Sometimes love can be beautiful. Sometimes love can be all consuming pain. And once in a while…it can be creative. There’s no disputing the fact that music piracy and music sharing changed the music industry and its financial solvency, and thereby changing the music video. This may not have been positive from a financial standpoint, but it is highly beneficial from a creative perspective. Once the days of six-digit music videos were extinct, the remaining practitioners were those who did it for expression and art. To be clear, those who are truly meant to be involved in the creative arts are those who driven to do so by a passion for the medium. Those like Justin Ivan Hong. Hong is an extremely successful cinematographer whose achievements include: REMNANTS (Winner of Best Short Film at the 14th Annual Twin Cities Black Film Festival, Winner of Best Short Film at the Greenwich Village Film Festival 2016, Winner for the Best Socially-Conscious Film at the 15th Annual Urban Mediamakers Film Festival, and Winner for Best Drama Short at the Hollywood Boulevard Film Festival), PLAYBACK (Winner - Best Film at the Creative Video Awards 2010- Singapore,Winner -Best Soundtrack at the Creative Video Awards 2010, Singapore, & Official Selection- Brooklyn Short Film Festival 2016, USA), LOOKING BACK (Nominated – Best Film, Creative Video Awards 2011, Singapore), and CLAIRE’S DAY OUT (Nominated – Best Film, Creative Video Awards 2012, Singapore). Justin has more than established himself with these award-winning productions and yet, he understands the best way to stay fresh and on top of his game is to challenge himself with varied projects. When Timothy Reckhart approached Hong about working with him on the “Arms” video from Tuscon band Sunbones, he recognized the scenario as an opportunity to stretch himself in a different manner. Reckhart is one of the rising stars in the animation world and was Academy Award nominated for his film “Head Over Heels”. He was also one of the main animators on the recent Charlie Kaufman film, “Anomalisa”. Timothy is currently in production of a feature film for Sony Pictures. Pulling from the ethos of the Beach Boys, the Talking Heads, and Vampire Weekend, Sun Bones strives to create music that is accessible but far from ordinary. Reckhart wanted the same sensibility for the “Arms” video and he wanted a cinematographer who could both understand and collaborate with him on the presentation. Reckhart exhuberantly notes, ““For the music video of Sun Bones' "Arms," the band and I decided to take a handmade approach. We wanted the rough feel of Southwestern folk art, especially the calaveras of Day of the Dead. When it came to the cinematography, Justin Hong's approach fit right in with the production design. The camera is hand-operated, with an organic, stream-of-consciousness flow to it that gives the whole video a drifting, dreamlike feel. Justin's flexibility and flair for improvisation was very important, since the video used fire, and fire can behave unpredictably. To really capture the moments we wanted, it was important that Justin could work loose, which he did wonderfully.”
The video is a tale of love gained, lost, stolen, and the residual “aftertaste” of the experience. In the same manner of the music, the imagery is haunting. Anyone who has given their heart and then been spurned will easily empathize with the puppets in “Arms.” The skeletal attributes of the puppets give an increased gravitas to the correlation of death and death of a relationship. The often awkward movement of the puppets correlates to the insecurities of amorous relationships and the emotional lack of comfort many experience in matters of the heart. Hong is quite familiar with the production style and schedule of film and TV but not music videos, which is exactly the reason for his accepting the offer. He confirms, “This project was certainly a departure from my usual wheelhouse of live action cinematography. Working with miniature puppets required a reform in my entire approach. It was actually more difficult than I had thought. Obviously, everything was smaller; which meant that it was much more challenging to control the light. A greater level of precision and attention to detail was required. Camera movements had also to be more calculated and handled more delicately. At a smaller scale, any little bump or mistake is multiplied many-fold.” Hong describes, “Aside from the technical challenges, it was great fun coming up with a visual look for this video. The puppets themselves were wooden automatons and had a unique, quirky movement about them. To match this, I went slightly bolder with the camera movements and lighting. I used a lot of colored and moving light cues to add a new dimension to these characters in order to bring them to life within the context that they were in. In this aspect, the scale worked to our benefit; what is normally a small camera move becomes a huge one at this scale. This enabled a level of dynamism that added the right finishing flavor to these already unique puppets.”
Just as the song itself is charming and endearing in the lack of “over-production”, the puppetry and look of the film is not an aspect that is jarring to the viewer; rather, it serves to attract and pull one’s attention into the storyline. The lack of expression on the puppets’ faces allows one to focus on the music, investing and trusting in that emotional source. “Arms” serves to command the imagination of those watching the video and the vibrant story of woe displayed. “Arms” creator and director, Timothy Reckhart reveals, “The dirty secret of this video's cinematography is that, even with all the lighting cues, camera movements, and focus pulls, Justin was the lone member of the camera and lighting crew. There’s no possible way we could have done this video without him, literally! He's excellent working with other people, but on this video's budget we weren't able to afford additional crew for him. He managed to operate the camera, build lighting setups, and capture such expressive images without any support from a crew, which is a testament to Justin's natural talent in the various aspects of cinematography.” (https://vimeo.com/timr/sunbones)
Hiding in plain sight; that is sometimes the best place. For Xiao’ou Olivia Zhang it might be more appropriate to say hiding in plain hearing. As an accomplished and respected sound designer, Zhang is often called upon to bring the action onscreen to new heights. While most movie goers don’t notice the sound (unless it involves huge explosions, spaceships, or dinosaurs) in a film, they would immediately be aware of its absence. It helps to think of sound in a film like teeth in a smile; when something is missing…it is immediately present. Being involved in a career which is not celebrated so openly by the general public has never been a negative aspect for Olivia. She loves the work and gets more than enough praise from the filmmakers whom she works with. Sound design can often be an isolated career. These professionals are often required to work by themselves and do so silently, it’s demanded due to the very essence of their role. Zhang finds herself always listening for new influences and sound scapes with which to expand her supply of sonics. The Hunt is a film which was especially attractive to Olivia because of the lack of dialogue involved. This gave her the chance to challenge herself to create and add a great deal to this production.
