Many contemporary musicians and artists rely on technological advances to grant them shortcuts towards realizing their musical compositions. The “idea” is paramount rather than the means by which it is reached. Drum machines, Pro Tools, Auto Tune, and a host of technical means alter performances that were previously only achieved through decades of honing one’s musical skills. While these can be used as an expressive tool, they are too often used as a crutch. Darcy Callus is a living, breathing contradiction to this. To even further prove his benevolent but contrary thoughts, he readily admits that he sees the value of these aforementioned means of facilitating musical performances and ideas…but you won’t hear them on any of his music. It’s a refreshing approach to hear Callus’s compositions which are completely organic and earthy in their feel and sentiment. It’s not a surprise when you research Darcy and discover his insanely eclectic musical and professional history. The only child of a non-musician family who pursued a degree in jazz piano studies, only to proceed forward to becoming a pop artist with great success as a finalist on Australia’s X-Factor…yet none of this pedigree is what one notices when listening to his music. Not jazz, not fashionable pop, possibly the furthest thing from superficial or self-congratulatory; Darcy’s own music is minimalist, confident, and often vulnerable. There are no signs of the singer who was chased by screaming female fans during his X Factor period, or the accomplished pianist who has an impressive list of achievements (including: the highly esteemed James Morrison Generations in Jazz competition, the Helpmann Academy Jazz Award in 2013, an Artist Skills and Development Grant from Arts SA, and being awarded the highly prestigious Ian Potter Cultural Trust fellowship). It is often said that the difference between a great musician and a true artist is that the later constantly evolves, no statement could apply more aptly to Darcy Callus and his constantly expanding musical career.
Consider this your advance notice that you should be on alert for Darcy Callus’s musical debut. Darcy has allowed a listening in order to discuss his most recent music, yet to be released. To those familiar with his appearances on X Factor, or with the band Cactus (lead by Daniel Clohesy and multiple award-winning bassist Marty Holoubek), abandon what you know as it won’t give you a head start on his new direction. Callus is well noted for both his singing on X Factor and his successful career as a jazz pianist in Australia but his new music exhibits him fully embracing the path of a mature singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist. The inverse correlation of Darcy’s musical decisions and approach to those of his peer generation is stark, and endearing. While bells and whistles abound on virtually every bit of mainstream radio fodder, Callus’s compositions and choices are describable as minimalist…yet they are more captivating than the most acrobatic of vocal performances one might witness on any number of televised talent shows. In a musical climate which seeks to demand attention, Darcy presents songs and talent which grab your attention because of the decision to not shout out amidst the cacophony. Imagine that Marvin Gaye and Carole King had a tryst while Justin Timberlake was recording “Justified” with only real instrumentation; this is what Darcy’s most recent songs present. Blue eyed soul with straightforward, bare instrumentation and an awareness of pop; it’s difficult to believe that this springs from the well that is an academically trained jazz and classical pianist. The restraint that this artist exhibits in his instrumentation belie the complexity that his abilities grant him. This serves to create an even deeper fondness for his self-control and gentleness. It’s a theme that is lyrically expressed in the song “Using You.” With the opening line “It wasn’t fair, she was standing there in her underwear.”, you wouldn’t expect the song to discuss a man’s rejection of a woman’s physical advances. Both the guitar part (played by Callus) and the lyrics communicate a gentle natured individual’s struggle to avoid the ease of frivolity in pursuit of greater depth. As he sings “Into You” the word “Into” literally and symbolically falls to “You.” This bluesy, sweet track seems to give a nod to prolific songwriter and artist Babyface. Darcy sounds very much to be of a direct lineage from the great singer/songwriters of the 70’s with “All You Have To Do.” He cleverly clashes the somber yet soft piano and vocal part with a message that is uplifting and hopeful. Particularly notable in this track is the fact that a song of this type would easily encourage a vocalist to expound on the melody with impressive embellishments but Callus delivers a performance that is more heartfelt emotion than a display of technical prowess. The intensity of the emotion delivers much more than an exploration into available octaves. “Suddenly” is immediately recognizable as a catchy hit song. This type of composition seems easily attained for Darcy but he contradicts, “One of the most painful and gratifying things to do is to write a song. It’s not an easy process for me at all. Often, the majority of the idea or melody will come to me but, upon completing it…at least to a point which I’m happy with it, seems almost overwhelming. It’s like climbing Mount Everest each time you do it. I can only speak about the process for me. I love it and yet it is incredibly daunting. There is quite literally no feeling like taking an idea that exists only inside your head and then giving everything you have to work it out. If you can get to that place, you sit back and listen in quiet disbelief that you were able to make that happen…and that is an amazing feeling!” “She Takes Me” is perhaps the song that best exemplifies who Darcy Callus is at this moment in time. It contains simple and honest parts and a sincere performance; mature and confident, not because they are attempting to be so but simply because that is what they are.
Ian Holliday is one of those lucky few. He doesn’t wake up every Monday dreading the next five days, waiting for the sweet relief that is a Friday at 5 o’clock. No, Ian Holliday heads into work eager to see what the day holds. Not only does he love what he does, he is extremely good at it, and the combination of the two are why he is recognized not just in his home country of Canada, but also the rest of the world, as an outstanding cinematographer.
Holliday’s passion for what he does shines into his work. His commitment to multiple roles on the video Harry Potter in 60 Seconds allowed for the video to go viral just hours after posting. He has worked on many award-winning projects, including the films Tele and Icebox, and the music video The World Ender for Lord Huron. But his success with Lord Huron was not a one-hit-wonder. He previously worked with the band on the video Fool For Love, one of the band’s most popular music videos to date.
