Tag Archives: Entertainment

Cinematographer Yang Shao talks ‘The Great Guys’ and philosophical filmmaking

Yang Shao always knew he wanted to be a filmmaker. He loved the idea of sharing his views with the world, and filmmaking is the ultimate way to do so. Born and raised in the Eastern part of China, he wants to share his passion and viewpoints with the world and bring heartfelt stories to the cinema.

“Modern cinema being predominantly shaped by the western culture is in my opinion missing some jigs of the puzzle which I think eastern culture can offer. Films can be entertaining without having one guy kill everybody around him. Life is so much more than just guns and murders. Beauty and soul of the world – that’s what I want to share with the world through my cinematography,” he said.

It is such a philosophy that has made Shao an internationally sought-after cinematographer. His contributions to films such as A Better World, Under, and Once More have asked audiences some of life’s biggest questions while captivating them with their stories, and the comedy horror television series Life is Horrible has brought joy and tears of laughter to viewers all over the world.

In Shao’s most recent film, The Great Guys, he explores a magical world through the lens of his camera. The film follows a fairy who comes to earth to look for the greatest kid to keep in her home, which is in a fairytale world. She meets eight kids and hears eight different stories. At the end of the story, she decides to bring all those eight kids back to her home together. The story reminded Shao of his childhood.

“To be honest with you, as a kid I always believed in magic. I was a naïve kid when I was growing up and I think that helped me become and achieve those results in the film industry. I try to always stay curious and allow things to surprise me. I think that’s what drew me to this story. I wanted to share this magical world with the young generation, including my own kids who are growing up in a completely different world today,” said Shao.

The Great Guys premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival where it received the Best Director Award. The movie then was distributed in theaters across China. After a successful run, The Great Guys was sold to one of the biggest streaming platforms in China iQiyi. The Director, Jin Zhang, thanks Shao for the success the film received.

“An artist friend of mine recommended Yang as a highly professional and aesthetically exceptional cinematographer. Talented artists have their own vision of things, of ideas and scripts. We managed to find the midpoint where our visions met. To create an outstanding product, you need an extraordinary talent. I’m lucky to have had Yang on my movie,” said Jin Zhang.

Shao did indeed find ways to make each scene visually shine. He aims to light up every scene in a way that drives the story forward. There are different ways to do that, but specifically for this project, he decided to experiment with using only soft filling light of warm colors. He wanted to put more emphasis on the characters. The light therefore is what draws audiences’ attention to various parts of the scene, highlighting what to focus on. In this story, it also shows the difference between the protagonist and the antagonist.

Shao also used a hand-held camera to film, having long takes between cuts. With a magical story, he wanted that feeling to be conveyed at all times. Lots of colored filling light helped to achieve bright and colorful picture that played well with the story and highlighted the emphatic world saturated with magic.

“One thing that I particularly like is the dedication of the crew and the entire team to the craft. I really enjoy working with people who are not only professionals but who also are passionate about what they do. Passion is really what shapes the work and how you see yourself dealing with those people. Nine out of ten times when I’ve seen people had some issues on the set is when they were not driven by their passion. Passionate-driven people on set come from a very different place and in my opinion the final outcome is different in this case. More intimate and personal,” said Shao.

Shao’s favorite part of making the film, however, is the interest he received from his daughter. At the time he was reviewing the screenplay, she was only five years old. He was unsure if he had the time to take on the project, so he read the script many times trying to make a decision. When his daughter asked what he was doing, he began to explain the technical aspects of filmmaking. He realized, that rather that talk to a young child about these things, he’d explain the fairy tale script instead. Immediately, his daughter was enthralled.

“At that moment I thought that with this movie maybe I can get her closer to the magic and not let her think that our life depends only on technological progress. And I did. With that movie my daughter and I started talking about more fun and kid stuff,” he said.

So, what’s next for this industry leading cinematographer? Keep an eye out for Shao’s three upcoming features, NeedIn the Middle of the Night, and Excel on the Highway.

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Yun Huang talks editing powerful new film ‘Stardust’

Editing is about emotion, and Yun Huang knows this well. In order to be successful in her field, she knows that understanding every detail in a script is a necessity. She does not simply put footage together, she tells a story, and she has to know the best way to captivate an audience.

