Tag Archives: International Talent

Cinematographer Ismaël Lotz talks award-winning film ‘Who is Alice’

Ismaël Lotz sees life through the viewfinder of his camera. He knows the power that film can have, and the artistry that comes from making one. As a cinematographer, he ensures that every single shot is perfect. Everything is important; from lighting, to lenses, to the smallest movement of his camera. Such dedication takes more than just talent, it takes unparalleled drive. Very little people actually possess such a trait, and Lotz is one of those few. His work ethic and outstanding capabilities as a Director of Photography have led him to be one of The Netherland’s best, and he is now internationally in demand.

Throughout his esteemed career, Lotz has worked on many critically-acclaimed projects. His documentary I am Famous tells the story of Tom Wilson, famous for his role as the antagonist Biff in the Back to the Future films, and living with that notoriety. As a child, that series was one of Lotz’ inspirations for becoming a filmmaker, and now, those he idolized he now works alongside.

The highlight of Lotz’ career, however, is his recent film Who is Alice. This internationally-acclaimed comedic drama whisks the audience away on a humorous, non-conventional quest to avoid suffering and find happiness. Lotz, known for his work in cinematography, also took on the roles of co-director and editor for the film, knowing that understanding such positions would make him a better cinematographer. His involvement from pre-production to post-production helped make the film an enormous success.

“The reason we wanted him as Director and Director of Photography is because of his talent and passion. He is known as one of the best Directors of Photography in The Netherlands and the quality of his work is outstanding,” said Paul Smit, the Writer and Producer of Who is Alice. “It’s always a pleasure to be working with Ismaël. He is passionate, creative, intelligent and able to exceed people’s expectations. Actors that I’ve worked with told me that they had never seen a Director of Photography like Ismaël. Normally it takes two cameramen to do what he is doing all by himself. Besides his talent, he is very easy to work with and always aims for the highest level.”

Who is Alice premiered in the city of Helmond, where the film was shot, with several sold-out shows. It then went on to several prestigious film festivals, such as the Los Angeles Film Awards, Festigious International Film Competition, London Independent Film Awards, Miami Independent Film Festival, Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival, TMC London Film Festival, Actors Awards, and the Move Me Productions Film Festival. winning over 25 awards throughout them.  Amongst these accolades, Lotz was recognized for his outstanding work as Director of Photography, and took home the prize of Best Cinematography at the New York Film Awards, not to mention the recognition he received for his work as Director and Editor all over the world.

“It’s very rewarding and feels great that the film has achieved what it has. I am so proud on what we’d accomplished with our work. It brings a big light on my future endeavours as an international filmmaker,” said Lotz. “It makes me very proud to have won the award for Best Cinematography. But besides the awards for several departments on the film, the biggest reward is that complete strangers approached me and told me what they think of the film. It leads to very pleasant conversations with all kinds of different people. It’s inspires me to keep working on more projects like this.”

On-set, Lotz worked closely with his co-director Robert van den Broek to ensure the all-star cast was working to their fullest potential, and that the two directors were always on the same page, which was essential to Lotz’ cinematography. Many times while shooting, problems can arise and situations can change, making what was planned in pre-production alter drastically. As a cinematographer, adapting quickly to these situations and coming up with equal or better alternatives is a must. At one point while shooting, Lotz and his team lost a lot of time because of a power outage. The solution was to do the scene in one take. In hindsight, it is now one of Lotz’ favorite scenes of the film, as one take scenes are immensely challenging for everyone involved, but create an authenticity for viewers, truly transporting them into the film.

Lotz is known for the energy he brings behind the camera. He is a team player and plays to his crew’s strengths. This brings a creative freedom for everyone to work toward his vision, creating a harmonious working environment, which is essential to the success of any film. It was working on such a great team that made the experience of making Who is Alice extraordinary for this cinematographer, and knowing the story they were telling was important and would impact audiences is why the filmmaker began this journey in the first place.

Who is Alice carries us on a funny, compelling and sometimes cringe-worthy journey into the highs and lows of what human beings will do to try to avoid pain and connect to happiness. It’s about being yourself in a world full of big egos. It shows how big the power plays are in the entertainment industry in a funny way. While it also shows the drama of Alice’s life, I think the movie carries a lot of spiritual elements with it. Who are you? And if you found out who you are, what are you doing with that knowledge?” Lotz concluded.