The Hunt’s director Kyle Smithers approached Oliva with the proposition that she work on the film as its sound designer. He communicated that he required someone who would take a proactive role in being creative and give forward momentum to some of the long dialogue deprived scenes. He needed a sound designer who would create tension by implying action off screen, often in a very psychological manner. Smithers explains, “A story like The Hunt is a particular challenge for a film production because of how much its single character is alone for long periods of time. Typically, a filmmaker can utilize dialogue with other characters to flesh out ideas and convey the thoughts and emotions of the protagonist. But for most of this film, including its emotional climax, the hunter is alone with no one to talk to. As collaborative filmmakers we had to think creatively to make this story work. Without question, the best tool for this in The Hunt was sound design. Olivia brought a vast host of experience, technical expertise, and raw talent to help us make this story a success. She saw things the rest of us didn’t, and through her assistance, elevated this film to a previously impossible standard. She has the enviable skill of being able to translate multiple directions and ideas into a unified vision, and then execute that vision with technical and emotional polish.” While Smithers was attracted to Zhang’s previous work and creativity, Olivia was enticed by the vast space and opportunities The Hunt and its director afforded. She comments, “Kyle treated me as a creative partner instead of just a sound editor putting in sound to a picture. There was great mutual respect and exchange of creative ideas during the sound design process. Kyle made me feel welcome to give him suggestions. We explored many ideas together. Working with filmmakers like him always inspires me. It motivates me to look for more and try harder every single day. It was a wonderful collaboration working with Kyle.”
The title The Hunt is somewhat misleading. This film is much more about relationships with others and the main character’s inner turmoil than the actual hunt. If it were that literal, it would not be nearly as interesting. The Hunt is a psychological thriller, one that follows a married man’s journey into the wilderness and his experience becoming the prey in another hunter’s predatory game. The main character has discovered his wife, naked in bed while another man is showering. While out in the wilderness on his hunt, he attempts to persuade a woman (speaking to her on the phone) to have an affair with him as a way to “even the score.” He discovers someone has set a gun stand aiming at his tent. As the hunter investigates he hears voices of another hunter’s activity in the forest. As his would be assassin approaches him he flees but is accidentally caught in his own trap and is hung by the noose he had set up earlier. The hunter struggles frantically for his life while the killer runs towards him. He untangles himself and fires his rifle at the other person. He follows the painful moaning of the killer in order to discover the person’s true identity, only to find that it was an elk. As realization occurs, he kneels in front of the dying elk and starts to cry as the rain falls down and washes over the forest. As the film ends, we see him driving away from the forest in the heavy rain as he calls off the meeting with his (potential) mistress. The hunter returns home to his wife and lets her attend to his wound in silence.” Even though the majority of the film is tense, the conversation is quite sparse. There are sequences which are fairly long in which the hunter looks around in an attempt to figure out his surroundings. What he hears makes him alert. It’s a thriller in which a lot things are happening off screen. Because of this, Zhang could use this ambiguity to create this “unknown” character. Often what we imagine is more frightening than the danger we can actually see. Even more pleasing to Olivia was the fact that this situation created a space in which she could actually create a plot via sound. It was a rare opportunity for sound editor to write plot through designing, which is challenging and rewarding at the same time. The footsteps which the hunter hears are ambiguous enough to make the audience wonder if there really is a person pursuing him or if he’s just paranoid. Rather than being obvious about what is happening, Zhang used less intuitive factors. She notes, “For The Hunt, I used many elements of nature. One time the protagonist is looking around because of a distant gun shot, the next time it is because of a woodpecker, or the ice melting loudly in the lake on the other side of the bushes. These sound elements are used to tease and alert the hunter and were carefully crafted at the moment where tension is about to rise. Secondly, silence is often a great tool in sound design. We hear lots of trees undulating in the wind, then gradually, the forest quiets down and becomes deadly silent; leaving only the hunter’s breath to be heard. When he is in the middle of the forest with so much of his field of sight obscured, the dead silence is sometimes like a ticking bomb, especially when there’s something hiding and waiting to kill him. The audience becomes more concentrated because they want to hear something. They want to know who is out there trying to kill him, and where is the killer hiding? It’s a mind game and silence helps a great deal with that because it doesn’t give the relief the audience is constantly seeking.” Even though The Hunt was just released in 2016, it has been lauded by critics and audiences alike for its achievements in creating suspense and tension in a very unorthodox manner. Xiao’ou Olivia Zhang is proud that her “unobvious” work has gotten so much obvious attention.
At 15 years old, Navid Charkhi took a high school dance class. Born in Iran, the Canadian dancer grew up watching live performances by Michael Jackson on television and emulating the pop singer’s signature moves. With formal training, Charkhi soon fell in love with the art of dance and went on to join award-winning competitive dance crews in Vancouver, eventually taking his career to the next level with professional film, television and live performances. The support of his parents has been essential in his climb to the top.
“Every parent wants their kid to become the doctor or dentist, or something. It was hard for my parents to understand my interest in a performance career at the start but they saw my hard work and how much passion I have for the art of dance and, of course, that I was earning an income,” Charkhi adds.
