Tag Archives: Producer

Producer Melina Tupa helps change lives stories in Frontline’s ‘Rape on the Night Shift’

Melina Tupa is more than a filmmaker, she takes her role and knows how many people she can affect with her work. She adds the responsibility of being a journalist, telling harsh and real stories that need to be told, and she shares them with the world. Her commitment to her craft is outstanding, and her talent is unparalleled.

With experience in both producing and journalism, Tupa has emerged as a formidable documentary filmmaker. Last year, her film The Search captivated audiences and critics alike, a trend she is well familiar with throughout her established career. Her work with networks like Turner Broadcasting and Nonstop TV have seen similar success. These accolades, however, are not important when she is doing what she loves.

“I wanted to be a producer to be involved in all the aspects of the film. It is the only position where you can connect with all the other team members of a production. I always liked working with diverse groups and being a producer meant I could learn other skills from other production areas fairly easy. It is also a position where you can have a real impact on the final product. The producer is the thread that unifies and solidifies all the pieces of a documentary,” said Tupa.

Bernardo Ruiz, a Director and fellow Producer, worked alongside Tupa on the feature documentary The Gatherers, which has been funded by the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Sundance Documentary Institute. Ruiz was astounded by her talent, and is now looking at having her co-produce his upcoming feature documentary about California’s Napa Valley.

“Melina is an experienced and dedicated production staffer and researcher. She has an excellent reputation, having studied with some of the top documentary filmmakers in the business and I have gladly recommended her to other producers seeking top documentary talent. Not only does Melina have top tier formal training in journalism and documentary production, but she is also an experienced independent producer. Her ability to work on multiple fronts is a major asset to a production as are her language abilities, as she speaks, writes and can conduct research in at least three languages: English, Spanish and Portuguese,” said Ruiz.

Tupa’s investigate reporting and producing talent was evident once again with her work on the critically-acclaimed film Rape on the Night Shift. The chilling documentary looks into allegations of sexual abuse of immigrant women working in the janitorial industry and how companies handle the problem.

“These women who worked at the janitorial service to support their families had been raped and the perpetrators had gotten away with it. It was very important that their stories were widely known and that there could be structural changes in the janitorial service so these atrocious acts would never happen again,” said Tupa.

With her trilingual abilities aiding her, Tupa was approached by a producer on the film to come on board the project, knowing that speaking Spanish was key. Most of the main characters and interviewees on this story spoke in Spanish and it was crucial that whoever came on board could understand them. Tupa also assisted in pre-editing interviews, transcribing, and translating interviews, and assisting on overall production tasks. As documentary units are usually small, every person’s contributions are key to the success of a project, and every task is essential. Tupa’s work was no exception.

“I always wanted to work for the Investigative Reporting Program since it’s one of the most important journalism centers in the United States and the world. When I found they were working on this project in particular I knew I wanted to be part of the team,” Tupa described.

Many of the victims were undocumented immigrants, and they thought they had no rights because of this. However, once the documentary aired, the powerful story not only helped changed the lives of the victims that were interviewed, but the lives of thousands, as California law was changed to protect janitors like them from sexual violence and abuse on the job. The bill was inspired by the documentary, and Tupa could not be prouder of the part she played in impacting the lives of so many women.

“This was a very important story to tell. There were a lot of women suffering and these women never had an outlet to tell their stories before. So, I knew this documentary was going to be important and, in fact, after it aired it led to change in policy in the janitorial service,” said Tupa

The film premiered on June 23, 2015. It aired on PBS Frontline. You can also watch Rape on the Night Shift here.

 

Photo by Vanessa Arango Garcia

Producer Sonia Bajaj talks new film ‘A Broken Egg’

Headshot 4
Producer/Director Sonia Bajaj

Sonia Bajaj was born in the city of Mumbai, India, the birthplace of Bollywood. Living in the film capital, she was exposed to films from a very young age. This interest sparked something in her, and Bajaj knew watching films was not enough, she had to make them. She wanted to tell stories, and share with the world the ones she knew needed to be told. Now, she is recognized not just in India, but also internationally for her talent, and is a sought-after director and producer.

