It seems funny to Kegan Sant that there was once a time where he thought he wanted to be a director. Many people going into filmmaking initially see themselves leading the film set, and Sant was no different. However, when he found his way into producing, he realized it was exactly where he was meant to be. Sant understands the nuances to the role, that it isn’t just balancing a budget. The producer is responsible for making sure every single aspect of the production goes off without a hitch. That, for Sant, is what makes it so thrilling.
“I like to be busy and being a producer, there is always something to do. No matter how simple a project is, attention to detail is everything to me. I find that fun and challenging. Not many positions offer the flexibility in schedule, opportunity to see the world and ability to employ thousands of people over short periods of time. It’s invigorating to work with different directors as everyone has unique ways of working and dynamic thought processes. It’s incredibly satisfying to conceptualize a project with a director, budget it out, execute it, and see it come to life in post,” said Sant.
Sant’s passion for what he does translates into every project he takes on. He is perhaps most well-known for his work on the Westjet Christmas Miracle, one of the first real people/real time commercials that went viral online. He also made the award-winning Grey Cup flagship commercial for the CFL, What We’re Made Of, and last year, his work on Woods Is There campaign celebrated the company’s 100th anniversary and Canada’s 150th birthday while captivating viewers across the country with stunning scenery. His work extends to film, and his movie The Bear went on to several international film festivals, taking home prizes and impressing viewers and critics alike.
Sant’s creativity is ignited when he believes in what a project represents, and his 2016 commercial for TELUS was no different. The commercial promoted #TheGivingEffect, a campaign to encourage acts of kindness. With every act of kindness, big or small, TELUS encouraged citizens across Canada to share themselves giving back to their community with the hashtag #TheGivingEffect, with the goal of having the entire nation help each other. TELUS would then select up to five individuals who took part in the challenge and award them with $5000 to donate to the charity of their choice.
“I think this campaign is important because it sways social consciousness in the direction of doing something about problems and issues they see. It lets people know that everything counts – small or big and that it doesn’t have to be material or monetary to count. Having more of that in the world is inspiring change in the right direction and I believe this stemmed from the actual employees of TELUS giving back to their own organizations, which inspired the corporation to do the same. Truly the spirit of giving,” said Sant.
The campaign began with a 90-second video with short stories ranging from an informal bottle cleanup on a beach to a young woman shaving off her long hair to support a sick friend. The tagline is “every act of giving inspires another.” The commercial was shot in over five locations in just one day in April of 2016. There was a national TV buy for this campaign and it also lived on an online platform. It was also picked up and recognized by a couple of national marketing magazines.
“I liked that we were able to defy all norms on this project, like shooting in several locations in a single shoot day with actresses that had special FX makeup, and first-time experiences like shaving their head. I liked that this project pushed boundaries and forced me to constantly think on my feet. Being able to produce a job that matched the director’s vision was incredibly satisfying and having a happy production company, agency, client and director means I did my job well,” said Sant.
What is perhaps the most interesting and challenging part of the commercial is the scene with the girl donating her hair for her sick friend. Sant had to find an actress that was actually willing to shave her head for the scene and donate her hair. He vowed that they would make it happen, despite the casting director being confident they wouldn’t find one. The director, Stash Capar, had a vision, and it involved an actress actually shaving their head. Sant made sure to deliver. At the last minute, Sant found an actress who was happy to show her support for the cause, really selling the authenticity of the piece. Because of his commitment to the project, Sant immensely impressed all those he worked with, who he now continues to collaborate with to this day.
“You know you’re in good hands with Kegan. No matter what problems befall the project, he will find solutions and the show will go on. Kegan is the hardest working producer I know. He finds efficiencies and strategies that other producers later mimic. He is an agent of change in the world of commercials. An example of this was the Westjet Christmas Miracle spot, which Kegan masterminded. His methods were later copied, spawning an entire genre of copycat “surprise and delight” commercials,” said Stash Capar, Director.
When Sant was given the opportunity to work on #TheGivingEffect it felt like he had come full circle. As a teenager, his first “real job” was working for TELUS in their customer service department. He remembers wondering what it would be like to produce a commercial for them one day. Getting to do so while promoting a good cause and giving back to his community was more than he could ever have dreamed of.
“It’s a great feeling to know that the project was so successful. I’m happy to have delivered a job that met the expectations of everyone involved and was instrumental in reaching people, promoting the idea of giving back. It’s on my reel as a heartfelt piece of emotional storytelling, not only for the final product itself but the messaging it shares,” he concluded.
Phenix Miao was eight years old when he began drawing. He believes art is part of his blood. His great grandfather owned a famous antique house in Shanghai, and that passion for design passed through generations. Growing up, his house was always full of antiquated artifacts, and even at a young age, Miao became fascinated by them. As he grew, his love for art and design only intensified and he became interested in decorating, arranging, and building a scene. There was only one path for him that made sense, and it was becoming an art director. Now, he is celebrated in both China and abroad for his art direction, and he has no plans of slowing down.
Whether it be with film, television, or commercials, Miao constantly shows viewers just how much talent he possesses. In the 2016 movie Shanghai Sojourner, Miao helped transport audiences to Japanese-controlled Shanghai during World War II. In the acclaimed film Lottery, Miao created a fairytale like world to show the euphoria of a starving, young orphan getting his hands on a winning lottery ticket. Using his commercial senses, Miao also helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars with his work on a crowdfunding campaign for Itron Battery. He is extremely versatile with a love for what he does.
“Art direction and production design is a large part of telling a story, so I insist on harmonious and mindful designing. When I’m creating a scene, I make sure to consider the person that will be in it and whether the scene corresponds with the one who lives/uses it. Sets are like extensions of the characters,” he said.
Miao once again achieved this with his work on several commercials for Lepow. The technology company manufactures mobile accessories such as the portable power bank, external battery, and the smart bag. Starting in 2015, Miao took on the role as art director for the premiere commercial for Lepow’s TV Show Box. From there, they made a follow up commercial showcasing the product, and a year later, another long commercial showcasing the brand as a whole.