“Lord Huron is a great band to collaborate with as a filmmaker. They have a very specific aesthetic world in which their music and art lives, but are open to finding a unique way of expressing that world in each specific format they work with. This means coming in as a cinematographer, you’re working on a very steady aesthetic foundation for the band’s visuals, but you have a lot of flexibility to explore within that world. They’re very collaborative and open to experimentation, but they know what they want,” said Holliday.
Holliday was first connected with Lord Huron when their producer Ariel Vida contacted him to help them shoot pickups for their Dead Man’s Hand music video, which was never released. Both the band and Vida were immediately impressed with him, and later reached out asking him to take on a larger role for the Fool for Love video.
“Ian has an unparalleled level of passion and determination, alongside highly tuned skills and instincts in his trade, which is made all the more impressive given his young age. I have not seen such storytelling instincts and demeanor in cinematographers who have been working in Hollywood for decades. His creative vision, originality, and technical innovation are joined with an undimmed energy and dedication to elevating the quality of a piece, not only for audience enjoyment but also for community impact. He has an inspiring fervor to not only entertain, but whenever possible, better the world with his craft and encourage positive, enduring social change,” said Vida. “The personality of a film is so largely shaped by the cinematographer, and Ian is extremely adept at navigating storytelling beats and character arcs within each project, informing the visual approach that can best elevate those moments and themes. He is not merely hired to execute a series of shots, it is the invaluable insight into the creative process which motivates productions to seek him out.”
The artistry that Holliday possesses as a cinematographer is perfectly exemplified in the Fool For Love video. The video relies heavily on its “nostalgic” visual style, which Holliday developed with the director in reference to the films of the 50s and 60s.
“It’s fun to film in such a nostalgic style like we did on Fool For Love, and to work with collaborators that are having fun and excited to be on the project. Everyone was having a good time, and the atmosphere on set was light-hearted and energetic,” said Holliday.
To create the nostalgic feel, Holliday used a 1.85 Aspect Ratio and never went handheld, keeping the shots on sticks and dolly only. He featured a liberal use of snap zooms for punctuation, and operated several of the key snap-zoom shots on a gear head – a specific type of tripod head that is less common on sets now than it used to be, especially in the indie world. This head gave his snap zoom shots a very specific feel, because once the lens zooms in all the way, the composition isn’t perfect, and the camera operator has to quickly reframe; this reframe feels very different on the gear head, and has a very strongly retro-feel to it. The lighting was very referential as well, heavy use of smoke and fog, and very studio-era-inspired lighting of our subjects. This means big soft key-lights, generous fill light, and overt, exaggerated, blue backlights for all the characters.
“It’s definitely not the polish you expect from the cinema today,” he concluded. “The piece kind of feels like Twin Peaks meets an Archie comic to be honest. I love that.”
Check out Holliday’s Fool For Love music video for Lord Huron here.
For Alexandre Cornet, he is more than just an artist, he is a creator. He creates art every day, not just because he wants to, but because he needs to. That is true passion, and that is why he is recognized around the world for what he does.
Cornet has had a career filled with success. Earlier this year, he debuted his own exhibition at the Centro Colich gallery in Barranco, Lima, Peru. He has worked with many companies on defining the visual aspect to their brand, including CosmoVision and the Toulouse Lautrec Institute for Design. Working with the company NWX New Circus, Cornet was able to work with a multitude of different brands and explore different aspects of his artistic capabilities. This includes his work with the Peruvian restaurant Republica.
“I really liked working on a food project, particularly since it seemed to me to have a positive impact on Peruvian society, its concept of bringing a new audience to popular Peruvian home dishes and culture, and the promotion of quality products, fair treatment towards small producers,” said Cornet. “To sum up it felt like a positive project promoting Peruvian gastronomy and original products, that could actually grow nationwide and then internationally in the future. It also had the concept of re-inventing the typical farmers’ market stall restaurant, which sounded very interesting and a rich universe to be work with.”
The Republica restaurant was the first of its kind, serving authentic Peruvian high-end fast food, with a new take on Peruvian “home” dishes, and a total compromise on the direct connection to its producers in province and a guarantee of the freshness and quality of its ingredients. Cornet decided to research by going to the Peruvian “underground” farmers’ markets and took photographs, looking for elements and materials that would connect Republica to those places in the minds of its clients. Cornet continued his research for the project by going to Republica’s warehouses to learn about their processes, as he planned to represent them in decorative and propaganda illustrations.
“I liked that the project involved Peruvian popular graphic culture, which is extraordinarily rich but discriminated in Lima’s modern society. It felt like I was giving credit to it,” said Cornet.
The project began with redesigning the logo with a lettering inspired in the popular Peruvian sign painting typography, and grew into the idea of creating a hybrid between a Peruvian farmers market stall with a classic American diner place, reflecting the freshness and vernacular Peruvian feeling together with the fast-food concept imported from North American culture.
Cornet decided the signage was to be hand painted by local and traditional sign painters in the same style done in the markets. This led to another phase of the project, which to do the same work for the main, much larger restaurant. Cornet worked on many more lettering designs for signage inside of the restaurant as well as large illustrations to be displayed outside, and designed the very big marquee light-box sign promoting Republica’s name.
