Tag Archives: Producing

Chandra daCosta talks love of producing and finding the best stories

Growing up, Chandra daCosta was inspired watching her uncle on television, an actor in McIver. Though his role was a small one, that made little difference to her. The moment she saw him on screen, she knew she wanted to be part of creating TV content. When watching a movie, she would fixate on the details, watching it over and over again, studying it. She understood that filmmaking was more than just entertaining. It was a way to share a part of herself with the masses, and she set her sights on producing.

DaCosta has worked with top production companies across Canada. She has worked on popular series like A Wedding and a Murder, Biggest and Baddest, and The Stanley Show and most recently docu-series for Lifetime.  She has collaborated with some of the industry’s finest and her work has been seen on worldwide networks like Discovery Channel, and BBC.

“As a kid, I would always beg my parents to take me to the movie theatre. I loved the glam of it, the event of it, the popcorn, the lights, the BIG screens. I knew I wanted to live in this world somehow, some way,” she said.

One of daCosta’s highlights on her resume is her work with Dale Wolfe Productions. She currently has two shows in development with Wolfe, Fish Brokers and Water ShockFish Brokers is a television series that follows the process of catching, delivering and serving sustainable, fresh seafood to high profile restaurants – “from ship to chef” – on a daily basis. Based on the book Water Rights in Southeast Asia and India by author Ross Michael Pink and published by internationally known publisher, Palgrave Macmillan, Water Shock is a documentary series exploring the paramount human rights issue of our time: clean drinking water.

“Both projects have extremely sensitive subject matter, Water Shock’s message and story are imperative, and I am proud to be working on something that will hopefully have an impact and bring awareness to a very serious issue. The shortage of water is already a reality to so many and yet, here in North America we continue on like the water will last forever,” said daCosta. “Fish Brokers is extremely exciting to work on because everyone loves a good food show! And although this isn’t just about food, that’s a part of it. I am excited to get out there with the fishermen and immerse myself into their daily life. These fishermen are not massive operations, which makes it a personal experience. Further, they are very firm in their desire to fish sustainably and ensure their product is about sustainable seafood.  The idea of following the entire process from fish to dish is something I’m passionate about.”

While making Water Shock, Wolfe relies heavily on daCosta to source and secure hosting talent and utilize her contacts for Directors, cinematographers etc. Through her personal and professional relationships, she has many high-profile colleagues she can approach. This is what makes her so good at what she does; the people she works with always want to work with her again. She also works hard on the research side of the show, making sure there is always a primary and secondary story for each episode that can captivate the audience.

“Chandra is the consummate professional. She has the ability to pull together various aspects of a production and ensure it is running smoothly. Her most powerful quality is her networking skills and connections with high caliber industry professionals and the ability to bring people together,” said Dale Wolfe, Producer and Writer.

DaCosta has also been a driving force behind the development of Fish Brokers. Through the casting and the pre-interviews, she has found several companies to come on board for the show. On top of finding funding and distribution, daCosta continues to work with the cast, and source footage for the pilot episode. She continues to look for new and fresh angles, which is why fishermen are eager to participate in telling their stories.

“I worked on various development projects with Chandra. As a development executive at a top tier Vancouver production company, I often collaborated with Chandra on new ideas and pitches for broadcasters. Chandra is fantastic to work with. She was one of the few people I worked with in the television industry who not only was a pleasure to work with but also able to research, network, write and produce show ideas all at once. She is truly a triple (and beyond) threat,” said Nicole Lawson of Force Four Entertainment.

Fish Brokers has changed and evolved over time. From Fish Brokers, to Fish to Dish, to Ship to Chef and back to Fish Brokers, whatever the title, the show continues to impress industry professionals and broadcast executives.

“Working on these two shows has been so much fun. I really have a chance to dive into the different worlds and meet characters. Although both shows are about sustainability, one has a “fun” subject (food) and the other more serious (water shortages worldwide). The food aspect is always fun because part of the research is testing some of the finished product. And the chef’s love watching people marvel over their creation,” daCosta described. “The water shortage is dire, and it’s been really hard to even get myself to acknowledge the severity of our planet’s water shortages. While doing research and through the book, it’s more important than ever to get this story out there. Looking for the right host is key and so right now, I’m really focusing on the right fit for cast and crew.”

Be sure to keep an eye out for both Fish Brokers and Water Shock to see just what daCosta is capable of.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mariana Mendez seizes adventure project ‘Viviendo Van’

Ever since she was a child, esteemed film producer, Mariana Mendez, has had a knack for organization. Regardless of the activity she was taking part in, be it a school project or planning a birthday party, she always seemed to naturally advance into a leadership role and handle all decision-making responsibilities with ease. It is almost as if these qualities were ingrained in her DNA and as she grew up, she found an expert way to couple her love of organization and leadership with her passion for the art of filmmaking. She’d catch herself renting movies just to watch “the making of” the film in its bonus features. Seeing how scenes were shot and hearing how actors would talk about their experiences on set made her feel alive in a way she couldn’t put into words. Instead, she put those emotions into an unwavering determination to rise as a producer in the film industry and she has since established a reputation as one of the most invaluable professionals on any project she lends her talents to.