“Being an editor provides me with a chance to tell the story to the audience in my way. I can alter a script if necessary and trust my emotional instincts. I connect with people. This job provides me with a great sense of accomplishment,” she said.

No matter what project she takes on, Huang is sure to keep the story at the forefront of her mind while editing. This is evident in all she does, from the powerful commercial “Choice” encouraging girls to follow their hearts, to the informative and telling docuseries Unveil China Outside China, educating its viewers all over the world on the country’s social and political happenings.

The challenge of any new project is that I have to figure out how I can attract the audience best; for example, how to make an audience laugh at the point that we set up. I always go to the cinema or some film festivals to watch with audiences to see their reactions based on the editing. I should know their thoughts and therefore know how to make my work resonate with the audience,” said Huang.

Huang’s most recent film exemplified just how she connects with viewers. Stardust tells the story ofa male Chinese agent who, loyal to the country, finds out that his most trusted partner, a female Chinese agent, betrays their country. However, as the story progresses, he begins to question his beliefs and the truth.

“I like the story. I’m touched by the soldier’s loyalty to the country and their missions. I believe that showing this kind of emotion is what film is all about,” said Huang.

After premiering earlier this year, Stardust has gone on to several prestigious international film festivals. It was an Official Selection at both the Austin Spotlight Film Festival and Direct Monthly Online Film Festival, an Award Winner at Accolade Global Film Competition, and the winner of Best Action Short Film at Five Continents International Film Festival. With all this, Huang herself was awarded Best Editing at Festigious International Film Festival.

“I was so excited that it got so many awards, and I got an editing award. It just goes to show that hard work and determination will pay off,” she said.

Huang was both the video editor and colorist of this short film, and it was her first time working on a film in the action genre. Initially, she was unsure if she wanted to work on the project, normally leaning towards relevant dramas and documentaries. Before deciding to take part in the film, she talked with the director, Shihang Qu, several times. He told her that he really loved Wing Chun and other kinds of Kung Fu since he was a child, and he always dreamed of directing an action film. She was moved by his efforts, so she decided to take on the project and help the director achieve his dream.

“Shihang is very nice, and he listened to me and considered my suggestions. He accepted all my recommended changes. I really like being respected,” said Huang.

It took over six months to generate a final cut of Stardust. With every day they were shooting, Huang would then look at the footage. This is not a common process, and normally the editor receives all the footage at once in post-production. However, by adopting this style, Huang not only got a better understanding of the story, but also an idea of what the director envisioned. This also allowed her to make suggestions that were instantly implemented. For example, there is a shot of the main character in a scene when they were fighting with bad guys. The director had initially planned for it to be put in the middle of the film as it showed in the script, but Huang thought it would be better if it was moved forward in the story, as the opening scene. It instantly captivated audiences and allowed for the story to be told as a memory, slowing the pace of the beginning and speeding up at the end.

In the end, Huang changed the structure of the story which made the short film more attractive and meaningful. Her instincts as both an editor and storyteller are always fruitful, and she will no doubt continue to have an impressive career. Keep an eye out for her future work.

Mariana Mendez seizes adventure project ‘Viviendo Van’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experience Chen Xu’s 5-channel surround sound method in hit Chinese film ‘The Wasted Times’

When Chen Xu thinks back to his childhood, he fondly recalls the way in which his admiration for sound shaped his youth and ultimately, his career in sound mixing and sound design. For the highly sought-after sound designer, it is difficult to recall a time where sound design wasn’t his main passion. At the age of 17, Xu watched Forrest Gump and notes the experience as being the first time he ever truly fell in love with a film. It inspired him to focus on a career in sound design and gave him the confidence boost he needed to take the film industry by storm. The now 36-year old, award-winning creative is just as enthused about his art form today as he was back then. His life is enriched by the opportunity to do what he loves day in and day out and he has no desire to stop any time soon.