On the set, Miao was responsible for the entire visual experience. He aimed to make everything the director imagined into the scene a reality. He designed the color and artistic style, selected the best and most suitable materials, maximized every detail, and designed the design space. As the leader of the creative team, he aimed to take the big picture and divide it into small, tangible tasks that would be easy to complete within the timeframe they were working in.
Working closely with the director, Miao discussed every shot individually, wanting to understand the exact feeling the client was looking for. Every aspect was important to create an entire world in the set, from colors to the smell, even though viewers would not experience that. Miao shows such commitment to every detail of a project, that it makes everyone he works with greatly appreciate his talent.
“Phenix is a great leader of the art department and ensures everything goes smoothly. He is essential as an advisor, balancing out my ideas and feelings of the clients through his work. He is a comprehensive creator with a deep understanding of filmmaking, more so than any art director I have worked with. He is constantly curious and always eager to learn new things. In terms of production design, Phenix has an ability to take even the largest set and make everything extremely detailed. Even when I can’t describe exactly what I want, he finds a way to not only make it, but he produces work even better than I imagined,” said Peter “Zhen” Pan, Director.
Miao and Pan have worked together multiple times in the past, and Miao is always the director’s go-to art director. Their personal relationship has transformed to a friendship over many years of collaboration, and Miao knows how to transform Pan’s vision into a reality. Miao appreciates Pan’s different taste and feeling about color and the “rhythm” of the set and props compared to other directors. He understands Pan’s “language” and this connection ensures productivity and efficiency on set, as they communicate seamlessly.
“We work like a family and talk to each other directly no matter what the opinion or issue is. On set, everyone makes sure to do their best work possible. The Lepow commercials were no different. It was a great time and wonderful teamwork. All the guys try to help one another. Working on a series of commercials has allowed us to become familiar with each other, and it is a very relaxed working environment,” he said.
The campaign has been a great success both for Miao and Lepow. Despite this, Miao doesn’t think about what he has achieved when he sets his sight on a new commercial. When he sets out to make something, he expects success because otherwise he would not live up to what he knows he can do. That is what makes him such a formidable art director and production designer.
“We put so much wisdom and effort into these commercials because we had a goal, which was to make Lepow feel satisfied and see sales growth from our work. When that happens, I don’t celebrate, I just know that for the next one we should do even better. The series turned out beautiful for sure, and that is our work. That I can feel proud of,” he concluded.
As far back as Shaan Memon can remember, his family had a VCR player at their home in Ahmedabad, a city in Gujarat state in India. Every Sunday, he would watch all of his favorite cartoon shows, and his father used to help him record the shows on video cassettes. When his father would travel to Bombay for work, he would return with movies for Shaan and his elder sister. It was then, in his living room in his childhood home, that his love of film was born.
Now, Shaan is an in-demand Screenwriter, Director, and Editor. He first impressed international critics with his work on the horror The Unreal and continued to do so with his films Fitting In and Bullied, as well as the documentary Purpose Driven Study for Dharoi Canal Command Area. He is extremely knowledgeable in every aspect of filmmaking, from pre-production to post-production, and using this knowledge to expand his skillset. At the end of last year, his work on a commercial for the Dickens Christmas Fair showed that in addition to Director and Editor, this versatile filmmaker can even take on the role of Videographer and achieve tremendous results.
“I found Shaan to be reliable, assiduous, hard-working, and intuitively creative – as well as being extremely patient in performing multiple re-cuts of the material. Shaan impressed me so much that I recommended him for other work and hope to engage his services next year on a separate video for the Dickens Fair,” said David Hakim, Producer/Director who worked alongside Shaan on the commercial.
The Great Dickens Christmas Fair is a one-of-a-kind holiday adventure into Victorian London and is an elaborate party with around 800 of costumed players performing and interacting with patrons in over 120,000 square feet of theatrically-lit music halls, pubs, dance floors, and Christmas shops. It’s a twilight evening in Charles Dickens’ London Town – a city of winding lanes filled with colorful characters from both literature and history. Enticing aromas of roasted chestnuts and hearty foods fill the air. Cries of street vendors hawking their wares ring out above the bustling crowd. Dozens of lamplight shops are filled to overflowing with Christmas gifts. The Dickens Christmas Fair is a treasured Bay Area tradition since 1970 and a splendid way to celebrate the holidays. Thousands of people attend this event every year.
“I had never visited the fair before, so the first time when I visited it, I was spellbound. They have created a different world in itself. One can never imagine what would it be inside until they visit it, and that is exactly I wanted to capture. I therefore insisted on not visiting the fair before shooting, as I wanted to feel like a traveler who is experiencing it for the first time and I captured those moments,” said Shaan.
Shaan is a multi-talented filmmaker with an outstanding about of expertise in writing, directing, editing, videography and sound design. Because he has so much experience in such a variety of roles, he is a one-man army who can execute a project as clearly and as nearly to how it was conceived during the consultation. Having thorough knowledge of different fields makes him a force to be reckoned with and proved vital while shooting this commercial.
“Every filmmaker works hard with his/her sweat and blood to make a project the best it can possibly be and make their name in the industry. I had huge responsibility as Diane Baker put trust in me and suggested me to work on this project. I’m happy that I could reach her and David’s expectations,” said Shaan.
When Diane Baker and David Hakim were trying to find someone who could make a captivating commercial for Dicken’s Christmas Fair, they immediately thought of Shaan and approached him to take the lead on the project. Initially, Hakim had planned on creating a competition to decide who would create the commercial, but after seeing Shaan’s work, he knew he no longer needed to find someone to take over.
Working closely together for the entire shoot, Shaan consulted Hakim regarding what kind of shots, pace and feel would be required. After brainstorming, they decided on getting more front faced shots of the visitors, showing how happy they were and enjoying their time. Getting the best shots of artists performing, vendors selling beautiful products, the decorations, the grandness of the fair and much more. Shaan then attended the fair with his assistant to get as many shots as possible. During the editing process, he consulted with Kevin Patterson, Executive Director of Dicken’s Fair. He edited the best possible 30-second commercial. He is now working on the 90-second advertisement after the success of its predecessor.