“When I realized that I could pursue a career in film, I looked at all of the roles and crew member descriptions to decide which interested me most. After reading the description of a producer, I just knew that it was the perfect fit for me. I wanted to be the one lifting an entire project from the ground and making sure it runs smoothly until completion. I wanted to be the one organizing, overseeing, and problem solving. These qualities come very naturally to me so it just felt like a no brainer,” told Mendez.

When it comes to growing a project from the ground up, Mendez is a natural. She has seemingly effortlessly been the mastermind behind a number of reputable films such as Viva El Rey. Despite her prowess in the art of film production, however, she is also well versed in the world of producing for reality television. Early on in her career, Mendez was approached with an idea for a reality sports television show that she and her filmmaking partner, Rodrigo Courtney, could produce via the production company that they had started together, Mindsoup Entertainment. After listening to the pitch for the show’s premise, Mendez felt compelled to give it her personal touch and help ensure that it made it to local Mexican audiences in a big way.

Viviendo Van is an extreme sports reality show that follows former kite surfing world champion, Sean Farley, along his adventures around Mexico. The vision for the show was to cast Farley’s life in an exciting, adventurous fashion and the result, for Mendez, was the successful execution of an enjoyable passion project. To her, it felt more akin to a vacation followed by cameras than it did “work.” Once she had sorted all of the show’s permits and logistical details, she was able to experience the excitement and unpredictability of Farley’s love of extreme sports.

Mendez learned quickly that there was a place for planning on this project; however, there was an even more prominent place for improvisation. She knew that as a crew, they would have to accept the reality that certain scenes would require them to merely “go with the flow” and adapt to whatever situations unfolded. It was both thrilling and relaxing, all in one, and Mendez considers herself fortunate to have even been a part of it.

While Mendez was busy taking in all of the joy and excitement associated with the project, her co-creatives were learning of the level of competence she possesses as a producer. She provided them with a platform that they wouldn’t otherwise have had to showcase their skills and to produce something that audiences wouldn’t be able to get enough of. She also managed to raise all of the funds necessary to allow their budget to appear as though it was an afterthought and to seize every opportunity available along the way.

The show was shot in Cuixmala, a beach town along the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Its importance in society was twofold: it contributed to Mexico’s tourism industry by showcasing some of the beautiful locations and landscapes that Mexico has to offer, as well as reminding audiences that there is a large place in life for taking risks and chasing adventures. It is easy to become complacent in today’s society and Mendez, along with other cast and crew members, were determined to remind audiences that they should always find time to actually live in life. As soon as the final product was released on YouTube and Vimeo, Viviendo Van was purchased by OnceTV and renewed for several subsequent seasons. It is no secret that it would not have seen such success if it hadn’t been for Mendez.

Since Viviendo Van’s release in 2012, Mendez has gone on to work on a number of other award-winning projects such as Zero Hour and OverAgain. She is currently working on a project that holds very dear to her heart called Inzomnia.Keep an eye out for its release in 2020 and see for yourself exactly what makes Mendez such a desirable asset in the industry she loves so much.

Living her dream, Sherry Du is both producer and explorer

As a producer, Xiangrong (Sherry) Du considers herself almost an explorer; she searches for a script and voyages deep into the story; she locates the heart and soul and finds exactly the right way to portray it. That is why she loves what she does, and that is just what makes her so extraordinary at it.

“Producers take words on a page and make it real on a screen. It’s really cool to me,” said Du.

Throughout her career, Du has used her sought-after talents to create captivating stories. Her films such as AugustFront Door,and Eyes on You have been great successes at various film festivals, taking home awards and impressing audiences. Her work on the commercial for KYJ sausage went viral, amassing millions of views after just a short time online.

With such success, it may seem hard to identify one outstanding project that stands out in her mind, but when asked about the highlight of her career, Du knows that without a doubt it has been working on the film Autumn Ghost.

Autumn Ghost is about a banker, Shawn, who can see ghosts like his mother Maggie. Because of his mother’s medical expenses, Shawn uses his bank clients’ money to buy stock. He loses a big amount of money and can’t put it back. Knox is a ghost who was killed by Shawn’s boss, Raven. He notices that Shawn can see ghosts and wants to ask Shawn for help. However, Knox makes a deal with Shawn: Knox helps Shawn get money, whereas Shawn helps Knox get revenge on Raven.

“As I studied the horror genre, I realized that the most terrifying thing is not simply dying, but being a ghost stuck in the veil of humanity. Ghosts cannot do anything, like they are lost in another world,” said Du.

Du actually came up with the idea for the story after watching horror films in her teens. She decided to research the genre and create a feature film. Once hiring a co-writer, they finished the script of a man who can see a ghost that helps him solve his future problems. Du had always liked stories about gods and spirits and found that the supernatural element of the script added a uniqueness to it.

After completing the screenplay, Du decided to shoot a trailer. The first step was finding a team who was passionate about her story, which Du found in Director Jing Ning and Cinematographer Will Job. The next step was finding a location. They needed an entire office that would be big enough for a film crew. Du managed to entice a company by suggesting that with production design, their office would be spruced up and modernized.

When shooting the trailer, Du felt something truly special. It was her first time ever writing a script, and she was amazed to see the character’s in her brain become real people when portrayed by the actors. When the visual effects were added, it brought everything together. She truly felt like her story was coming alive.