A typical day as a sound mixer and sound designer requires the skill and expertise to be able to record sound and mix it creatively. Although this may sound relatively straightforward, it is no small feat to achieve on a daily basis. For instance, when Xu works on set, he is required to carefully position microphones in such a way that will capture sound as clearly and concisely as possible. In addition, he must learn a film’s storyline inside and out in order to thoroughly understand the types of sounds that will complement the characters’ conquests. In addition, during the post-production process, Xu must awaken his creative tendencies and use them to apply sounds in the most unique, yet appropriate manner possible. Where Xu truly shines, however, is when he is tasked with location sound mixing for a film’s script. Knowing how to effectively capture sound in a complex location is what Xu does best. He is a master of extracting compelling sounds from a loud, busy location and ensuring that there is nothing compromising the sound in order to enhance an audience’s viewing pleasure.

“When I’m sound mixing, my work is more focused on creativity. I need to design some unique sound effects according to the images and the storyline before me. Then, I need to edit and record some foley and sound effects before I can arrange each sound element to fit perfectly into each moment within the film. All of these steps allow me to help develop and compliment the storyline” noted Xu.

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In 2015, Xu was given a script for a film titled The Wasted Times, by well-known Chinese director, Er Cheng, who was confident that Xu possessed the skills necessary to take his script to the next level. Having already secured a $23.6 million budget and two of Asia’s most accomplished and award-winning stars, Ge You and Zhang Ziyi, Cheng was determined to make this film his most successful yet. In addition, he was intent on making the sound design in The Wasted Times unlike anything his audiences had ever heard before. With that, beyond dialogue alone, he wanted to use as many location sounds as possible and to make best use of live recorded sound effects and foley. Given the film’s budget, cast, and unique content, he needed someone with both the experience and creative edge required to rise to the challenge. Fortunately for Cheng, Xu was compelled by the script and eager to take part.

The Wasted Times depicts the life of a legendary mafia boss in modern Chinese history. Through the use of a biographical narrative, the film follows a violent and betrayal-ridden deal between the Japanese army and criminals in Shanghai. For Xu, working on The Wasted Time presented a number of challenges he hadn’t previously encountered in his career. For instance, due to the fact that several of the film’s scenes were shot inside state- and city-level protected historic buildings, he had to master the ability to capture vocal exchanges in historical settings, as opposed to the more modern buildings he was used to working in. In order to do so, Xu led his team in adopting a pioneering approach whereby he recorded a 5-channel surround sound effect during production sound mixing. In addition, he made use of two additional stereo microphones in order to account for any and all reverberation, echoes, and delay of sounds in real time. This led to Xu having recorded and mixed approximately 80% of the film’s final dialogues and about 50 per cent of the sound effects using his location sound. It therefore goes without saying that Xu proved himself to be instrumental throughout the entire process, being able to provide carefully thought-out solutions to each potential problem the crew encountered. He is undoubtedly a strong contributor to The Wasted Times’widespread success and feels honored knowing that the film went on to receive four award wins and ten nominations from some of the industry’s most acclaimed organizations and festivals, including the Asian Film Awards, China Film Director’s Guild Awards, and the prestigious Macau International Movie Festival.

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For Xu, however, the true highlight of working on The Wasted Times was embedded within the reality that for him, this film was far more than just a sound production process. Being able to film at authentic locations such as the residence of Pu Yi, China’s last empire, as well as in a 1920s car loaned from an antique car museum helped Xu acquaint himself with the type of lifestyle of the individuals depicted in the film. He credits the experience of working on this film as helping build his understanding of people’s lives in that era and helping make it feel familiar to him. It was both a cultural and career-building opportunity and Xu couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome.

Liam Casey Sullivan on honor of continuing the conversation about addiction

Most successful actors will tell you that they do not act for the fame or for the fortune, they act for the thrill. They act because their job lets them connect with dozens of strangers, allowing them to contemplate the various aspects of the human condition together. They act because it is their creative outlet and their chance to take an audience along journeys they may never otherwise experience. They act because it keeps them alive. It doesn’t matter if an actor is young or old, new to the screen or a household name, actors act because unlike other professions, theirs allows them to escape reality and explore their souls before the eyes of the world. For these reasons and many more, Liam Casey Sullivan acts and with his rare combination of passion, talent, and perseverance, he is likely to live before a camera for decades to come.