Working with some of the best dancers, choreographers and directors in the business, Charkhi watches closely and learns from each new person he encounters, gaining inspiration to keep pushing and achieving his goals in this profession. As a result, those who work with him immediately recognize Charkhi’s abilities, talent, and drive.
Famed director and co-choreographer of the High School Musical films, Kenny Ortega was impressed with the talent and skill Charkhi showed recently on the set of Descendants 2.
“Navid’s natural instincts performing complex dance moves as a principal dancer made him an irreplaceable asset to the film,” Ortega says.
Co-choreographer on the film, Tony Testa agrees that Charkhi brings value to the movie and its producers.
“[Charkhi] is able to instantly adapt to any type of dance depending on the style of the production, which,” Testa explains, “is an extremely important characteristic for a Descendants 2 dancer to have.”
This versatility and ability to rise to any challenge have made Charkhi a standout during auditions and production, leading often to his promotion as a leader on film and television projects. Ron Oliver, an Emmy-nominated director who worked with Charkhi on Mostly Ghostly 3, mentions quickly assigning him to work as assistant to the choreographer, Richard O’Sullivan. Charkhi collaborated with O’Sullivan to create the movie’s choreography in just three days.
“Working under such pressure did not faze Navid,” recalls Oliver. “In fact, he welcomed these obstacles and dealt with them with incredible ease by having the entire dance scene completed in less than two days.”
Charkhi, who specializes in Urban Hip-Hop, has trained in Jazz, Contemporary, Popping, and other styles. His talents are not limited to the screen, however. They’re not even limited to dance.
Having received his license in pastry arts, Charkhi is also a remarkable baker, using his creativity to plate desserts, build and decorate wedding cakes, and sculpt chocolate. If his still young career in the movie business were not skyrocketing, Charkhi says he would probably own a food truck highlighting the most important portion of any meal– dessert.
Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately for anyone with a sweet tooth, Charkhi has been unstoppable as a dance talent in the industry. He’s successful as a live performer as well, appearing in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Opening Ceremony and with Vancouver’s finest Urban dance talent in Urban Alchemy. Most recently, Charkhi collaborated on a contemporary dance project choreographed by Heather Laura Gray called The Tunnel. Performing live is very different from dance for camera.
“When you’re in front of the camera you can cut as many times and capture the best parts of the performance,” Charkhi shares. “When performing live, you only have one chance to send your message out there. The process was longer for The Tunnel but the thrill and the reviews we got were amazing.”
The most rewarding part of such a performance, according to Charkhi, is that it allows him to grow and stretch himself as a dancer. Gray witnessed this process first-hand and describes evidence of Charkhi’s ability to tap into his creativity and make great artistic choices.
“Navid is a very open person and that makes him extremely easy to work with. Any tasks that were given, even if it was something new, he would fully commit and not let fear take over,” she remarks.
Gray also mentions that Charkhi’s energy behind-the-scenes makes him a skilled and effective collaborator.
“You can tell he values working with people to create the best outcome possible, it is not just a solo venture for him.”
In this spirit, Charkhi is quick to credit his teachers and mentors for helping him keep his feet amidst the challenges of a thriving and diverse career in entertainment. It’s not easy doing it all but Charkhi gives insight into what keeps his passion alive.
“I believe if you focus on something that you really love to do, it will take you far in life and keep you and everyone around you happy. I love to perform,” he declares.
That love is obvious judging by Charkhi’s stage and screen successes so far and this dancer on the rise is just getting warmed up.
How’s this for a classified ad; “Wanted. Actor to film extended scenes underwater while singing. Must be able to hold your breath for very extended periods of time.” Weird? Yes. Difficult? Most likely. Worthy of rejecting? Not if you are Sebastian Sacco. Okay, maybe Sacco didn’t read a classified ad from a band looking for a lead actor for the video “Don’t Wait For Me” by the band Flawes, but when director Joe Beverly (whom Sacco had worked with on multiple films including No Place) approached the actor about it, he was still surprised by the description of the role. Even though Beverly was an admirer of Sebastian’s work, he still made the actor audition alongside other potential leads; an audition which required all potential leads to sing (at double speed) underwater, for more than a minute on a single breath. Not the type of situation one prepares for in the study of the classics with a traditional troupe. Sebastian Sacco is far from your traditional path type of actor. Though he has already been the star of such films as Tommy, The Path, No Place, and others, he had trepidation before throwing his full lot in to this art. Due to these circumstance, he has cultivated his own manner of opportunities with which to establish a foundation. “Don’t Wait For Me” is just a recent example of professionals whom have worked with Sacco recognizing both his talent and his desire to experience different forms of production.
