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Challenging perspectives with esteemed screenwriter Varunn Pandya

The House_Headshot
Varunn Pandya, photo by Chaaritha Dheerasinghe

Christopher Reeves once said, “so many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.” For esteemed writer and screenwriter, Varunn Pandya, this mentality is all of the inspiration he needs to remind himself that with the right amount of hard work and dedication, he is able to achieve everything he sets his heart to. Growing up, the talented creative found himself inspired by Reeves’ interpretation of one of society’s token superheroes and credits his ability to play Superman as being one of the characters that initially sparked his interest in film. From there, he immersed himself into every avenue that the industry has to offer and found a love for the profession he now calls his own. As for his desire to create, it is stronger than ever before, and he has a knack for finding unique ways to showcase that will to the world.

“As a writer and screenwriter, I develop stories that I aim to show or display to the world in a way they’ve not necessarily experienced before. As I also like to direct, I try to write stories that I can bring a unique perspective to. Because I was born in India, I like to think that I bring some unique ideas to the United States and that I help to break some of the stereotypes associated with living on the Eastern side of the world,” told Pandya.

As he continues to navigate his way through the arts and entertainment industry, Pandya often finds himself taken aback by the breadth of opportunities and the amount of creative freedom he is allowed to use in order to imagine without limits and tell truly compelling stories. He has a reputation for finding areas of film that touch his audiences and he manages to do so in a way that keeps content fresh and engaging. In addition, he takes great pride in knowing that through his words and the stories that he brings to life, he has a grand platform to challenge the minds of his viewers and allow them to open their eyes to societal issues that they may or may not even be aware of. For instance, in his script XYZ where Pandya, alongside Badar AlShuaib, cast an important light on the unconscious, and sometimes conscious, bias that human beings exhibit toward their own race. In another of his scripts, The House, Pandya attempted to step outside of himself and allow his audiences to see the world from a perspective other than their own.

The House tells the story of Carl, a homeless man living in Los Angeles struggling to find a human connection amidst the repercussions of a rough upbringing. The storyline follows Carl’s daily routine as he collects metal scraps from the areas surrounding him and food from the trash in order to sustain himself. One fateful day, however, Carl comes across a family in his neighborhood and he grows a fascination for them. As the story progresses, viewers are taken on a journey through Carl and the family’s interactions. The story reminds us that regardless of our life circumstances, our skin color, our nationality, or whatever other features we use to distinguish ourselves from others, we are not all that different on the inside. We share similar emotions and at the end of the day, we are all human. Sometimes it just takes a little reminding from people like Pandya.

For The House, Pandya managed to develop a script in just four days. Writing it felt natural and he did everything in his power to keep the content as raw and powerful as possible. Wherever he could make the script seem realistic, he did just that and attempted to ensure that the script demanded empathy from its audience. He also made a particular effort to cast Carl in a different light than most homeless individuals are seen in. He wanted to show the world that not all homeless individuals intend to be, nor does their living situation make them any less human than the rest of us.

Up until The House, Pandya had only really ever worked with thrillers. What he loved most, therefore, about this project was the fact that it allowed him to step into unchartered territory and to explore an area of society he hadn’t otherwise given much thought into. He takes great pride in knowing that his script has the power to change the minds of many as they engage with the script and consider their actions from there forward. In the end, Pandya was not the only one who found a love for the script. In fact, The House went on to win a number of prestigious awards, such as Best Short Screenplay at the Five Continents International Cult Film Festival in June 2018 and at the Calcutta International Film Festival in September 2018.

“It feels great to know that the script has been widely appreciated by people all over the world. This script will always remain one of the most memorableprojects I’ve written as I think it’s the most personal story I have written despite it being based on a character that is very different from me,” he concluded.

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Chandra daCosta talks love of producing and finding the best stories

Growing up, Chandra daCosta was inspired watching her uncle on television, an actor in McIver. Though his role was a small one, that made little difference to her. The moment she saw him on screen, she knew she wanted to be part of creating TV content. When watching a movie, she would fixate on the details, watching it over and over again, studying it. She understood that filmmaking was more than just entertaining. It was a way to share a part of herself with the masses, and she set her sights on producing.