“As an actor, I am required to delve into the bank of my personal experiences and surface the same feelings or emotions that my character is experiencing at any given time. Through respective research and seeking sympathy for the person I’m playing — however challenging that may be — I aim to grasp a complete understanding of their point of view so that I may be able to adopt it. Once I do this, I then embark on understanding their relationship with others by sourcing parallels from people I know in my life and from other stories. Although I may not have shared the same experiences and relationships as my character, I can revert to alternate moments I’ve lived in order to render even the slightest bit of those same reactions and capitalize upon them so I may appear as though I have lived them,” tells Sullivan.

Sullivan’s remarkable ability to ease in and out of character is arguably his greatest asset, and something he has done successfully for a number of different on and off screen productions, such as for the hit teen drama Degrassi: Next Class and The Girlfriend Experience. What tends to differentiate Sullivan from his competition, however, is his ability to adopt and portray traits that are entirely different from his own personality. Not only does he do so exceptionally, he thoroughly enjoys playing characters entirely unlike him. In fact, he considers playing Dougie in the Canadian film, Mary Goes Round, to be the highlight of his film career solely because he had the opportunity to play a conceited, selfish character.

Mary Goes Round follows the life of Mary, a substance abuse counsellor with a drinking problem. After being arrested for drunk driving and losing her job, Mary returns to her hometown where she learns that her estranged father is dying of cancer and wants to form a bond with Mary and her teenage half-sister that she has never met. In the film, Sullivan’s character Dougie conceals his own insecurities through a mask of obnoxiousness and arrogance. His lack of true friendships and general loneliness cause him to fiend attention and subsequently irritate those around him.

Ultimately, Sullivan’s character proved instrumental to Mary Goes Round’s great success and his performance on screen, in conjunction with his input behind the camera, highlights just how valuable he can be on any given project. After premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2017, Mary Goes Round was featured in several other festivals across North America. In addition, it won three prestigious awards, including Best Narrative Feature at the Annapolis Film Festival in 2018 and The Panavision Spirit Award for Independent Cinema at the Santa Barbara Film Festival in 2018.

What Sullivan enjoyed most about playing Dougie was the fact that he was able to explore and portray a personality type that he hadn’t ever depicted before. In addition, the film’s director, Molly McGlynn, was open to experimenting with the script and offering her cast an opportunity to rework and modify their scenes as they saw fit. Under these circumstances, Sullivan was able to allow his creative nature and unique style to flourish and he quickly proved himself invaluable to the production. Ultimately, however, Sullivan was honored to have taken part in shining a light on an extremely prevalent and relatable topic. Knowing that he was able to take part in a broader conversation about addiction left Sullivan feeling fulfilled and hopeful that audiences would be able to look at this social crisis from the unfamiliar, but interesting angle he helped create.

“In all, I liked that this story rings true to how much of an ongoing struggle battling addiction can be. A drinking problem has the power to haunt you for your entire life and this story is unforgiving when it comes to highlighting the truth and the daunting reality of addiction. This story not only spreads an awareness to the public but also gives a healthy sense of hope to those who may be facing similar problems as Mary and it felt great to have played a part in that,” Sullivan concludes.

 

Top photo by Helen Tansey

Canada’s Dan Cazzola living his dream with Endemol Shine Group

When Dan Cazzola first stepped onto a studio, he felt a rush like no other. It was at that moment when he fell in love with television production, seeing what a vast world it truly is. He finds it energetic and exciting, his passion for what he does translates directly to his work. As the Vice President of International Development for Endemol Shine North America, he is living the dream he’s had since he was only a child and has had a career that many aspire towards.

Originally from the small suburb of Ancaster, Ontario, Cazzola has travelled the world doing what he loves. Working with Endemol Shine, one of the world’s largest production companies, for the past six years, he has had a vast array of experiences working on internationally successful television shows, such as MasterChef, Big Brother,Minute To Win It and Deal Or No Deal.

“Working with Dan is always a pleasure. Not only does he ensure a healthy working relationship with all of his employees and colleagues, but he is extremely creative. Such a combination creates extremely high morale on every team he is a part of, despite the stresses that come along with such a fast-paced industry. Dan is everything you would want as a leader, and the tremendous results of his work are direct reflections of this,” said Rebecca De Young, Creative Director, Endemol Shine China.

