Tag Archives: Film

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.

Advertisements

Ukraine’s Alina Smolyar enchants audiences in award-winning performance

Actress Alina Smolyar knows the challenges of her chosen career path. Memorizing large amounts of text, researching characters, drastic physical appearance changes, lack of sleep, transforming into another person, working in extreme weather conditions, the list goes on. However, without such challenges, acting wouldn’t be what she fell in love with when she was only a child. For this internationally sought-after actress, these obstacles are what drives her.

Every project any actor takes on has its own set of challenges, and Smolyar not only accepts this fact, but enjoys it. When working on her film Molehill, which is perhaps the actress’ most decorated film to date, she was faced with what seemed like an endless list of obstacles to overcome, and although it was daunting, this is where she shined.

“Honestly, Molehill was one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever worked on. I thought it would be a disaster! No jokes. But this journey made it all the more rewarding when everything came together,” said Smolyar.

Molehill is an artistic film that follows a group of friends at a party. Audiences are kept guessing until the very end, never knowing what is going to happen next. The ending is completely unpredictable, encouraging audiences to think long after the film concludes, giving the impression that it is a beginning rather than an end.

“I like when it’s unexpected in movies, we as an audience always remember this type of film,” said Smolyar.

Smolyar’s character in Molehill is Leigh, an adult in her early 20s who became older earlier than she’s supposed to. She has a full-time job, her mother is going through health issues, and she has a lot to deal with at home. She finds the need to protect her younger brother Sid, who upon turning 21 becomes very wild. For him, he is having fun, but for Leigh, it is another problem to take care of. She doesn’t have time for herself, to enjoy life or to go out and find a guy. She is incredibly stressed. Her character works in a contrast with everybody and everything around her. From the very beginning we can hear and see a party, people are having fun and this black spot named Leigh who’s so serious and stressed and everything goes wrong for her.

“You know when we are over stressed and it’s so hard to focus on something positive, because it’s like a tornado? You just keep dealing with all this craziness around you. That is the exact struggle Leigh is facing,” said Smolyar.

Smolyar faced a similar struggle when she began working on the film. As a writer of Molehill, she had a different idea of where to take the story, but it wouldn’t work for the film. At the time, she had no idea what else she wanted to share or how to share it. Upon meeting with her director and producers, inspiration struck and she was able to come up with a story she liked.

“You know that feeling when you have to do everything very fast, but you have a white sheet or a monkey with plates in your head? That was me. I had no idea what else I wanted to tell, and we were running out of time,” she recalled.

When making the film, Smolyar was also one of the producers, a role she had never taken on before as she typically focuses on acting. She found her experience as an actress helped with her producing role.

When it came to acting, she put herself fully into Leigh, understanding her struggles and motivation behind every move she made. The arc of the character was important to Smolyar. It was part of her initial idea and was vital for the film.

“It was complicated for me. I guess at one point it worked very well for my acting perspective, because you can definitely see that contrast which I needed for Leigh. I was as stressed in my real life as Leigh was in hers. However, all my preparation for the project as both producer and actress helped to create my Leigh,” said Smolyar.

Being the writer, producer, and star of the film was an enormous amount of responsibility for Smolyar, but she enjoyed that. Molehill truly felt like her film, more so than any other project she had done before. She found wearing so many hats allowed her to become a better actress, and when the film became so successful, she knew she had done her job right.

Molehill premiered last May and then made its way to several festivals both in the United States and around the world. It was an Official Selection at Cine Fest, Festigious International Film Festival, and Mindfield. Smolyar herself was also awarded with Best Actress at the Actors Awards, New York Film Awards, Los Angeles Film Awards, and Oniros where she won Best Acting Duo. The result astounded Smolyar, who although had tremendous success with past projects, did not expect it for her own film.

“It still feels pleasurable, especially when you didn’t expect this kind of success. It feels great when you’re getting recognition for what you’ve been working on and especially when you do what you love,” she concluded.

Be sure to check out Smolyar’s upcoming films 1stBorn, and Skeleton in the Closet.

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.

Living her dream, Sherry Du is both producer and explorer

As a producer, Xiangrong (Sherry) Du considers herself almost an explorer; she searches for a script and voyages deep into the story; she locates the heart and soul and finds exactly the right way to portray it. That is why she loves what she does, and that is just what makes her so extraordinary at it.

“Producers take words on a page and make it real on a screen. It’s really cool to me,” said Du.

Throughout her career, Du has used her sought-after talents to create captivating stories. Her films such as AugustFront Door,and Eyes on You have been great successes at various film festivals, taking home awards and impressing audiences. Her work on the commercial for KYJ sausage went viral, amassing millions of views after just a short time online.

With such success, it may seem hard to identify one outstanding project that stands out in her mind, but when asked about the highlight of her career, Du knows that without a doubt it has been working on the film Autumn Ghost.