Sebastian is enthusiastic about acting and committed to his craft. When questioned as to whether a different vocation is something considerable, he emphatically states, “Never! I come from a middleclass family background. I went to a private school and thought the business world would be the best place for me as I would make my dad proud and myself rich. I realized quickly that I could never do business as I wasn’t driven by money. I’m not a materialistic person. Things are not what I’m in pursuit of or what defines me. Playing William ([Aims] in No Place) was great for me because it gave me a taste or a sense of what it would have been like if I had followed my terrible plan to go into business. I definitely made the right choice for me. A career as an actor seems quite a stretch for a middle class boy from West Sussex, the son of a Sicilian born/English reared father and native British mother. It wasn’t the type of household which favored a career reaching for the stars rather than a safer and more practical pursuit. Sacco reveals, “I didn’t tell them at first when I was going for the acting. I told them I was going for interviews in London when actually I was doing small unpaid acting jobs or castings. Eventually I had to tell them as they were concerned that I still hadn’t gotten a job. They were obviously concerned but just said, ‘If it’s what you want then do it, but go for it 110%.’ They are now very proud and loving, showing anyone who will watch the stuff I’ve been in. It’s amazing how supporting your loved ones can be once they really understand how passionate you are about something.” That passion, with which Sebastian throws himself into every production, is what makes him so magnetic on the screen. The video “Don’t Wait For Me” symbolizes the feelings of a relationship break-up. The twins (characters in the video) are decision and circumstance. It was a bad relationship but both people still do love each other. They are fearful of breaking up and the unknown element of what lies beyond this. This is what the water represents; the feeling of drowning after a break-up, not knowing if you will be ok. Sebastian relates, “Being underwater really is a great symbol for taking uncertain steps. It does feel that way, like you can’t breathe. Although figurative for the couple in the video, it was quite literal for me. Ha. The night before we filmed the underwater scene, we had been up late filming some other bits which never actually made it into the video. I couldn’t sleep that night and by the time we started filming the next day, I was pretty sleep deprived. To make things worse, we had run over schedule and didn’t start the underwater scene until 5AM. The bath was a lot smaller than the one we practiced in so my legs were squished up to my torso and the water had to be cold so as to not be too steamy. This was all fine except, I tried about three or four times to complete the entire scene but I ran out of air before I could finish. The sun was coming up and I could see it on everyone’s face; if I didn’t get this shot before sunrise… it was all for nothing. I did some long, deep breathing and told myself if I passed out under the water then I’d pass out but I can’t come up until it’s done. Luckily, I did it and managed to get one more after. On the last take, we all knew I had. It was a great moment. Joe hugged and kissed me even though I was soaking wet. I jumped into a hot shower, which made me a very happy man.” This revelation is a prime example of what it is about Sebastian that continues to make him such a sought after actor. It’s the determination and commitment, the decision to make any sacrifice of comfort or security in order to deliver the performance that he and the entire production family require. Even Sacco himself states that he is excited by taking risks, which might include making a move to Hollywood soon. He confirms, “There’s a lot more work in the US and a lot more people who want to get me through the door. London is just somewhat slow moving. I’m getting a lot of opportunities in London but, in LA it seems much, much faster. It’s a better city for serious film actors. The opportunities being offered to me in the US are amazing and I can see a stronger career in the US; the type of challenges that have always been attractive to me.”
There can be no reasonable discussion about the fact that Hollywood is one of the most ubiquitous of all of American exports. The films of this southern Californian town are found in all corners of the globe and are admired, respected, and imitated everywhere. While many countries have creative and vibrant film communities which are lauded, a great deal of the professionals involved in making film their career aspire to the opportunities which Hollywood can provide. In all fairness, this seminal location had a healthy lead in the industry. It was decades ago when a small boy from Taipei was stunned by the Hollywood productions he saw…no, not Ang Lee (also from Taiwan) but Hugo Shih; although Lee’s movies were among those that moved the young boy. Shih had always loved movies but it was the otherworldly quality of movies like Terminator, Aliens, and Life of Pi that would encourage Hugo as he grew and aspired to be a part of creating the fantastic places and stories that he saw on the screen. To a boy from Taipei whose parents made their careers in international train parts, working in the Hollywood film community seemed as otherworldly as the subject of his favorite Science Fiction movies. Shih recalls the pivotal moment for him, “I watched more Hollywood films than local films when I was young. Hollywood films were very popular and people often went to the theater for these blockbuster films. Titanic was the one of the most popular and is also the one that inspired me to become a filmmaker. It wasn’t so much about the story but the advancements in production like VFX, Sound, Music, Color and more. Even though movie making is all about the storytelling, without the aid of technological developments, James Cameron wouldn’t be able to make a film that looked like this more than twenty years ago.”
Shih began his career as an editor. While he achieved a successful career in editing, he discovered that his passion, as well as his disposition, lent itself to being a colorist. While working in Taiwan he still harbored this dream of working in Hollywood. Using hindsight, Hugo notes that in addition to the different opportunities, the professional decorum differs between the two countries. He notes, “I’m from Taiwan. The way of making films in Hollywood is totally different from my country. One big difference is that people (in his home country) don’t take advantage of how workflow can help the storytelling. Filmmakers in Taiwan prefer to use a more traditional method rather than using the new or advanced production workflow to help them. Hollywood truly embraces this concept and does a great job to develop the community and set up standards, workflows, etc. Western and Eastern decorum are very different. For example, when I worked in Taiwan, I usually needed to follow leader’s rule and order. If something went wrong, we couldn’t really address it unless the leader noticed it. The reason is that the society views this as a necessary politeness. However, when I work in the US, everyone respects each other. The politeness is still there but there is a mutual respect and admiration for what every individual does as a professional. We can openly discuss whether something is good or bad, and how to fix it if need be. The biggest difference between working in Taiwan and the US is stress. In Taiwan, if we made a wrong decision, the supervisor would assign blame, often resulting in the employee losing creativity for fear of making an incorrect decision. I expected the same situation here in the US but, things are totally different. Here, professionals in the film community are encouraged to make decision, even though it might be a wrong decision. Rather than focusing on blame, individuals are asked to find the reasons why something didn’t work out and figure out how to fix the problem. This gives those involved more space to have creative ideas to eventually be equipped to make decisions themselves.”
