Tag Archives: International Talent

Laura Santoyo Dangond’s sets in ‘Lockdown’ transport audiences to high school

Originally from Bogota, Colombia, Laura Santoyo Dangond has always been a fan of movies. Growing up, she watched her favorite films, like Matilda and Jumanji, and would see more than the story. She would ask her parents how the filmmakers were able to create other worlds and dreamlike elements. Although her parents did not have all the answers, they encouraged their young child to make her own hypothesis as to how “movie magic” was achieved, and she never stopped wondering. As she grew, exploring the world and various cultures, her hypothesizing never stopped, and eventually she turned her passion into a career. Now, Santoyo no longer wonders how to achieve the magic of movies, and as a sought-after production designer, she is now the one creating other worlds.

Throughout her career, Santoyo has shown just what an extraordinary production designer she is. Her work on films such as Tim of the Jungle, The Plague and Falling are just a few examples of what this acclaimed production designer is capable of. However, despite such success, Santoyo considers the pointed drama Lockdown as the highlight of her career.

“It is probably the most challenging and rewarding experience I’ve had in this profession. I loved working with that team of people; we all believed in the story we were telling and together we overcame so many difficulties. Particularly for me, it taught me the importance on trusting the people you are working with and to support each other. In the end it all paid off, because it’s been one of my most successful projects,” she said.

Lockdown set

Max Sokolof, Caleb Heller, and Laura Santoyo Dangond on the set of Lockdown, photo by Jane Hollo

Lockdown is about a 17-year-old boy named Julian. He is a misfit struggling through high school when he is taken hostage in the school restroom by Brandon, a classmate with a gun. Their perilous standoff proves that nothing is as it seems. Julian fights to hold onto the hope that he will survive – not just the hostage situation, but his entire high school experience. Throughout the film, audiences learn of both characters’ complicated backstories.

“This story talks about very important issues, such as depression and anxiety in adolescents, bullying in schools, access to guns, police brutality, and more that are affecting our society. It can help to bring these subjects to the table and encourage people who watch the film to have discussions about them,” said Santoyo.

After its premiere in November 2016 at the American Film Institute, Lockdown went on to be an Official Selection at many prestigious international film festivals, including the Orlando Film Festival, Garden State Film Festival, Sedona International Film Festival, Byron Bay International Television Academy Foundation for Best Screenplay and won the Golden Lion Award at the Barcelona International Film Festival. Such success may never have been possible without Santoyo’s outstanding production design.

“It is a great satisfaction to know that all the hard work, time and effort we as a team put into this project doesn’t go unnoticed and that we accomplished the purpose of telling a story that touched so many people,” she said.

Lockdown bathroom set
Laura Santoyo Dangond, Max Sokolof and Caleb Heller on the bathroom set of Lockdown, photo by Jane Hollo

Having worked with Santoyo on his previous film Hotbed, the Director, Max Skolof, reached out to the production designer knowing the caliber of her work. At the time, he did not even have a clear idea of what the story was going to be, but he trusted Santoyo to help turn his vision into a reality. In the beginning, there was no script, and Skolof only had a newspaper article that he wanted to base a film around. Knowing the difficult but pressing issues the film addressed, Santoyo was immediately onboard.

“Working with Laura is a joy. She’s always curious, always soaking up ideas, always creative. She takes disparate things and puts them together in unexpected and revelatory ways. She has the highest standards for herself. Every detail is thought of. It helps me direct and it helps the actors find real depth. And on top of all that, Laura’s the kindest person you’ll ever meet. It’s also rare to come across someone who has such a strong and unique sense of aesthetics. She’s incredibly precise when it comes to expressing the story and the characters visually. Laura is brilliant in that way. She understands the language of cinema and she uses every tool at her disposal to help tell the story. Whether it’s knowing how to make use of space, or how to evoke a certain subtext with just color,” said Skolof.

When she begins every project, Santoyo makes sure to research her characters, and Lockdown was no different. She looked into what neighborhoods these adolescents would live in, the sociological and economic backgrounds and more, just trying to get to know as much information as she could to create a realistic design that would reflect both her leads.

Upon completion of the script, she did a breakdown of all the locations and noted what bits of the story took occurred in each place. When doing this, she noted the most important location in the story was the bathroom. Its design became her priority, and she began looking for a crew that would help bring her ideas to fruition.