While working on films like Rose, Hari, The Best Photograph, Bekah and Impossible Love, Bajaj has earned the reputation as an outstanding filmmaker. Bajaj always had a talent for producing. Her father is a businessman who has dealt with paperwork all his life. At times, she would help him out and during that process; she began to learn the basics of business, and therefore, the basics of producing.

“I’ve always been a good manager of time, deadline serious, and most importantly a team player as well as a leader. My goals are well defined before me and I seldom deviate from them. My experience handling paperwork, education and a creative mind inclined me towards becoming a Producer,” said Bajaj.

Bajaj’s producing instincts are evident in the new film A Broken Egg. It tells the story of a dysfunctional family that go through varied emotions over dinner due to the recent discovery of their teen daughter being pregnant. The entire film takes place during a family dinner scene.

“This meant that we had no location changes and had to film in a tight space for two days. It was a unique experience to have the beginning, middle and end of a film over the course of dinner. A Production like A Broken Egg is not a traditional style of filmmaking, making the project exciting and different. That’s why I wanted to work on this project,” said Bajaj. “Teenage pregnancy is quite prominent in the United States. Our goal was to make a film that showcases the after effects of teenage pregnancy from the eyes of the teenager as well as the family members, all together under one roof.”

The film premiered in June 2017 at the California International Shorts Festival in Los Angeles, and has since gone on to be an Official Selection at the Barcelona Planet Film Festival, UK Monthly Film Festival, and the Festival de Cannes Short Corner. It was a semi-finalist at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards, and the Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival, and won the Bronze Award at the NYC Indie Film Awards, and the Gold Award at the Mindfield Film Festival. None of this could have been achieved without Bajaj’s producing savvy.

“Our goal was to create a voice for teenage pregnancy, a film that is relatable to teenagers and families, alike. We’re thrilled with the response the film was received so far and would love to see what happens next,” she said.

With Director Tushar Tyagi and Actor Lainee Rhodes on A Broken Egg Production Still
Actor Lainee Rhodes, Director Tushar Tyagi, and Producer Sonia Bajaj on set of A Broken Egg

Despite some budget constraints, Bajaj made sure there was still high production quality. Due to her experience producing and directing varied short films, she managed to get most of the crew work on minimum wage daily, which helped to secure a great camera and actors, leading to a successful completion of the production. They only had one day of rehearsals and two days of filming available, which meant that Bajaj had to make important decisions quickly, be on her feet at all times, and make sure that there was clear communication maintained throughout. Not many could pull off such a feat, but Bajaj’s ability to take risks and make swift decisions made her perfect for the job. The Director of the film, Tushar Tyagi, knew she would be able to make his film a success, as he had seen her work on the film Rose.

“No matter the budget level, Sonia has always been able to elevate the production to the highest standards. Whenever there’s been an issue, she’s been quick to resolve it without any setbacks to the schedule.  She is enthusiastic, a positive thinker and has a go-getter attitude,” said Tyagi. “Sonia has a fresh take on the stories she directs. Her style of directing is innovative, powerful and thought provoking. As a Producer, she is the foremost leader in every project she takes on. That’s why all her projects have enjoyed a great deal of success in film festivals both in the U.S. and globally.”

There is no doubt that A Broken Egg will continue to have success as it makes its way to more film festivals this year. For Bajaj, however, that is not why she loves what she does. The accolades and the awards don’t matter as much as getting to do what she is passionate about.

“Being a producer requires a lot of patience as you see through a production from the very beginning to right until the end. It gives one a chance to interact with different cultures, creativities and mindsets from all over the world. I enjoy this amalgamation of creative and business, and that’s why I like being a Producer,” she concluded.

Producer Xueru Tang faces her fears, literally, in critically-acclaimed horror flick Emily

Xueru Tang’s life is making movies, and she loves every minute of it. Her work captivates international audiences, and her name is recognized all over the world. She is an extraordinary producer, and one of the best to recently come out of China.

While working on several esteemed projects, Tang has become an extremely sought-after producer. She has worked on films such as Locked, and Hot Pot Man. Both of these projects have gone on to do very well at several of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. However, what is perhaps the most decorated film of Tang’s career is the award-winning horror flick Emily.

“When I was asked to join the project, I was really interested. I love horror movies, but I always have trouble watching them because they scare me, so I really wanted to know how a horror movie was shot,” said Tang.

