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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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Cinematographer Majd Mazin tells impactful story with ‘The Fat One’

Growing up in Jordan, Majd Mazin was always fascinated by film. It wasn’t just his favorite form of entertainment, but also his hobby. At a young age he began making his own movies with his brothers and friends using his parents’ camcorder. The more videos and short pieces he made, the more he wanted them to look and feel like a real film. He had to learn to do that by himself. The more he did the more he realized how difficult it is to actually create a beautiful image and create a visual language that truly immerses the viewer. Even as a child, he began researching the various roles in filmmaking, and he learned about cinematography. Subconsciously, he started making his pieces for the cinematography more than for the story.

“I was never a good writer, and I am not a good one now. I wanted to express visually and the more I dove into cinematography, the more I realized how much more I have to learn. From then on, my curiosity took the lead, and here I am now,” he said.

By now, Mazin means an industry leading cinematographer. His work on award-winning films and television series, including Prodigal Son and The Millionaires respectively, have garnered international attention. His work on music videos, like Fall Out Boy’s recent hit “Church” and K-pop band Red Velvet’s song “Peek-A-Boo” have amassed hundreds of millions of views on YouTube, and every accolade is just further confirmation for Mazin that he was meant to be a cinematographer and camera specialist.

Last year, Mazin once again had a hit on his hands with The Fat One. The film tells the story of Annie, a woman who struggles to find her worth beyond her looks especially compared to her best friend, Elena, a beautiful runway model. Annie is afraid of rejection and of being loved, so she’s been pushing people away all her life. Now in her darkest moment, Elena must make her realize that it’s time to let go of the fear and start letting people in, before it’s too late.

“The film attacks a universal problem of us finding our worth beyond our looks and superficial attributes. We all suffer in some way or another with insecurity and that can be earth shattering for some people. This film sheds a light on how much harm this can do to a person when they are blinded from seeing what they actually can offer. The protagonist has that realization in the end. This film attacks that point head on while still being light and very funny at some parts, but heartfelt and truthful when it needed to be,” said Mazin.

The film premiered in the NCCC Film & Animation Festival where it was a finalist and has been screened at multiple festivals since. It was an Official Selection at SHORT to the Point, Ocean City Film Festival, Latino Film Market, Lady Filmmakers Festival, and Orlando Film Festival, as well as a Finalist at Los Angeles CineFest. Having his work appreciated by critics all over the world was a great feeling for Mazin.

“I enjoy making films that count and having a large audience end up seeing it. I am happy that the film succeeded and that I can be a part of it,” he said. “I enjoyed the actors’ performances, and I also enjoyed meeting the team of filmmakers, which I still work with to this day. It was really a team effort that made the film the success it is.”

The Fat One was Mazin’s third time shooting comedy. However, the film was a more typical style of comedy. He wanted to dive deeper into shooting this genre. The script was concise and well written, with funny and heartfelt moments. This drew him to the project. He also wanted to work with a new camera and test out some lighting gags that the script offered, that would play a further role in improving his craft.

Mazin also found working with Director Savannah Sivert very rewarding. She understood the nuances of the script and knew how to hit on the important moments. Together, they scouted locations and hired the crew. The shoot went smoothly, and they had a good amount of manpower for the size of the project.

“Bringing what I have learnt from my past projects and specifically from my comedy background, I felt like I could bring my style and a more grounded style to bring forward the story. I brought many resources in terms of lighting, crew and equipment from relationships I have built over the years to help the team achieve their vision,” he concluded.

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.

Understanding the pressure of a prime-time commercial slot with Elena Ioulianou

When esteemed producer, Elena Ioulianou looks at a concept for a content piece, she sees far more than ideas. Rather, Ioulianou sees a variety of puzzle pieces begging to be carefully and considerately weighed amongst each other, searching for the perfect fit. She picks up each piece, rotating and shifting it to ensure that she maximizes its potential and places it in the spot that is going to bring forth a masterpiece. With that, Ioulianou has earned a reputation for her ability to arrange all elements of a film in such a way that leave it destined for success. From budgets and costings, to props and plot lines, Ioulianou involves herself in all aspects of a project in order to ensure that no page goes unturned, no budget goes unbalanced, and no script is left with anything less than the greatness it deserves.

During her time as a producer, Ioulianou has tested her hand at a number of different areas in the arts and entertainment industry. She has set her efforts toward commercials, online advertisements, and digital content production, as well as films, television shows, webseries, and much more. At the mere age of 30, she has worked with several media moguls such as Reel Edge Studios and Milk & Honey Films. What she may lack for in decades of experience, she makes up for in raw talent and determination. In turn, she produces exceptional content in a profession that is more competitive than ever before. With the addition of social media and the current state of our world’s digital realm, Ioulianou must ensure that she is familiar with the latest trends and technology available for use in her field and with that, she must find a way to appeal to her clients’ needs without compromising the need to keep with the times.