“The design of the restroom was the biggest challenge because is where the two boys meet, and their feelings are revealed. We used a very restrained color palette that reflects the psychological state of both of them,” she described.

Rather than using a real location, Santoyo built the entire bathroom set on a soundstage. She went back to her research and looked for paintings and photographs that evoked the same feelings and emotions that she wanted to convey and saw a pattern in the colors. Most of the references she liked used yellows and reds. With that in mind, she did a preliminary design and presented it to the director. After his approval, she ensured all other departments, such as lighting and cinematography, could work with her concept. Once the designed was approved by everyone, the members of the art team, led by Santoyo, began sourcing the materials and painting samples.

The complexity of the two characters had to come across in the visual design and Santoyo achieved such a feat. She worked closely with the director, the director of photography and costume designer to better express the anguish and anger the characters were going through. The sets that she designed allowed the actors to better understand the characters’ backgrounds and helped facilitate the process of getting into character. In one instance, she even wrote offensive graffiti in the bathroom stalls that bullies may have written about their characters.

Such small details may seem trivial to some, by Santoyo knows how important they can be, and that is what makes her such a distinguished production designer. When watching Lockdown, audiences notice and appreciate how authentic the set is and allow themselves to be fully taken away to the high school. Any moviegoer knows, that is what makes a good film, and Santoyo makes that happen.

 

Top photo by Caleb Heller

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Sijia Huang shows the importance of music in animation

When Sijia Huang animates a film, she sees herself almost like a choreographer. She aims to make every movement as seamless and fluid as possible, almost like an infinite tide. This is her priority with every project she takes on. She always ensures she has the perfect balance between tension and looseness, generating the ideal rhythm for all of her films. She does not limit herself to one type of animation, and as long as the audience is moved by her work, she is happy. It is this mantra that makes her one of China’s best animators, and why she is taking the industry by storm.

Huang’s style is evident in every one of her films and is perhaps best displayed in her award-winning film Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil, a film conveying the struggles of humanity. Since then, Huang has seen continued success. Quitting Brave Victory, a film about warrior who begins a journey to find his strongest opponent, has over 2.6 million views online. BoxHome, is a story of a couple who live in a box, went on to win several awards. Breakfast, a fun film about a child’s imagination, made its way to several prestigious international film festivals.

“As an animator, I work for a variety of fields including film, television and commercials. I animate characters based on designs and stories. I would like to say animators are like magicians who bring things to life,” she said.

Huang’s flair for animated choreography is exemplified in the collaborative film for the event Measures & Frames. A partnership between a group of filmmakers and a group of composers, Measures & Frames featured the internationally renowned Pendrecki String Quartet performing five pieces of contemporary classical music paired with original visuals projected against a three-screen display for an unforgettable pairing of image and sound.

Measures & Frames aimed to create a conversation between the pictures and the music. They made something more like a painting: a world that embodies a story-like idea or emotion. It’s an audio-visual experience that gives the audience a new entryway into the music. Suddenly, audiences see structure and form that we couldn’t see before. What seemed impenetrable and unfamiliar can suddenly become inviting and enjoyable, especially with a very conceptual, sophisticated piece like Arcadiana, the film that Huang worked on for the event, which was a main part of the entire production. Music is a large part of Huang’s life, and this project gave her the opportunity to showcase this passion. It was also her first opportunity to animate to the music of a strong quartet.

“I was so happy that I could be the animator for this project. It made me want to make more music related projects. If an opportunity comes up to work on a music video in the future, I will jump all over it,” she said.

When the Director of the project, Michael Patterson, was looking for an animator to bring such a unique film to fruition, he thought of Huang’s work on her film Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil and knew she was just who he needed, knowing she was capable of choreography, which was very important to Arcadiana. He invited her to take part, and she immediately said yes. Patterson is famous his work on the animation for the famous A-ha music video “Take on Me” as well as creating the characters Stray Mob and MC Skat Kat, who appeared in Paula Abdul’s music video “Opposites Attract”.

“Music is abstract and invites the audience in—the visuals have to do this too,” said Patterson when speaking of why Huang’s animation was vital to the project. “The multi-sensory experience invites the audience to understand the form of the music in an expanded way. If you’re depicting the music too literally, you’re limiting the freedom to personally engage.”