One of the many highlights of Cazzola’s esteemed career came when he first started working with Endemol Shine, back at Shine Group in London. Shine Group was an immense company, with operations in over 10 countries and a large footprint in the United Kingdom. In every territory, each production company had started from scratch and they were doing everything they could to get to number one above all competitors. To do this, each region needed to be on the same path, working at the same speed, achieving the same goals. As the Global Development Executive of Shine Group at the time, Cazzola was the link between all these companies. He made sure to keep all priorities in line and made every connection happen with incredible speed. He brought new ideas and strategies into Shine and helped to map out the integration of the creative business into the newly formed Endemol Shine Group when Endemol and Shine Group merged.

“At Shine Group, I was working with the best creatives in the business. Shine had grown from nothing to one of the UK’s largest production companies in just over five years. It was a huge company but felt small and nimble and everyone in the company felt like they were responsible for its growth and success. The company had an amazing culture and to this day I haven’t found a more talented group of people in one place,” Cazzola described. “I was learning new things and new territories and new markets every day. At any moment we could sell a show to Thailand, or Brazil or Norway and we’d have to make sure that the show fit that market. I learned about all the broadcasters, the key talent in each territory and what makes everyone tick.”

Cazzola first started with Shine Group when he produced MasterChef. Having worked on the show, he knew a fair amount of the executives that worked on the corporate and international side at Shine Group. When the opportunity arose to transition from content producing to a corporate look, he felt he had what it took to make the transition, and he was right.

Cazzola became the creative face of the company during his years at Shine Group. He consistently found the best way to make all of the production companies work together harmoniously. He worked to instill trust, both in him and the company as a whole. From there, he would find the strongest areas to focus the company’s efforts. He made decisions based on both fact and instincts, which with his innate talent and years of experience proved to almost always be fruitful. He always trusted his gut when it came to picking out the next big thing, talking about ten shows in a day but instantly deciding what would become the next global hit. It was this rush that drove Cazzola, and why he looks back at his time at Shine Group so fondly.

“The Shine Group years were the glory years.  I am very proud to have been a part of Shine Group and what was achieved.  The company did in five years what other TV companies couldn’t do in 10 or 20. I can see the results of my work on screen in countries all over the world. And when I see that one of our shows has sold to another territory or won an award I always feel proud,” he concluded.

Go behind-the-scenes of ‘Pumpkin and Fried Noodle’ with Editor Meibei Liu

From the time Meibei Liu was a child, growing up in Shanghai, China, she loved watching movies. They would make her laugh, they would make her cry, and spending two hours enjoying a film became her favorite pastime. But being so young she would only take in the entire production, not appreciating the many roles scrolling past in the credits that it took to achieve the movie that just entertained her. However, this all changed when she was a teenager and decided to try making a movie of her own for fun. Despite enjoying films all her life, she knew nothing when it came to actually making one. It was a much harder process than she could have ever imagined, but she found herself constantly playing, pausing, rewinding, and cutting down parts of the film that she had made. She was a natural editor, and it was then when she fell in love with the art of editing. Now, years later, she has never looked back.

“Although the story was as naïve as it could be, the fun of making and editing the film just aroused my huge interest in filmmaking and also changed my life,” she said.

This past year, Liu has seen a lot of success worldwide. Her work on The Ballerina, The Shoemaker, and His Apprentice,Headshot, Dear Mamá, and Faith Need Not Change Her Gown have been celebrated at many international film festivals. Her first taste of such success, however, came back in 2013 when she worked on the documentary Pumpkin and Fried Noodle.

Pumpkin and Fried Noodleis a short documentary shot in Taiwan. It tells the stories of how two different families make their living as an outsider in a small village. Though tough, they still find their ways for inner peace and happiness. The film was selected for the Golden Sugarcane Film Festival, Taiwan’s first film festival where the filmmakers have to shoot and edit on site.