The idea of shooting a trailer first is to gain investors for the film, something Du is responsible for as the producer. The trailer itself has been making its way to several film festivals, impressing audiences and critics. It was an Official Selection at the CARE Awards Around International Film Awards in Berlin, Orlando Film Festival 2017 and the Creation International Film Festival 2018 Winter. It won Best Trailer at 15 Minutes of Fame Film Festival 2017 and Glendale International Film Festival 2017 and Best Horror/Thriller/Sci-fi Short at the London Independent Film Awards. Most recently it took home the Diamond Award for Trailer at EIFA Winners Spring 2018. Needless to say, such a response gained much recognition for the film, and Du is very excited to begin production.

“Even though it’s hard to produce a feature film from scratch, trust me, it’s worth it. I want to thank my director, my team and my actors. I can’t wait to get the film started,” she said.

Be sure to keep an eye out for Autumn Ghost.

Olivia Jun rises in the face of stress for stellar HUAWEI Mate 10 commercial

Olivia Jun headshot
Olivia Jun

When Olivia Jun was just a child, she remembers watching her first movie and existing in a state of shock for the remainder of the day. She felt as though a door to another world had been opened. She saw people unlike her, in a life entirely different than her own. She realized that there must be more, there must be a world out there that was much larger than she thought. As she grew up, she allowed her love for film to inspire her and to guide her thoughts and interests to a better place. She immersed herself into the culture, history, and sciences of film. She absorbed as much knowledge as she possibly could about the industry and how to excel amongst the highly talented individuals who keep it alive. She never silenced the desire within her to become a filmmaker and today, she is well known for being a highly versatile, well-respected film producer.

So, what does an average day in the life of someone like Olivia Jun entail? Without fail, Jun tends to be one of the first people to arrive on set for the day and nevertheless, one of the last to leave. She spends every second in between undertaking tasks like ensuring cast and crew members are fed, monitoring the set up for the actors’ dressing rooms, liaising with department heads to ensure that roles and responsibilities for the day are clearly outlined, and much more. If an issue has arisen, she diligently opens lines of communication with everyone involved to make sure that they are able to come up with a seamless solution. Toward the end of the day, she proactively meets with each team to discuss preparation for the following day, and then finally, she determines how much of the budget was used that day and how best to manage remaining resources for the remainder of the project. To her coworkers, it feels almost as if she is capable of being in two places at once as she is always on her feet and she is there when someone needs a hand. Without Jun’s contributions, it is unlikely that many of the films and commercials she has produced would have ever been the successes they were. She was an invaluable asset in the creation of films like Esther, and Donna, as well as commercials for companies like eHi Car Service and HUAWEI Mate 10 Cellphone Commercial.

Earlier on in 2018, HUAWEI Cellphone Company put out a request to their contacts in the industry to recommend a highly skilled producer who would have the talent and expertise necessary to create a cutting-edge commercial for their company. As a direct result of Jun’s pristine reputation, she was asked to come on board for the project and to produce their commercial, HUAWEI Mate 10 Cellphone. Jun was particularly thrilled to join as the commercial was to be shot in the United States; however, the rest of the project would take place in her home country, China. She enjoys any opportunity that allows her to showcase her skills as a bilingual, culturally aware producer and she feels as though this ability gives her a leg up ahead of her competition.

The advertisement depicts a young man assuming a number of different roles in order to show off the multiple functions of the phone. The aim was to highlight the phone’s versatility and the knowledge that no two individuals will use it the same way; however, the phone is capable of accommodating each different variation of use. They wanted consumers to understand just how highly intelligent and convenient the phone is to have and Jun, along with the rest of the crew members involved in the commercial, did an exceptional job of making consumers feel as though the HUAWEI phone is the phone missing from their lives.

Jun joined in this project at a time after its former producer had to leave as a result of certain cultural and language barriers. Because of this, tensions were high amongst cast and crew members and her clients were very stressed. Astonishingly, even amidst difficult time constraints, Jun remained calm, patient and determined to bring her clients back to a place where they felt confident and excited about the project. Without wasting any time, she immediately began selecting and preparing set locations, organizing shooting schedules, and rebalancing the budget in such a way that actually afforded them an extra day of shooting without going over budget. Her clients were blown away and were relieved to know that they had hired a producer who could not only get the job done, but get it done well.

“The plan I came up with was very organized and it saved us a lot of time, lowered our risks, and allowed us to complete the shoot much better than we had originally anticipated. During the shoots themselves, everything was well organized, safe, and smooth. The director got more than he wanted in the first place and the entire cast and crew were left feeling content and excited about the work we had done. It was a great feeling,” told Jun.

In addition to her prowess as a producer, Jun was such a prominent member of the entire project because of her ability to speak Mandarin and address the communication barriers with her Chinese clients that hindered the project with their previous producer. Her experience working with both Chinese clients and American clients increased the value she brought to the table and it also helped her to choose cast and crew members that would compliment their shared interests. On top of that, she entered a very stressful situation when she first joined the project; however, she has an affinity for looking stress directly in the eyes and refusing to back down. She keeps her sights set on delivering her very best and knows that if she comes up short, she will have no regrets regardless. Somehow, however, she never seems to come up short in the end. She loved embracing each challenge she was handed and was proud of the final outcome. Once again, the HUAWEI Mate 10 Cellphone Commercial exceeded all of her clients’ expectations and added yet another high calibre commercial to her repertoire.