DaCosta has worked with top production companies across Canada. She has worked on popular series like A Wedding and a Murder, Biggest and Baddest, and The Stanley Show and most recently docu-series for Lifetime.  She has collaborated with some of the industry’s finest and her work has been seen on worldwide networks like Discovery Channel, and BBC.

“As a kid, I would always beg my parents to take me to the movie theatre. I loved the glam of it, the event of it, the popcorn, the lights, the BIG screens. I knew I wanted to live in this world somehow, some way,” she said.

One of daCosta’s highlights on her resume is her work with Dale Wolfe Productions. She currently has two shows in development with Wolfe, Fish Brokers and Water ShockFish Brokers is a television series that follows the process of catching, delivering and serving sustainable, fresh seafood to high profile restaurants – “from ship to chef” – on a daily basis. Based on the book Water Rights in Southeast Asia and India by author Ross Michael Pink and published by internationally known publisher, Palgrave Macmillan, Water Shock is a documentary series exploring the paramount human rights issue of our time: clean drinking water.

“Both projects have extremely sensitive subject matter, Water Shock’s message and story are imperative, and I am proud to be working on something that will hopefully have an impact and bring awareness to a very serious issue. The shortage of water is already a reality to so many and yet, here in North America we continue on like the water will last forever,” said daCosta. “Fish Brokers is extremely exciting to work on because everyone loves a good food show! And although this isn’t just about food, that’s a part of it. I am excited to get out there with the fishermen and immerse myself into their daily life. These fishermen are not massive operations, which makes it a personal experience. Further, they are very firm in their desire to fish sustainably and ensure their product is about sustainable seafood.  The idea of following the entire process from fish to dish is something I’m passionate about.”

While making Water Shock, Wolfe relies heavily on daCosta to source and secure hosting talent and utilize her contacts for Directors, cinematographers etc. Through her personal and professional relationships, she has many high-profile colleagues she can approach. This is what makes her so good at what she does; the people she works with always want to work with her again. She also works hard on the research side of the show, making sure there is always a primary and secondary story for each episode that can captivate the audience.

“Chandra is the consummate professional. She has the ability to pull together various aspects of a production and ensure it is running smoothly. Her most powerful quality is her networking skills and connections with high caliber industry professionals and the ability to bring people together,” said Dale Wolfe, Producer and Writer.

DaCosta has also been a driving force behind the development of Fish Brokers. Through the casting and the pre-interviews, she has found several companies to come on board for the show. On top of finding funding and distribution, daCosta continues to work with the cast, and source footage for the pilot episode. She continues to look for new and fresh angles, which is why fishermen are eager to participate in telling their stories.

“I worked on various development projects with Chandra. As a development executive at a top tier Vancouver production company, I often collaborated with Chandra on new ideas and pitches for broadcasters. Chandra is fantastic to work with. She was one of the few people I worked with in the television industry who not only was a pleasure to work with but also able to research, network, write and produce show ideas all at once. She is truly a triple (and beyond) threat,” said Nicole Lawson of Force Four Entertainment.

Fish Brokers has changed and evolved over time. From Fish Brokers, to Fish to Dish, to Ship to Chef and back to Fish Brokers, whatever the title, the show continues to impress industry professionals and broadcast executives.

“Working on these two shows has been so much fun. I really have a chance to dive into the different worlds and meet characters. Although both shows are about sustainability, one has a “fun” subject (food) and the other more serious (water shortages worldwide). The food aspect is always fun because part of the research is testing some of the finished product. And the chef’s love watching people marvel over their creation,” daCosta described. “The water shortage is dire, and it’s been really hard to even get myself to acknowledge the severity of our planet’s water shortages. While doing research and through the book, it’s more important than ever to get this story out there. Looking for the right host is key and so right now, I’m really focusing on the right fit for cast and crew.”

Be sure to keep an eye out for both Fish Brokers and Water Shock to see just what daCosta is capable of.