“I crafted my artwork inspired by vintage food industry illustrations mixed with a typical Peruvian provincial style of graphics. Each piece was made to be very creative and easy to understand, with a do it yourself kind of look, following the general identity we had defined such as color chart and particular typographic styles. Every illustration and lettering was drawn by hand to have an irregular and authentic feel, and then redrawn in vector on the computer faithfully to the original handmade lines,” described Cornet.
Cornet wanted an artistic style that corresponded to Republica and the whole visual universe he had defined. It had to be easy and accessible, and to relate to and join the Peruvian agricultural/farm/food producers’ graphic style together with restaurant and gastronomic graphic culture. Letters and illustrations had to look like they had been hand-painted.
“A big inspiration for me was the trucks that bring the food to the markets, They are very saturated with details; each truck personalized into a unique piece, always with hand-painted letters and illustrations, catch phrases, lights, logos and stickers and even customized mud guards,” he said.
Despite having to overcome the challenge of learning and adapting to the style of Peruvian popular graphic culture after growing up in Paris, Cornet exceeded all expectations. Cornet worked closely with Carlos Ramos, the Creative Director of NWX New Circus, who supported Cornet throughout the entire process and backed all his vision and decisions.
“Working with Alexandre has been a positive and prosperous experience. His time in the agency made a significant difference to the result and success of each projects he took care of. The team and I had a great relation with Alex, who stimulated creative interchange and pushed everybody’s boundaries. Alex was with present in all the client meetings related to creative matters, and even sometimes on his own. His process was to discuss and define strategy with me, before conducting field/on-site research, sometimes traveling around town for references. After making a plan of action and selling it with me to the clients, he would lead alone the development of the project directing the creative graphic team, presenting to me then to clients, at key stages of the projects, and moving forward with approval. He would follow up the projects until completed and fully implemented,” said Ramos.
Cornet’s work on Republica’s new imagery was extremely well-received. Not only did it help rebrand Republica and promote the restaurant ultimately leading to an increase in sales, it also displayed Cornet’s work around the city of Lima in very touristic and popular places.
“It was just great to be able to inspect and discover all aspects of the restaurant’s process,” concluded Cornet.
Kismat Shrestha is all about destroying preconceptions concerning musicians. This Nepali drum phenom has toured the world in rock bands and jazz bands in the stereotypical troubadour template yet, there is nothing stereotypical about him and his path. While many “learned” musicians hope to tough it out in the music scene and then settle into a comfortable teaching position at a university, Kismat did exactly the inverse. Shrestha studied at the most prestigious jazz school in his homeland of Nepal, the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory (KJC). Upon graduation he was immediately offered a teaching position; this may have been enough for most musicians but not Kismat. While he spent time teaching both drums and piano at KJC, his work as a session drummer and touring drummer was increasingly sought out. Shrestha eventually left KJC to pursue the life of a rock star, which is not what someone might expect from their college instructor; but Kismat is all about it. Here is living, breathing proof that the adage “those that can, do and those who cannot, teach” is a ridiculous statement. As a University instructor, a student himself, or as an award winning recording and touring musician, Kismat’s attitude and approach reveals a pathway to success that has inspired those of his homeland and those around the world.
These days, Kismat is a musician who has the respect of the music community and the achievements which vet him (including multiple radio hits and “Band of the Year” for the rock band Albatross and multiple awards with reggae band Joint Family International) but there was a time when he was a young metal drummer. When a friend suggested to him that he volunteer at the Jazzmandu Festival (Kathmandu Jazz Festival) to mingle and network with artists from around the globe, it seemed like a good idea. Although he admits to not fully understanding the language of jazz at the time, it led to his enrollment at the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory. Both his talent and his drive led to an invitation for Kismat to join the teaching staff at KJC upon his graduation; a testament to both the instructors’ belief in his abilities and his education sensibilities. Shrestha taught both piano and drums at KJC. His embrace of both is yet another attribute which causes his musicality to stand out. He notes, “Piano and drums are both considered percussion instruments. While piano is also called a string instrument, I see both drums and piano not just as percussion instruments but as melody instruments as well in the sense that both the instruments can be considered as catering to the harmonic side of music as well. Hence bridging the gap between these two instruments further changed my perspective on music as a whole. Learning piano allowed me to hear what I played as well as see what I heard. While reading sheet music, I could think percussively but also know where the music is going melodically…what changes are happening throughout the song and so on. This gave a “musical” perspective to my drumming ability as a whole and this trait in Jazz is considered a positive rarity. Some of the drummers who exhibit this well are Ari Hoenig, Peter Erskine, Brian Blade, and many others.” Discussing how he personally applies this to music and performance, Kismat states, “The musical skill I would say that I possess is that I can apply to both piano and drums would be my ability to hear the nuances of where the music is flowing to, both rhythmically and melodically in a simultaneous manner. Drummers tend to be just drummers and pianists tend to be just pianists in the sense that they are confined to one instrument. It would be safe to call them just instrumentalists rather than musicians. In order to be a musician however, one needs to have the ability to bridge the gap between rhythm and melody. What better instruments to bridge this gap than drums and piano? The application of rudimental skills learnt in drums in piano and the understanding of the melody and harmony of a tune through piano helps to take the understanding and outcome of music to a higher and more complex level.”