“I really liked that the documentary showed the culture of the village, and documented that beautiful, peaceful and friendly place, which was very different to the culture I was in growing up. It tells stories of outsiders in the villages and shows how they fight to live a better life and struggle to be part of the society over there. It’s also a story about women empowerment, telling how they managed to support the whole family without any help. Making a documentary about them was important because their way of living life and being in a difficult situation needed to be seen by others,” said Liu.

Because of the circumstances of the Golden Sugarcane Film Festival, only a pitch was submitted in hopes of qualifying as one of the ten slots. Once Liu and the rest of her team were selected, they were invited to Taiwan to make the film. During the week, Liu was with other filmmakers finding the subject to shoot and finding structure and stories. This allowed for faster editing, as she was able to spot what would work while filming. Then she finished each day with the editing. On top of this, she conducted interviews each day.

“Going there to make the documentary without knowing whether it will work or not; finding the story during shooting was like an adventure that needed a great sense of filmmaking, which I liked and wanted to be part of,” Liu recalled.

The film exemplifies how important editing is. Liu and the other nine filmmakers on the crew conducted several interviews with over ten different people, but in the editing room, Liu cut that down drastically, only showing two of the subjects that were interviewed. The film focused on their lives in detail, showing their philosophy of living rather than small aspects of many lives. Liu also made the decision of blending the two stories rather than showing one after the other, which helped lead to the warm and touching climax at the end.

“Meibei is very hard working. She edited our entire film within three days. She was very easy to work with, always there in the pre-production, making sure everything was right and very insightful about the story and production. In the post-production, she sacrificed her own personal time, which made the impossible schedule work in the end. Meibei is an editor who is very insightful and creative about creating story structure. She is amazing in terms of editing skills and at the same time, also very sensitive of capturing emotions of characters,” said Song Huang, Director.

Because of the competition, time was limited when making Pumpkin and Fried Noodle, requiring a fast, hardworking and passionate editor like Liu. On top of this, she was able to connect with the two women’s stories in a way that audiences can instantly see when watching the film, making it a true masterpiece.

 

Editor Xiaodan Yang refines artistic story in upcoming film “Summer Orange”

Xiaodan “Christy” Yang was a teenager when she realized she was meant to be a filmmaker. At the time, she and her friends at their high school in China were just having fun with a video camera. They were so excited and curious about the tool and would pretend to interview students during lunch breaks. Quickly, this transformed to casting classmates in small productions, and Yang was the leader.

“The most classic one was a Titanic parody where I picked two leading characters to play Jack and Rose from the “audition”. Then we shot the “I’m flying” scene. Their acting was so hilarious and the whole process was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it and that’s the first time I started thinking that maybe I could be a real filmmaker someday. I wanted to bring larger audiences to tears of laughter and allow them to experience all sorts of emotions through my work,” said Yang.

Despite being in charge of her high school short films, Yang found her way to a more behind-the-scenes role in editing. Now, she is an award-winning editor and is recognized far beyond China for her talent. Through her work on dramatic films such as Kayla, Witness, Sixteen and It’s Not Just About a Film, Yang’s contributions as an editor shape these important stories into pieces of art, and all those who work with her know what an asset she is.

“I worked with Xiaodan on my film, Ashram, as well as a short film called The Review. I directed the films and she was my editor for both of them. To work with Xiaodan is to have a very smart, skilled and sensitive creative partner. She is very thoughtful about her editing decisions, and a very even-keeled and well-balanced guiding creative force for the project. She’s very competent and efficient, but also artistic and intuitive. She has strong communication and learning skills, which make us work efficiently,” said Matt Marlin, Writer and Director. “Xiaodan is a strong creative presence and also very flexible with working with different types of personalities. She often juggled multiple projects when working with me, and still made me feel like my project was at least an equal priority with the other things she was working on. She can roll with any notes I throw her way, and also push back when she believes in a creative decision strongly. She has a great intuition for how to best bring out the story from the footage provided.”

When working on the upcoming film Summer Orange, an artistic story, Yang knew it would be defined by the editing. When she first read the script, she was immediately captured by the characters and could feel the desolation they felt in every word. She instantly said yes to the project.