Graphic Designer Bruna Imai honors veterans with award-winning SYFY campaign

As a graphic designer, Bruna Imai takes a simple idea and turns it into a visual masterpiece. She finds the aesthetic that best suits each project and the most appropriate way to communicate a message with all its potential.

“All kinds of art, music, literature, film, dance, etc. – has its own language, and the role of the designer is to interpret these arts and translate one “language” to another. Any art is about telling a story, a message. I’m a storyteller specialized in the visual language, and I use elements like illustrations, photographs, objects, movies, animation, motion and so on to tell a story,” she said.

It is exactly this attitude toward her craft that has made Imai an industry leading graphic designer. She is known for her contributions to several acclaimed campaigns, including IFC’s “No Brainer” commercial spot, Coca-Cola’s “Coke On” commercial, FIFA’s Women’s World Cup on Fox Sports, and STATE Design’s Statement. Her work has gone on to receive several awards from the most prestigious advertising agencies and awards around the world.

Another award-winning project for Imai was the 2015 SYFY Veteran’s Day campaign. The project was about a holiday spot for SYFY Network to produce a heartfelt ‘Thank You’ to the nation’s veterans. In addition to appearing on televisions all over the country, Imai’s work was also seen online. Parts of the animation were used as the opening and ending of “thank you” videos, featured in many motion graphics related sites.

Imai’s graphic design work led the project to immense success. Not only was it popular with viewers and online, but it took home several prestigious advertising awards. The project won the Channel Holiday/Special Event Spot at PromaxDBA 2016, the most important awards in entertainment marketing and design.

“I am still so happy this campaign was so successful, especially because it shows that all the trust that was placed in me was deserved. I was happy not only with the reaction from the public, but also happy about my performance, knowing that I could make something really interesting,” she said.

Imai had two main roles for this project, the storyboard, which involved transforming the script into the first sketches, and the layout, which she was solely responsible for. The project follows a color palette based on the United States flag and yellow light to add a warmth tone to the message. The entire process was done digitally in Photoshop. Imai received the script from the studio with some images they would like to use – the veterans carrying the flag, the eagle flying and a field of flags, plus some typography references of types and illustrations mixed up. She began sketching thumbnail studies and soon, the storyboard was ready.

As they were working on a tight timeline, Imai came up with the pivotal idea of most of the animation efforts into bold transitions and keeping the layouts simple but captivating in most scenes. She conceptualized the designs, especially the transitions in the theme of “freedom”, representing it with elements of “air”, which audiences can see in the flight of an eagle, the movement of the flag and leaves being carried by the wind. The illustrations were finished with a broad brush and sketchy edges to emphasize this movement and flow, making the animation finalization process easier.

“This project was a very challenging one and wouldn’t be possible to do on time without the studio’s trust in my work, giving me creative freedom. I loved working on a project that I could use my full potential as a designer. Also, the communication with the studio during the project was excellent, and is what made me feel like being part of the team. It would have been impossible to deliver this result without our good relationship,” she said.

As the sole designer for the project, Imai was vital to the Veteran’s Day campaign’s success. She expedited the process, considering the design and transitions even in the process of storyboarding. Because of her talents as a storyboard artist, she also saved the company money in doing multiple roles. Her versatility and vast understanding of her craft is unparalleled. For those looking to follow in her footsteps, she offers encouraging words of wisdom.

“There is a tendency for students to focus on learning the software and tools, but it is essential to study academic subjects of art and design to be able to do a solid project with cohesion. When you study theory, you learn how to “see” images and references. It is a study of how to analyze critically and technically a designer’s choice,” she advised. “Also, I would say to feed on various types of references, not just graphic design. There are so many languages of art in so many senses! Music, dance, photography, movies, sculpture, literature, gastronomy, performing, folk art, everyday experiences and so on. Just as languages are translatable from one to another, all kinds of artistic expression and experiences are translatable between them. We can see a great example illustrating this “translation” in the film Ratatouille, in the part in which the characters describe the flavors of the strawberry and cheese in graphical forms. I believe that it’s essential to be the professional who can see and navigate between different languages, have a fresh mind that continues to play and to experiment.”