Autumn Ghost is about a banker, Shawn, who can see ghosts like his mother Maggie. Because of his mother’s medical expenses, Shawn uses his bank clients’ money to buy stock. He loses a big amount of money and can’t put it back. Knox is a ghost who was killed by Shawn’s boss, Raven. He notices that Shawn can see ghosts and wants to ask Shawn for help. However, Knox makes a deal with Shawn: Knox helps Shawn get money, whereas Shawn helps Knox get revenge on Raven.

“As I studied the horror genre, I realized that the most terrifying thing is not simply dying, but being a ghost stuck in the veil of humanity. Ghosts cannot do anything, like they are lost in another world,” said Du.

Du actually came up with the idea for the story after watching horror films in her teens. She decided to research the genre and create a feature film. Once hiring a co-writer, they finished the script of a man who can see a ghost that helps him solve his future problems. Du had always liked stories about gods and spirits and found that the supernatural element of the script added a uniqueness to it.

After completing the screenplay, Du decided to shoot a trailer. The first step was finding a team who was passionate about her story, which Du found in Director Jing Ning and Cinematographer Will Job. The next step was finding a location. They needed an entire office that would be big enough for a film crew. Du managed to entice a company by suggesting that with production design, their office would be spruced up and modernized.

When shooting the trailer, Du felt something truly special. It was her first time ever writing a script, and she was amazed to see the character’s in her brain become real people when portrayed by the actors. When the visual effects were added, it brought everything together. She truly felt like her story was coming alive.

The idea of shooting a trailer first is to gain investors for the film, something Du is responsible for as the producer. The trailer itself has been making its way to several film festivals, impressing audiences and critics. It was an Official Selection at the CARE Awards Around International Film Awards in Berlin, Orlando Film Festival 2017 and the Creation International Film Festival 2018 Winter. It won Best Trailer at 15 Minutes of Fame Film Festival 2017 and Glendale International Film Festival 2017 and Best Horror/Thriller/Sci-fi Short at the London Independent Film Awards. Most recently it took home the Diamond Award for Trailer at EIFA Winners Spring 2018. Needless to say, such a response gained much recognition for the film, and Du is very excited to begin production.

“Even though it’s hard to produce a feature film from scratch, trust me, it’s worth it. I want to thank my director, my team and my actors. I can’t wait to get the film started,” she said.

Be sure to keep an eye out for Autumn Ghost.

Aida King brings on the laughs in hilarious comedy ‘Desert Drive’

Photo 2018-05-28, 1 11 53 AM
Aida King

To succeed in acting, Aida King knows there is nothing more important than self-confidence. Never be conceited but know who you are as a person and how much you are capable of. This is her mantra that drives her and is why she is such a renowned Canadian actress. She has never lost belief in herself, and when audiences watch her on both the big and small screen, she radiates.

King is known for her work in celebrated films like The Convicted, Hemorrhage, and War of Mind. She has worked with award-winning filmmakers and well-known actors, including Alexander Michael Helisek, a veteran actor and producer in Hollywood. Known for his work on the Golden Globe Award-winning television series This Is Us, the Golden Globe Award-winning hit feature film Interstellar, which starred Matthew McConaughey and the two-time Golden Globe Award-nominated popular television series Silicon Valley, Helisek was greatly impressed with King when they worked together on Desert Drive.

“I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work alongside Aida, as an actor, in her leading role of Missy Lee on the comedy film titled Desert Drive.Aida was absolutely essential to the critical acclaim and commercial success of the film. Her character needed to be depicted by an actress who could convey the necessary warmth, romance, comedy and sincerity that makes her a relatable character to the audience. Aida was able to accomplish all of this and more in a performance that was at once full of force and subtlety,” said Helisek.

Desert Drive follows the life of four Los Angeles based musicians who travel from Hollywood to Palm Springs for the Coachella Music Festival. Instead of harping on aimless debauchery and excessive drunkenness, the story documents the eventful two-hour ride and all the intimate conversations and crazy obstacles that transpire on the action-packed pilgrimage.

“It’s a fun slice of life story that I think people that travel together would appreciate. When travelling in close uncomfortable quarters for a long period of time, sometimes patience can run thin and emotions run high. It’s a fun comedy with interesting characters of substance,” said King.

This movie was filmed in May 2015 and premiered at a Hollywood movie theatre later that year. Not only is the trailer featured on the distinguished website “Funny or Die”, Desert Drive was also an Official Selection at the Ozark Short Film Festival in the Summer 2016. King was proud to be part of a team and found that the chemistry between the characters is why the film went on to do so well.

“I cannot deny that I love hearing people laugh when they watch this film, as that’s the biggest thrill of all for me,” she said.

King’s character, Missy Lee, is a musician who is determined to spice up intimate conversations with the other traveling musicians as they travel for many hours to their destination.