Directed by Jun Xia, the film tells the scary story of a woman named Emily. Emily dies giving birth at home after her husband, John, abandons her. However, she will have her revenge from beyond the grave when she returns as a ghost set on killing her widowed husband.

“I liked the script at first, it was short but it was interesting, and once I started working on the film, I began to really like the way the director told the story. He really caught the point at which everyone is frightened. It really made me scared. He really had his style and his visual for everything,” said Tang.

Tang was approached by co-producer Guannan Li to join the project. Li knew he needed a team of the best producers he could find, and having worked with Tang before, he knew she would be the perfect fit. Another producer on the film, Jingming Zhao, could not have agreed more.

“During development of the film, Xueru included her creative input for the film, and helped to polish the script, showcasing her creative abilities. She was responsible for renting equipment, creating and managing our budget and schedule, and making certain that this highly intensive work was made on our budget. Due to Xueru’s preeminent abilities as a creative thinker and a talented producer, she helped us to lay a foundation for the film, without which we would not have been nearly as successful. Of the many producers I have worked alongside, she is the most stand-out talent I can think of,” said Zhao.

Tang’s decisions for the film were very fruitful, as Emily has been a stand out at film festivals. After its premiere at the Los Angeles International Film Festival in August of 2015, it went on to be praised at the following festivals: Winner Best Horror Short Film – Hollywood Horror Festival 2015, Winner Best Short Film – Mad Town Horror 2015, Winner Best Horror Short – Hollywood Boulevard Film Festival 2016, Winner Best Student Horror Short – Hollywood International Moving Picture Film Festival 2016, Winner Best Student Horror Short – United International Film Festival 2016, Winner Best Director – Chandler International Film Festival 2016, Winner Official Selection Award – Chinese American Film Festival 2016, Official Selection London Digital Film Festival 2015, Official Selection International New York Film Festival 2015, Official Selection Full Bloom Film Festival 2015, Official Selection and Screening Big House Invitation Year One 2015, Official Selection Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival 2015, Official Selection Horror Short Video Contest 2015, Official Selection Los Angeles Short Film Festival 2016, Official Selection and Screening Holly Shorts Film Festival 2016, Official Selection AFMA Film Festival 2016, Official Selection and Screening Hanhai Studio 1st Short Film Festival 2016.

“When we won the first festival, we all super happy, and one by one, after like 10, to be honest, we all started to feel like ‘okay, this is normal,’” said Tang. “When we started winning the big festival, we felt happy of course. I felt like it showed how hard we worked and how good we are. When we work it can be a really hard time and not easy for all of us, but we studied from this production and we grew because of it.”

For a film to do so well over such an extended period of time, continuing to impress audiences and critics over a full year, shows just how good it is, and Tang was a big part of that. She dealt with the crew, worked on the budget, and was responsible for hiring a team that she knew could make the film the success it became. One role in particular that she tirelessly searched for was the cinematographer, as the director Jun Xia wanted someone he could work well with and share his vision. Tang spent months searching and interviewing candidates looking for that special director of photography. This effort led to finding the ideal match, and was vital for the film.

The team worked so well together, that they decided to embark on another horror film Inside Linda Vista Hospital, which production companies were eager to be a part of after Emily’s success. The second film has gone on to achieve similar feats at many film festivals, showing audiences all over the world why Tang is so good at what she does.

Producer Albee Zhang doubles as Hometown Champion

Many people don’t realize they have a dream until they have already achieved it. This is just what happened for Albee Zhang. The Shanghai native always knew she wanted to make films, but it wasn’t until she realized she had made a career both in China and the United States that this was always what she wanted. She shows the world her culture through her work, and allows audiences to see both where she comes from and where she is now, as an internationally successful film and television producer.

This is exactly what Zhang achieved with the film Bride: Shanghai, I Love You. As a producer on the film, Zhang was essential to its success. She provided creative ideas for story meetings, prepared pitch materials, created and managed the production budget, scouted locations, recruited the crew, oversaw the art department and post-production teams to ensure deadlines, and cast the film. Without her, the film could not have been made.

“The cast she put together, the people that she put together for this project, it was really quite amazing. Albee is the master of multitasking, but never skips out on the small things. She has more drive and passion than anyone I have ever met. She is definitely a go-getter,” said the director of the film, Lian Xin.