Writer and Director Claire Leona Apps takes showcases the Great North Run in acclaimed film

Writing has always come naturally to Claire Leona Apps. She loves telling stories and loves how they serve society; they can teach us and warn us, they can entertain while serving a greater purpose. A good story can create conversation and express ideas that help us relate to new points of view. It’s a powerful tool, and Apps understands that. Her passion for storytelling translates directly into her work as both a screenwriter and a director, from the words she puts down on a page to the way she puts it together in front of a camera, and she captivates worldwide audiences with films.

Apps is an in-demand writer and director, with a series of decorated projects highlighting her esteemed resume. These include her acclaimed films Gweipo, Aceh Recovers, Ruminate, and And Then I Was French. She is known for her ability to showcase the lives of underrepresented characters and bring a dark sense of humour to a story.

“I try not to get so caught up on the real world with my work. I have to deal with that every day anyway. I like a little surrealism, a little irony, and films that are a little self-aware,” she said.

That is exactly the message Apps puts out with her film Girl Blue Running Shoe. The film follows the daughter of a runner participating in the Bupa Great North Run as she makes a film as he trains and runs the race. The film begins calmly with a serene domestic set-up, building pace as the race begins, cutting between the training day and the marathon. At points which demonstrate the intensity of running, a special zoetrope effect is used, breaking down the movement of running into paused actions, reflecting the rhythm of the action – the steady thumping of shoes on gravel, a beating heart, breathing. The piece is shot solely on Super 8, edited to emulate both the excitement of the daughter as an observer and the adrenaline of the participator. With a soundtrack of enhanced natural noises, Girl Blue Running Shoeis an evocative celebration of the human body whilst also telling the simple story of a father-daughter relationship.

“It’s a story about loving and sharing in the experiences of the people you love. It also dissects the movements of running,” said Apps. “Usually I do pretty dark things. It was nice to do something that ended up in a children’s film festival line up. It’s nice to just show love, simple straight forward love between a father and daughter,” she said.

Apps wrote the story and pitched it to the British Arts Council to commission the film. When she got the commission, she immediately began directing, coming up with a new camera technique for the film. The story has two components. One is a daughter watching her father run the race. He is doing his hobby, running, and she is doing hers, filmmaking. She films him running on a Super 8 camera. Therefore, as the director, Apps decided to shoot the whole film on Super 8 cameras. This truly allowed audiences to immerse themselves in the girl’s point of view. Apps also had the idea to use the sprocket holes of the physical film and the division between the different pictures to create a zoetrope like film effect. She did this all by hand: slowing the footage down and cranking it through a projector to be re-filmed.

Shooting took place at the Great North Run in Newcastle, England, one of the biggest half marathons in the world. This presented a unique challenge for Apps, who had to shoot a fictional story around a live marathon. Therefore, the actual shoot was extremely fast. She had to make quick decisions to deal with whatever came their way. There were roads shut off, spectators everywhere, and of course the runners themselves, and they had to move all around them with a child actress.

“The hardest thing about this project was finding the right kid to play the lead. It is a large ask to have a child give you full energy for a few hours of extreme intensity, but Adrianna Bertola, who played the lead, was a dream,” said Apps.

The film premiered on BBC during the Great North Run the following year. It went on to be at the Great North Museum for an exhibition. It was also an Official Selection at the Cork International Film Festival. The success was wonderful for Apps, as the shoot was a chaotic and fun experience.

Now, Apps is currently working on another feature film. She is a truly exceptional filmmaker, engaging viewers of all ages, which is evident with her work on Girl Blue Running Shoe. She knows the key to her success is working hard, and she encourages all those looking to follow in her footsteps to do the same.

“Prepare yourself for a lot of hard work and don’t expect anyone to discover you. We live in a world at the moment where you can generate a lot of attention by yourself and you can make films on your phone. Make something and keep going,” she advised.

