Tag Archives: Producer

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.