Ultimately, the commercial premiered at the cellphone’s launch event in Munich, Germany, as well as on a worldwide lifestream. It was also released on Youtube, youku.com, tencent.com, and more. To date, it has just shy of 500,000 views and counting. Jun is extremely proud of how far they came when she first joined in on the project and she can’t wait to see what additional success this advertisement will bring to the phone’s selling story. Making her beam with even more pride, however, is the fact that in June of this year, HUWAEI made another commercial for their new cell phone called NOVA 3 and hired Jun as their bilingual producer after witnessing her expertise for the HUWEAI Mate 10 Cellphone Commercial. Stay tuned for its release next month.

Producer Kegan Sant helps TELUS give back with inspiring charitable campaign

It seems funny to Kegan Sant that there was once a time where he thought he wanted to be a director. Many people going into filmmaking initially see themselves leading the film set, and Sant was no different. However, when he found his way into producing, he realized it was exactly where he was meant to be. Sant understands the nuances to the role, that it isn’t just balancing a budget. The producer is responsible for making sure every single aspect of the production goes off without a hitch. That, for Sant, is what makes it so thrilling.

“I like to be busy and being a producer, there is always something to do. No matter how simple a project is, attention to detail is everything to me. I find that fun and challenging. Not many positions offer the flexibility in schedule, opportunity to see the world and ability to employ thousands of people over short periods of time. It’s invigorating to work with different directors as everyone has unique ways of working and dynamic thought processes. It’s incredibly satisfying to conceptualize a project with a director, budget it out, execute it, and see it come to life in post,” said Sant.

Sant’s passion for what he does translates into every project he takes on. He is perhaps most well-known for his work on the Westjet Christmas Miracle, one of the first real people/real time commercials that went viral online. He also made the award-winning Grey Cup flagship commercial for the CFL, What We’re Made Of, and last year, his work on Woods Is There campaign celebrated the company’s 100th anniversary and Canada’s 150th birthday while captivating viewers across the country with stunning scenery. His work extends to film, and his movie The Bear went on to several international film festivals, taking home prizes and impressing viewers and critics alike.

Sant’s creativity is ignited when he believes in what a project represents, and his 2016 commercial for TELUS was no different. The commercial promoted #TheGivingEffect, a campaign to encourage acts of kindness. With every act of kindness, big or small, TELUS encouraged citizens across Canada to share themselves giving back to their community with the hashtag #TheGivingEffect, with the goal of having the entire nation help each other. TELUS would then select up to five individuals who took part in the challenge and award them with $5000 to donate to the charity of their choice.

“I think this campaign is important because it sways social consciousness in the direction of doing something about problems and issues they see. It lets people know that everything counts – small or big and that it doesn’t have to be material or monetary to count. Having more of that in the world is inspiring change in the right direction and I believe this stemmed from the actual employees of TELUS giving back to their own organizations, which inspired the corporation to do the same. Truly the spirit of giving,” said Sant.

The campaign began with a 90-second video with short stories ranging from an informal bottle cleanup on a beach to a young woman shaving off her long hair to support a sick friend. The tagline is “every act of giving inspires another.” The commercial was shot in over five locations in just one day in April of 2016. There was a national TV buy for this campaign and it also lived on an online platform. It was also picked up and recognized by a couple of national marketing magazines.

“I liked that we were able to defy all norms on this project, like shooting in several locations in a single shoot day with actresses that had special FX makeup, and first-time experiences like shaving their head. I liked that this project pushed boundaries and forced me to constantly think on my feet. Being able to produce a job that matched the director’s vision was incredibly satisfying and having a happy production company, agency, client and director means I did my job well,” said Sant.

What is perhaps the most interesting and challenging part of the commercial is the scene with the girl donating her hair for her sick friend. Sant had to find an actress that was actually willing to shave her head for the scene and donate her hair. He vowed that they would make it happen, despite the casting director being confident they wouldn’t find one. The director, Stash Capar, had a vision, and it involved an actress actually shaving their head. Sant made sure to deliver. At the last minute, Sant found an actress who was happy to show her support for the cause, really selling the authenticity of the piece. Because of his commitment to the project, Sant immensely impressed all those he worked with, who he now continues to collaborate with to this day.

“You know you’re in good hands with Kegan. No matter what problems befall the project, he will find solutions and the show will go on. Kegan is the hardest working producer I know.  He finds efficiencies and strategies that other producers later mimic. He is an agent of change in the world of commercials.  An example of this was the Westjet Christmas Miracle spot, which Kegan masterminded. His methods were later copied, spawning an entire genre of copycat “surprise and delight” commercials,” said Stash Capar, Director.

When Sant was given the opportunity to work on #TheGivingEffect it felt like he had come full circle. As a teenager, his first “real job” was working for TELUS in their customer service department. He remembers wondering what it would be like to produce a commercial for them one day. Getting to do so while promoting a good cause and giving back to his community was more than he could ever have dreamed of.