“This is what I love about filmmaking. I never get bored of being a filmmaker. I enjoy working every time I have to go through this process of starting a new project, working on it and at the end looking at its result. Every project takes me on a whole new journey. In this one I met around hundreds of artists working together at same place. Watching Dickens’s characters alive and performing in front of you was a treat! This project was great to work on and entertaining also. David was very supportive throughout and I’m happy that he trusted my creativity and I could deliver up to his expectations,” Shaan concluded.
If you’ve ever known an artist, ever read a book about one, seen a film about one, or perhaps been one yourself…then you know that the goal is not to achieve fame (although that’s nice) or riches (also not horrible) but rather true artists simply want to create. The work for them is “work” only in the sense that it requires immense effort but not in a sense of begrudgingly performing a day to day task. Editor Wanqiu Sun eagerly communicates that she loves what she does and that every production she works on allows her to hone her skills. Ranging from TV productions to feature films to web productions and practically everything in between, Sun feels that her job is eternally one which allows her to shape a story, regardless of the medium or its presentation. While she has edited many an award-winning-film, she has also found herself utilizing her talent for commercials like those for Chang’an Automobiles. This series of 3-three minute commercials presented the company’s commitment to consumers and did so with the emotion that Sun’s touch is known for.
Chang’an’s relationship with their customers is analogous to that of editor and director. Passion, beauty, structure, and trust are requirements for a mutually beneficial partnership and pleasing results. People help display the story. In a film they are actors but in these commercials they were real employees of Chang’an. Each commercial presented an employee and how their work led to the benefit of the company’s customers. In one spot, we meet safety engineer Xin Li and the crash test dummy he works with exploring and ensuring the safety of the vehicles. Another presents the Designer Zheng Chen exploring his idea of design, how nature inspired him, and his concept of “power inside.” The final third commercial delves into the future of autonomous vehicles with Zhe Wang. This MIT graduate explains the culture which drew him to Chang’an and what lies ahead for the advancements in automobiles.
The structure of the advertisements were similar to TV and films in the sense that they were based around stories but there were still differences substantial enough to warrant a different approach from the editor. Sun focused on the initial visual impact. The ability of a commercial to attract the viewer’s attention supersedes that of a continual storyline. Wanqiu notes that the story during these productions was more prominent than most, a happy occurrence, but imagery was still the most crucial element for her to present. She explains the process stating, “For commercials, we sometimes won’t break down to what exact shots we will shoot before production. It’s more flexible in comparison to film. For these commercials, they had manuscripts before shooting. They were planning to go with a documentary style, to combine interviews with other footage. The locations were all real locations inside the factory, which meant that it looked different every day. If the majority of shots were planned before, it might have caused more problems during production. As the editor, I had to figure out where these shots could be placed according to the content we had in the manuscript. Cutting according to the original manuscript was around five minutes. I had to combine and rewrite the manuscript to bring the entire thing down to three minutes. Any information we’d lost from the manuscript had to be presented visually.”
Wanqiu’s work on these Chang’an commercials is proof that when there’s a great editor on the production team, especially one involved in pre-production, it makes the production much more efficient. Editors like Sun have the big picture and help the production team to predict problems and also fix those remaining in post. Transforming good material into great material and manifesting the unforeseen, editors are like ninjas who conceal themselves to make the cuts seamless. This analogy resonates with Wanqiu who remarks on her favorite editing, “There’s a fight scene in rain in The Grandmaster (Directed by Karwai Wong, Edited by William Chang), which is one of my favorite scenes in all of Chinese Film. Unlike other action movies, this one doesn’t focus on showing every movement of Kung Fu but more of the atmosphere and the spirit when people are fighting. It is very emotional. Everything seems so vague in the rain but you can feel their exact mood. Some people fight for power and fame and some fight for dignity. It is possible to analyze why we are feeling this way from editing.” The majority of her work has been in English speaking productions; the fact that her family in China gets to see her work every day on these Chang’an commercials gives her the chance to show that she is very much “in the ring.”
When Pauler Lam was 14 years of age, he did what most teenagers did to entertain themselves at the time; he watched MTV. Upon seeing the music video for Jason Nevins & RUN DMC’s hit song “It’s Like That”, the Australian native watched the two teams featured in the video breakdance, battling each other and executing incredible dance moves. It was from that moment on that he knew he wanted to learn how to breakdance. From there, he practiced almost every day with his high school friends, doing back flips and dancing on the grass. He began watching music videos not just for entertainment, but to watch the dancers and study their moves. He came across Korean Pop (KPOP) videos, which were filled with outstanding choreography, only expanding his passion from breakdance to dance itself. Now, he is trained in multiple genres, and as a celebrated Bboy who is also extremely skilled at Hip Hop choreography, he has achieved his dream that he set out on at just 14.
“For me personally, I love being a dancer because it is fun, and it is the most genuine and positive way that I can express myself as an artist. I love the feeling of bringing music to life through movement. It is when I am the happiest. I love performing too, whether it be on camera or for a crowd of people. I also love making people happy when they watch me dance and perform. I am confident in my skills as a performer that I know that I can make people enjoy themselves while I dance.
Lam quickly rose to fame on the 2016 season of Dance Network’s hit show Steady Mobbin’,where he was a principle dancer for several episodes, and in one episode had a feature about his life and career. Since then, he has been in several Buzzfeed dance videos, amassing over a million views each, and a national commercial for American Crew. Despite such success, the highlight of Lam’s career came when he danced in the national commercial campaign for Hotel Indigo last year.
“What made it the highlight for me is that I, an Asian male, was cast to be the star. This is a big deal to the Asian American community in Hollywood. We, as Asians, are usually cast to play stereotypical roles or aren’t considered appealing to the mainstream media, so this definitely was the highlight of my career. After speaking to the team behind the project, I knew that they believed in me because of my skills as a dancer and performer, and did not care about image,” he said.