The vast majority of production work that Ioulianou has conducted has taken place in her birthplace, South Africa and her work has taken her all over the world. One of her most notable employment tenures emerged when she earned herself a position working for Executive Producer, Herman Venter, and Director, Harold Holscher, for brands such as Buco Hardware, LandRover, and Marriot Insurance alongside Rolling Thunder Productions. In fact, she produced a LandRover commercial that earned Rolling Thunder a nomination as a finalist in the 2016 Lories Awards.

Ioulianou began working for Rolling Thunder Productions in 2014 when Venter and Holscher approached her to join their team after hearing of her work with Reel Edge Studios and MoviWorld. For the three aforementioned companies, Ioulianou produced six extremely successful commercials and her reputation continues to strengthen as word spreads about these projects today.

After experiencing Ioulianou in her element, Holscher and Venter were blown away.

“Without exception, every client commented on the smoothness of the execution and the professional delivery which was on time and precisely what they had envisioned. Elena is so widely noted throughout the industry for her work and what continues to amaze me during our collaborations is her ability to take an extremely limited budget and still be able to identify resources that result in an extraordinary final product every single time,” said Holscher.

For LandRover, in particular, Ioulianou was tasked with producing a series of three, 30-second commercials to air on Supersport on DSTV during the Rugby World Cup. Imaginably, only the highest quality commercials would be fortunate enough to earn air time during such a popular event and this meant that Ioulianou’s work was more than cut out for it. She rose to the challenge and credits her logistical precision as being the main reason that the success of this project was even possible.

Similarly, for Buco Hardware, Ioulianou had her work cut out for her when having to manage a choreographed piece incorporating twenty-five amateur dancers from different backgrounds, age cohorts, and more. To make matters more difficult, this had to be achieved in one cinematic tracking shot through a hardware store. Under time and budgetary constraints, Ioulianou did what she does best and ensured, once again, that this project was a true success for the clients.

For other aspiring producers out there who find themselves dreaming of one day ending up being producers and creatives she had the following advice to offer:

“The difficulties of getting started and having a fear that the opinions of others, especially those in positions of power or those that have been in the industry for longer, are right or worth more than yours. This is something I deal with on a daily basis. Different roads can lead to the same destination. Just start.”

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.

Josh Futcher goes dark and withdrawn for captivating performance in new award-winning film

As a child, Australia’s Josh Futcher was extremely shy. He recalls it as “debilitating”, and at the age of eight, his mother put him in acting classes to get him out of his shell. That was when his life changed. He began to fall in love with acting, and when he first performed on stage, the shyness that plagued him all his life melted away. Hearing the audience laugh at his Dracula impression with a Transylvanian accent was cataclysmic for Futcher. He knew even as a child that he was meant to pursue acting for the rest of his life. That was the first time he felt truly seen, and now audiences around the world have seen his work and know his face.

“I come from a low-income household with a single mother. No one in my family has ever been in the entertainment industry. I have built everything I have achieved in my career from hard work and determination. I’ve known this is what I’ve wanted to do since the age of eight and have never looked back or doubted it since. I’ve not had help or handouts, other than the love and support of family and friends,” said Futcher.

Futcher is known for films such as Répetez S’il-Vous-Plait, Wedgetail, From Parts Unknown, and many more. He has graced the small screen many times in hit television shows like Conspiracy 365 and No Pink Cowboys, and his face is instantly recognizable in Australia from the viral campaign for Victoria Tourism “Remote Control Tourist”, winning international awards. There is little doubt as to why he has become such a force to be reckoned with in the Australian entertainment industry.

Earlier this year, one of Futcher’s latest films, Fatal Flame, won the Audience Spotlight Award at The Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema. The film, which premiered in 2017 at the L.A Shorts Awards, where it won Best Film Noir Film, has had a tremendous run at many prestigious international film festivals. It took home the top price at the Women’s Only Entertainment Film Festival 2017 and was a Special Mention for the Award of Merit at the Accolade Global Film Competition in Los Angeles.

“It’s a very rewarding experience to have a project that you had such a strong hand in from start to finish be as successful as it’s been. It’s been received with critical and audience acclaim since its release and I’m incredibly proud of the work,” said Futcher.

Fatal Flame follows Police Detective McDonald, played by Futcher, who is summoned by shady criminal Rico to a vantage point overlooking the wake for gangster Julian Blakley’s recently murdered father. Rico riles McDonald with news that Julian has corrupted his police colleagues; and ordered the death of McDonald’s informant. But McDonald, who suffers from PTSD, isn’t interested until he sees a mysterious beauty provoking a fight with Julian. As Julian tries to escape, McDonald is hot on their trail. But it isn’t Julian who interests him. Instead he pursues the enigmatic woman.