Shrestha would impart this knowledge to students under his tutelage as well as to other musicians when applicable. Combining academia and street smarts, Kismat formulated his own very musical approach to drumming and music. While he performed and recorded as a pianist with ensembles at KJC, his work in the private sector was still largely based around his drumming abilities. Excellence such as this resonates and inspires. Sunita Shakya (Coordinator of the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory) proclaims, “Kismat is not just a terrific drummer and musician but is also one of the nicest human beings you’ll ever meet. As administrator of the KJC where Kismet learned and later taught, I could not be more proud to see that Kismat has become one of the finest drummers in our country. His talent and success have become an inspiration for all of the budding drummers here.”
Shrestha achieved his first international exposure performing with the KJC Urjazz group under the direction of Maraino Abello at the World Village Festival in Finland. It wasn’t long before Kismat was fielding offers from groups to join and tour internationally. Beyond the previously mentioned groups, Kismat has shared the stage with the famous jazz singer form NYC Sachal Vasandani, Natalia Calderon, Tito Puente Jr, Grammy Winner Marlow Rosado, Dario Eskenazi, Jamie Baum to name but a few. The pull between constantly learning and practicing your craft is what makes for a great musician; it can also make for conflict. At one time, Kismat was close to attending the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston but was unable to attend because of a major tour with the rock band Albatross. While to some, attending even a prestigious school like Berklee might seem to be a step back when one already has a thriving career, Shrestha had trouble turning away his dream school. A moment of clarity revealed itself while on the tour as Kismat recalls, “While in Boston we had played at Hard Rock Cafe and the sound engineer was a drum major and a Berklee graduate. I had a chat with him about this situation. I told him how I had received the initial fee waiver in the application and needed to go to Mumbai for auditions. Right around that time is when Albatross invited to me to join their band and travel the world with them. I was presented with a very tough decision to choose between Berklee and Albatross. I ended up choosing Albatross because I wanted to be in a great band and travel the world. Had I chosen Berklee I’d have had wished to do the same after studies but in this case the opportunity presented itself to me right then on and I took it, happily. Hearing my story, the sound engineer Anthony smiled and said that I had made the right choice. I asked what he liked most about studying in Berklee and he replied that the contacts and friends that he made with people from around the world was the most important. Other than that he felt the same as I did about learning. It was a pivotal moment for me. I understood that I had actually become the musician I’ve always wanted to be; it just took someone else to communicate this back to me.”
Sometimes it can seem as if the entire world is coming unglued. That is applicable on both a global and a personal level. The solution to this problem can sometimes be found in the most unobvious place. It can be as simple as a cookie, or an action like twist, lick, dunk. Yes, Oreos. As with love, Oreo cookies are the universal language. The introduction of this iconic cookie into Russia was made by the Russian division of one of the world’s largest and most successful snack companies, Mondelez. With 145 million potential customers in the Russian market, the possibilities would be highly beneficial to the US owners of Oreo and Mondelez, to say nothing of the happy public. Further widening the international cooperation, celebrated Parisian director Bruno Chiche was on board for the commercial. Fedor Lobov was in charge of video production at Mondelez at this time and enlisted Moscow’s Trehmer Production contingent on their use of Evgeny Telegin to produce the commercial introducing Oreos to the Russian consumers. Lobov’s decade long experience working with some of the world’s biggest brands has convinced him that having the right producer is essential to achieving success. He declares, “I can’t give Evgeny enough praise for his amazing charisma, work ethic, and professionalism. He has a tremendous imagination and vision, which helps immensely with getting the ball rolling in the pre-production process. Without his solid understanding of how to effectively relay the client’s message in the short running-time of an ad spot and his ability to see it through to the finished product, the commercial would not have risen to the level of quality to which it ultimately landed. His producing work on this commercial made for a remarkable Russian launch of Oreo, which saw its sales rise to a very high and not easily attainable level.”
The role of producer for any commercial is daunting. This individual is responsible for every aspect of the production. In the case of this ad for Oreo, the work required of the producer was almost overwhelming. Evgeny needed to coordinate between the US based company, the Paris based director, and the Russian branch of Mondelez; three different locations and time zones. Beyond coordination of schedules, Telegin needed to insure that the tone and sensibilities which these three different perspectives wanted to express were accurately represented. When dealing with different cultures, this can require a fair bit of fine tuning. In this scenario, trust is paramount. That circle of trust began with the professional history between Evgeny and Lobov and transferred to the entire team. Telegin remarks, “I have found that when you bring excellence to your work, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from, that work ethic is respected. People trust you as a professional so it doesn't matter where you work. This type of job requires very close working with your crew and your client. Sometimes people have different temperaments and may not feel comfortable working together. In my case with Fedor, it’s the opposite! We understand each other and are always on the same page. It’s not often you make such good connections between a client and a production house. That’s why when Fedor insisted on me, I was glad and thought to myself ‘We are going to produce a great commercial, I will put all of my efforts into it!’ I think everyone involved felt that energy and enthusiasm.” That positive attitude was of great benefit when coordinating between the US, France, and Russia. Decisions would take days or weeks to communicate and be agreed upon. Telegin states, “Although it wasn’t easy at times, I found that everyone cooperated well. The US office placed a lot of trust in the Russian office as well as in the director who has done a couple of great commercials for Oreo in the past. For me, it was a pleasure to see all these people who really love the brand. Oreo means a lot to them, so it was a lot of responsibility on our shoulders as a production house.”
US consumers are familiar with the family friendly tone and light hearted nature of the Oreo commercials seen in America but Trehmer’s producer understood that the presentation needed to be tweaked to appeal to the Russian public. Chiche and Evgeny communicated extensively about the action and emotional appeal of the production. This commercial shows a playful bonding moment between father and son involving Oreos. To insure that the chemistry between father and son was unspoken, the producer created a variety of preproduction activities for the two actors. The results on screen were truly Russian in sentiment as well as beneficial to the US based brand.