A great deal of what has attracted Hugo and others from around the world is the universal themes of its productions. Art in any form is meant to not only reflect but also to inspire. Film may be the most prevalent of modern forms in the last century to present art, and it definitely has embraced other art forms in the process. Even without full comprehension of the language of origin, film communicates emotion. It is this part of his role as a colorist that most attracts Shih. It has been a successful pursuit for him; involving him in many award-winning productions such as Pressure-Man (winner of a 2016 American Movie Award), Dead Bird Don’t Fly (17 wins and 4 nominations), and many others. Hugo remarks, “Dead Bird Don’t Fly is one of my works which I really love. Not only because of the story, but also the color. The director had a very clear vision and he created a really great lighting approach on set with Cinematographer. They used the RED camera, which has more latitude for color. I’m proud that this film was so accepted and won so many awards. It was especially exciting that Dead Bird Don’t Fly was part of the Short Film Corner at the Cannes Film Festival.”
As an established colorist and film professional, Hugo Shih is poised to pursue and achieve the lofty goal that he once dreamed of, being an actual Hollywood film community participant. To Hugo the reasons for this are easy for anyone to understand. Shih exclaims, “Even the idea of ‘Hollywood’ is a dream world that everybody on the planet wants to be a part of. Working with people from different countries as part of creative and supporting community…there is no place else like this in the world!”
In the same way that the seasons change and current fashion styles fall to the wayside only to be replaced with the new ‘it’ thing, many of the hottest models in the industry seem to be at the pinnacle of success one moment with their images gracing the covers of international magazines and commanding our attention from massive billboards, only to be swiftly forgotten as someone new steps into the picture.
What many people may not realize is that finding lasting success as model in the ever-changing fashion industry takes a whole lot more than just beauty, it requires someone who is able to evolve with the times and personify the emotional spectrum, someone like international model Ashiko Westguard.
Hailing from the quaint Canadian town of Innisfil, Westguard’s humble, family focused beginnings have been crucial in keeping her head on straight and her feet firmly planted on the ground in the face of staggering success.
Her career first began taking off in her late teens when she signed with Next Models. Soon Westguard was being flown all over the world where the best photographers in the industry such as Neil Cooper, Josh Ryan, George Whiteside, Albert Sanchez and others captured her charm on their cameras.
With a Czechoslovakian mother and a Norwegian father, Ashiko Westguard’s ethnic heritage has endowed her with a mysterious and captivating look of undeniable exoticism. Whether she’s shooting sultry campaigns for the likes of Revlon, Garnier and Dita Von Teese, portraying a dashing business woman for Air Canada or bringing her ebullient smile to the covers of magazines including Essentials, Woman, Women’s Fitness and others, Westguard has a unique way of creating images that stick with us.
Not only is she aesthetically mesmerizing, both with and without makeup, but her chameleonic nature has made her a rarity in the industry. Her range in front of the camera is one reason that she has managed to create and maintain such a powerful place in the public eye over the last decade.
Aside from being a sought after model for massive national and international ad campaigns, commercials and high fashion editorials, Westguard is one of the few who have successfully made the transition into acting. Over the years she has landed critical roles on several television shows including “Kaya” and “Painkiller Jane.” She also took on the lead role of Eve in James Naylor’s 2013 sci-fi thriller film “A Dark Matter.”
In between her busy shooting and filming schedule, Westguard still finds the time to return home to Innisfil, where she connects with her family and friends, and takes the necessary pause from the busy industry life she leads in Los Angeles.
Hi Ashiko, thank you for joining us! For those who don't know you, can you tell us a where you are from and a little bit about yourself?
AW: I was born in Ontario, Canada in a small town called Newmarket at the same hospital as Canadian actor Jim Carrey lol. I grew up primarily a few hours north of Toronto in the country. My parents owned a cottage and campground at one point where I have allot of pleasant childhood memories. It would be so much fun in the summer when kids would be camping with the families. I have 3 sisters, 1 older and two younger.
Im very proud of my roots. My mom actually came to Canada as a political refugee in the 70’s when she was 19 years old. Czechoslovakia was invaded one morning and my mom woke up to army tanks rolling in the streets. She then sought refuge alone in Canada. Eventually my mom sponsored her mother to come. My father is Norwegian, born in Canada. My father is a Canadian champion in hydroplane racing. I credit so much of who I am to my parents. Especially my mother who is such a strong and determined women. My wild side from my father and my strength and courage from my mother.
As a child I always dreamed of being an actress. My family had no idea what to do with me but my mother did enroll me into a theatre group. I had such a hard time overcoming being shy yet I wanted to be an actress more than anything. I laugh now at how silly that sounds but somewhere somehow I got over being shy… well it’s still there a little.
What was it like growing up in Innisfil?
AW: Innisfil has my heart. I love it, It’s my home. Growing up there has been the best thing for me. It’s quiet and peaceful, and we have such a great friendship with our neighbours. It’s a small community and you can walk into a store and be greeted by your name. The summers are amazing. That’s where most of my memories come from. There’s a beach 5 minutes away from my house. My mom and I would walk our dogs around the lake, I actually used to go there as a really young child, so going to the beach is special to me. I love the winters there too. Things just really slow down, when I would go for walks and smell the pine trees and smoke from the fireplaces. It’s heaven to me. Innisfil is more than just a home, it’s my happy place. Throughout modelling I would always return to Innisfil and regroup, relax and spend time with my family. Even when I lived in Toronto I would come home every weekend. I’m so proud to be from Innisfil, and I’m overjoyed every time I return and see familiar faces.
What were some of your favorite parts about the town?
AW: The beach, the cottages… nature. Calmness. The small town vibes. Tranquility. The fork and spoon is a little restaurant that’s so cute and quaint. It’s all the simple things I love about Innisfil.