“It’s a great feeling to know that the project was so successful. I’m happy to have delivered a job that met the expectations of everyone involved and was instrumental in reaching people, promoting the idea of giving back. It’s on my reel as a heartfelt piece of emotional storytelling, not only for the final product itself but the messaging it shares,” he concluded.

 

Photo by Kevin Sarasom

Ireland’s Jonathon Ridgard talks producing ‘America’s Got Talent’ and working alongside his idols

Hailing from Galway, Ireland, Jonathon Ridgard has come a long way both geographically and figuratively since he received his first camcorder at just eight years old. Even at such a young age, he had a passion that was more than just a childhood hobby. Now, Ridgard is a renowned supervising producer in Hollywood, and is responsible for bringing some of your favorite shows to the small screen.

“My parents recently found old home videos where I am running around interviewing everyone in the family. My brother was sick in the hospital, having his appendix removed and I have the camcorder with me, recording an interview with him – asking him how he feels, and to describe what was happening. With this camcorder, I used to film family parties, birthdays, christenings and cut them together to make short videos for people. I guess I always had a keen interest in telling the stories of what was going on in people’s lives,” said Ridgard.

Ridgard is currently busy getting ready for the highly-anticipated ABC reboot of American Idol, premiering March 11, working alongside such superstars as Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan, and Katy Perry. Ridgard previously produced the show’s 15th and final season on FOX and is glad to be back on such a celebrated program.

American Idol is far from Ridgard’s first taste of international success. This sought-after supervising producer has an esteemed resume, including Simon Cowell’s The X-Factor in the United Kingdom, Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word, and Undercover Boss, during which time the show was awarded an Emmy for “Outstanding Reality Program”.

“It’s hard to pinpoint a single highlight of my career. It would probably be working with Simon Cowell. He is someone I grew up watching on TV. He is an incredibly talented Executive Producer and on-screen talent. Working with Gordon Ramsay is also another career highpoint. I served as Senior Producer for his live show. Overseeing a team of producers and associate producers. I was tasked with creating new, interesting and fun pieces that would feature Gordon. I worked with Gordon on these developed ideas and then we would film them and turn them around in post to feature in the following weeks’ episodes. I am a big fan of Gordon, both as a Chef and a television personality. He is one of the nicest and easiest people I have ever had the pleasure of working with. And of course, being awarded an Emmy for contribution to Undercover Boss is also an incredible highlight. To be recognized for my contribution to such a successful show at an early age was, and still is, a very proud moment,” said Ridgard.

Ridgard is also known for his outstanding work on Simon Cowell’s Got Talent franchise around the world. Beginning with Australia’s Got Talent in 2010 followed by Britain’s Got Talent and contributing greatly to their success, Ridgard received a call from the show’s Executive Producer, Sam Donnelly, asking him to be a part of the U.S. version for its eighth season. Knowing that America’s Got Talent is one of the most iconic shows on American television, Ridgard immediately accepted. The show was about to go through some big changes, from new judges to a shift in the format, and he was ready to lend his talents to making the show an even greater hit than it already was. Ridgard achieved his goal. Since joining the team, the show has continually grown in ratings each year, something that is almost unheard of for a reality competition show that has been around for over a decade.

“I love that the stories we tell on a show like America’s Got Talent could potentially inspire people to get out there and follow their dreams. Maybe someone at home might see an 8-year-old dancer, or an 82-year-old juggler, or a struggling comedian, and these stories might resonate with them and their own story and it might push them to reach their full potential,” he said.

Working on the show was difficult but immensely rewarding for Ridgard. Not only did he enjoy working closely with the judges, Mel B, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel and Howard Stern, but he travelled the country to find the talent that would be showcased on screen. Every year there are tens of thousands of applicants looking to be on the show, and it is Ridgard and his team that find the ones that will connect with audiences and therefore make the show a success. Going through such a large pool of applicants and narrowing them down can be hard and Ridgard would sometimes feel the pressure, but he let that fuel him. Not only did he understand that it was important to the show to find the right people, he understood the responsibility he had: people’s lives were in his hands. Ultimately, he made every decision based on what he knew from his vast experience would make good television and which contestants could ultimately go on to win the show.

In addition to this, Ridgard also had to decide how to tell the contestants’ stories. Some of the applicants have sad or traumatic backstories, and Ridgard knew that the way these stories were told were almost more important than the actual act; they could affect the viewers lives and needed to be told sensitively and in a way to inspire the contestant and the millions of viewers around the world.

“Telling people’s stories and getting to travel the United States while being one of the first people to see undiscovered talent and knowing that these people had a chance to win $1 million and go on to worldwide fame, well, it was an invaluable experience,” said Ridgard.

With such vital responsibilities, everyone on set recognized the producing team as the core of the show. They were the ones that worked in and were responsible for casting, setting up auditions and auditioning talent, filming back stories and interviews and ultimately being the go-to people for every other aspect of the show. It’s because of this that the show is successful and Ridgard is very proud of that.

“I was lucky enough to work with Jonathon as a producer on America’s Got Talent in 2012 and I was immediately struck by how creative he is. He walked onto a big team and quickly became a standout producer with his fresh approach to problem-solving in the field, his can-do attitude and ability to motivate the team around him. Many producers aren’t able to both supply creative, amazing ideas to take the show from good to great and execute them well, seeing them through to the final product, but Jonathon is skilled at both. He just gets it, the entire process, which I’m sure comes from his long, established career in this industry back in the UK. I love working with Jonathon as he’s extremely gifted at what he does, and I hope I get a chance to work with him again,” said Lindsay Tuggle, Supervising Producer.

