harassment, hypermasculinity, and non-consensual image sharing. She was able to create and present the content in a manner that was relatable to college students nationwide, and the series even included such notable puppeteers as Paul McGinnis and David Bizzaro of Sesame Street fame.

Ishita Srivastava
Ishita Srivastava with puppets form the “U Puppet” series

Ishita Srivastava has an incredible and unique set of skills that she is now utilizing as the Director of Culture Change at Caring Across Generations. She is a key founding member of Storyline Partners, a collective of some of the most well-known social justice organizations in the U.S, collaborating with the entertainment industry to seed and influence stories and increase the visibility of those who are either misrepresented or underrepresented in pop culture. In her role at Caring Across, her most recent campaign was inspired by the film On The Basis Of Sex, which focuses on the early career of legendary Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and features well-known Hollywood staples such as Kathy Bates, Armie Hammer, and Felicity Jones. The campaign, titled #WeKnowYouCare, has already gained a tremendous amount of traction, and aims to reimagine the idea of masculinity in the context of male caregivers, urging a wide range of people, especially men, to understand how important the issue and work of caregiving truly is to society as a whole. The #WeKnowYouCare campaign has been featured in notable media outlets such as Bustle and PopSugar, as well.

Those who have worked with Srivastava have pointed out that she is simultaneously “generous and mission-driven,” and the fact that she has been behind so many successful campaigns is certainly proof of that. There is no doubt that storytelling has been an effective way to challenge and transform cultural norms throughout history, and Srivastava understands the need to use all the resources at her disposal to help create change.

“Ishita’s greatest strength is her ability to tell stories that have the power of transforming cultural norms. She knows how to identify which stories will resonate with an audience, and work closely with the subject of the story in order to ensure that their experience is represented authentically and in the most compelling way possible,” explains digital strategist Mihika Sapru, who worked closely with Srivastava at Breakthrough.

“She also has the unique ability to take heavy subject matter and convey it in a way that drives positive action, making her work effective and valuable in the social change space… She’s also not afraid of taking risks and creating edgy and provocative multimedia campaigns that reach beyond the usual suspects and spark important conversations with non-traditional audiences.”

Story Movements
Ishita Srivastava Speaking at the Story Movements Conference in LA

As an experienced digital storyteller, producer and someone whose work has been at the cutting edge of culture change strategy, it’s not surprising that Srivastava is often invited to discuss her work at forums and conferences about leveraging media for social change. Most recently she was asked to take part in the prestigious Story Movements conference hosted by the Center for Media and Social Impact at American University. During the conference, which was held on March 1 and 2, Srivastava gave a powerful talk about her cultural change work at Caring Across Generations and the #WeKnowYouCare campaign, for which she leveraged partnerships within the entertainment industry and the film, “On the Basis of Sex to engage men who are caring for family members in the U.S..

It’s clear to see that Srivastava’s instinct, intuition, and skills for visual storytelling are valued by many, she understands how to tell effective stories in a way that engages people, and most importantly, she’s using those skills to uplift the voices of those who are the most invisible or marginalized in pop culture.

 

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