How was your experience growing up in Innisfil different from the upbringing that you may have had in a more metropolitan city like Toronto or Los Angeles?
AW: Innsifil has made me humble. Every time I would come back from Japan, or Paris or London or NYC, Innisfil just made me feel like a normal person. It’s grounded me and gave me my roots. I think if I grew up in the city I would miss the little things. Innisfil taught me to be ok on my own, and to enjoy mother nature and to just breath and enjoy the little things. Be appreciative of travel and culture, but remember where you come from and how lucky all those experiences are.
Can you describe for us what a typical day in your life is like?
AW: Hearing this question I can’t help but to laugh. I love my bed so getting out of it can be a challenge. Once I wake up I normally reach for my phone; and I don’t check my emails first but intsagram lol yes Im very guilty!! I follow up on emails or see what I need to do with work, who I need to touch base with, update agencies with new images. I love breakfast so really before I get to anything I eat my favorite cereal full of protein. I love getting my workouts in early so having a proper healthy meal with protein is important. I do love coffee in the morning but more than that, I need it. I make my coffee while starting to deal with business. I normally have castings. So I have to structure my day to be able to get the most out of it and get everything done. I also study acting a few days during the week so depending on what work I have to do my day can get quite busy.
I love working out, eating healthy and having a balanced lifestyle. But there’s quite a bit of running around and sacrifices to make while pursuing a modelling career in Los Angeles. Depending on the type of client or image the casting is looking for really does change how I will get ready. I love wearing jeans and a t-shirt but sometimes that doesn’t work, so I have to put some thought into wardrobe. I love looking more natural so I can get ready fairly quick. I do have a few tattoos that I actually cover for castings. So that’s one things I need to find time for. I’m so used to going on castings. I really do enjoy meeting new people and having the opportunity to work so I really like castings and I do enjoy the challenge of getting everything done in the day.
I try and find time to see friends, and speak with my family. That can be a challenge with their busy days and the slight time difference. Social media has definitely helped to make it easier to stay in touch.
How old were you when you first got into the industry?
AW: Honestly it was a little later than most models at the time. I waited until I graduated high school. I went into Next, the same agency that scouted me a few years prior and that’s really when it all started so I was 18 years old. I had this undeniable drive and passionate attitude. I stood tall, strong and proud, and the agents thought that was special and very endearing from what they later told me. I also had a younger sister that was already modelling with Next. She was doing so great and everyone loved her. Actually I’m starting to remember how it happened when I was 18. Ironically Next wanted my sister but she was with another major agency, they called my mom to talk her into having my sister join Next, and I was in the background making such a fuss wanting my mom to tell them about me. They did take a meeting with me, which was to honestly get my sister but they loved me too. Both my sister and I signed with next.
Did you always know that you wanted to be a model or was it something that sort of just happened?
AW: My mom was actually a model when she was younger. I had always seens her portfolio and beautiful images. I believe I always knew I wanted to be an actress but perhaps unsure if I had what it took to be a model. I was actually heavier as a child. But once I started to outgrow that I actually knew I wanted to model. I was always so inspired by my mom. When I was 13 years old I was told all the time I should model. So I got my mom to take photos of me where I would pose in nature and do my hair and makeup. This memory makes me laugh. I was so proud of these photos. I actually felt like I was a model. When I was 14 years old my mom brought me to the first round of a model convention, It was called Model Search America. From here they would invite you to come down to the US to attend their convention. The owner liked me so much that he paid for my family and I to attend. Nothing really came out of it but that was my first time really being around the industry and meeting agents and walking on a runway… so nerve racking. Then when I was 16 years old I was in the Eaton Center Mall in downtown Toronto were one of the biggest model scouts form Next approached me. It was from here that things really started rolling and I really started to believe I could model. By 18 years old I knew this was for me and I believed so much in myself, it’s cute. Now I giggle because I’m also only 5’7 ½ which is on the smaller side. But I was so driven and passionate and also had done my research and there were a few smaller models… Kate Moss, Letitia Casta, Josie Maran.
What was the first agency you signed with and what kinds of jobs were you being sent out on?
AW: The first agency I signed with was Next. They were amazing, one of the best if not the best. It was this hot fresh agency that had an amazing list of models. I was always told since I was so short not to expect to travel and do major runway shows or campaigns or even to travel to certain markets. But that did not phase me. I knew I was going to do all those things. I first started off doing some commercials, and some catalog and fashion shoots, and hair campaigns… then I eventually started doing editorials, bigger campaigns and more commercials and honestly working a lot. I worked very hard but I always wanted this more than anything. I was on time for castings, always happy and smiling, trying to win clients over. I was on time for jobs, never had problems making friends on set and things were just easy. My agents loved my attitude and commitment and I believe they knew they could rely on me to be on time and work… So it was just a great start to my career. I travelled to all the places I was told I wouldn’t go, and I worked there doing amazing jobs. I love modelling and I think that shows both in my photos and when clients meet me.
Some of my first jobs were for Buffalo Jeans, Sears, The Bay, Honda, Sony, Nikon, Nike, Coca Cola, Motorola, Marc Anthony Hair Care, and Fashion Magazine (Toronto) and Clin d'oeil magazine in Montreal. The first market I travelled to outside of Canada was Japan.
How old were you and what was the experience like for you travelling to Japan for the first time to work?