Bride: Shanghai, I Love You is a film made for the 15th Shanghai International Film Festival, hosted by SIFF and the Information Office of Shanghai Municipality, as part of city promotional videos during the festival. It’s a story about a young photographer who meets his long-lost ex-girlfriend on her wedding day. Originally, he accused the fast pacing city life of changing them and made them break-up, but he finally realizes without all the tough times in his life, he wouldn’t be who he is right now. He moves on with relief and looks forward to the future with deep love in this city, Shanghai.

“It’s such a compelling life changing story. Any dream seeker in the big cities would find similarities to the character. The release date was in a summer, same as the graduation season in the story, which made the whole story resonate with more people. I love the idea that we started from an ordinary person’s point of view to reveal the beauty of this city,” said Zhang. “It’s a light-hearted and inspirational story to motivate the young professions to following up their dreams. We had a very young team making this film. Although they may lack of professional experience, they brought so much energy and joy to the crew. They gave us lots of ideas of how to capture a city wanderer’s life. And in return, we were trying to give these young professionals an opportunity to work on this film. All they needed was an equal chance, just like everyone else.”

Zhang wanted to share her love for her city through the film, and that is exactly what she did. She worked on the project from start to finish, from the development stage, casting, accountings, getting equipment deal and transportation, to its premiere at the festival. She was working at MT media at the time, and the director, Lian Xin, reached out to her to be a part of the film, knowing he needed the best to make the film a success.

“Lian Xin is a very hands-on director. He likes taking different jobs at the same time while making his films. He directed, wrote, filmed, and even gave lighting directions on our film set. In the editing stage, he would prefer to have a director’s cut. By looking at his works, you would know what’s a ‘Lian’s style’ movie. He was calm and quiet person off-set, but as long as the camera was rolling, he would rule the set. We had worked on few other projects before, so I knew from my heart that he had the capability to do multiple jobs on set. If it was another director, I wouldn’t let him do that. But it’s all about trust and mutual understanding. When he was in charge, I had nothing to worry about,” said Zhang.

The film was a non-profit project, and therefore had a very small crew. This required Zhang to wear many hats at the same time to ensure the production went smoothly. As a producer, she is known for her commitment to her work and to each project she works on, which is why they have gone on to see such success. Her more recent work on the film Caged has gone on to be an Official Selection at many festivals, and win several awards. She knows what it takes to achieve greatness, as that is what she continuously does. Having Bride: Shanghai, I Love You, premiere at a prestigious film festival such as The Shanghai International Film Festival was nothing out of the ordinary for this producer.

“It was a great honor to be part of the film festival program. Producing my own hometown promotion video for SIFF made me think about what my home town means to me. I was born and raised in Shanghai, and lived there for the majority of my life, but I never thought about what impression does this city leave the world, until I started brainstorming ideas for this project. It’s a place you will easily lose yourself in a materialistic life, but after all the struggles, you will eventually be deeply in love the city with and understand how inclusive this city can be,” said Zhang. “Since I am purely from Shanghai, that was a great chance show the world how great my home city is. I am proud that I can become part of the production.”

BRIDE

Director and producer Ron Grebler is the real deal while showcasing real food

Ron Grebler is a storyteller. He is a creator. He is a filmmaker. He uses his creativity and imagination to transport others to different places and times. Grebler uses his talent to captivate audiences. As both a Director and Producer from Toronto, Ontario, Ron Grebler has done it all.

With fans around the world, Grebler’s work has been appreciated by many. Just last year, his promotional video for the immensely popular Netflix series Stranger Things went viral, building up anticipation for the show. He has directed and produced several successful commercials, including the innovative campaign for Axe Hair Products on Canada’s MuchMusic, and commercials for Belair Direct, Fuji Instax, and We Day.

“I would like to think that I strive for ‘quiet storytelling’, letting the idea unfold in visual images rather than be heavily driven by dialogue or voice over narration. This is the path more rarely travelled in the heavily direct messaging style of the commercial world, and often embraced by branded content. Visually, there’s something fascinating to me about extreme close-ups with limited depth of field. That perspective can take the subject and add a dimensionality to it that’s almost abstract, which I believe connects with viewers. Given that I work in the commercial world, it’s not often that I can use shots like these, but at the right moment, they can really make a spot pop. I’m very cognizant of color and contrast. There is high pressure when creating a commercial because ultimately, it’s about ‘selling’ and for many viewers there is a reticence to that. That’s why I always try to layer a spot with cues for the unconscious mind to find them entertaining, engaging and if possible, playful,” said Grebler, describing his style of directing.