Huang designed the main character that was used in the film and did the stop-motion animation. At the beginning of the production, she wanted to shoot the animation using the down shooter with paper cut puppets. When she showed the director her work, he asked me if she could also try to animate another 2D version using After Effect. In order to create a more defined looking for the skeleton puppets, she used the latest character pin and created the dance for two skeletons. With each revision, Huang got closer and closer to their vision, until finally she achieved perfection.

“I had the opportunity to collaborate with Sijia on a project titled Measures & Frames Sijia created the portion of the show that featured two skeletons dancing with one another. This part of the production was crucial to Measures & Frames, and Sijia was the only animator capable of combing choreography and animation to make our vision a reality. Her mastery of a variety of animation techniques made her indispensable to the project. Specifically, her utilization of Adobe After Effects, a digital visual effects, motion graphics, and compositing post-production application, was key to finishing the animation on the project. Sijia’s high skill level in using the latest animation techniques, as well as her remarkable versatility and distinct style, vastly elevated the visual portion of Measures & Frames,” said Michael Patterson, Grammy Award-winning filmmaker and Director, specializing in TV spots and music videos.

Huang stands by famous composer Veronika Krausas, who once said, “For some audiences not familiar with new music and it’s their first time hearing not one but five new works, it’s tough. I think that the added dimension of the video helps smooth that out a bit. This is a way for audiences to actually experience the music more and become more familiar with it. The video helps acclimatize people to the sounds, and then they’re more able to appreciate them.”

Those who attended Measures & Frames on March 28th, 2015, were wildly impressed with both Huang’s animation and the event as a whole. Experiencing music in a visual way was captivating, and Huang thinks it is of great importance.

“If the diverse crowd that delivered a standing ovation at the evening’s conclusion is any indication, this type of visual music experience has opened the doors of classical composition to a newer, younger crowd than the form has seen in quite some time,” Huang concluded.

Filmmaker Shaan Memon celebrates the holidays in commercials for Dickens Fair

Article04-dickensfair01
Shaan Memon

As far back as Shaan Memon can remember, his family had a VCR player at their home in Ahmedabad, a city in Gujarat state in India. Every Sunday, he would watch all of his favorite cartoon shows, and his father used to help him record the shows on video cassettes. When his father would travel to Bombay for work, he would return with movies for Shaan and his elder sister. It was then, in his living room in his childhood home, that his love of film was born.

Now, Shaan is an in-demand Screenwriter, Director, and Editor. He first impressed international critics with his work on the horror The Unreal and continued to do so with his films Fitting In and Bullied, as well as the documentary Purpose Driven Study for Dharoi Canal Command Area. He is extremely knowledgeable in every aspect of filmmaking, from pre-production to post-production, and using this knowledge to expand his skillset. At the end of last year, his work on a commercial for the Dickens Christmas Fair showed that in addition to Director and Editor, this versatile filmmaker can even take on the role of Videographer and achieve tremendous results.

“I found Shaan to be reliable, assiduous, hard-working, and intuitively creative – as well as being extremely patient in performing multiple re-cuts of the material. Shaan impressed me so much that I recommended him for other work and hope to engage his services next year on a separate video for the Dickens Fair,” said David Hakim, Producer/Director who worked alongside Shaan on the commercial.

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair is a one-of-a-kind holiday adventure into Victorian London and is an elaborate party with around 800 of costumed players performing and interacting with patrons in over 120,000 square feet of theatrically-lit music halls, pubs, dance floors, and Christmas shops. It’s a twilight evening in Charles Dickens’ London Town – a city of winding lanes filled with colorful characters from both literature and history. Enticing aromas of roasted chestnuts and hearty foods fill the air. Cries of street vendors hawking their wares ring out above the bustling crowd. Dozens of lamplight shops are filled to overflowing with Christmas gifts. The Dickens Christmas Fair is a treasured Bay Area tradition since 1970 and a splendid way to celebrate the holidays. Thousands of people attend this event every year.

“I had never visited the fair before, so the first time when I visited it, I was spellbound. They have created a different world in itself. One can never imagine what would it be inside until they visit it, and that is exactly I wanted to capture. I therefore insisted on not visiting the fair before shooting, as I wanted to feel like a traveler who is experiencing it for the first time and I captured those moments,” said Shaan.