After his tremendous success on America’s Got Talent, Ridgard was then asked to help launch the premiere season of Asia’s Got Talent. The spin-off is billed as the biggest talent show in the world with talent stretching across 15 countries from India through to Japan. Asia’s Got Talent delivered ratings ten times higher than its nearest English-speaking rival on its season one premier. Ridgard was contacted by FremantleMedia Asia to oversee the creation the show, based in Singapore. As a consulting producer, he was tasked with getting the show off the ground, imparting his expertise to the Asia team and showcasing how the Got Talent format was produced. He helped to develop the show from nothing, implementing casting plans in every country from India across to Japan. He was instrumental in casting the show, choosing the very best, interesting and diverse talent across all 15 countries. He also cast the two main hosts. Later, he worked with the full production team so they would understand how to produce interviews, b-roll, and stylized reality scenes that would fit in with the franchise. Asia’s Got Talent was one of the most successful show launches for AXN.

“I feel very proud to have worked on a franchise that is known globally. It’s been a career highlight and seeing the show continue to succeed is incredible to see. Being able to make people’s dreams come true is something that we actually do as producers. As cheesy as it sounds, seeing someone go from small town girl/boy achieving their dreams with the world at their feet is a job that not many people get to do, and it never gets old,” Ridgard concluded.

Producer Mickey Liu went back to high school for ‘Sail the Summer Winds’

STSW on set with postcards and slate
Mickey Liu on set of Sail the Summer Winds, photo by Aijia Che

Mickey Liu knows that every day he steps onto a film set, it will be different than the day before. Every new project brings something new, and every experience is distinctive. Because of this, he always feels like he is learning something new, and no matter how seasoned of a producer he is, he finds that sometimes his experience can mean nothing in the wake of a new challenge. He is consistently exposed to talented individuals and brings teams together to create a masterpiece. For him, that is the best feeling in the world, and he loves what he does.

“Producing is about lots of instant decisions and last-minute situations, which is challenging and exciting. What’s more, I get to read many good stories… and a lot more bad ones,” he joked.

Hailing from Shenzhen, China, Liu has become a renowned producer. His work on films such as An Ill-Fitting Coat, Marie, Nocturne in Black, and Tear of the Peony have made headlines around the world. He knows what it is to tell a good story, and consistently manages to bring his films great success. However, the first time he truly felt this was in 2014, with his feature Sail in the Summer Winds.

Sail in the Summer Winds tells the story of Michael, a 30-year-old white-collar worker, who is always recalling memories with his 6-year desk mate Cammy and best friends Leon, Joyce and James about when they were 17. Back then, these high schoolers were faced with the biggest challenge of their life – the College Entrance Exam. Michael didn’t know what his future held but got an early admission to Cammy’s dream school; Cammy had feelings for Michael but couldn’t say it out loud; Joyce, once a model student at school, failed to live up to expectations at the very moment; Leon wanted to be an artist but was torn between reality and dream; James worked really hard, but things didn’t turn out great for him. Just like every coming-of-age story, they grew up and changed through the best years of their youth.

“I think the story of the film is important because it is a story focusing on friendship in high school. We’ve seen enough saccharine high school dramas on screens and they almost always center on how to get the guy or girl you like. American high school culture is very different from Chinese high school culture. I think the story provides a fresh perspective of Chinese high school life. The story would remind people of their dreams and courage, and maybe they would want to reconnect with friends they haven’t been in touch with for years,” said Liu.

When the Director of Sail the Summer Winds, Lanxin Yu, approached Liu over social media to produce the feature, Liu was immediately intrigued. Yu went to the same high school that Liu attended and wanted to film the movie there. Upon reading the script, Liu knew he wanted to be a part of the film, as the words took him back to his high school days and brought back memories of his younger self. He knew many others would be able to relate, and his partnership with Yu began.

“Working with Mickey is always a pleasure. His great sense of humor makes everyone chilled and relaxed. When it comes to the set, he’s sensitive, responsive, and caring to every crew member and tries his best to make the set an enjoyable working environment that everyone wants to come back to. When we were shooting Sail the Summer Winds, most of the crew members were first-timers, but he was very patient and made our set run like a real Hollywood set. In addition, his charisma held the crew together, not just as an efficient team, but a real family. Mickey is one of the most creative people I’ve ever met. He always has brilliant ideas about the story and has a deep understanding on the structure. Therefore, as a creative producer, he gives clear notes to writers, constructive advice to directors and inspirational directions for promotions. He’s easygoing and reliable, making him the one person on set that everyone trusts,” said Yu.

As the sole producer of the film, Liu’s work was essential for the film’s success. He held the team together and drastically improved their efficiency, while still providing ample amounts of encouragement and boosting morale. He provided critical creative notes at the script development stage, created the shooting scheduling and supervised the pre-production and production. During post-production, he personally designed the merchandise and arranged for the film’s distribution.