This experience has led to more increased international cooperation as Evgeny has been approached by US based Adjust Creative Production to bring his respected talent as a producer to America. While leaving home is a big change, Telegin is enthusiastic about the opportunity. He states, “I want to work with best of the best! It has always been my dream to take part in the industry in the place where it all came from…Hollywood! To work with new directors and new teams, no matter how difficult your script is to implement; anything is possible in the US! It's the place to be for every ambitious producer. I will have to work harder, that's for sure. It's not enough being talented in the US; you must work hard. There is no place for mistakes, especially because of the competition. The best of the best are here, so you have to always develop your skills and your professionalism in order to offer something new. The good thing for me is that I’m not starting from scratch. The production system in Russia is a copy of the US one so for me it would be very familiar.” Oreo cookies are an example of universal appeal. Evgeny Telegin is also an example of universal appeal. When any individual strives for greatness and passion using their talent, there’s no doubt that they will attract others.
There are those who seek the spotlight in the entertainment world and then there are those who enable them. While both situations require talent and immense hard work, the later allows for a life unencumbered by the constraints and trappings of notoriety…at least on a public scale. One of the most unnoticed and yet vitally important roles in the production world is that of producer. For those who have little or no interest in this world, they may wonder exactly what a producer does. Exactly as the name implies, these professionals are in charge of making sure every single thing is created and manifested. It’s an incredible, at times herculean amount of work. Only the most responsible, intelligent, and talented individuals are able to oversee and deliver in a manner that creates this “cocoon” in which artists exist. A producer is an interesting blend of adult conduct and childlike imagination. Part manager and part dreamer, producers like Zhe Huang (aka Gigi) approach films, television productions, and commercials with equal respect and enthusiasm. The producer’s role is one of the few in this world with a skill set that crosses all of these avenues. Gigi has earned a place as a respected professional in all three but confesses that many times it is the commercial world which can test a producer’s abilities so intensely. A “behind the curtain” peek at some of her work in commercials reveals her successful approach and gives tutelage to those who aspire to a successful career like hers.
It would seem obvious to almost anyone that the most important trait for a great producer is to be a great planner, but there are different styles even on this topic. Every producer sits down for that initial conversation with their director to understand the tone and needs of the project they are to oversee. While some producers stay in constant contact with a director, Huang prefers to cover every detail profoundly in the planning stage and then leave her director alone to immerse themselves in the creative process during shoot days. In some instances, this approach is a necessity. During her work with Bianca Yeh (director/producer and co-founder of BCS Media Studio) for a variety of different commercial productions including: Katris, JieLing Liquid Repellent spray, and “Zephyr, Gigi was in San Francisco while Yeh was in her home base of New York City. Yeh and the clients were so impressed and pleased with Huang’s work on these productions that Gigi has made a name for herself as a producer who is excellent at working independently with great effectiveness. Yeh notes, “I was thoroughly impressed with her overall performance. These are three very different types of commercials. I still remember the time during the pre-production of these three commercials. I am based in NYC and Zhe Huang helped me a lot as an independent producer. She satisfied every single need for filming so I don’t need to worry about anything. Every director wants what Gigi has to give, the ability to be creative and understand that everything is well taken care of.” Director Zhen Pan echoes these statements. Pan worked with Huang as a producer of commercials for Lepow chargers and declares, “As the writer/director, I was able to focus on my creative part and leave everything else to Huang Zhe with the knowledge that I didn't need to worry about anything. She's one of those producers who can literarily put everything on her shoulders and still keep things running extremely smooth. Considering the short time that was given and the limited budget, she did an amazing job balancing everything. It is always a pleasure working with her.”
A practical example of her ability to see opportunities for allowing the director’s vision to be achieved and yet still stay within the numerous constraints of any production schedule and budget can be understood by her approach with these various commercials. For the Lepow commercial work, she suggested some alternate ideas in regards to working with one of the child actors. Because minors are limited in the number of hours they can be working on set, the freedom to be creative and try different approaches without adhering to a fixed schedule are greatly reduced. Suggesting some creative camera work that implied the presence of the minor even when she wasn’t on set gave the director new options and more time to focus on other aspects of this particular scene. Another example is when Gigi presented the idea of allowing a scene with a dancer to appear as an actual filming scene itself during the action, enabling the real crew to go about their business without concern for the camera. Although these suggestions may not work every time, Zhen Pan was once again pleased to be working with a producer who was looking for a variety of ways to make his job easier.