Shaan is a multi-talented filmmaker with an outstanding about of expertise in writing, directing, editing, videography and sound design. Because he has so much experience in such a variety of roles, he is a one-man army who can execute a project as clearly and as nearly to how it was conceived during the consultation. Having thorough knowledge of different fields makes him a force to be reckoned with and proved vital while shooting this commercial.

“Every filmmaker works hard with his/her sweat and blood to make a project the best it can possibly be and make their name in the industry. I had huge responsibility as Diane Baker put trust in me and suggested me to work on this project. I’m happy that I could reach her and David’s expectations,” said Shaan.

When Diane Baker and David Hakim were trying to find someone who could make a captivating commercial for Dicken’s Christmas Fair, they immediately thought of Shaan and approached him to take the lead on the project. Initially, Hakim had planned on creating a competition to decide who would create the commercial, but after seeing Shaan’s work, he knew he no longer needed to find someone to take over.

Working closely together for the entire shoot, Shaan consulted Hakim regarding what kind of shots, pace and feel would be required. After brainstorming, they decided on getting more front faced shots of the visitors, showing how happy they were and enjoying their time. Getting the best shots of artists performing, vendors selling beautiful products, the decorations, the grandness of the fair and much more. Shaan then attended the fair with his assistant to get as many shots as possible. During the editing process, he consulted with Kevin Patterson, Executive Director of Dicken’s Fair. He edited the best possible 30-second commercial. He is now working on the 90-second advertisement after the success of its predecessor.

“This is what I love about filmmaking. I never get bored of being a filmmaker. I enjoy working every time I have to go through this process of starting a new project, working on it and at the end looking at its result. Every project takes me on a whole new journey. In this one I met around hundreds of artists working together at same place. Watching Dickens’s characters alive and performing in front of you was a treat! This project was great to work on and entertaining also. David was very supportive throughout and I’m happy that he trusted my creativity and I could deliver up to his expectations,” Shaan concluded.

Check out Shaan’s work on the commercial on the Dicken’s Fair website.

THE PRODUCER WITH THE GOLDEN TOUCH: BOHAN GONG

United International Film Festival Red carpet

Chinese producer Bohan Gong takes great pride in the fact that he has been a force behind many successful films in his homeland, Europe, and the US. Establishing yourself as a respected producer in one country is difficult enough, cultivating that reputation and prestige on a global scale is a situation that has only presented itself in recent times. Hollywood used to be the only major player in the game but China, Bollywood, and other locations have made their presence felt. Gong is talented and multilingual by design. His credits are instantly recognizable and he makes a point to work on both huge studio productions and independent films with themes near and dear to his heart. Bohan often remarks that the story of a film is its soul and he always seeks out his connection with this story in order to give it the respect it requires. This is not the typical comment you’ll hear from producers who are more likely to refer to their part in the filmmaking process in terms of schedules and “being in the black” but this producer is not your typical producer. Many of his peers refer to his exceptional talent in screenwriting, editing, and other facets of film. Bohan is a filmmaker who produces rather than a producer who has found his way into filmmaking. The two are inseparable in his work and the success of his many productions vets him as a leader in the modern day film community.

2017’s American Made earned $139 million and is the most recent in the long successful career of Tom Cruise. While it was an immense hit in the US, this may have been eclipsed by the film’s massive attention and earnings in China. Bohan was in charge of designing and coordinating the Chinese distribution plan for American Made. Many of today’s big budget films depend on their international box office to be a key part of a film’s financial earnings. China’s love of film and huge fan base is perhaps the most important contributor of a US production’s non-domestic box office. Gong’s insight into the workings of China’s rules such as Communicating Law procedure, applying Chinese import, and Applying related licenses (such as Chinese region “Permit for Public Projection of Films) were indispensable to the achievements of American Made in the country. James H. Pang (co-executive producer of American Made) professes, “Bohan’s knowledge of the many different international business and production practices makes his a uniquely talented producer in the industry. At the same time, he has a strong understanding of the Hollywood and China film market “game” that actually gets movies made and well-distributed. Those that invest with him do it time and again because he represents the business interests so well.”

For the Hollywood blockbuster and Oscar-award winning Hacksaw Ridge, Bohan also was key in the film’s distribution in China. Communicating and coordinating between Hollywood’s Cross Creek Pictures and China for the director (Mel Gibson) and leading actors to attend publicity activities in China, Gong helped to bring exposure to the film and open the Chinese market to western celebrities. One lasting effect of the producer’s work on Hacksaw ridge was that its reputation as a Hollywood blockbuster helped Gong to build a distribution structure for American films in China’s top tier cities like, Beijing and Shanghai all the way down to small towns.