Liu also trained the crew and brought professional help to the production, as he was the most seasoned filmmaker on the set. The majority of the crew were young volunteers looking to experience film production, and therefore required a lot of training. Because of him, he had everyone on the crew working extremely well despite their lack of previous experience.

“Although it was challenging, I actually enjoyed training the crew a lot. They were very smart and hard-working ‘students’, so it felt very rewarding seeing them successfully applying the training to their work. The atmosphere was very loving and full of energy. I loved that good vibe on set very much,” Liu described.

In addition to all of this, Liu employed some American methods of film production to this Chinese movie. The Director was pulling herself in every direction, taking on many tasks beyond what she needed to do. On Chinese film sets, this often happens, as they are very director-centric. Liu however, having experience on American film sets, talked to the director and told her how they could make everything more efficient, and she just needed to focus on her main duties as a director. In the end, it worked seamlessly.

“Producing this film was a very unique experience because I think it would be almost impossible to have this selfless of a cast and crew ever again. Everyone gave their one hundred percent for free and they never complained and never lost morale while working long hours in hot summer. It was definitely a labor of love and I was very moved by what they did and shooting at my high school brought back so many happy memories,” said Liu.

Sail the Summer Winds premiered in August 2014 at a theatre in Shenzhen and then went straight to DVD, where it sold well locally. It was covered by local newspapers and television stations in China, where it received very positive reviews. It is now available to stream online.

Liu and his team decided to donate all the proceeds from the film to his local high school, to support the film and television club there. Liu wanted to motivate the next generation of young filmmakers to follow their dreams, and in his footsteps. For those looking to do so, he offered the following advice:

“Find the stories you really love and try to make them happen. Don’t pursue certain types of stories just because they are “hot and trendy”. It takes such a long time to get them made that you may give up if you don’t love them enough. When in doubt, you can always go back to why you wanted to pursue a career in producing. It can actually give you a lot of strength. It’s all about the nuts and bolts, and your instinct is usually right,” he concluded.

 

Top photo: Zihao Qin and Mickey Liu on set of ‘Sail the Summer Winds’, photo by Aijia Che

Join Dixie Chan in honoring Borneo’s unsung environmental heroes

At the outset of her career as a documentary film producer, Dixie Chan made it a long-term goal to one day use her talents to cast a light on an important social issue. For Chan, being a film producer allows her to research compelling people, places, and customs across the globe and share them with interested audiences alike. In her eyes, it is a privilege to be able to take advantage of the social platform that her profession provides her and if she can make a difference in the life or social awareness of even one individual, she’ll have succeeded.

“Being able to tell a good, compelling story that will resonate with people for a long time requires experience, technique, patience and empathy — all elements which I believe can be honed when you are learning and working with the best in the field. During my college years, I started going to film festivals and getting more exposed to independent documentaries and films, many of which were centered around social issues. I became so fascinated by the visual and narrative power of these films and I knew I had to be a part of it,” Chan discussed.

As Chan became more and more involved in the realm of narrative documentary filmmaking, she realized that her dreams to raise awareness about socially charged issues was not at all unrealistic. In fact, she has gone on to work on several documentary films and shows that cast a light on various places and people around the world who share in her desire to educate the masses about important issues, be they cultural, environmental, historical, political, religious, etc. In her role as the producer of an upcoming project, Chan had the unique opportunity to bring viewers inside a world where a group of passionate individuals ensure that China’s ancient trees are protected and its legacy of woodcraft is preserved for prosperity. Similarly, when she acted as the Story Producer for Frontier Borneo, Chan was not only able to work in one of the world’s most spectacular rainforests, but she was able to do so whilst supporting their local environmental conservation efforts.

FRONTIER BORNEO 01

Frontier Borneo is a Discovery Channel documentary series showcasing a breathtaking, action-packed journey following the lives of remarkable men and women and unforgettable creatures on the third largest island on the planet. Interesting and unusual feats like dealing with home-made bombs in the oceans, exploring uncharted jungles, rescuing endangered animals and coming face to face with deadly creatures are all in a day’s work for the characters featured. Chan was asked to produce this awe-inspiring documentary in March of 2016 and later, when it premiered on February 28, 2017, it became apparent why.

“This project was an especially challenging production that was shot across 6 months in some of Borneo’s most treacherous terrain. Dixie was able to manage production of one shoot, which typically covers jungles, crocodile-infested rivers and seas, while doing the preproduction work of researching and casting of an upcoming shoot, all at the same time. Despite her ability to coordinate different aspects of the production simultaneously, she remains extraordinarily meticulous and hands on at every step and this enabled production to move forward seamlessly with minimal delay,” told Jacqueline Leow, Production Manager, who currently works at Beach House Pictures, one of Asia’s largest media company producing content for the international market.

Not only was she the most experienced producer working on the project, but she also proved to be invaluable to the entire initiative. She has an ability to juggle competing priorities with ease and to logistically map out every task involved with a project to such a degree that other cast and crew members are never left wondering what is required of them. For this particular project, Chan made it a top priority to establish and facilitate effective working relationships with her team, as well as the locals, due to the intimate nature of their filming location. She inspired each and every member involved to treat Frontier Borneo as a passion project, as opposed to an average job. In addition, her experience working in rural areas of China on other career projects gave her an advantage when liaising between crew members and local conservationists. Her adept understanding of Chinese working culture allowed her to bridge any cultural gaps they encountered and helped the planning, filming, and production processes unfold seamlessly.