Many times, a producer has their most challenging moments when dealing with those not actually invested in the work. During the Katris (a type of rearrangeable furniture/play construction for cats), most of the action was based around felines. Cats are not always the most receptive of animals to direction. In order to understand what would be most conducive to the stars of this commercial working with the director, Gigi arranged for some cat owners and their beloved pets to do some R&D before the shoot. She explains, “The director and I had discussed that the vibe of the commercial was to be fun and playful. In order for this positive feeling, I needed to make sure that our cat stars were having a good time. The clients gave us free sample products to test before filming. I contacted my friends ahead of time to bring cats just in case something happens on the filming day. I promised that I would give them the free sample products for their cats to use as compensation for doing this. The products were expensive but really useful, so they were willing to help. We definitely wanted to film the original cat that we cast, but since anything could happen on set, I knew a backup plan was a good idea… just in case the original cat got out of control.” During the filming of the Lepow commercial in San Francisco, Gigi enlisted help from a Park Ranger by using her consummate abilities as a producer to put him at ease and feel like a contributing part of the shoot. Huang reveals, “We originally found a location we liked in Marin County but it was on an easement owned by George Lucas and it wasn’t possible. I contacted the Park system there and park ranger Craig Solin helped us a great deal. He suggested a few potential locations for filming. I was so lucky that the park ranger really loved to help. Since we couldn’t drive our car on the mountain, he drove his truck and showed us around. While the director and DP went out the truck to take the pictures, I talked with the park ranger in the truck and told him the basic idea of the commercial. He suggested a few spots for filming and showed us his favorite one, which the director loved. Even though we couldn’t drive our Volkswagen microbus there, it was a good filming spot with great view. I discussed the scene with the director and we changed the story from driving the microbus on the mountain to a picnic scene instead.” A potential road stop and budget busting confrontation was steered into a positive experience for all by Huang’s ability to see everyone’s potential inclusion in the production, to the benefit of all parties. Just as obvious as her talent in planning and coordinating is the fact that one of Gigi Huang’s greatest attributes as a producer to somehow make everyone feel just as important as her director, which leads to a lot of happy people…including Gigi herself.
Film Actors Fight Club (FAFC) is a brilliant name…mostly because the images that it conjures reject everything that most of us think about actors. The 1999 film Fight Club, inspired by the Chuck Palahniuk novel is a rejection of consumerism, social norms, and entitlement. While many of these are points that the FAFC might share with Tyler Durden (the ID to the main character in the book and film), they vastly differ in one facet; the FAFC is very self-aware when it comes to how they are viewed and how they view themselves. While Palahniuk made fun of the disassociation and aggression that young white males feel in society (or did he?), the FAFC is more than eager to poke fun at themselves while simultaneously creating serious and emotional works. Actor/writer/producer Troy Greenwood is a vibrant and essential participant in the FAFC, seen in films such as; Diamond Planet, Widow, and The Rep. His many roles and performances in these productions display a seasoned professional who is as effortless in channeling drama as comedy. If one were to make a comparison between the two stars of Fight Club, Greenwood would appear much closer to Edward Norton and his career, sometimes dark and brooding while at other times hilarious in his ridiculousness. Greenwood is the type of actor who often communicates more in a quiet look and temperament than a boisterous approach. His association with the FAFC has provided Greenwood with an eclectic number of avenues with which to display his wide range. Also pleasing to the viewer is the incredibly high production value in the films of this Canadian “group.” One look at these films will convince any audience that the FAFC productions are as professional, accessible, and entertaining as anything the Hollywood and New York industries are manifesting.
The first major attention that the FAFC received was at the 2012 Calgary Film Challenge, where their film Diamond Planet took home a prize. The script was written by Greenwood who also played multiple roles in the film. Diamond Planet is FAFC’s way of making fun of the film industry. The backdrop of a film class being lectured by Hollywood producer Ollie Swagger (pun intended) is the vehicle for introducing a series of ridiculous, yet amazingly produced, movie trailers. The production quality is so high and the acting so exemplary in these spoof trailers, it is easy to find yourself thinking that someone has just spliced a high budget trailer into the film. Three minutes later you are shocked back into the classroom only to find yourself quickly transported into another trailer. Spanning genres such as romance, action, and suspense, FAFC proves their ability to create across all lines of entertainment. One of the funniest and impressive of these trailers is for the film Guess Who. The crime/suspense film trailer stars Troy Greenwood as a detective investigating the murder of an unknown woman, hence Guess Who. The black and white format assists Troy and the other cast members (along with an impressive soundtrack) to cement a wall of sincerity in a morbid tale, stark in its melodrama. Guess Who is adept in reflecting back to the audience the humor of their fascination with these types of films, cutting to the heart with surgical skill. Guess Who is as eager to reflect this absurdity back at filmmakers as the trailer is a film noir spoof based on the board game; an obvious nod to the film industry’s willingness to base a premise on any mundane concept that might sell (it has been done many times). Chris Bragg, producer and director of Diamond Planet for FAFC comments, “I met Troy Greenwood years ago when the Film Acting Fight Club collective was still in its infancy. At that point he was an established actor. Troy took a lead role on Diamond Planet, taking some ideas from a group session and coming back to the group a week later with a script that weaved them all together. Again, he stepped into various productions duties during the collaborative shoot, even directing one of the trailer scenes that gets flashed to in the story, on top of playing a major character in the film. The success of Diamond Planet at the Calgary Film Challenge was a major turning point for the group, solidifying it as a creative force in the Calgary community.”
In a complete 180 degree turn of sentiment and role, Greenwood wrote the script for the FAFC film Widow. The film, screened at the Calgary Underground Film Festival, is a revenge tale in the same vein as Death Wish or Taken. In Widow, following a horrific home invasion, a distraught husband goes on a rampage to find justice for his murdered wife. Troy appears on camera as one of the hoodlums in an epic slow motion sequence but found most of his efforts focused off camera for Widow. When writing and presenting the story, Troy prefers to take an approach in which all the answers are not so obvious for the audience. He relates, “We wanted a jarring and unique opening sequence so we had this scene where a man is out for what seems like an ordinary jog and then this random person walks up and shoots him. Through the progression of the story we reveal that this random shooter is in fact a husband out for revenge and the jogger was one of the perpetrators. Finding the right park to make for this epic opening proved difficult. We wanted something with levels and movement so that there was more than just a man on a pathway. I remembered an old pathway that comes out from out from under an overpass and weaves its way back and forth through the layered landscape. The ebbs in the pathway and the darkness of the tunnel below the underpass created some really interesting cinematic moments that really draw you into the film before stopping abruptly with a gunshot to the chest.”