Who is Alice is now available on worldwide streaming services such as Amazon, iTunes, and Hulu. Those in China and Japan can also look forward to seeing the film soon, as a distribution deal has just been signed. No matter where you are, be sure to check out Lotz’ outstanding work on the film.

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Talha Bin Abdulrahman on watching his passion project come to life for ‘Jellyfish’

In order to succeed as a director in the arts and entertainment industry, it is essential to have more than just a keen eye for story telling, or an aptitude for capturing a vision and translating it onto a screen. It requires a passion strong enough to withstand adversity, grueling competition, and setbacks. It is an extremely competitive profession with a wide range of challenges. For a director like Talha Bin Abdulrahman, it is easy to remain level-headed in the face of an obstacle, for he knows that film direction is his calling. It is his reason to wake in the morning and it is the one thing he enjoys doing more than anything else in this world.

“When I encounter a difficult day on set, I take a moment to breath. I believe that there is always a way to make things work, so if ever I hit a brick wall, I move onto another scene and revisit the broken one afterwards. You have to trust your instincts, and your team. Together, they will help you through anything and you will eventually come out on top,” tells Bin Abdulrahman.

As a director, Bin Abdulrahman has earned himself an unprecedented reputation. His peers in the filmmaking community equate his name with success and he is known for using his profound talents to create stellar films like The Scapegoat, and Served Cold. For the majority of films that Bin Abdulrahman has worked on, he has been approached by a producer or a cinematographer with a compelling script that needs a director to execute its storyline. Other times, he is driven by his own passion to tell important, life-altering stories to the world. This was the case with the music video he shot for Jo Blakenbergl’s emotional song, Jellyfish in the Sky. After hearing Jellyfish in the Sky, Bin Abdulrahman was so inspired that he bought the rights to the song and raised enough money to produce a video that would do the song justice.

“I felt that I had a visual story to tell through the music and the lyrics of the song. They are so moving that I wanted to do something about it. It was like an itch,” recalls Bin Abdulrahman.

Jellyfish in the Sky is about a young, ambitious ballerina who loses both of her legs in a car accident. The story begins after the ballerina experiences a near death experience when she attempts suicide and she finds herself performing one final dance before she departs this life. The story resonated well with Bin Abdulrahman because of the parallels he could draw between the ballerina’s artistry and his own. A ballerina losing her ability to dance is similar to what it would feel like for him to lose his ability to direct, and to tell important stories like the one he was telling in his music video. He was determined to translate the ballerina’s despair into a visual masterpiece and after viewing the video, it is apparent that this is exactly what he did. He worked with highly skilled dancers, as well as a world class ballet choreographer to bring his vision to life and the result was more moving than he could have ever dreamt.

When he originally embarked upon the journey that this project would later become, Bin Abdulrahman was apprehensive about finding dancers and choreographers who would share in his love for both the song and the story he was trying to tell. He needed someone who understood the importance of the story and who would dedicate every fiber of their being to ensuring that the video was a success. To his surprise, he managed to assemble a strong team who all shared in his vision and his dedication to the storyline they were portraying. From dancers, to videographers, to costume designers, everyone involved was determined to tell this story in the best light possible. For costume designers like Oksana Derina, it was refreshing to be able to work with such a director as passionate as Bin Abdulrahman and she was pleased to see all of his hard work and dedication pay off.

“Talha is very talented and professional. He is so creative and it makes working with him very interesting and enjoyable. I find it refreshing that he is open to hearing different opinions and collaborating with other professionals. I’m glad to have had the chance to work with him on Jellyfish,” notes Derina.

For Bin Abdulrahman, the true sense of fulfillment came from the final outcome of his efforts. When he watches Jellyfish in the Sky today, he recalls the pleasure of exploring a new art form, learning about the art of ballet dancing and learning how to synchronize a theatrical performance with music. It required him to exercise his patience in a way he hadn’t ever done before and knowing that he pushed himself to his limits for the better of the video’s final outcome was a reward in itself. In addition to his personal accomplishments, he was even happier to learn that Blankenberg loved what he had done for her song. When he was ready to share it with the world, he was taken aback by the way the public received it and was humbled by the fact that it earned over 100,000 views on his official website alone.

In future, Bin Abdulrahman hopes to uncover more passion projects like Jellyfish and adapt his skills to a number of new genres or art forms along the way. He is a motivated, energized film director and is ready to take on any new project that his industry has to offer. Keep an eye out for his upcoming TV sitcom, which sheds a critical light on the current political climate for Arab Immigrants living away from home.