Missy Lee was a happy-go-lucky girl that was content with being in the company of friends, no matter what the situation was. She was definitely a people pleaser and tried to make the best of any situation. While she knew that she was naïve, she was comfortable with that role among her small group of oddball friends.

While she was a bit of a third wheel friend, this character brings balance to the oddball group. While every person was completely different from one another, she played the comic relief to offset tension in the storyline and also the confident when moments were more intimate. The controversial and hilarious lines are the most pivotal plot points in the entire narrative. With such an important role, King knew she had to deliver a captivating performance to bring the film to success, and that is exactly what she did.

As The Convicted was a drama, flipping over to a comedy was a great chance to present a completely different character. This was a huge opportunity to show her versatility and show her comedic creativity. As a Canadian, the comedy culture is highly regarded, so it was natural for King to want to be a part of this film.

“I appreciated working on a character that was light hearted and fun. This was my first time doing comedy, and I loved it,” said King.

King was brought on board after the successful completion of The Convicted, the Director and Producer of the film, Josh Mitchell, decided to bring the actress onto his new projects after being greatly impressed by her talent and work ethic, both of which King is well known for.

While filming, King’s greatest challenge came from filming in the desert. Far from the climate in her home in Canada, spending hours in a small van in hot temperatures was a new experience. However, she would never let this get her down, and found that it only helped her feel as if she was truly on her way to a music festival with a group of her close friends. Eventually, that is what the cast became.

Be sure to watch Desert Drive on Vimeo on Demand to catch out King’s comedic performance.

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.

IMG_4117

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.

IMG_4383

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.

Actor Kevin Dary brings himself into his character with award-winning performance in ‘The Swamp’

Kevin Dary - Headshot (RW)
Kevin Dary, photo by Brad Buckman

With every role Kevin Dary takes on, he brings a small piece of himself and merges it with his character. To transform into another person, he puts himself in their shoes, seeing what parts of his own life connect with theirs. He forgets who he is until he hears the director call “cut” and that is what makes him such a captivating actor.

“I see actors as toys for a director. It’s as if the director is this kid using his imagination and playing around, telling a story, and the actors are his action figures,” he described.

Having worked on many esteemed films, such as Pregoand Pandora’s Box, Dary has shown audiences around the world what he is capable of as an actor. His versatility is evident with every project he takes on, spanning across a variety of genres and mediums. This is exemplified yet again with his work on the 2017 drama The Swamp.

The Swamp was the first project where Dary had the opportunity to work with director Wenhao Gao, originally from China. He was immediately attracted to the script because one of the main themes for Gao was the perception of someone and the judgement from others that this perception brings. Dary played the main character, Vincent, who is accused of killing the dog of his neighbor. It is a dramatic and emotional film that encourages audiences to think outside of the box, not just about the story but their actions in general. Have you ever been in Vincent’s situation? Or have you been one of the accusers? This story, while extreme, does make you think, and not just through its shock value of a little girl’s pet that gets killed.

“I worked together with Wenhao, who also wrote the project, to bring a fully fleshed out character and I offered some of my personal experience in dealing with the way people look at you, for this is a subject that I know all too well, and I still face today,” said Dary.

The film premiered to a limited audience in The Burbank Studios, Burbank, in November 2017. The film was awarded an Award of Recognition, category Lead Actor, for Dary’s performance as Vincent, from the Best Shorts Competitions in March 2018, and the Gold Award for Best Short Film from the LA Shorts Awards in that same month. It will be continuing its festival run in June. Such success could never have been possible without Dary’s outstanding performance.

01
Kevin Dary as Vincent in The Swamp, photo by Mairi Sõelsepp

“Working with Kevin is very pleasant and a good experience. I was really happy to have him in my project as the leading actor. Kevin not only has good acting skills, but also his nice personality made our cooperation go well. Kevin has very good understanding of a script and his character. When we did rehearsals and polished the details, I felt that he really put himself into the story, not just to finish a job. As a director, it’s really important to be able to get some new inspirations and ways to make the characters vivid through communicating with actors. From his performance and feedback, Kevin showed me more possibilities of who and what his character can be, and how to serve the story better,” said Wenhao Gao, Director of The Swamp.

Vincent is the lead character of this film and the story is told through his point of view. Because of this, Dary knew the importance of his work and made sure to keep the audience guessing. Many scenes cater to this, with the lead character showing a lot of anger and confusion. Dary wanted to push this even further, choosing to yell in certain scenes to show he may be capable of anything, but also exude the emotion behind each action, showing that each reaction was very human.

THE SWAMP_POSTER
The Swamp film poster

“I remember that when I first read about the breakdown of Vincent, I was intrigued by the idea of this guy described as ‘not a slacker, not a bad guy, just has had a really long night’. When I got to take a look at the whole script and found out his motivations and what he was going through. The film is a great story about prejudices and stereotypes, with an ending that goes against the traditional Hollywood happy ending,” said Dary.