Visual Effects Artist Jie Meng is living his childhood dream

One of Jie Meng’s most distinctive childhood memories is watching The Lord of the Rings movies for the first time. After watching the first film, he was left speechless. Not only were these movies entertaining, but also artistic masterpieces. He began watching the films over and over again, constantly overcome by the magnitude of the stunning visual effects. He realized, even at that young age, that filmmaking could make fantasy a reality, and that was when he knew he had to be a part of that world.

Now, Meng is an in demand Visual Effects Artist. He is known for his work on countless films, including Avengers: Infinity War, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and more. His talents extend to television, such as The Americans, and Freaky Friday, as well as video games, like Quake Champions and Call of Duty: Black Ops III.

“I worked with Jie on Call of Duty: Black Ops IIIand later on Captain America: Civil War.

Jie is a talented FX artist. He strives to create the highest level of quality and is constantly pushing himself to learn new techniques, either independently or from the team around him. He listens to positive feedback and can build FX setups and tools that are used by multiple artists. This makes him extremely productive, a pleasure to work with and I hope to work with him again in the future.” said Peter Claes, FX supervisor and Lead VFX artist at The Mill.

Captain America: Civil War was Meng’s first true taste of movie blockbuster success with his work. The film, the third Captain America movie and the 13thof the Avengers franchise, grossed over $1 billion at the box office. It was nominated for 17 awards at various festivals and award shows and took home five. Meng worked tirelessly to make this a possibility.

“It was a huge pleasure and honor working on this film. The success made me think of those days when I devoted myself to the work, and now I realize that all my efforts paid off,” said Meng.

The movie sees the beloved Captain America pitted against Iron Man due to political differences. A vast array of Avengers appear throughout the film, taking sides. It’s a story about friends and brothers. It’s a debate between freedom and obeying the rules. Meng had always been a fan of the Marvel franchise and the Captain America films, but he knew this film would be something special and that he had to be a part of it.

“After watching the movie, I thought a lot. It actually reflects a lot of problems in our current society, an individual always wants to be free but also needs to follow the laws. I like movies that reflect the social status and will bring up a topic and let me think about it, and Captain America: Civil War is one of them,” said Meng.

When it came to the effects, Meng worked on many shots in several different sequences. His focuses were the roof helicopter fighting sequence and the final battle scene. He finished all different kinds of effects for various sequences, with little touches that dramatically added to the film.

Meng’s main task, however, was developing the Ironman thruster tool in the final combat sequence between Captain America and Ironman, the climax of the film. Therefore, he knew that his role was of the utmost importance for the film’s success. The tool needed to be packed and shared with other artists at both Los Angeles and Vancouver studios to finish every shot that contains Ironman’s thruster. It needed to be designed as a “one-click and automatically build the thruster” tool, but also contains all kinds of functions to modify and art-direct the thruster effects. Meng re-designed the thrusters from Iron Man 3and packed in a whole new digital asset. Every time he modified and polished the tool, he optimized it and made the tool easier to use. In doing this, he gathered the feedback from different artists and made it more and more productive. The whole process of building the tool was a very valuable experience for Meng and bettered the film as a whole.

“Being part of this feature film, witnessing the whole VFX workflow in the post-production made me completely understand that the VFX process is never easy. The most comforting, and also most important part was I have learned a lot from this project about how to build a digital asset tool that can be used in the visual effects production and was inspired by all the VFX artists around me,” he said.

Meng also worked on other different effects like the debris, smoke, sparks, snow, etc. Those photo-realistic effects elements completed the movie sequence and created a stronger visual impact on the audience. The experience, overall, was a great honor for the visual effects artist, and he wouldn’t change a thing.

“When I saw the film premiere and my name on the credit list, I was so proud of myself and the whole crew members, and that was the most exciting moment to me for watching all my effort paid off and it was so worth it,” he concluded.