AW: When I travelled to japan I was 19 years old. It was one of the first markets I travelled to for modeling. It was such a huge culture shock. It was the first time I went to such an exciting place. The difference was massive, the flight was long and when I got there I knew I was in another world. The people in Japan were very sweet but everything felt so fast paced. There was the language barrier and the way of interacting that separated me from everyone there right away. Modeling in Japan was an experience I will never forget. There were several managers in the agency that made the schedules and all the castings each model had to go to, we would go in a van with several other models and change vans depending on which casting we had to go to. It was very interesting. I liked it though. I became friends with some of the other girls… but then there were times you would start to compare yourself to others and become slightly insecure. You would see some clients take more to other girls and wonder what’s wrong with me.... I was there for 2 months and that was hard. I started to get really homesick, and miss the times that I actually could call home since there is a 14 hour time difference.
The jobs I did were mostly catalog, long days with over 15 different looks. Some jobs were in studios while others were on location. Not everyone spoke english so at times it was difficult to connect and know what the client wanted. While I was in Japan I travelled to Korea for a job that I booked while in Japan and that was another culture shock. I worked extremely long days…
The things I loved most about Japan was my off time, exploring the markets and shops and the fashion and shopping.
Can you tell us about some of your favorite shoots so far and what made them so special?
AW: For Garnier I booked a hair care job, with packaging world wide. It was an achievement for me as lots of models were at the casting. I was so proud of myself when I booked this. I think I called my parents immediately! I shot it at Pier 59 Studios in NYC… Just being in that studio where amazing artists and models have been made me feel special. Beyonce had just been there shooting. There was a bit of pressure knowing all the clients were there, and the makeup and hair team as well as the photographer had already done lots of amazing campaigns. I loved working with a women though. She was so supportive and encouraging. I had all these extensions in my hair, and felt beautiful…. I just knew the image they wanted was a beautiful confident women. So I embraced that and imagined beautiful inspirational images in my head to give life in my eyes.
I booked a world wide commercial for Axe Deodorant that was shot in Vancouver. I ended up shooting out there for a week and it was my first time traveling to Vancouver and also my first time filming a big budget commercial. It was filmed like a mini movie with several locations. It was really fun and exciting and I learned so much about working on set. The commercial aired worldwide and everyone saw it. It was just an exciting project to be part of.
For Dita von Teese Lingerie I shot with such a talented photographer Albert Sanchez. He shoots a lot of big budget cutting edge advertisements and celebrities. Im also a huge fan of Dita Von Teese who is a fashion icon. To actually meet her and shoot with her and her team was amazing. Her lingerie line is gorgeous and so sexy. Dita had the best team from hair and makeup to stylists… Gregory Arlt was the makeup artist who works with Gwen Stefani. We shot in Quixote studio with Dita’s vintage car as the backdrop. The images are gorgeous and this job will forever be one of my favorites.
How long were you with Next for?
AW: I was with Next for about 8 years. I travelled to Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Paris, Spain, Denmark and NYC through Next Models…. After Barcelona I felt like I needed a change. Sometimes the model out grows the agency and you need to step back to reevaluate your life. Personal growth is very important. I then signed with Chantale Nadeau as a manager and she had placed me with Sutherland Models in Toronto and Montage Models in Montreal.
What magazines have you been in?
AW: I shot two covers for Women magazine, and maybe 30 pages of editorials inside several magazines. I shot the cover for Femina magazine as well as had editorials inside. I shot the cover for Women’s Fitness and editorials inside, the cover of Essentials Magazine plus editorials inside, I was on the cover of Sweat Equity plus tear sheets inside; and I was on the cover of Verve Magazine plus editorials inside. I’ve also had campaigns inside Bazaar Magazine, as well as in many other magazines.
What campaigns have you recently shot that are about to come out?
AW: I recently shot for Cafe Royal. I was a bond girl and Robbie Williams is James Bond. I shot it in Slovenia. It was such a great experience and job to be part of. I love travelling so any time I get to travel for work it’s amazing.
I recently shot for Skechers here in California, Sun Dream cruises, and Carnival Cruise. Rolls Royce is another job I shot recently that has yet to come out. I also shot for Honda, which should be out soon.
What was it like for you when you first made the transition into acting after already being well known as a model?
AW: For me the transition wasn’t very easy. I was an actress as a child but the more I modelled I became so aware of the outer appearance and physical state, it was hard to be in character…
Modelling makes you so aware of your body, but as an actor you want to be natural and not pose. I think I had to earn respect from casting directors and really earn my place and show them I was not just a pretty face but a talented one. I grew so much from studying and that really helped me. Studying with renowned Canadian teacher David Rotenberg at pro Actors Lab really gave me a nice footing, along with Andrew McIlroy in Vancouver.
What was your first acting role?
AW: As a child I was in several plays. My first role was a villager in small theatre production in Keswick… It was the Stephen Lee Cock Theatre, and the play was on the tip of my tongue. My sister actually landed the lead, as much as I wanted to be an actress I was so shy.
I have played everything from a congresswomen to a vampire. The lead I had a couple years ago as Eve in the Canadian feature film “A Dark Matter” was definitely a role that pushed me to grow and made me rise up to the challenge. I was coached by David Rotenberg and learned a lot from the other cast members as well. I worked hard on getting to the core of my character. I learned so much from that project and role.
How did it feel playing that character and how did you prepare for the role?
AW: Playing the femme fatale character Eve was very interesting. She was so vulnerable and dark and beautifully complicated. I feel like during the filming I really took on Eve in my life. I was happy to finish filming though. Eve was evil and used people as pawns… It was hard to be her for a few weeks… especially with consecutive night shoots...
Have you experienced any negativity or people questioning your talent as an actress since you became known as a model first?