Lam was cast to play the lead role in the project, where he was followed dancing around the hotel and the surrounding attractions of Los Angeles. There were hundreds of applicants for this lead role. The production team needed the best possible candidate out of all those applicants, and Lam was the stand out. He had sent footage of himself dancing, videos showing his personality, and several photos. It wasn’t long before he was approved by all parties to lead the campaign. Everyone believed that he was the best candidate for the project and that he would be able to bring their vision to life through his artistry as a dancer. His high level of skill and versatility as well as his vibrant on-screen performance and personality that were shown in his video reel and resume made him the right choice.
The commercial, which premiered last September worldwide, was a large success for the Downtown Los Angeles hotel, and Lam’s dancing was a large part of that. His work ethic was also vital, as he is someone that can adapt quickly to any situation. He has a tremendous positive mindset, something he considers one of his best assets outside of his sense of rhythm.
“Pauler and I were like a dream team when it came to this campaign. His incredible skills as a professional dancer are out of this world. We spent a few days together planning and mapping out some dance moves and camera shots so we would all feel comfortable come shoot day. Pauler was able to make my vision come to life through his art and movement and I couldn’t be any happier with the result,” said Harrison Winter, Director of the commercial and Filmmaker at Co.Mission Content.
Winter hand-selected Lam to played the lead role for his project. They began with Skype meetings along with the producer, Dan Tundis. After easily agreeing on what they all wanted for the shoot, they spent two days together location scouting and rehearsing ideas on the spot regarding choreography. The teamwork between the three of them made everything very effortless for Lam.
“It really meant a lot that Harrison and Dan both trusted me with their vision. They even went with my recommendations for other people to be used on the shoot as other featured dancers.
Because we got along so easily and well, come shoot day, it made everything very smooth and fun. The hotel clients were also present and it didn’t take long for them to relax and trust in all of us too after seeing what we were capable of,” Lam described.
Any suggestion that Lam had for dance moves that he could perform, he was able to execute them easily, which highly impressed everyone he was working with. His friends, Bianca Vallar, Alvin De Castro, Savannah Marco, were other dancers featured in the commercial. In the end, they were all able to achieve the best possible result that they could have with the project. Working with Harrison Winter, Dan Tundis, Kris Young, Sam Nuttman, and everyone at Hotel Indigo made the experience for the principle dancer.
“I loved being able to showcase my personality and skills as a performer on such a large platform. Hotel Indigo is an internationally recognised establishment. And for me to play the lead role in their campaign was such a blessing,” said Lam. “I also loved working with all the people involved in this project. From the production team, the clients, to my friends who were featured dancers. We all did our best to achieve the best results for this project. It was a big validation on why I love being a professional dancer.”
Lam knows that dance is a tough industry to break into, and he is extremely grateful for the success he has achieved. He never gave up on his dream, even when it seemed like it was the easy way out. However, he believes the best way to achieve success as a dancer is to simply be yourself, and to have fun, and working on this campaign gave him to opportunity to do both.
“It feels absolutely incredible knowing that people all over the country saw my work on this project. I love how the campaign turned out. I feel it definitely captures myself as a person on camera and I hope it makes everyone watching as happy as it made me feel performing that day. It’s work like this why I love doing what I do for a living. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said.
You can watch Pauler Lam’s impressive dance skills in the Hotel Indigo commercial here.
Isabella Richardson was just nine years old when she realized what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. The Australian native realized then that she could have fun whilst doing what people would call a ‘job’. She realized she could inspire people, make them laugh, and make them feel emotions they didn’t even know were there. She loves that she can move people, and encourage them to follow her dreams the way she followed hers.
Richardson has quickly become one of Australia’s best young actresses. Her performance in seasons two and three of You’re Skitting Me have earned her an expansive fan base, and her role in the film Next of Kin received critical acclaim. Just last year, her work on Sprite’s commercial garnered international attention. However, Richardson often chooses her roles for the message they convey, and her work on the 2014 commercial for Beyond Blue helped shed light on an important issue.
“I was very attached personally to this project due to the nature of what it entailed. Depression and anxiety are a huge factor in today’s society, and I wanted to be a part of spreading the word, and having people know it’s okay to talk about these things to your loved ones,” said Richardson.
The commercial evolves around six teenagers explaining youth suicide prevention to the camera, showing the message of, “If you’re worried about your child, the best way to find out if something is wrong, is to ask”. The commercial encourages parents to look out for warning signs of suicide in young people, showing the importance of showing children that they have a support system that is always willing to listen to what they’re going through. It can be a challenging and uncomfortable conversation, but it could make all the difference to a child’s life.
“I believe this message behind the commercial was so important because we were reaching an audience that needed help in understanding why their loved ones felt a certain way and what they could do to help. I was really proud to work on something with such a powerful message that could actually help save someone’s life,” said Richardson.
In the moving advert, Richardson plays the role of Katie. Katie is a 17-year-old skater kid, who has a careless outlook on life. She doesn’t have many aspirations in life and doesn’t care to have any either. Katie wears clothes to reflect her personality, such as t-shirts, ripped jeans, converse and collared flannels. She lives in a housing commissioned area where her parents are trying their hardest to pay the rent, whilst Katie reluctantly contributes by working a couple days at the local supermarket. Katie mostly hangs out at the skate park to escape her home life. Although she seems careless and selfish, deep down inside she just wants her parent’s attention and affection. In the scene, she goes to the skate park to escape her parents from questioning her quality of life. The dialogue revolves around informative info to parents who may need help understanding if their child does have thoughts of suicide and are depressed.
“It was a real reward to know we were breaking down the stigma around depression and suicide by spreading the word through a commercial,” said Richardson.
Filming at the skate park provided some unique challenges while shooting that Richardson was quick to overcome. Shooting scenes in a skate park on a weekday allowed the actress to see some of the hardships of skateboarders and their need to skate. However, the noise this caused while filming created some difficulties, but Richardson used the noise to help fuel her character. Even some of the harassment she received from the skateboarders at the park provided an insight to her character.
“The actual situation of getting into character was quite easy. I just pretended I was talking to a best friend’s mother who wanted to understand why her daughter was feeling a certain way, and what she could do to help. I felt engaged in the character and knew exactly what I wanted to evoke from her,” she explained.