Summer Orange is about a filmmaker dealing with his real life and the film he’s shooting. As a filmmaker myself, I felt close to him. As I was editing the film, the film also affected me in many ways. I was thinking deeply while working on this one,” said Yang.

The film follows Da, a film student in Los Angeles. During the time shooting his thesis film, his old friend, Lu, comes to visit him. It has been a few years since the two have seen each other, and they both have changed. At the same time, the relationship between Da and Xintong, the leading actress of his film, becomes ambiguous. With so many things going on, Da feels confused about film and reality.

“This is a very personal story for the director. Some plots and details come from his actual life experience. If other films are considered novels, this one is more like a prose. The story is sincere, but also abstract. Although nothing dramatic happens, the tone of the story is attractive. Sometimes life is just overwhelming, and people can’t do anything about it. The best part of this story is the dynamic between the characters. That was also my emphasis during editing,” said Yang.

Summer Orange is directed by Chen Xu, who also wrote the film. He had previously worked with Yang on Witness and It’s Not Just About a Film and knew her extraordinary editing talents would help captivate audiences to his subtle story. As the editor, Yang understood the director’s intentions of this story precisely. When going through the footage, every decision Xu made while shooting made sense to her and she knew just how to approach the editing. She could transform and breakdown the script without disrupting the artistic conception. As it was a calm story, the director chose to shoot the film in an objective way, meaning most of the shots were long takes. When Yang was editing, she watched each shot over and over to make sure she was choosing to highlight the best performances from each actor. After doing this, she still made sure not to cut the long takes, therefore ensuring the dynamic between each character was as close as possible to how it was originally shot, refining every take. She also slowed down her pace while editing and instead of simply thinking about what would be useful, she cared more about what felt right for the atmosphere.

Undoubtedly, Summer Orange will be a tremendous film and showcase what a formidable editor Yang is. It will premiere this May at none other than the prestigious Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner and will expectedly make its way to several more festivals in the coming year.

“I feel so excited about the Cannes Film Festival, since it’s one of the best film festivals in the world. I believe this is just a good beginning, and more and more will come,” Yang concluded.

China’s Xingpei Shen creates animation masterpiece with ‘Lotus Lantern’

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Xingpei Shen, photo by Rob Chron

Despite loving drawing since he was a child, it took Xingpei Shen much longer to discover he was meant to be in animation. He loved art, but in his late teenage years, he did not know how to turn that passion into a career. However, after attending a presentation from Chinese animator Lei Lei (Ray), he started to become intrigued by the idea of a career in animation. One of Lei Lei’s films, This Is Love, stuck with Shen. It was a candy-colored graphic animation paired with a silly yet sweet poem. It made everyone laugh and reminded him why he wanted to be an artist in the first place. Now, years later, he is an in-demand animator impressing worldwide audiences with his work.

Shen has had an expansive career as an animator, working on solo projects and group endeavors. His first independent film, Good Game, Bad Time, and Killer Sportsmanship, went on to international acclaim at several film festivals. This pattern continued with his work on the Huffington Post project What It Means to be Muslim in America, where Shen was one of only nine animators who were invited to make a short animation based on an audio anecdote provided on the topics of Muslim experience in America. He was also one of seven video artists featured in the traveling show Internet Yami-Ichi on December 9th, 2017at the renowned Tate Museum, where he has two animation pieces in the show.

“As a queer Chinese artist, I find my work often looks at overlooked boundaries of existences, the places of in-between, and the sweet vulnerabilities of outsiders,” said Shen.

This is exemplified by Shen’s latest film, Lotus Lantern. Lotus Lantern is a tribute to late Chinese singer Zhou Xuan, a missing link between filmmaker’s queer identity and Chinese heritage. Shen wrote, directed and animated the film entirely on his own. He had a vision in the very beginning that he wanted to make a lush and dreamy film that talks about his queerness and Chinese heritage, and he worked intensely hard to realize the goal.

“I think Lotus Lantern is important, because for one, it is a personal story about both queer experience and Chinese heritage. In the media nowadays, there is a tendency to homogenize queerness and overlook the intersectionality of different facets of identities. I believe Lotus Lantern is a genuine and vulnerable film that resists that tendency,” said Shen.