“I loved the fact that this man has gone through so much grief but is motivated to make sure it doesn’t happen to another innocent woman. He sees a woman being mistreated and he knows the man is no good, so he goes to warn her. I think he is a great man, with a care and respect for women. Not just as sexual objects. And in a time when so much harassment of women is being brought to the forefront – I feel this story shows men how a lady should be treated,” said Futcher.

In the film, McDonald suffers from PTSD after seeing his girlfriend murdered in front of him by a gangland boss, who discovered McDonald was undercover and betrayed him. This causes McDonald to be dark, quiet, and withdrawn, but the appeal of a magnetic femme fatale style character quickly peaks his interest. He can save her, like he wished he could have saved his girlfriend. Such a character had great appeal for Futcher, who is known for his improvisation and comedy, and gave him the chance to show off his versatility as an actor. He made McDonald a tortured soul with a dark past, but with a motivation to be better, which in turn made him human and relatable.

“I loved being able to sit in silence on the screen. As actors, we constantly feel we have to do so much to be interesting. It was so freeing to be still and silent and sit in the pain of my character. It taught me a lot about the power of stillness on screen and what it portrays for the viewer,” he described.

McDonald was originally written as a 50-year-old-man. However, after the Director, Janet Dimelow, saw what Futcher was capable of, she decided to re-write her story for Futcher to play the leading role, knowing that he was the actor who could make her film a success. For Futcher, being offered the role so early in the piece allowed him to be a part of the creative process from start to finish. He was able to have input into rewrites, and much of the creative choices for the film. In addition to this, he was appointed casting director early on, and was therefore able to hand pick the cast he wanted to work with. When it came to shooting, he took his producing hat off and focused on the role, giving the best performance he could. Obviously, his efforts paid off.

“I was excited to be the lead actor with of lot of creative sway in the pre-production, and all the way through the process,” said Futcher.

Fatal Flame is now looking into making a feature length film, with Futcher once again as the star. Keep an eye out for it in theatres next year.

 

Photo by Lachian Woods

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.

Sabrina Yu combines artistry and storytelling for ‘The Good Memory’

As a storyboard artist, Sabrina Yu is one of the first people responsible for taking the words of a script and turning them into a motion picture; she is the connection between the writer and the director, helping to visualize the story. She can always find the most suitable shooting angle, accurately grasping the emotional changes of the characters’, and designs the scenes to most effectively tell the story. Such a role requires her to understand every aspect of film production, every role and process from beginning to end, and as an avid film lover, that is just why she loves what she does.

Hailing from China, Yu has taken the film industry in both her native country and abroad by storm. She has worked on several award-winning films, such as Cello and Inside Linda Vista Hospital, and has no plans on slowing down. She is an extremely in demand storyboard artist, and her distinctive style enhances every project she takes on.

“I like to use the changes in black and white to show the development of the story, and then grab a little main draw, with a strong contrast. Focus on one point, like a main background or an actor’s emotional facial expressions, and blur the rest,” she said.

One of Yu’s most decorated projects to date is the 2016 film The Good Memory. Not only was the flick nominated for Best Short Film at The Chinese American Film Festival, Glendale International Film Festival, and the International New York Film Festival, but it also took home the top prize at several other prestigious international film festivals, such as the California International Shorts Festival, Hollywood Boulevard Film Festival, Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival, and more.

“I like that in this film I did new things.The style of the film has a set of times,” said Yu.

The heartbreaking drama follows Eric, a husband and father who is celebrating his birthday. He meets his wife and daughter in a café for a brunch, but it is revealed to be a memory of that same day the previous year, ultimately leading to tragic consequences.

“This is a story about reminiscence, and at the end of the film, you will find everything showed in the film are just memories, which makes me feel that the story is very special and memorable,” said Yu.

The moment Yu first read the script, she was touched by the story and knew just how to illustrate it. She could picture every scene in her mind vividly and began drawing. Her storyboards created the background of the film and helped set up the story. They helped the production team see how the time change could be achieved through film, as some scenes are flashbacks.

After discussing the script with the scriptwriter, Yu first drew out the main scenes, showing them to the Director to adjust and decide the main atmosphere of the film. She suggested that the director join the light and shadow changes to reflect the warm feeling, drawing this in the storyboards to show how effective this technique could be. Her suggestion proved very fruitful.

Undoubtedly, Yu’s talents as a storyteller and filmmaker translate directly into her storyboarding. She encourages illustrators to go into the trade, as it is often overlooked but an extremely vital part of filmmaking.

“Read more, watch more movies and draw more. The creative inspiration accumulated from it has paved the way for work. Communication is very important, work with your team closely, patiently listen to other people’s opinions, but also insist on your own ideas and dare to say it,” she advised.

So, what’s next for this talented storyboard artist? She is currently expanding her talents to a children’s storybook. Keep an eye out for it as well as her future films, you definitely won’t want to miss them.

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.