From the moment she auditioned, Richardson showed all those she worked with what she was capable of. The director was immediately impressed, noting how nice it was to see someone chatting to the camera like a real person, loving Richardson’s signature naturalistic approach. This was necessary for the success of the commercial, with such a tough subject needing to connect with those going through what she was portraying.
“Isabella is an actor in the Beyond Blue commercial ‘Preventing Youth Suicide’. Naturalism is a strong point for herself when bringing compelling reality to a character and their emotions behind their words and actions. This particular commercial was incredibly personal to her for multiple reasons, so being able to apply her true emotions and experiences to her character was very important in making the character and commercial feel realistic. This particular commercial was incredibly personal to her for multiple reasons, so being able to apply her true emotions and experiences to her character was very important in making the character and commercial feel realistic,” said Nicholas Carlton, the director of the Beyond Blue ad. “Isabella is incredibly natural in the way she applies herself to the character, and I truly believe she will have every success her heart desires, because she’s not only dedicated but very talented.”
The commercial premiered on Beyond Blue’s Facebook page, website, and YouTube channel, and had a very successful social media campaign, connecting to a large number of people through the ‘Preventing Youth Suicide’ project. The success of the commercial, for Richardson, is not measured in the number of views it received, but rather the effect it had on its audience.
“We were spreading the word about something very close to my heart, and maybe even helping some people along the way, and that is the most pleasing part,” Richardson concluded.
Jing Wen says she works in a “man’s world.” Many female directors in the film and television industry feel this way. It is classically a male dominated field, and just last year the Hollywood Reporter stated that a mere seven per cent of all directors directed the top 250 films, a two per cent decline from 2015, according to San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. Wen, however, does not allow herself to be fazed by this. The award-winning director goes after any and all jobs that would typically be given to a man, constantly looking to break barriers. The Chinese native has become one of the leaders in her field in her home country, and is continuing to cross borders with her impressive skillset.
Earlier this year, Wen once again showed that there she can be a typical ‘rich man’ as she puts it, but directing a luxury car commercial. Dongnan DX7 car commercial. The commercial features Chinese actress and star Wenjing Bao, alongside her three-year-old daughter Jiaozi. The story shows Wenjing making a travelling plan with Jiaozi, asking her daughter to pack her own toys. Unfortunately, Jiaozi slow and took a lot of toys. Luckily, the car gave them much space so Jiaozi can keep all of her toys, and is fast enough to make up the time that was lost. Finally, they are shown having a wonderful road trip in their Dongnan DX7.
“This commercial was a very quick job, so every decision I had to make had to be made quickly. This always provides a fun challenge, and you have to make sure you let everyone on your team know every one of your decisions and any plans you have made, so they can easily do what you ask. There is not much time, so the most important thing you should do is follow your heart and trust your instincts. That makes me excited,” said Wen.
The commercial was produced by Mei Yang. Yang had heard of Wen from the lead producer at Mango TV, Shan Zhou. Zhou worked alongside Wen on a series of projects, such as the television shows Never Give Up, Salute to Life and Blossoming Flowers. Zhou told her friend Yang about Wen, and Yang was immediately impressed with the director after watching some of her work. Wen was asked to take part on the commercial right away.
“Jing Wen has very strong skills as a director, and also she can handle a lot of emergency problems while shooting. We only had five days to prepare this commercial. When she got the script, she went through it and found things that were impossible given our timeline, and found other ways to do it instead,” Zhou described. “For example, Jingwen Bao’s daughter Jiaozi, she is only three-years-old, and a lot of the time she was out of control. In order to complete shooting on time, Jing decided to use montage shots to show the reaction of Jiaozi in her enjoyable moment in the car. We also had the problem, where one day before shooting, the advertisers change the content of the shooting plan. Jing fixed the shot list and gave the advertisers new ideas that still were close to their suggestions, making them very happy. Jing did a very good job on this commercial shooting. I want to work with her again.”
Directing a difficult three-year-old is something that would cause many directors with a short time frame to become frustrated, but Wen never let that happen. Instead of trying to keep the child’s focus on the camera or the scene, Wen decided to let her focus on the toy. That way, she could then use the toy to lead Jiaozi to do something for the shot. The result looked very authentic.
“Wenjing and I worked together on Mom is Superman 2. We already knew we had a great partnership and could work together very quickly and efficiently. She is a big star in China, and she has almost 2 million fans in WEIBO, which is kind of like Instagram. She is really nice, and even sometimes when Jiaozi was really out of control, she helped me to deal with her daughter’s problem. She is a patient mother, and after were finished shooting, she always accompanied Jiaozi around the set,” Wen described.
When always aims to work efficiently. When she first got the script, she discussed the possible shooting locations with the producer. They only had five days to prepare the entire production, so after she chose the locations, she used two days to make a storyboard with my director of photography. She wanted to make sure she was involved with every aspect of the production, making sure to keep the client happy.
“Shooting a commercial, the most important part is talking with advertisers. Sometimes they will ask you to do something nonsensical in part in your film to show their product. At this moment, you need balance their intentions and the story telling. Know what they want to show, that’s the key to success when shooting a commercial,” said Wen.
No matter what project she is working on, success is always the end result for Wen. Her work on the web series Mountain Comeback, the Shenzhen television show Ji Ke Zhi Zao, and the promotional video for Red Nose Day of China follow in that same pattern. At the end of the day, however, it is about how her work resonates with audiences that drives this formidable director.
“I’m a storyteller, and I like giving hope to everyone and making them feel love all around,” Wen concluded.
Ron Grebler is a storyteller. He is a creator. He is a filmmaker. He uses his creativity and imagination to transport others to different places and times. Grebler uses his talent to captivate audiences. As both a Director and Producer from Toronto, Ontario, Ron Grebler has done it all.