Colorist Cynthia Chen shows emotion behind Sichuan Opera masks in award-winning film

When Cynthia Chen was a little girl growing up in China, she was always inspired by her mother. She was an art teacher, and a young Chen therefore began painting from a young age. She was always sensitive about the different colors she used and playing around with color always amused her. As she grew, this fascination only intensified, and she found it impacting her hobbies. She began to have an interest in photography just to play around with the photos while editing, changing the colors and enhancing them to create a captivating piece of art. When she began filmmaking, she realized how impactful color is to every shot in a piece, conveying emotions and acting as another way to tell a story. It can impact film styles, she realized, and when she already had an interest in editing films, she realized that being a colorist would allow her to explore this interest she had from childhood and turn it into a fruitful career.

Chen is both a highly successful editor and colorist. Her passion for what she does is unwavering, her talent unparalleled. Every project she has been a part of, including I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, OffsprungSlingshot Prince, and The Last Page, have gone on to critical acclaim at many of the world’s most prestigious film festivals thanks to Chen’s efforts.

“Just like editing has a rhythm to tell a story, the color, as another method to express the emotions, also can have a “rhythm” when it comes to contributing to create a film. I believe a film masterpiece must be treated and polished as a great art piece. Color grading enhances the texture of a film picture which makes it become a completed art piece. Every time I finish the color grading works, the group of filmmakers I am working with are always shocked after seeing the before and after pictures. That is my proudest moment. The whole color grading process makes me believe that my talent brings this film into a higher level,” she said.

One of Chen’s greatest successes as a colorist was the film Mask. The animated drama looks into masks in Sichuan opera that are traditionally used to reveal the changes of inner feelings and emotions of the characters participating in the drama. The masks turn abstract emotions and mental states into visible and sensible concrete images, and reveal the feelings of the characters inside the story. By raising the hand, swinging a sleeve or tossing the head, an actor uses different masks to show different emotions, expressing invisible and intangible feelings through visible and tangible masks. Mask, is inspired by Sichuan Opera Face changing. It is a story behind a mysterious mask, which shows different patterns as different lights go through.

The three characters in the film are heroes from different traditional Chinese historical contents. Qingshi Huang, represents as the breadth of vision, is the first king in Qing Dynasty.  Monkey King, one of the most famous and classical characters in Chinese fairy story, the guardians of his master, as the leader protected his group on the West Road, through eighty-one trials and finally reached the goal. Zhuge Liang, the smartest military advisors from three kingdoms era, served for Bei Liu, represents wisdom and loyalty. Those characters are also three heroes in Chen’s heart. For the Chinese native, it was an honor to work on this film that has a deep Chinese culture background.

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According to those three different characters, Chen decided basic color tunes for each one. The king Qingshi Huang has a yellow and green color tune because in Ancient China, yellow means power in social classes. Zhuge Liang, who represents wisdom and loyalty, uses a blue color tune as the main color base. In the color theory, blue connects to calmness and cool emotions. Chen set golden and orange color tune for the brave Monkey King as those colors stand for positive minds, passion and braveness. Therefore, the scenes where those three characters appear, and the weapons on their hands, have the unite color tunes.

As the entire film was CGI, the renders had a strong contrast in colors, which Chen thought looked very digital. To solve this problem, she decreased the contrast of the entire picture, adding some yellow color tune and film grains. She then adjusted each scene for each character, and finally finished the color grading work. She helped to bring the whole picture to a new stylized level.

“This short film had a very large creative space for me to try on the different color palettes and stylize the picture, which made this piece very interesting and fun to work with. The CGI images contain more color information than the images shot by cameras, so there was a lot of space for me to adjust the color for this film,” said Chen.

Mask had a tremendous film festival run with the help of Chen. It was an Official Selection at the New Media Film Festival and the Asian Film Festival of Dallas 2018. It also went on to win the Award of Excellence at both the Best Shorts Competition 2018 and the One-Reeler Short Film Competition 2017. Chen could not be happier about the film’s many accolades.

“It was such an honor to work on this project that explores such an important part of Chinese culture. This is a milestone project in that it was a brand-new experience for me. The success of this film encouraged me to do more color grading work in the future which has more culture background,” she said.