In The Rep, Greenwood appears as one of two brothers caught in a futuristic Sophie’s Choice dilemma. Set in a dystopian future, a pandemic has created the situation in which there is a shortage of medication. The government has allotted only one vaccine dose per family. A representative travels the countryside deciding who will live. The film takes place entirely in the family home and chooses to focus on the emotional turmoil of a family faced with this harrowing decision. The actors: Jesse Collin, Greg Fiddler, Saleste Mele, and Greenwood all provide strong performances with which to carry the film. Once again, Troy developed the script (with Jesse Collin) proving that he contributes as much to the development of the story as he does to its enactment. Describing his character and the action onscreen, Troy communicates, “There’s are argument between Jude and Bram that escalates when Jude (my character) tries to take the vaccine for himself but Bram’s daughter enters the scene and Jude has a change of heart. However, it’s too much for ‘The Rep’ and he tazes Jude and leaves with the vaccine. The tazing part was difficult to pull off – seizing and falling realistically without injuring myself. Luckily, I had some gymnastics training when I was younger and that helped out a lot. The cast and crew found my twitching on the floor as ‘The Rep’ leaves quite humorous on the day.” Troy Greenwood possesses the ability to create both tragedy and humor in front of the camera and off camera, whether he is trying or not. Perhaps this is why he seems so natural and confident in front of the lens. There is an innate and quiet ease to his writing and performing that is unavoidable. The FAFC has provided proof of this multiple times.
Jo Pratta was living in Singapore in her early twenties. A professional singer at the time, she went to a jam session at a friend’s music studio. When one of the musicians mentioned that she had not only a great singing voice but, a great voice in general…Jo was flattered. When she mentioned that she was also an actress, the comments quickly followed that she should pursue voice-over work. Years later, when Pratta was recording the soap opera Voltea pa que te Enamores (now deeply embedded in the voice-over acting industry) the studio’s casting director, conscripted her for a role in another telenovela. In this case, that telenovela was Allá Te Espero. Multiple productions would follow, including work with such household names as Pixar and AT&T. These days, Jo is a long way from being solely a singer/actress…and a long way from her homeland in Brazil. Her talent, her ability to speak several different languages, and her willingness to follow her dreams has taken her to varied locations spanning the globe. The daughter of a musician and a dancer, granddaughter and niece to actors, and the soul of a troubadour are all a part of the DNA which constructed the talent present in Jo Pratta. It’s the very nature of her diversity that has brought her such success in her career; that and a stringent work ethic. Pratta seems always prepared to take on the new roles that are presented to her and embrace them with the passion, enthusiasm, and joy for which her homeland of Rio is known.
Regardless of the story (Jo’s voice-over work ranges from legendary Cuban singer Celia Cruz to a lesbian “Muscle woman” to a variety of comical characters), Pratta believes in suffering to find the true essence of the character. She regards every role she takes on as important and strives to give it everything she has. Jo is also aware of bad voice-over work and easily recognizes it. She comments, “Some people take the work we do for granted, thinking that you can simply show up at the studio, say the lines and leave. I’ve actually seen that happen and the end result is not pretty. It ends up sounding like a bad samurai movie and comes off comical. Imagine watching a dramatic hospital scene and seeing the emotion on the actors’ faces: pain, angst, etc. One actor opens their mouth to deliver a heartfelt line only to sound as if they’re ordering a sandwich. Your ear, after many years of watching movies and television, will instantly catch this aberration. If it continues, it actually becomes difficult to watch the mixed signals on the faces and what you’re hearing. Thus, just as much (if not more) heart and effort must be given for the voice-over as in the on-camera performance.” It’s this respectful and committed mindset that has given Jo an edge over many others. It has earned her the respect of her peers. André Mattos costarred with Pratta on Allá Te Espero but has been an admirer of her abilities for many years. Mattos confirms, “I have known Jo since she was a child actor back in Brazil, and I have always been charmed by her sweet personality combined with fierce acting skills. I have seen her growth from project to project and I must say, I am very proud to have directed her in many projects throughout the years. In Allá Te Espero, Jo’s talent and voice gave life to the character of Lucia in a very important way, since she was the motherly figure and very important in the development of the plot.” Lucia is a matriarch character in this production which focuses on a family and their struggles in an attempt to achieve the American Dream. Lucia is older than Jo and called for the actress to age her voice subtly and imply the pain of a woman who husband has died, leaving her a widow. Pratta threw herself into investigating the state of mind of Lucia and her life experiences, regarding the voice over performance every bit as demanding as the one onscreen. She found herself reading articles online about broken homes and self-help blogs about how to get over the loss of a loved one… things which she otherwise had no business reading. Having these genuine feelings of loss made Jo appreciate the people and things in my life that she was actually afraid of losing and thereby convey them in her performance.