Los Angeles Kidnapping is a Chinese major studio production that was filmed in Los Angeles. As lead producer who was part of the film since its inception, Bohan’s understanding of the working of Hollywood’s film community and the tastes of China’s audiences led to his insistence that Los Angeles Kidnapping be filmed in the US. Many of the films that were US/China collaborations frustrated Gong because it was obvious to him that they were produced by an American crew with only a few shots actually taking place in China. He explains, “I wanted to do something new. I understand how the film industries of both China and Hollywood create and work. For Los Angeles Kidnapping I still used an American crew. I knew that the stylistic approach of Hollywood storytelling and the American locations would infuse this style and quality into the film, but I wanted to tell a Chinese story. There is a different sentiment to Chinese culture in film and I wanted this to be authentic. I also didn’t hire Hollywood top tier movies stars but chose actors from China whom the audience would relate to.”

In addition to his role as lead producer, Bohan found the script, wrote and revised the script, procured financing, hired the stars, key crews, and developed the Pre-Production, Production, Post-production, marketing and distribution for Los Angeles Kidnapping. His design theory for the film proved well-founded when Los Angeles Kidnapping garnered more than fourteen wins and five nominations including: Los Angeles Film Awards: Best Action (2017), London Independent Film Awards: Best Foreign Feature (2017), and others. It was released on the Iqiyi Platform and sold to China Central TV Movie Channel. To date, Los Angeles Kidnapping has earned five times the production budget.

Every true artist is passionate about some pet underdog cause and for Gong this is the environment. The air pollution in his hometown of Beijing has been alarming for quite some time and sparked the producer’s desire to influence the problem by using his personal talents to illustrate these problems. In the documentary “A Tip of Bottlebegr”, Bohan displayed the worldwide epidemic of plastic bottles and their effect on the planet. While there are many factors that negatively affect the environment, Gong felt that focusing on this singular topic would help the viewer to clearly understand the malevolent repercussions and perhaps by the catalyst to be more aware of similar trends. “A Tip of Bottlebegr” received the Grand Award for Best Picture at the Cherry Blossom Film Festival, Best Experiment Film at the Lake View International Film Festival, Los Angeles Film Awards: Honorable Mention Documentary, Festigious International Film Festival: Honorable Mention Documentary, Focus on Image Festival: The Best Picture Nomination, and a nomination for Best Film at the Atlantis Film Awards.

Bohan Gong has staked a fair portion of his career on the collaboration of artists and filmmakers of different countries. He sees it as the future and it is a future which creates more sincere and entertaining art because it brings even more perspectives and a diversity of talent to the art of filmmaking. Contemplating the work between his homeland and Hollywood he relates, “This artistic collaboration between China and the US will affect parts of each society. For example, nowadays, Artistic collaboration between China and the US have been promoting the communication and cooperation between China and America in factors of culture, economics, tourism, technology, education, etc. China loves storytelling and the Chinese film industry has established itself and matured quickly. In the end of 2016, China surpassed the United States with a total of forty-one thousand film screens. This has attracted American filmmakers to the opportunities China can offer them and this is good for both countries and their people. I could not have picked a better time in the history of film to be a producer from China with this relationship blossoming.”

United International Film Festival Red carpet and interview

A new take on what it means to be a triple threat with Yana GoodDay

There is an unspoken understanding within the modeling community that confidence will carry you a greater distance than looks ever will; however, a healthy dose of both will help to build a strong career. Unlike most other professions, models are required to sell themselves within the promotion of a product. They strive to attract the focus and attention of consumers in order to increase awareness of particular brands, companies, products, and more. From fashion to glamor, to fitness and swimsuits, models are featured in a variety of media formats that surround us each and every day and they are an integral element of Western culture. With that, the modeling industry has gained a substantial amount of interest and following throughout history, with the number of working models growing and the amount of available jobs shrinking. It can, therefore, be argued that in today’s society, it is more difficult than ever to stand out in the modeling world and thrive amongst the industry’s top contenders. For Russian model, Yana GoodDay, on the other hand, rising to the top of her field has been a lifelong journey and today, she is taking her profession by storm.