With such a commitment to his craft and an appreciation of the nuances, it is no doubt as to why Grebler is considered one of the best. When working on a promotional video series for Thermador, Grebler showed his abilities to go beyond what is typical, and create something revolutionary. Real Food with Thermador was a four-part web series that was an early foray into the world of online branded content video featuring celebrity chef Jamie Kennedy.

“There was a very unique approach in the development of this project as it was meant to truly be branded content, meaning we weren’t pushing the ‘hard sell’ of Thermador products,” said Grebler. “It was really meant to focus on passion for locally grown seasonal ingredients, especially as perceived through the eyes of celebrated chef Jamie Kennedy.”

The series was shot similarly to an HGTV show or a Food Network program, educating viewers as well as entertaining. Acting as both producer and director for the project, Grebler’s vision was imperative to its success. Mike Codner, former Studio Manager with DDB Canada , sought-out Grebler to be the director and producer, knowing of his creativity, work ethic and passion for the job.

“Ron has a flexible approach to production, whether it’s a big budget or small, he treats it with the same respect. He’s a director and producer first, but he sees the big picture in terms of the clients’ needs and the reality of working within budgetary constraints. He’s passionately engaged in the process, from pre-production through the shoot and will sit in on all post production too. He takes ownership of all that he does,” said Codner.

The campaign was very successful and won both the International Association of Business Communicators Gold Quill Award and Ovation Award, the Canadian Marketing Association Award, and the Canadian Public Relations ACE Award. Grebler says he didn’t even consider awards while making the video, he just wanted to focus on the client’s goals while making something visually outstanding.

“Honestly it felt odd at first. I was told we were nominated and I kind of shrugged my shoulders. The agency told me that it was a bigger deal than I realized and when we won I was quite proud. Maybe I was naïve but I had no idea how important it was to win awards,” Grebler laughed.

Taking on the vital roles of director and producer, Grebler was responsible for implementing his vision. By making the videos appear like a television show it helped connect the audience to the product in a way that other commercials couldn’t. The videos were made in 2008, and in those early days of branded content, it was essential that the video not feel like a commercial. By giving viewers compelling content, great visuals and passionate discussion about the topic of real food, Grebler knew they’d be engaged. When the chef ended up describing some of the specific Thermador products, it was part of the flow of the show and made sense, not just like a ‘stop-and-sell-the-product’ moment.

“It was flattering to be selected to work on this kind of programming. After the scripts were written, it was less about thinking and more about doing. We had a lot of locations to cover in only a few days, so it was about maximizing our time and getting the most powerful content. It wasn’t until the edit that I really grasped how seamlessly everything cut together and that it really flowed like a segment for a TV show, nothing at all like a commercial,” Grebler described.

Grebler also succeeded in making the videos a work of art. Shooting in picturesque Prince Edward County, venturing from Jamie Kennedy’s to an artisanal cheese factory, he set up each shot to have stunning imagery. The outdoor shots showcased the perfect late summer weather, from the golden light over a tomato farm to mouth-watering close-ups of prepared dishes. The passion and depth of knowledge shown by on-camera talent Jamie Kennedy and those he would speak with also shone through.

“It was a great pleasure working on this because it was as much an on-the-fly learning process about local foods and farming and food production as much as it was the logistics of video production. We had a small and very talented crew and we had to think on our feet quickly because of limited access and time at the locations as well as working with real people. I trusted them completely and the visuals and content we got was quite captivating while engaging in passionate conversations about food with local farmers and artisanal cheesemakers,” he described.

Working with a celebrity chef and farmers was initially concerning for the director and producer, however, as he was concerned about their ability to articulate in a way that would connect with audiences. Grebler eventually learned a valuable lesson that he carries with him today.

“Find someone’s passion when you’re speaking with them and they will give you gold,” Grebler concluded.

Watch Grebler’s work on the first episode of Real Food with Thermador here.