With fans around the world, Grebler’s work has been appreciated by many. Just last year, his promotional video for the immensely popular Netflix series Stranger Things went viral, building up anticipation for the show. He has directed and produced several successful commercials, including the innovative campaign for Axe Hair Products on Canada’s MuchMusic, and commercials for Belair Direct, Fuji Instax, and We Day.
“I would like to think that I strive for ‘quiet storytelling’, letting the idea unfold in visual images rather than be heavily driven by dialogue or voice over narration. This is the path more rarely travelled in the heavily direct messaging style of the commercial world, and often embraced by branded content. Visually, there’s something fascinating to me about extreme close-ups with limited depth of field. That perspective can take the subject and add a dimensionality to it that’s almost abstract, which I believe connects with viewers. Given that I work in the commercial world, it’s not often that I can use shots like these, but at the right moment, they can really make a spot pop. I’m very cognizant of color and contrast. There is high pressure when creating a commercial because ultimately, it’s about ‘selling’ and for many viewers there is a reticence to that. That’s why I always try to layer a spot with cues for the unconscious mind to find them entertaining, engaging and if possible, playful,” said Grebler, describing his style of directing.
With such a commitment to his craft and an appreciation of the nuances, it is no doubt as to why Grebler is considered one of the best. When working on a promotional video series for Thermador, Grebler showed his abilities to go beyond what is typical, and create something revolutionary. Real Food with Thermador was a four-part web series that was an early foray into the world of online branded content video featuring celebrity chef Jamie Kennedy.
“There was a very unique approach in the development of this project as it was meant to truly be branded content, meaning we weren’t pushing the ‘hard sell’ of Thermador products,” said Grebler. “It was really meant to focus on passion for locally grown seasonal ingredients, especially as perceived through the eyes of celebrated chef Jamie Kennedy.”
The series was shot similarly to an HGTV show or a Food Network program, educating viewers as well as entertaining. Acting as both producer and director for the project, Grebler’s vision was imperative to its success. Mike Codner, former Studio Manager with DDB Canada , sought-out Grebler to be the director and producer, knowing of his creativity, work ethic and passion for the job.
“Ron has a flexible approach to production, whether it’s a big budget or small, he treats it with the same respect. He’s a director and producer first, but he sees the big picture in terms of the clients’ needs and the reality of working within budgetary constraints. He’s passionately engaged in the process, from pre-production through the shoot and will sit in on all post production too. He takes ownership of all that he does,” said Codner.
The campaign was very successful and won both the International Association of Business Communicators Gold Quill Award and Ovation Award, the Canadian Marketing Association Award, and the Canadian Public Relations ACE Award. Grebler says he didn’t even consider awards while making the video, he just wanted to focus on the client’s goals while making something visually outstanding.
“Honestly it felt odd at first. I was told we were nominated and I kind of shrugged my shoulders. The agency told me that it was a bigger deal than I realized and when we won I was quite proud. Maybe I was naïve but I had no idea how important it was to win awards,” Grebler laughed.
Taking on the vital roles of director and producer, Grebler was responsible for implementing his vision. By making the videos appear like a television show it helped connect the audience to the product in a way that other commercials couldn’t. The videos were made in 2008, and in those early days of branded content, it was essential that the video not feel like a commercial. By giving viewers compelling content, great visuals and passionate discussion about the topic of real food, Grebler knew they’d be engaged. When the chef ended up describing some of the specific Thermador products, it was part of the flow of the show and made sense, not just like a ‘stop-and-sell-the-product’ moment.
“It was flattering to be selected to work on this kind of programming. After the scripts were written, it was less about thinking and more about doing. We had a lot of locations to cover in only a few days, so it was about maximizing our time and getting the most powerful content. It wasn’t until the edit that I really grasped how seamlessly everything cut together and that it really flowed like a segment for a TV show, nothing at all like a commercial,” Grebler described.
Grebler also succeeded in making the videos a work of art. Shooting in picturesque Prince Edward County, venturing from Jamie Kennedy’s to an artisanal cheese factory, he set up each shot to have stunning imagery. The outdoor shots showcased the perfect late summer weather, from the golden light over a tomato farm to mouth-watering close-ups of prepared dishes. The passion and depth of knowledge shown by on-camera talent Jamie Kennedy and those he would speak with also shone through.
“It was a great pleasure working on this because it was as much an on-the-fly learning process about local foods and farming and food production as much as it was the logistics of video production. We had a small and very talented crew and we had to think on our feet quickly because of limited access and time at the locations as well as working with real people. I trusted them completely and the visuals and content we got was quite captivating while engaging in passionate conversations about food with local farmers and artisanal cheesemakers,” he described.
Working with a celebrity chef and farmers was initially concerning for the director and producer, however, as he was concerned about their ability to articulate in a way that would connect with audiences. Grebler eventually learned a valuable lesson that he carries with him today.
“Find someone’s passion when you’re speaking with them and they will give you gold,” Grebler concluded.
Watch Grebler’s work on the first episode of Real Food with Thermador here.
We over at Tinsel Town News Now recently had the pleasure of interviewing dynamic Polish actress Diana Matlak, the captivating star who played Deena Kravitz in Aditya J. Patwardhan’s dramatic film Red House by the Crossroads, which screened at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, Sarah in Allen Obisesan’s film Beneath the Surface and Jenny in Yi Zhang’s film Packing Up. In 2015 alone Matlak starred in more than eight films, each one showcasing a different side of her unparalleled talent.
The kind of actress that captivates her audience with little effort, Diana Matlak has also been featured in several hit television shows including Bones, American Crime Story, The Real O’Neals, Scandal, Black-ish and many others.
Back home in Poland, Matlak was landed a role on Na dobre I na zle aka For Better or For Worse, a highly popular medical drama that is one of the country’s longest running series, as well as roles in two national commercials for Zywiec Beer and Vanish, a massive cleaning products company.
Matlak’s successful film and television career places her in the upper echelon of Polish actresses currently working in the entertainment industry internationally. One aspect of her talent that separates her from others in the industry is her long history as a professional Latin dancer, which has endowed her with a rare level of grace and an ability to move through scenes like few others can.
To find out how this inspiring artist got to where she is today, and what’s next for her in terms of upcoming projects, make sure to check out our interview below!