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Still from Lotus Lantern

After months of work, Lotus Lantern premiered on July 30th, 2017 at BAMcinématek in Brooklyn for the 14th Animation Block Party. It then made its way to dozens more festivals and is still continuing its run with three upcoming festivals in the next few months. It was featured as Vimeo Staff Pick and Shen was also invited to talk about his process on Animation World Network.

“It feels surreal how far Lotus Lantern has gotten after I finished the film not long ago. I am still currently processing and trying not to go over my head with all the good news. I am very proud and happy, because this film is incredibly personal and vulnerable. It gives me a lot of encouragement to carry out future projects,” he said.

Shen had three main inspirations when creating the concept for his film. The first was to create a tribute for Zhou Xuan, whose music was a large part of Shen’s childhood. Growing up queer in China, Shen did not have many icons in the media that he could look up to or relate with, but he was always fascinated by the singer and related her to a goddess. When he looked back on these pivotal years, he realized his sentiments towards Zhou Xuan all tied into his understanding of his own queerness, ultimately shaping his life. He wanted to reflect that through his art.

Second, he took the visual style from his grandmother’s praying shrine. His grandmother has a shrine that she prays to daily. When Shen was a child, he was always fascinated by the strange aesthetic of all the artifacts where a gorgeous antique brass double ear incense bowl paired with a cheap oversized disposable lighter she bought at a drug store and crackling chants pour out from a lotus-shaped electronic Buddhist mantra box. The sensibility extruded from his grandmother’s shrine table inspired the campy aesthetic of this film.

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Still from Lotus Lantern

“Wow, I am mightily impressed by Xingpei’s work on Lotus Lantern. It’s a steadily emerging style of film that I’m seeing more and more of and this one goes close to top of the class in that style. One of its strengths really struck me as being the very restrained and almost understated way he managed its pacing even as it poured in more and more and more visual elements – in lesser hands the temptation to wind up the tempo would have been succumbed to,” said Malcolm Turner, Animator and Director of the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Shen’s last source of inspiration for his film was his friend and former employer Suzan Pitt, an animator who created the 1979 short film Asparagus. A few years ago, Shen emailed the filmmaker and told her what an inspiration she had been to him. She responded and invited Shen for coffee at her home and a screening of Asparagus, where they had a long conversation about the art of animation. Throughout his entire time making Lotus Lantern, Shen kept the idea and style of Asparagus in his mind. He was haunted by the intricate psychedelic interior space of sexuality and desire in the film. He wanted to create something that was as complex and captivating.

“I really enjoyed Xingpei’s film Lotus Lantern. It seemed to be a deliberate homage to Suzan Pitt’s Asparagus, and it was really great to see an animation refer to another (great) animator’s work in a thoughtful and considerate way rather than just ripping off their style or film for effect. The deep underlying reference to Asparagus opens up ideas about identity, beauty and self, the state of reverie, but Xingpei takes them into new and compelling territory. We are made to think about the common ground of each film and the differences too. It was beautifully made and very thought provoking,” said Artist and Animator, Edwin Rostron.

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Still from Lotus Lantern

One of the more outstanding aspects of Lotus Lantern is that Shen made the film with a combination of digital tools (3D software like Maya, and 2D software like Photoshop and AfterEffects) and traditional animation techniques (hand-drawn and rotoscope). It balances two different methods creatively to achieve a lush painterly quality, which is very unique in current animation. The use of these methods exemplifies why Shen is such a formidable animator.

Despite all the critical acclaim and recognition Lotus Lantern has received, the greatest accolade came at the 41st Ottawa International Animation Festival last year. On the last day of the festival, Shen was sitting alone after his film’s second and final screening. A woman from South Africa approached him and told him that Lotus Lantern truly struck her, especially when Shen talked about the influences of women in his family to him as a queer artist. She put her hand on his chest and told him she was touched before tearing up. The women then left in a hurry before Shen could get her name or her story. He calls the experience the highlight of his career.

“It was an incredibly sweet moment. I have never gotten such a genuine and strong response for my work. It reminded me of the reason why I wanted to make films and tell stories in the first place,” he concluded.

Watch Shen’s moving work on Lotus Lantern here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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