MADDURY CREATES AN EPIC SCORE ALONG THE STORMFRONT

One of the most important things that Steve Jobs proved in his illustrious career is that vision is equally as important, some might say even more so, than the ability to manifest. There’s a bit of a chicken/egg quandary there but, what Jobs made clear was that genius exists in the birth of an idea just as much as creating something. Of course, the symbiosis of these two factors are essential. Technology has created an ease that never existed before. It allows individuals to do what took legions previously. Consider entertainment. The ability to create full length animated productions that are vivid and amazingly realistic require a fraction of the man power previously needed. The same can be said for music. Modern purveyors are able to use technology to make single droning notes or the sonic onslaught of a major symphony orchestra…all at the fingertips of one person. Of course they may not sound exactly like an orchestra with the subtle perfect imperfections that are the human trait but, the end result is so moving and virtually undistinguishable that only the most discerning experts might even notice the minute difference. The animated film “Along the Stormfront” is epic in both its action and its music. Sai Sriram Maddury is the composer who was contacted by Griffin Giersch (Director & Screenwriter of the film) to match the tone of this larger than life story.

“Along the Stormfront” is an animated tale with epic fights and a huge visual landscape. A powerful score was needed to match the striking visuals. The idea was to balance the humor of the tiny characters while also rising to acknowledge the epic battle scenes. The music in the film was the ingredient which empowered the characters to become something akin to superheroes during the battle scenes. In a distant futuristic world, Finn (a fox) and Dallas (an armadillo) take a bus to get to town. They are later attacked by deadly Monster who jump onto the bus. The personalities of these characters are representative of the characteristics the animals are noted for; however, the events of the story call them to achieve inner strength and greatness in a classic story of self-discovery. It’s no coincidence that Maddury’s score recalls visions of superhero films and their grandeur. When Finn stands his ground for himself and his friend against a seemingly unconquerable oppressor, his bravery is announced by a huge brass section.

Griffin Giersch (Director, Screenwriter, & Animator of “Along the Stormfront”) declares,

“Sai was an incredibly important part of making Along the Stormfront what it was. His music brought the project to a higher level that it could not have reached otherwise. The goal with the story was to make an epic action/adventure with elements of suspense, tension, excitement, and some humor thrown into the mix as well. Sai brought all of this to the forefront with his music, letting all the moments of this story shine through. Working collaboratively on projects like this that have so many different aspects and pieces can often be a huge challenge, especially when it comes to communicating and sharing ideas to get everyone on the same page creating a cohesive work. Sai was always right there with us, listening and understanding our thoughts and ideas. He did more than just listen; he brought his own ideas to the table as well. Ultimately, his creative voice came through in a strong way that we hadn’t even expected. His contributions to the project made it even better than we’d hoped.”

Maddury concedes that modern technology has made composers capable of spending more time experimenting with their ideas and sonics with a much more budget friendly approach. Instead of having studio musicians wait “on the clock” while varying approaches are taken, a composer is allowed to hear each of their ideas on a schedule that is conducive to inspiration. This characteristic however does not preclude the use of real instruments and musicians. Sai communicates, “Technology plays a vital role in the process of film scoring. Due to the advancement of technology most of the job is done at the studio with Computers installed with DAW applications (Digital Audio Workstation) and connected to MIDI Keyboards and speakers. The major advantage in today’s music programming technology is to have amazing sample libraries for film scoring, allowing composers to create an orchestral score and make it sound exactly or very close to a live performance. This helps directors and producers to listen to them before going to the scoring stage. Basically now we can have the mock ups for the entire score sound close to the live recording. But for a film that demands an electronic score, it can pretty much be written and produced in your DAW at the studio.  That being said, I love the qualities that come from a more traditional approach in film scores. I’m a musician and have a soft spot for traditional or organic instrumentation. I think it’s the life of a modern composer to use the proper tool for each film they work on.”