Ever since she can remember, GoodDay has found herself energized by the idea of showcasing her unique allure before the world. As a young girl, she often caught herself daydreaming about the idea of seeing her face on magazine covers and walking down fashion runways in beautiful outfits. As she began turning her daydreams into a reality, she realized that not only were her talents rare in the modeling community, but they were transferable to other related professions. She decided to test her hand at acting for films such as Kids in the Cage and The Waiting, as well as television hosting. With time, she learned to balance the three job types in order to build a more well-rounded career. She has since landed herself a number of notable jobs as a model, actress, and television hostess. For instance, when the 2014 Olympic Games were hosted in Sochi, Russia, GoodDay earned herself a job as the hostess of the Games’ official welcoming ceremony.

Earlier that year, Dynamic Project Group Agency were selected to help with the preparation and coordination of the 2014 Sochi Olympic and Paralympic Games. For their official welcoming ceremony, which gathered nearly 3000 athletes from all 88 participating countries, Alena Kremer, of Dynamic Project Group Agency, was looking for a hostess who would provide a familiar face for Russian audiences, as well as one who would represent Russia flawlessly before the eyes of other audiences around the globe. Having formerly served as a reporter for Pro-TV, participated in countless runway fashion shows, posed for covers of well-known magazine companies, hosted national television programs, and more, Kremer was certain that GoodDay was the ideal candidate for the event.

“When we auditioned Yana to host the Olympic Games Welcoming Ceremony, she naturally and effortlessly drew the attention of everyone in the room from the moment she walked in. Her outstanding acting skills and outer beauty is only surpassed by her kind, sweet, down-to-earth nature and her astute intelligence. She is a lovely woman who just happens to be extraordinarily beautiful and talented. She was uniquely dedicated and highly qualified to work in this particularly demanding capacity. Fluent in both English and Russian, she possessed the ability to effortlessly switch languages according to the needs of the audience. Reliable, talented, and hardworking, Yana played a critical role in making this welcoming ceremony the successful event that it was,” raved Kremer, Managing Partner.

Beyond her work as an actress and a television hostess, GoodDay strives to stay true to her modeling roots whenever the opportunity arises. In fact, she honored this effort when she earned herself a role as a lead cover and promotional model for a number of VJ Dunraven Productions’ novels. VJ Dunraven Productions is a highly reputable production company, having released a number of renowned novels written by VJ Dunraven, such as The Promise, and The Captive Shifter. As a lead cover model, GoodDay has established a profound reputation for being able to adapt herself and her looks to suit any genre she is tasked with posing for.

“For the Captive Shifter, Yana posed in an effortlessly angelic stance as she gazed over her shoulder with a sense of purity that was, at once, innocent and mysterious in the most beautiful way,” told Maria Chronis, Founder, Executive Producer, and Director of VJ Dunraven Productions.

Regardless of the novel’s plot line or character basis, GoodDay has a natural affinity for attracting a reader’s attention. Her modeling compliments the contents of each novel and is undoubtedly the reason that so many readers feel compelled to find out what lies beneath her engaging covers. For GoodDay, it is a dream come true to be able to see herself on the cover of each novel and it reminds her of when she would gaze at books and magazines in stores as a child, wondering what it would be like to see her face on them one day. In fact, in the span of two years, she found her face on over 35 different novel covers published by VJ Dunraven Productions.

Being able to live out her childhood dreams is an indescribable feeling, and she considers herself extremely fortunate to be able to truly love what she does for a living. Between acting in films, hosting television shows, and modeling, she has established a remarkable career and she looks forward to building it day by day, and job by job in the future. For those aspiring to develop a reputation like GoodDay’s and to build the type of confidence necessary to accomplish what she has, GoodDay had the following to say:

“Whatever you choose to do, study that subject and its history. Dedicate yourself to it and be brave, but refrain from letting that bravery become arrogance or shamelessness. Work on yourself to be the best version of you that you can be. Finally, don’t forget to get some rest from time to time.”

Creative Director Mitch Crook talks Nike and establishing a successful business

When Mitch Crook recalls what initially sparked his interest in design, he credits an inspirational art teacher from his youth. Mr. Dominic Culkin, from Crook’s high school in Hertfordshire, England, would inform his student about exhibitions to see what books to read, and what magazines to buy. This teacher’s ability to connect his class to art and design opened up a world and sparked a passion for a young Crook that shaped his entire future, and he still possesses today. Little did Mr. Culkin know the impact he would have on not only his pupil, but the United Kingdom as a whole. Crook is now the Founder and Creative Director at his company Hotel Creative, a design agency behind some of the country’s most renowned retail advertising campaigns.