AW: Yes all the time, I feel like I had to and still have to work harder to show people that I’m talented. I think it’s so silly that others judge… I try not to let that get to me. I work hard and I study so I feel like I have a solid foundation to hold my own, but I do feel there is more pressure.
What are some things that most people don't know about you?
AW: That I’m funny :) and free spirited and love adventure. I love to laugh and just have a great time and live as much as I can in the time I have. I love movies and books, and I love antiques. Im very family oriented. I love my friends. My mother is my everything. She is the one who constantly inspires me to keep going to create new dreams and to believe in myself. I am also a HUGE dog lover!!! I just love dogs so much. I don’t have one in LA yet… but soon :)
Aside from modeling and acting, what would you say your best or most unique personal talent is?
AW: This is hard, I feel like I have a talent for communicating with people, being there for friends and family. Encouraging others and motivating them. I love life and all it has to offer. I love to make people laugh through jokes, or impressions or being silly, I wish I played the guitar or something. I do love making things. I love refurbishing furniture, and designing and sewing bags and garments. When I was younger I thought I might want to be a designer and make handbags.
You can’t escape news reports discussing immigration. It’s a global topic. While many of us think it is unique to our situation and how it affects us directly, many countries are currently experiencing this situation or have experienced it in their past. Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, right after the US. Brazil’s history is intertwined with the idea of immigration. This fact is the focus of XIX Theater Group play Hygiene. This Sao Paulo based theater company presented this production which is a reflection of the history of immigrants in Rio de Janeiro. Set in the early 1900’s, Hygiene presents a time when thousands of immigrants were pouring into the city daily, causing a wide variety of dynamic shifts within the city and the slums. The play is a powerful look into how these cultural and societal changes had an impact on the current status of living in the nation as a whole. Celebrated Brazilian actor Victor Lucena is known for performing dual roles in theater productions with great facility and believability. In Hygiene, Lucena performed the leading roles of two diametrically opposed characters; Giuseppe, an Italian immigrant living in Rio, and also as Hygienizer, a representation of the State. Hygiene won an award for Best Drama Play from the celebrated Quality Brazil Awards, and earned nominations from the Shell Theater Awards, the Bravo! Magazine Awards, and many other accolades. Paulo Celestino (writer and actor of XIX Theater Group) proclaims, “I starred alongside Victor in Hygiene and I can tell you, he is one of the most remarkable talents you’ll ever see. He possesses unparalleled versatility! He is highly recognized for this. As an actor, the highest goal is to be believable and enable the audience and other actors to lose themselves in the story. I am certain that Victor’s incalculable abilities as an actor were an irreplaceable resource for the play, and I cannot imagine another actor fulfilling the role to the same degree. I am positive that Victor’s leading roles were integral to the success of the play, which resulted in night after night of sold out perfromances.”
There is no doubt that the subject of immigration is a divisive topic, regardless of where you live. The two sides of the argument for and against it are both represented in Hygiene. As Giuseppe, Lucena delivered a sympathetic performance of a man striving to belong in his new home of Rio. Giuseppe is a talented and accomplished doctor but he struggles with the acceptance of his new life in the slums and the fact that he cannot save everyone. He often finds himself reminiscing about his home country and the way things used to be for him. This character was easy for Victor to access as he states, “Giuseppe has this nostalgic point of view about the world that I can relate to. He is always remembering his earlier days in Italy, his father’s sayings, his old home. I also used to think about my past years, especially the teenage ones. It was a wonderful time in which everything seemed perfect to me, in the same way that Giuseppe remembers his time in Italy. It can be difficult, knowing that it’s never going to come back.” The antithesis of Giussepe is Hygienizer. Hygienizer is the main antagonist of this production. He is the one who sends people off to live in the slums. For an actor to take on the visage of such an uncompassionate character is challenging but, to perform as both characters in the same play is an immense achievement, vetting Victor’s reputation in Brazil as the actor who can perform such feats. Lucena reveals, “In the beginning of my career, I used to have a hard time understanding how to do this transition. I’ve been into the theatre industry for almost 10 years now and I have performed such a range of roles that I have developed my own process to enable this quick transformation. I usually change clothes and take a look at myself in the mirror to visualize the new character. If I have time, I’ll play a song I chose for this specific character on a playlist that I have created; it’s something that allows me to quickly access their emotional state and essence. I always do breathing exercises in order to create the desired atmosphere.”
Lucena readily admits to being happy about the success of the play with public and critics alike. He feels that telling the story of this facet of Brazil’s history is something that is important to him as a proud Brazilian with roots in other countries. He explains, “In my opinion Rio is a perfect portrait of Brazil. Brazil has a strong identity based on the mix of cultures that arrived here, especially in the 1800’s. The influences of these people made Rio become what it is today, and it’s easy to recognize all the different heritages in Rio’s culture. The particular way-of-life that is Rio has been shown in movies and TV; this serves to inspire Brazil itself as well as the rest of the world. Rio is a result of such a mix of cultures that it is hard to define with one characteristic but an obvious example is Samba. This rhythm was born in the slums and conquered not only the whole city but the whole country. It can have the happiness, the lamentation, the hope, the social critics, the love of our people all at the same time. When I think of it, I am convicted of the idea that this is what I want my career as an actor to achieve; to display all of the human emotions and pitfalls. I think art is capable of entertaining us as well as educating us. It’s our responsibility as artists.”
Throughout Jordan Claire Robbins’s childhood in Bermuda, she wanted to be an actress. So upon finishing high school, she moved to Toronto to make this dream become a reality, and thIs is exactly what she has achieved. Her goal of acting transformed from a far-off idea into something she was actively pursuing and accomplishing.
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