Proving that she enjoys “stretching” her abilities and accepting the challenge of varied voice-over projects…one of Jo’s most interesting jobs was using her skills to voice productions for Pixar and AT&T. The very nature of these projects actually makes them much more demanding than many other acting roles. Voice-over actors are required to exercise more self-control and “color in the lines” with these types of productions. The format for the Pixar and AT&T videos were almost identical insofar as they both consisted of a quasi-lecturer and members of an audience asking or responding to questions. In an attempt to understand Pratta’s role for these productions, watch a gameshow with the volume muted and try to speak for the host as well as those participating in the game; don’t forget that each person must have a different voice or accent. This is quite possibly the best way to convey the experience of working on these films. Jo cautions, “Be sure to keep your psychologist’s number on speed dial when attempting this.” Pratta communicates that this type of role demands more creativity than most situations by stating, “If you think about it, the voice over work is always creative, because no one is handing me a recording of the character’s voice and saying, ‘Here you go. Copy this noise but say this instead.’ A playwright or a director can give you cues to guide you toward their intent but in the case of industrial work like these instructional videos, I had to look at the face of a complete stranger, listen to what they say and then give them a voice...in another language. Pure creativity. These productions, being instructional videos, gave me the strange opportunity of voicing many…and I mean many, different people in one sitting. Sound easy? Yeah, the act of creating multiple voices that are just as indistinguishable from one another as the faces they inhabit on the screen is NOT an easy task. There were times when I couldn’t even remember my own natural voice. That, in and of itself, is an amusing experience.”
Jo loves her homeland and family in Rio but admits that she has always desired a career in the US. For a voice-over actress like herself, as well as many entertainers throughout the world, Hollywood is the brass ring. Since her early days of acting as a child, she understood that the best of the best in entertainment come to America to be a part of this creative community. One might not expect an actress who has played villains as well as music icons like Celia Cruz to cherish the dream of working with Tim Burton but, in LA…it doesn’t seem farfetched at all. There’s a universality to Burton’s movies that makes sense when you consider Jo’s many languages and residences in different parts of the planet. Hard work and humor are a common trait for the filmmaker and this voice-over actress as well. That comical surface which, upon investigation, reveals immense talent. It would seem that Jo Pratta, empowered by her quirky outlook and talent, would be well placed in Hollywood.
Working with a variety of mediums, Brazilian artist Silvia Faraco manifests visual experiences that challenge the eye and the mind. She is a highly proficient artist conceiving new ideas, perspectives, and approaches in her art. Even though she considers herself more of a Visual Artist/ Graphic Designer than a filmmaker, in her latest work, Faraco delves into experimental filmmaking as a way of creating on another canvas; that of moving visuals. Her first film Ecdise was inspired by the short story of the same name, written by Brazilian writer Paulo Zoppi. As with all of her art, this film is not simply meant to be watched but rather to be experienced. Exploring symbolic contents and non-verbal language, Ecdise puts the reader in a disturbing emotional and mental state and proposes a reflection on the body-mind duality that is intrinsic to the human condition. Faraco states, “Ecdise does not follow Zoppi’s narrative directly but is the portrayal of the sensory experience the reading stirred within me. His story instantly evoked a dream-like state of mind and I started thinking in terms of fluid and organic motion of images that could represent an individual journey to a search for identity within oneself through the physicality, going deep to the level of blood and cells. This journey happens also through sound, touch, vision, memories and unconsciousness. It reflects a single experience of a life as an organism - uncomfortable for being so fragile, yet still beautiful.” in English, Ecdysis means the act of shedding or casting off. Silvia’s film contemplates the human experience of what we unwittingly shed off in our daily lives; bits of our skin, hair, fingernails, even blood. The question is, how much of ourselves changes on a daily basis and do we lose part of who we are in this process? While many of the images are pleasant aesthetics, the macro lens serves to point out details we overlook like pores, wrinkles, etc. The visuals and the mood of the imagery unearth questions about one’s self and one’s existence.
Ecdise had its world premiere at the Hybrid Identities Art Show in Almeria, Spain in addition to screenings at the Contemporary Art Show in Venice, Italy, among others. Producer and Director of Photography Jean Paulo Lasmar (Vida Sobre Rodas, O Condomínio, Um Pé de Chinelo & others) worked with Faraco to communicate the concept she had for this film. Lasmar reveals, “I tend to shoot everything in the highest quality, well lit, and with very few color adjustments in post. Silvia wanted the images to be raw, textured, lit as it is, with no post work.” Faraco wanted to convey these neuroses (discussed in Zoppi’s short story) in the simplest and sensorial way; filming body parts with a macro lens, capturing extreme close ups. Her desire was to convey this idea in a very organic and real way. What you see in the film is the skin as it truly appears. There is no retouching in her process. The water scene reveals the body in an ethereal state; peaceful, floating in a trance, from the immersive experience.
Neide Marinho (visual artist, researcher, writer and professor of the Cultural Arts and Production at Fluminese Federal University) describes it as “a work of personal archeology, and yet plays with the audience inviting us to travel along the dissolving elements.” The film’s DP Jean Paulo Lasmar remarks, “Working with an artist like Silvia who is very creative and has a bold vision, made me rethink what I do and my creative process… which is very good for me as a filmmaker.”
The writer of the short story that inspired Silvia to make Ecdise, Paulo Zoppi says: “Silvia achieves the perfect visual translation of the protagonist’s investigations. This ability to translate the psychological into abstract images, of great visual richness and at the same time emanating with life, made it almost impossible not to invite her to create the cover and illustrations for my book of tales Ensimesmices, from which the tale Ecdise is a part of”.
Faraco’s interpretation of this psychological journey into a film and then reimagined as illustrations proves that artists continue to inspire each other with their creations and is a powerful example of her ability to convey ideas and concepts while navigating across different artistic mediums.
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