Despite not having heard of Mitch Crook before, you have most likely seen his work. His company, Hotel Creative, is a multi-disciplined creative consultancy based in London. His team specializes in concepts, visual design and art direction for brand communications, experiences and pinnacle retail. They pride themselves on great ideas, quality production and a high standard of delivery, combining attention to detail with a no-limits attitude. With Crook at the helm, he constantly impresses both colleagues and clients, and after seven years in business, Hotel Creative has become a leader in the industry.

“I have never come across a more brilliant, talented and charismatic Creative Director than Mitch. I am constantly astounded by the innovative experiential campaigns he creates on behalf of his clients,” said Marcus Price, Associate Creative Director R/GA, New York.

Collaborating with Nike, Hotel Creative was responsible for many of their most successful product launches, directly contributing to increased awareness and commercial sales. Through his work, Crook has been partly responsible for Nike being the dominant sportswear brand in retail across the United Kingdom and Western Europe.

“Nike is the best brand in the world. Their vision for the future is streets ahead of their competition. I’m a massive Nike fan, love their product, love their demand for excellence and how innovative they are across all fields of play. The way they took on soccer with a clear mission to be the biggest brand was outrageous, but totally Nike and look how they’ve achieved that over the last 15 years. So much of what I see in Nike reflects why I set up Hotel Creative, we share similar creative goals to do things that haven’t been done before,” said Crook.

Specializing in apex visual experiences for luxury brands, Crook is a Nike brand expert and a global design influencer. Earlier in his career, before Hotel Creative, Crook was given great insight into working with Nike whilst working his way up in the creative world. At the time, online shopping was beginning to take off, with e-commerce sites like Amazon and eBay beginning to emerge as the giants that they are today. Despite this, Crook had a vision for retail that went against this trend; he believed that physical retail could still be more successful than ever if more of an artistic and creative approach was taken, making it bigger and better than ever. It was this idea that sparked the creation of Hotel Creative, and he pitched his concept to Nike UK, and they agreed to be his founding client. The promise of work gave Crook the courage and confidence to launch his own agency, and Nike has been his principal client ever since.

“Mitch has been responsible for, and involved with some of the most iconic Nike campaigns in the world. He always looks to push the boundaries of retail design,” said Adrian Fenech, Senior Brand Director, Nike Inc.

Crook’s loyalty and passion for Nike is evident in Hotel Creative’s work with the sporting brand. His direct experience with the company and his understanding of the field gives Hotel Creative an intimate knowledge of what works. Crook says his team pushes their own boundaries every single day to consistently produce high-achieving results for Nike. Nike respects this, and gives Crook a lot of creative freedom to explore new and unique ideas, something that has become a bit of a trademark for Hotel Creative, as no other creative consultants have achieved for Nike what they have. Crook treats every project through a fresh lens, and he does not have one house style that Nike simply adopts. Every single campaign is different, and each is visually stimulating for consumers.

“We have to react, find new things, new techniques, continually adapt our creative approach to what will excite and capture the imagination of consumers and what enhances and communicates Nike’s product,” he described.

Such an approach makes Nike the best and most challenging client in the world, according to Crook. Not only do they work with Nike on local territory campaigns around the UK, Hotel Creative also works on them at a global creative level, creating future campaign directives that set the tone for their creative rollouts across the world. There is never a moment with Crook’s company is not dealing with Nike. Projects typically take about four weeks, sometimes even less, but can last up to three months. The creative process involves Hotel Creative presenting a number of creative directions and refining them to align with Nike’s product and their audience. Every day is different, processes and order are often hard to impose, but they have built up a lot of trust between each other. Crook knows what is expected of him, and never rests on his laurels.

“Nike have an unnerving sense of the future and that futuristic vision excites and inspires me. Over the last 30 or so years they have transformed into such a globally innovative brand, continually pushing technologies to create new products for both elite sports and everyday consumers. This cutting-edge approach is a magnetic force for many creatives and I’m proud of what we’ve achieved working with Nike, given they have the ability to pick the best,” added Crook.