TTNN: Where are you from? When and how did you get into acting?
DM: I was born and raised in Poland. I got into acting after I finished my dancing career. I am a professional Latin dancer. I have been training and competing for 15 years. I have the highest, international Class in Latin, and after I finished dancing I started to teach. Even though I liked it, I felt empty and I wasn’t completely satisfied. I knew I had to be on stage. So I started taking different acting classes: theater, acting for film, Meisner etc., and I fell in love with acting and I knew that this is it. I landed an agent and started going out on auditions. I did a couple of commercials in Poland as well as a TV show and in 2012 I started considering coming to the US.
TTNN: Can you tell me a little bit about the film, television and commercials projects you’ve done?
DM: In Poland I was in a national Zywiec Beer commercial, which aired on all of the main Polish TV stations, as well as a commercial for Vanish cleaning products. Both times I had a blast on set. I played a patient on the Polish TV series Na dobre i na złe, (For better or For Worse), a medical drama series broadcast on TVP2. The show is currently on its 17th season, and with over 600 episodes, it is the longest-running primetime drama on Polish TV. The show revolves around the lives of doctors and patients in a hospital in Leśna Góra near Warsaw.
I played Deena Kravitz in the film Red House by the Crossroads directed by Aditya J. Patwardhan. The film follows Ester Kravitz, my character’s mother, whose husband was murdered during the Second World War at the hands of a fleeing Nazi officer, and as fate would have it, that officer’s estranged son, Edward Melies, is her doctor. The story is about a man’s face-off with the sins of his father and a woman’s contemplation for finishing the cycle of revenge.
My character was responsible for her mother, who was struggling with the illness and who couldn’t forget about what happened during the war. Deena was also responsible for her mentally sick, younger brother. My role was very demanding, because Deena was supposed to be a very strong young woman who helps her family, in fact she is responsible for the family, but it was a challenge because of all of the obstacles in her life, for example: the situation in the house, no father, a mentally ill younger brother and a sick mother. Deena was actually very sad and overwhelmed, but she never shows it.
In the film Stay directed by Yining Yan I played Lady in Red. The film has two parallel stories, one where a pregnant woman is having contractions with her husband standing by her side, and the other where the husband, who dresses like a detective, chases a drug-dealer. In the film, as the wife’s time-line goes backwards into the past, the husband’s time-line goes forward with the ending revealing that the detective actually died in the mission and chose to stay with his wife as a ghost. My character, which is the couple’s neighbor, watches the sees the detective get shot and does everything she can to save his life.
I played the leading lady in the music video for Gaurav Bhatt & Shikha Bhatt hit song “Katra- Katra,” which was directed by Aditya J. Patwardhan. The video revolves around a girl who finds unfinished sheet music on the beach. She is very intrigued and curious about the composer that created it and she wants to finish the piece. She is almost obsessed with finishing it. She meets a friend and tells him that it looks like the composer couldn’t express the feelings he wanted to, and when she finally finishes the music, she meets the composer.
In the film Bring me flowers directed by Siru Wen I played the lead role of Emma, a former photographer who works in a brothel. Emma suffered from depression for years; and when her boyfriend, the biggest love of her life, breaks up with her she doesn’t know what to do, her depression only gets worse until she finally decides to start working in a brothel. She hates it. She is very unhappy, and doesn’t know how to deal with all of the issues she has. Ultimately she wants love and understanding. Sage comes into the brothel and develops feelings for her and slowly falls in love with her. But she still thinks about her ex boyfriend. Emma likes Sage but everything reminds her of her ex boyfriend. Emma is overwhelmed and she doesn’t know what to do, and finally depression wins. She decides to finish her life committing suicide. While Sage is in her room she jumps out of the window.
I was also in the films Mac Daddys Vegas Adventure directed by Mac Jay, Perfect Illusion, a comedy directed by Allen Obisesan, Dead Heart directed by Ogemdi Udegbumam, Speak Softly, a dramedy directed by Chad Figuredo, Something good and Packing up directed by Yi Zhang, With You directed by Colin Yan, Beneath the Surface directed by Allen Obisesan, Touch directed by Rishab Gulati, Shameless directed by Monique Oberholzer, Bethany directed by James Cullen Bressack, Buddy Solitaire, a comedy directed by Kuang Lee, Cans and Candles directed by Tarak Ojaghi, Restoration, a horror film directed by Zack Ward, Coincidental Romance directed by Joseph Brandon and Roller Coaster directed by Bradley Howkins.
I’ve also been featured on the television shows Scandal, Bones, American Crime Story, The Real O’Neals, Black-ish, Heartbreaker, Rosewood and Grace and Frankie.
In terms of commercials outside of Poland, I’ve been in major international campaigns for Greetings from Europe – EXPO 2015, Heineken Beer, and a Super Bowl commercial for Chambord. I was also in music videos for the artists Arash, and Neo.
TTNN: They are all very different, what made you choose to participate in these projects?
DM: All of the projects are very different, but they have one thing in common – all of them are very interesting. The scripts are well written, the stories are exciting and the people working on these projects are fun to work with, but at the same time very professional.
TTNN: You get approached all the time to work on projects with people, what makes you pick one role over another?
DM: I always read the script first, and then if I like the story and my character, most of the time I’ll want to do the project. For me stories are very important.
TTNN: What has been your favorite role so far and why?
DM: It is a very difficult question because over the course of my career I’ve played a lot of challenging roles. But there are some roles that because, either they were more challenging than others, or because I had more fun with them, they became my favorite.
I enjoyed playing the depressed girl from Bring me flowers because it was really challenging, it was so dark and I had to find these dark situations within my character. I am not a pessimistic person, instead I am super optimistic and I always trying to find a positive side, so it was really challenging to play this character, because she is so different from who I am. I stayed very focused on set– always with headphones on just trying to get into my dark place… I had a lot of fun and it was a great lesson for me.
