Tag Archives: Colombian Talent

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 

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Laura Santoyo Dangond’s sets in ‘Lockdown’ transport audiences to high school

Originally from Bogota, Colombia, Laura Santoyo Dangond has always been a fan of movies. Growing up, she watched her favorite films, like Matilda and Jumanji, and would see more than the story. She would ask her parents how the filmmakers were able to create other worlds and dreamlike elements. Although her parents did not have all the answers, they encouraged their young child to make her own hypothesis as to how “movie magic” was achieved, and she never stopped wondering. As she grew, exploring the world and various cultures, her hypothesizing never stopped, and eventually she turned her passion into a career. Now, Santoyo no longer wonders how to achieve the magic of movies, and as a sought-after production designer, she is now the one creating other worlds.

Throughout her career, Santoyo has shown just what an extraordinary production designer she is. Her work on films such as Tim of the Jungle, The Plague and Falling are just a few examples of what this acclaimed production designer is capable of. However, despite such success, Santoyo considers the pointed drama Lockdown as the highlight of her career.

“It is probably the most challenging and rewarding experience I’ve had in this profession. I loved working with that team of people; we all believed in the story we were telling and together we overcame so many difficulties. Particularly for me, it taught me the importance on trusting the people you are working with and to support each other. In the end it all paid off, because it’s been one of my most successful projects,” she said.

Lockdown set

Max Sokolof, Caleb Heller, and Laura Santoyo Dangond on the set of Lockdown, photo by Jane Hollo

Lockdown is about a 17-year-old boy named Julian. He is a misfit struggling through high school when he is taken hostage in the school restroom by Brandon, a classmate with a gun. Their perilous standoff proves that nothing is as it seems. Julian fights to hold onto the hope that he will survive – not just the hostage situation, but his entire high school experience. Throughout the film, audiences learn of both characters’ complicated backstories.

“This story talks about very important issues, such as depression and anxiety in adolescents, bullying in schools, access to guns, police brutality, and more that are affecting our society. It can help to bring these subjects to the table and encourage people who watch the film to have discussions about them,” said Santoyo.

After its premiere in November 2016 at the American Film Institute, Lockdown went on to be an Official Selection at many prestigious international film festivals, including the Orlando Film Festival, Garden State Film Festival, Sedona International Film Festival, Byron Bay International Television Academy Foundation for Best Screenplay and won the Golden Lion Award at the Barcelona International Film Festival. Such success may never have been possible without Santoyo’s outstanding production design.

“It is a great satisfaction to know that all the hard work, time and effort we as a team put into this project doesn’t go unnoticed and that we accomplished the purpose of telling a story that touched so many people,” she said.

Lockdown bathroom set
Laura Santoyo Dangond, Max Sokolof and Caleb Heller on the bathroom set of Lockdown, photo by Jane Hollo

Having worked with Santoyo on his previous film Hotbed, the Director, Max Skolof, reached out to the production designer knowing the caliber of her work. At the time, he did not even have a clear idea of what the story was going to be, but he trusted Santoyo to help turn his vision into a reality. In the beginning, there was no script, and Skolof only had a newspaper article that he wanted to base a film around. Knowing the difficult but pressing issues the film addressed, Santoyo was immediately onboard.

“Working with Laura is a joy. She’s always curious, always soaking up ideas, always creative. She takes disparate things and puts them together in unexpected and revelatory ways. She has the highest standards for herself. Every detail is thought of. It helps me direct and it helps the actors find real depth. And on top of all that, Laura’s the kindest person you’ll ever meet. It’s also rare to come across someone who has such a strong and unique sense of aesthetics. She’s incredibly precise when it comes to expressing the story and the characters visually. Laura is brilliant in that way. She understands the language of cinema and she uses every tool at her disposal to help tell the story. Whether it’s knowing how to make use of space, or how to evoke a certain subtext with just color,” said Skolof.

When she begins every project, Santoyo makes sure to research her characters, and Lockdown was no different. She looked into what neighborhoods these adolescents would live in, the sociological and economic backgrounds and more, just trying to get to know as much information as she could to create a realistic design that would reflect both her leads.

Upon completion of the script, she did a breakdown of all the locations and noted what bits of the story took occurred in each place. When doing this, she noted the most important location in the story was the bathroom. Its design became her priority, and she began looking for a crew that would help bring her ideas to fruition.

“The design of the restroom was the biggest challenge because is where the two boys meet, and their feelings are revealed. We used a very restrained color palette that reflects the psychological state of both of them,” she described.

Rather than using a real location, Santoyo built the entire bathroom set on a soundstage. She went back to her research and looked for paintings and photographs that evoked the same feelings and emotions that she wanted to convey and saw a pattern in the colors. Most of the references she liked used yellows and reds. With that in mind, she did a preliminary design and presented it to the director. After his approval, she ensured all other departments, such as lighting and cinematography, could work with her concept. Once the designed was approved by everyone, the members of the art team, led by Santoyo, began sourcing the materials and painting samples.

The complexity of the two characters had to come across in the visual design and Santoyo achieved such a feat. She worked closely with the director, the director of photography and costume designer to better express the anguish and anger the characters were going through. The sets that she designed allowed the actors to better understand the characters’ backgrounds and helped facilitate the process of getting into character. In one instance, she even wrote offensive graffiti in the bathroom stalls that bullies may have written about their characters.

Such small details may seem trivial to some, by Santoyo knows how important they can be, and that is what makes her such a distinguished production designer. When watching Lockdown, audiences notice and appreciate how authentic the set is and allow themselves to be fully taken away to the high school. Any moviegoer knows, that is what makes a good film, and Santoyo makes that happen.

 

Top photo by Caleb Heller