With such a passion for his work, there is little doubt as to why both Crook and Hotel Creative have become international success stories. Crook never let his connections with Nike die down as he was building his business, and he encourages all those who look to follow in his footsteps to remember, it’s not what you know, it’s who.

“Study, work hard, play hard. Work the system and build your contacts. Surround yourself with like-minded individuals. Look who’s doing work you love or aspire to do. Contact them and ask if you can assist in any way at all,” he advised. “All knowledge is good knowledge, even if it’s a bad experience, it is something you know not to do again. Always learn and reflect on what you did and what you could have done better. Then you are ready for next time.”

A MODERN CLASSIC WITH KARLEE SQUIRES IN “SUGAR”

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In case you aren’t aware of it, vinyl outsold downloads last year and are posed to repeat the occurrence this year. That might seem counterintuitive to most readers. It’s easier to access a download and you get to pick out the specific parts that you desire rather than purchasing the entire product. What this trend tells us is that the public is beginning to realize what they forgot, that there is a difference. This same template can be applied to live theater. There is something about the experience, the sound, the energy, and obviously the momentary performances that are created by the entertainers who take part in this classic medium. While Broadway has never gone away, the plethora of touring companies that used to blanket the country and beyond have dwindled. As with vinyl, the “real” thing is starting to make a resurgence, much to the delight of an excited public. Entertainers who can do it all, such as Canadian Karlee Squires are more in demand than in decades. It takes great talent, commitment, and a love of the uncertainty of each performance that drives Squires and this new generation of talented live performers who act, dance, and sing. Even Hollywood and television is taking part in this trend as more and more productions of this kind are seen on both the big and small screens. For Karlee, this is simply more proof that the path she has chosen was well worth the effort it has taken.

“Sugar” is based on the classic comedy “Some Like It Hot” starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon in 1959. The music for “Sugar” is by Jule Styne, lyrics by Bob Merrill, and the book is by Peter Stone. Set in 1920’s Chicago, the story follows two unemployed musicians, Joe and Jerry, who witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre by Spats Palazzo and his gang. The boys go undercover to get out of Chicago, dressing as women and joining an all-girl band, Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopators, who are travelling to Florida. Joe takes the name Josephine and falls in love with the band’s singer, Sugar. Meanwhile, Jerry (now Daphne) catches the attention of a wealthy, elderly man named Osgood Fielding, Jr. Karlee appears as Mary Lou early in the plays as Mary Lou leaves the band, figuratively opening the door for Sugar. As proof of her talent and malleability, Squires then appears as Olga and stays in this character for the remainder of the play. In a particularly hilarious scene, while on the train to Miami for the band’s gig, Olga asks Jerry/Daphne to help her fix the bra strap that fell down her shirt. Jerry/Daphne has to reach down her shirt, fumble around until he finds it and tie it back together. It’s a featured comedy skit in Sugar and goes on for quite a few minutes. The character Olga is unaware of what’s happening, as Jerry/Daphne is having too much fun, and the audience roars with laughter. The show heats up when Spats Palazzo and his gang show up in Miami and figure out that the girls are actually boys.

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Squires performance in “Sugar” belies the curt amount of time she had to prepare. She had twenty-five hours to learn script, blocking, and choreography. The nature of theater is that it can often change at a moment’s notice which makes being a quick learner a substantial attribute. The intensity of learning so much so quickly was offset by the pleasure of being surrounded by an incredible cast and crew. Two time Tony-award-winner Robert Morse shared his stories of performing with the cast and gave direction and encouragement to Karlee during the play’s run. Producer/Production Coordinator Eileen Barnett notes, “It was hard not to notice Karlee; there she was on alongside actors from some of the biggest stages in the world, from Broadway, to the West End to national tours; some even being Tony and Drama Desk nominated, and she was enchanting. She is mature beyond her years. Karlee does all of the preparation and rehearsal that any consummate professional does but she is also always looking for a new way to add something. She has talent and drive which is an outstanding combination; one which was very evident to all of us in Sugar.”

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The method for any art form, including musical theater, to move forward is by using one’s talent to push yourself forward by learning from those before you. Karlee Squires is surrounded by her peers and those of legendary status of previous decades. Enabled with a skill set that encompasses the heart of the great musical theater tradition, she is on the forefront of the new generation that carries the torch into the modern era and its productions. As the attendees of “Sugar” can confirm, it’s going to be exciting to watch.