05 Sai Sriram Maddury Pic

It’s a testament to this composer’s talent and creativity that he conceived of and created the score for “Along the Stormfront” based on storyboards and sketches rather than the final film. The common practice in the industry is for a composer to view either dailyies or the completed production and then compose based on this. Against normal convention, Sai discussed the characters and the story with Griffin, composing during the animation process in order to meet deadlines. Proof of the success of the film and its composers work lies in its being recognized as an official selection to the Full Bloom Film Festival 2015 and Carrborro Film Festival 2015 as well as receiving the Gold Remi Award at the 49TH WorldFest­Houston International Film and Video Festival. Discussing these accolades, Maddury remarks, “I personally consider awards as a token of encouragement requesting the recipient to contribute more to the respective field of art with which we are involved. Even though I did get more projects to work on as a result of my score for Along the Stormfront, having the experience of working on an award-winning film will always keep one motivated and inspired to work hard and contribute more to the art of film scoring/storytelling.”

PROTECTOR OF THE FILM & MUCH MORE: XIN GONG

When director Yiqiong Li was preparing to make his film “A Gift” he did what most filmmakers do, he referred to the list he keeps of professionals that are both talented and enjoyable to work with. Li had recently served as Assistant Director on the film “Promise Land” and he immediately thought of the Xin Gong the DIT (Digital Imaging Technician) on that film and contacted her for this upcoming project. A DIT is one of those professions that many people do not fully understand but is integral to the camera crew operating efficiently and at full power. It’s a “boots on the ground” role in filmmaking and one which the director and cinematographer rely upon heavily. “A Gift” received numerous accolades including: Award of Recognition – Hollywood International Moving Picture Film Festival, a nomination at the International Filmmaker Festival of World Cinema London, and was an official selection at film festivals in the US, Berlin, Rome, and others. The dream of a filmmaker cannot be realized without the daily utilized talent of professionals like Xin Gong; skilled artists who will never see their name on the marquee but will always be the support of those who do.

“A Gift” is a film which concerns itself with the choices and potential found in all people. Kindness and redemption are something which can only be offered up, never can they be forcefully taken. The film tells the story of Jack, a young thief who breaks into the home of Margaret. Margaret is a blind elderly woman who mistakes Jack for her son. Margaret comes to realize that Jack is not her son but she still covers for him, protecting him from being discovered when police and neighbors come looking for a dangerous young man in the neighborhoods. The thief comes to realize the error of his ways and is moved by Margaret’s gift of understanding, forgiveness, and non-judgement.

Gong served as a Digital Imaging Technician or (DIT) for “A Gift.” As the guardian in change of protecting the footage for a film, the DIT not only serves as the gatekeeper but also assists many different parts of the film crew and the filming process insuring that instrumentation is working properly and capturing the action properly. Xin’s naturally detailed personality and discernment make her an easy fit for this role in any production. Also known as a talented editor, the duality of her skill set has made her more proficient of both sides of the production process (filming and post). The two complement each other well. Xin describes, “When I work as an editor, I organize the footage, putting different labels on for different footages. In editing software, I’ll put the dialogue into the first track, sound effects are on the second track, and music is on third track. When you know the process intimately after filming, it heightens your awareness for potential problems or mistakes as they occur during the filming process. This is initially what interested me in pursuing work as a DIT. The first time I took on this role [DIT] I began catching things immediately which I understood would be problematic during the post process. I alerted the DP and director about this and corrections were made instantly. Everyone was very appreciative that we had just saved a lot of time and effort, which was a great feeling for me.”

A skill which is paramount for both a DIT and an editor is color correction. This happens to be something which Gong is highly adept at and quite known for. This skill was vital to her work on “A Gift” as she explains, “One of the most problematic scenes for the film was the opening scene. As this is the first impression the audience will have of the film, everyone was aware of its importance. The scene starts at night as the main character breaks into the house. Unfortunately, the production couldn’t shoot at night and were forced to film this scene in the daytime. This was a big part of the reason I was chosen to work for this production. It was a challenge for me. Before they shot, the director and director of photography asked if I could do some color correction to make the “Day to night” when I was on set. Using DaVinci Resolve to change the gamma and highlight, I then did some color correction of the sky. The final result relieved everyone involved and once again, I felt appreciated…that never gets old.” Director of photography for the film, Chuan Li, reiterates, “DIT is a very complicated job. I think it too often goes underappreciated and doesn’t receive the respect it deserves. As someone who is on the camera the entire time, I relax when I have Xin Gong on a film set because I know she has thought for and prepared for more obstacles and how to avoid them than I ever would. I also know that when there is a problem, she is the first on jumping in to fix it. She sets a tone and example that others would do well to follow.”