The new works Chen has contributed to, feature film Indivisible and documentary Fantastic Fungi, are expected to be released later this year. Be sure to check them out to witness this colorist’s talent first hand.

Maja Lakomy goes on ‘Vacay’ in new film

Poland’s Maja Lakomy is a true storyteller. As an actress, she tells someone’s story in her own interpretation, having respect towards the character and the narrative at the same time. Her goal is to be a part of as many spectacular stories that are written or told by great minds as possible. She aims to both entertain and move as many people as possible, whether they laugh, cry, think, or simply feel. That is what she finds satisfying.

“There are so many beautiful, thrilling, terrifying and touching stories in the world and the more people they reach, the better, in my opinion. Actors are in some sense tools that are needed for these stories to reach people. Through movies and theatre people can experience new things and educate themselves, which I think is so important,” said Lakomy.

Lakomy is known for her work in films such as Star House and Diminuendo, receiving great praise for her acting abilities at many international film festivals. This year, she has lots going on, including a music video for Italian singing sensation Andrea Bocelli. On top of this, she has several upcoming films, including Straying from You, Moral Inequity, What’s with the Doll, and the artistic flick Vacay.

Vacay offers up a unique challenge for Lakomy, as it is a creative, cinematic film with no dialogue. The film is meant to entertain of course, but also make the audience think and feel shocked, which is why Lakomy was interested in the project. Before she auditioned, she read the description of her character and knew exactly how to play her. Upon reading the script, she found the story unique and incredible.

In the film, Lakomy plays Veronica, the “mysterious messenger” in the story. Nobody knows exactly what the history is between her and the main man, played by Juan Blasquez, but one can suspect that something deep and unresolved occurred between those two. She goes through many different phases of emotion, adding necessary and intense drama to her scenes. She is a tough woman on the facade, who leads an independent and successful life. Once audiences see a little more of her, we find out that underneath, she carries some trauma from the past that sometimes she isn’t able to cover. She is like a ticking bomb of emotions that if she doesn’t manage to contain, might explode.

“I like that the story is light and entertaining for the most part but gets intense and shocking in some moments. I also like the style of it, that it’s told without any dialogue, which makes it universal and even more powerful. I think the story is important because it touches upon some relevant and controversial matter, but at the same time entertains the audience, leaving them with a lot to think about after watching it, maybe even with an unsettling feeling,” said Lakomy.

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Lakomy was asked to audition for the part of Veronica by the director of the film. He had previously seen the actress’s work and was greatly impressed. Upon meeting her, he slightly altered the part to make it a principle role, knowing Lakomy could make a difference to his film. Such a reaction was incredibly touching for Lakomy.

Vacay began filming at the end of last month. Currently, Lakomy focuses on getting into the mindset of her character. A very important part of the process is connecting with one of the lead actors who her character has a strong history with. They are working on building the relationship so that when they act together, they can make the story between them as believable as possible, even without any words.

“I love that the whole film has no dialogue, so the story is told through the actors’ actions, facial expressions and the scenery. I like working on this specific aspect of acting, where drastic transitioning between different emotions is required. I enjoy challenges like that. I really appreciate working with great actors and an incredibly passionate director. I like that everybody who’s involved in this project fully engages with it and gives a hundred percent of their energy into it,” said Lakomy.

Vacay will be finished and submitted to film festivals later this year. There is little doubt that it will impress, and that Lakomy’s performance will be incredibly captivating. After its film festival run, it will be made available on various digital on demand platforms. Be sure to check it out.

Needless to say, Lakomy is a dynamic and in demand actress. She never gave up on her dream of acting, despite various roadblocks that came up on her journey. She encourages all those with the same dream to keep pushing, because eventually it will be worth it.

“As actors and artists in general it’s hard to be satisfied with yourself. There’s never a perfect answer or way to do something when it comes to acting. This profession is very subjective and it’s important to remember that we can’t always make everybody happy. My advice would be stay determined and work on yourself instead of comparing yourself to other people’s successes and failures. And even when you hear “no” way more than you hear “yes”, as long as acting brings you joy, don’t ever quit,” she advised.

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.

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.