My second favorite role was Hannah from Coincidental Romance. This role on the other hand was very challenging, because the character was very similar to me. Hannah is a dancer and she wanted to pursue her dancing career in Los Angeles, but after her boyfriend breaks up with her and she gets depressed, it is very difficult for her to move forward… It was really very interesting to play this role, because even though the character and I had a lot of in common, Hannah is a different person, she’s not me. I remember when I was preparing for the role I had to find Hanna’s motivation and her unique objective in life.
TTNN: What is your favorite genre to work in as an actor?
DM: I like all genres. I worked on comedies, horrors and dramas, and I’ve had fun with all of them. Comedies are always fun to work on because the atmosphere is really great. When it comes to dramas, I like to get really deep into my character, so many times I listen to music on set so I can stay focused and concentrate…I’ve worked on two horror films so far, and I would like to work in this genre more as well.
TTNN: What separates you from other actors?
DM: I think that every actor is very unique and exceptional. I know I have a lot to offer as I am a professional Latin dancer, as well as a fitness, aqua aerobic and snowboard instructor. I have trained as a downhill skier for 8 years and I also studied Physical Education at the Academy of Physical Education in Warsaw. I am a sports teacher as well. I have been training Stage Combat for a year and I am really fit. I speak several different languages including Polish, German, English and basic Russian, and I can also do Russian, German and Polish accents.
TTNN: What would you say your strongest qualities as an actor are?
DM: I think the fact that I am committed and hardworking, and that I always prepare for my roles really sets me apart. I am not afraid of preparing for my roles, and I really take my time. I use different acting techniques to create the best character I can. I love to rehearse. I’ve also travelled a lot, and got to know different cultures and interesting people, which I think is very important for actors, because we have to portray people that are often so different from us. I am always open to learn, I observe people and try to learn from them and understand their behavior.
TTNN: What projects do you have coming up?
DM: In December I will be in a music video, directed by Aditya J. Patwardhan. I worked with Aditya on two projects, and I think that he is a great director. I can’t wait. Red House by the Crossroads, a drama that I was in, which was written and directed by Aditya J. Patwardhan, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015. I am very excited to start working with Aditya again. In January 2016 I will be playing one of the leads in Lotta-ditsy flirt, a film directed by Stephanie Nauli.
TTNN: What are your plans for the future?
DM: My plans are to act, act and act. I love being on set, and I plan to work as much as possible, and of course audition, because without auditioning getting a role is pretty hard. I still take classes at Ivan Chubbuck Studio and I want to continue taking classes, because I think as an actor it is very important to work on your craft all of the time.
TTNN: What do you hope to achieve in your career as an actor?
DM: I would love to make beautiful movies, tell amazing stories and work with great actors and directors. I would love to get challenging roles.
TTNN: Why is acting your passion and chosen profession?
DM: I must say that I never thought that I would become an actress, but acting chose me, and I am very happy that happened. I love my job. I love everything about it: studying the roles, working on sets and even the entire audition process. The best part is, that I get to portray different characters
Italian producer Filippo Nesci has established a career in the international entertainment industry that is as varied as it is impressive. With several multi-award winning films, documentaries, high-profile commercials and hit music videos already under his belt, Nesci has proven that his unparalleled talent as a producer make him a highly sought after leader in the industry.
In recent years, Nesci has produced the films The Carnival is on Fire, Lineman, Snippets of Wally Watkins, and Wrecks and Violins, as well as the music videos for Meg Myers’ “Monster” and KOAN Sound’s “80s Fitness.” He also produced the Clio Award winning commercial series for Lagavulin last year.
Directed by H.R. McDonald (Happy Birthday, Thomas), The Carnival is on Fire follows a young woman through the woods as she is stalked by a lustful but timid boy who disguises himself behind the trees that line their path whenever she turns around to face him. With beautiful imagery and a melancholic score, viewers witness the girl’s transition from childhood to adolescence through flashbacks as she reflects on the innocence she’s lost over the years.
The lighting included in the flashbacks of the film is magnificent; and, although a producer rarely has anything to do with lighting, in the case of The Carnival is on Fire, Filippo Nesci was an integral contributor to the unique lighting used in the film.
“I was aware that most of the art of the director had to do with his unique use of light. So, I thought that a professional I knew, who personally invents and builds equipment for cameras might invent a new equipment with lights that could be used specifically in this film,” recalls Nesci.
“Thanks to my very good and friendly relationship with this builder, I convinced him to do it having in mind two tasks, at the same time: a) make a tool that was able to generate a vortex of lights, b) make it nice, so that it could be filmed rather than go unnoticed, as usually happens to all camera equipment.”
Nesci’s ability to not only understand the needs and vision of his director, but also seek out the perfect people to make those ideas happen made The Carnival is on Fire a huge success, and the film went on to be chosen as an Official Selection of the Little Rock Film Festival in 2012.
Something that separates Nesci from the majority of other producers in the industry is that fact that he is passionate about changing the world through stories that touch audiences on an emotional level.
“All the projects for which I have been working as producer are very different indeed… However, they always have two factors in common: a) something intriguing from a psychodynamic point of view, b) something affective that really touches me at an emotional level,” explains Nesci.
“Be it a movie, a documentary, a music video, or even a commercial, I take the job only if there is a “narrative” quality in the project since I love stories: to tell stories, as well as to “view” and “listen” to stories.”
For him, a project’s emotional elements and its ability to tap into the viewers subconscious and cause them to contemplate ideas that extend beyond what is unfolding visually is a deciding factor in whether he will produce a project or not. What is even more astonishing however, is the fact that these characteristics are evident in the commercials he’s produced as well. Compared to the way the majority of commercials on television can be seen as shameless advertising, Nesci commercial projects to date shine brilliantly through the mediocre as nothing less than art.
As the producer behind the “Running Motivation” for Orange Mud, a California-based company that makes innovative athletic equipment, Nesci helped create a beautiful commercial for the company’s HydraQuiver hydration pack. The commercial follows a few different runners as they individually traverse some of the most captivating landscapes on the planet; and, no matter how far they travel, their no bounce hydration pack is always there to keep them hydrated.
You can check out the commercial Nesci did for Orange Mud below!
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