“The rapport that I was so intent on building with the locals helped immensely in production, from accessing hard-to-film areas to getting information post-shoot, and even getting translators for interviews done in the tribal languages,” Chan reflected.

All in all, in order to make Frontier Borneo the true success that it was, Chan had to immerse herself mentally and physically into this expansive Malaysian rainforest and wildlife sanctuary. Whether they were shooting about marine conservation or mountain marathons, Chan was directly involved and on scene. To be so heavily engaged in such a hands-on Discovery Channel documentary is something that few producers can say they’ve ever done, let alone well enough to earn awards and accolades along the way. For Chan, however, being professionally recognized for her efforts meant little in comparison to the humbling knowledge that she and her team were able to truly celebrate the livelihood and struggles of the selfless individuals fighting to protect our Earth’s enriched wildlife and environment. Acknowledging the heroes of Borneo on such a large, influential scale gratifies her in an indescribable way and served as a safe reminder that she is doing exactly what she wants to be doing with her life.

Yayun Hsu talks pressure of producing first-ever American Influencer Awards

For award-winning film producer Yayun Hsu, being one step ahead of her work has always served her well in her field. Hsu understands better than most just how unpredictable a film set can be and learned the value of proactivity very early on in her career. She has since developed a style of producing whereby she strives to eliminate her proverbial “to-do” list on any and every set she works on. This is not to suggest that she wishes to kick up her feet and relax at work; however, it motivates her to meticulously plan each film shoot to such an extent that it could hypothetically run itself. By anticipating and accounting for any possible setbacks on set, she is always on her toes and ready to react when an issue arises. Her instinctive ability to problem solve, coupled with her desire to be an invaluable asset to any film project, makes her a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment industry, and she is taking her field by storm.

“I’m a problem solver at heart and I enjoy being a leader. In a book I read years back called Producer to Producer, the author noted that his students would often approach him to tell him that they could not afford a producer. To this he would reply, “You cannot afford not to have one.” This idea spoke to me and it became my goal to become invaluable as a producer in this industry. I like the idea of the crew needing me and I want to be that one producer that comes to mind whenever someone is looking to start a new project and to make it great,” told Hsu.

Throughout her career, Hsu has produced a number of highly acclaimed films, such as Because I Love You, and Caged Bird. In fact, after writing, directing, and producing the film Eli, she went on to receive prestigious awards such as Best Woman Filmmaker at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards in March 2017 and an Award of Distinction at the Canadian International Short Film Fest. Given that Eli was Hsu’s first major project for which she both directed and produced, she classifies it as a large accomplishment in her repertoire. It is one of the greatest highlights of her career thus far, and helped encourage her to continue pursuing filmmaking and producing for a living. In addition to Eli, Hsu considers producing the American Influencer Awards in November of this year as being another of her major career highlights to date.

“The American Influencer Awards were a unique accomplishment in my career. It represented my first “live” work, which came with its own new set of challenges. There were so many different responsibilities involved, from working with celebrities to coordinating with corporate sponsors, and more. I really learned a lot from the experience,” reflected Hsu.

The American Influencer Awards is an awards show for the online beauty influencer community. For the show, award-nominee video packages were played at the ceremony, and a live stream of the awards show was broadcasted on YouTube for fans of these wildly popular beauty influencers. With that, Hsu was responsible for conducting background research as it pertained to the nominees’ video packages, cutting demo video footage, securing an event location, a contact cast and crew, handling catering services, preparing props, and several other essential roles. In addition, during post-production, she helped edit and color-grade all of the event footage.

Interestingly, this was the first ever American Influencer Awards show and for that reason, Hsu was intrigued by the idea that she would be able to sculpt and shape something that would hopefully be such a success that its sponsors would like it to be replicated for years to come. Most importantly, however, she was both excited and nervous about the idea that she would be producing live content for the show. Her quest for perfection in her work grew with the understanding that there were no opportunities for re-dos. All of the content she was working with would be taken at face value, the first time and therefore, she exercised her best use of her skillset to ensure that her audiences could reap the benefits. She researched the show’s content, guests, and the style of live production heavily before she began planning, and after she gathered all of her ideas for nominee award packages, she and her team were able to narrow their ideas down to fifteen of the best packages for storyboarding. Her expertise was crucial in making sure that the entire production moved at a favorable pace and that the show’s events were shot with fluency. The show’s Executive Producer, Jay James, was blown away by Hsu’s contributions to the success of the show and hopes to be able to call on her again next year to make the show’s second annual awards ceremony as great as the first.

“Yayun demonstrated that she can listen well and perform under pressure. Her innate ability to multitask makes her a clear standout in my eyes. It also helped that many people that were in attendance at the event commented on how Yayun had helped them or made arrangements for them in advance, which totally gave the show an extra professional touch. We will definitely be calling her for our next American Influencer Awards show,” told James.

After months and months of tireless preparation, countless long hours, and ample effort, Hsu was relieved and grateful to hear the thanks and praise of her boss and clients. She felt proud and accomplished to know that she was responsible for the show’s success and she hopes to be able to continue that trend for future American Influencer Awards shows in years to come.