What was unique about this story, and Vincent’s character, is that by the end of the movie it is not revealed if he is guilty of what he was accused of. The writer and director however, told Dary he could make that choice on his own and then act with that choice in mind. What do you think he decided? You’ll have to watch The Swampto find out.

“I love tackling the idea of prejudices and preconceived ideas about people. As someone who has a different style than ‘the norm’, I have been prone to judgment from others. You get to witness how far people are willing to take their assumptions, just based on what they heard, saw, or even think they saw. Sure, it made me stronger in the end, but just like Vincent, I still suffer from that today and it can be hard to stay true to yourself when you feel overwhelmed. Getting to do a piece about that issue that is still dear to me felt good. It shows that while there still sadly is a need for such stories, the battle is definitely not lost as long as we stay strong,” he concluded.

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

Yuito Kimura uses unique cinematography style to create masterful pieces of art

As a child, Yuito Kimura always enjoyed watching mystery and crime movies. At the time, he would just watch them as a source of entertainment. Now, he appreciates them from an artistic standpoint, noting how each shot is framed and how the filmmakers chose to tell the story. As a celebrated cinematographer, Kimura’s style was inspired by such films, being dark, contrasted, and stylized, using practical lighting. He carefully pays attention to framing, camera angles and movement depending on the scene and what the character is doing. If there is a scene about a girl crying by herself, he won’t just frame the character without having meaning behind why he chose to do so. His job is to tell her emotions by choice of lens, framing and camera movement. Such attention to detail makes Kimura a standout in his industry and shows just how much talent he possesses.

No matter what project he takes on, Kimura makes sure it is the best he can visually be with his work. The Japanese native has shot everything from music videos, such as “We are Stars” by Snowy Angels, to commercials, like the one for Townforst, to acclaimed films including Star Wars: Amulet of Urlon and Back to the Future?. He consistently impresses all those he works alongside with his commitment to his work.

“Yuito was wonderful to work with – he always showed up on time and when he came to work, he brought his creative suggestions on how to make a scene better. His extensive knowledge about camera lenses and how to angle the camera had a positive impact on many of our scenes in the film. Yuito also put together a hard-working crew who never complained and always had a positive attitude while on set. He has a unique way of looking at a scene and telling a story. He is very thorough and made sure that my vision was being brought to light during filming. The fact that he is willing to take risks when capturing a shot for a scene makes him vastly different than a lot of other DPs who tend to stick to what’s safe and traditional,” said Christina Kim, Director who worked with Kimura on the film Dropping the S Bomb.

Dropping the S Bomb tells the story of the not so book smart Cassie, who, after discovering that the guy of her dreams plans on attending Stanford, does whatever it takes to be accepted, even if it means doing things that may get her kicked out of school if she gets caught.

“I really like the idea of the story. The girl is trying to get into Stanford because the boy she likes goes there. She does do whatever it takes to get into school and I really like those funny and silly decisions and actions that she would do for him. Throughout the story, I’ve learned that nothing is impossible. It reminds me of my school era. It gives me sympathy,” said Kimura.

While shooting this film, Kimura made sure to always stay focused despite a fast shooting rotation. This is what he enjoyed most about working on the film. With such a fast-pace, he had to come up with ideas quickly, and he was given a lot of freedom to do so. He needed to think about more than he usually did and deeply understand the story compared to other projects.

The film was then screened at Action on Film International Film Festival 2016, Nice International Film Festival 2016, Action on Film International Film Festival 2016, Hollywood Dreamz International Film Festival 2017, and Phoenix Comicon Film Festival 2017. Kimura is proud of what they could achieve through hard work and a great story.

Most recently, Kimura shot a commercial for Townforst Slip Resistant Shoes for both television and online. It follows an Asian businessman who encounters an unexpected event after he goes back to his office at night. It is a sexual comedy, and although it is a commercial, Kimura knew the importance of telling a good story.

In this project, Kimura used two kinds of contrast styles to achieve a mysterious mood and add to the comedy. He used one style for the visual, and another style for the story. From the beginning shot to climax, all shots are contrast. When it hits the climax, he then used a more flattering lighting style to show what was truly going on. The moment he read the script, he came up with this idea to help enhance the story, knowing that as a cinematographer, he is vital to telling it.

“Yuito is an extraordinary cinematographer. He works really hard and focuses on his profession, treating every detail so seriously. He is also a very creative cinematographer who always has new ideas and concepts to make the films better. He has a unique eye and is an asset to every production he works on. He really loves what he does. His passion is totally on this field,” said Phenix Jiangfu Miao, Director and Production Designer.

Watch the Townforst Slip Resistant Shoes spot here, the winner of Best Commercial at the Los Angeles Film Festival 2018.