Saturday, February 18, 2017

Full Sail University: Hall of Fame 8

This past week I had the immense pleasure of participating as a panelist at Full Sail University's eighth Hall of Fame. This annual, week-long event consists of industry panels, job fairs, screenings, and an induction ceremony where six graduates who are doing tremendous work in their respective fields get inducted.

Picture by International Student Eduardo Notcull

I participated in five panels, three of which were recorded and you can watch below. It was so humbling to share the table with greats such as Sound Designer David Farmer (The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogy) or Co-Executive Producer Troy DeVolld (Hollywood Game Night, Dancing With the Stars). I'm thankful to the students who showed up to the panels I was a part of and asked great questions, which taught me new perspectives and reinforced my knowledge in what I do.

Documentary & Activist Filmmaking panel

For me, this event was a retreat. Despite the lack of sleep and my lost voice, it has recharged my batteries and inspired me to go back to Los Angeles and work even harder and more passionately.

With HOF inductees Ashish Manshada, Jack Geckler, and David Farmer

I want to thank every "Hall of Famer," fellow graduate, student, and the faculty & staff for making me feel at home and motivating me so much. Listening to your stories and experiences, and spending time with you have affected my personal and professional life significantly. From DJ Swivel's Grammy for Closer to Steven C. Miller's new movie deal to direct Escape Plan 2 with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. I am so grateful for this new group of people I now get to call family. I'm looking forward to seeing you succeed this year and I can't wait for Hall of Fame 9.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Top 10 Motion Pictures of 2016: The Perseverance of the Human Spirit

2016 was an excellent year for motion pictures. I had the fortune of watching 57 movies on the big screen and one on the small screen (Comment below if you’re curious which one it was). From those 58, the following are my top ten of the year. As I’ve written in past “Top Ten” blogposts, these are the ten that in my humble opinion are the best due to production value, technical elements, story, acting, and the impact they left on me after experiencing them; they were topic of non-stop discussion and they made me contemplate. I also want to note that I found the diversity behind the camera (in these movies) quite fascinating; three were directed by women, two by African Americans, and one by a Chilean. Also, a shout out to A24 for distributing four of my favorite ten.

Honorable Mention: The Neon Demon, Hacksaw Ridge, Hidden Figures, and Sully

10. 13th (Dir. Ava DuVernay)

I’m usually picky about including documentaries on this list, but it was so impactful, chilling, and eye-opening that I had to include it. This is an important piece that should be shown in schools all over the country. It shows a sad but true reality in an engaging way. Hopefully Ava finally gets the Oscar she so rightfully deserves.

9. Hell or High Water (Dir. David Mackenize)

Thrilling and fun, yet an accurate portrayal of the racial and economic tensions that face the country. This was a sort of modern western that is scarce on the big screen.

8. 20th Century Women (Dir. Mike Mills)

An homage to mothers and women, this is probably the most human movie I saw this year. The use of pictures is something that stood out to me. Brought to us by one of my favorite producers, Megan Ellison.

7. Moonlight (Dir. Barry Jenkins)

A movie that breaks rules and exposes you to a rarely shown world in a raw way; growing up as a black, gay man in underprivileged America. A shoutout to my friend and casting director Yesi Ramirez, CSA for casting the best ensemble of the year.

6. Lion (Dir. Garth Davis)

Similar to last year’s Room, this two act film is a magnet and a reminder that things aren’t that bad here in the United States. It's about family and finding one's roots and purpose.

5. Nocturnal Animals (Dir. Tom Ford)

This is probably the most suspenseful movie of the year (It’s up there with Don’t Breathe). I almost wanted to walk out of the movie theatre at one point, but that’s a great thing. It’s a story within a story, which makes it interesting and engaging.

4. Into the Forest (Dir. Patricia Rozema)

Directed by a woman, Into the Forest is a pro-women, pro-life movie that is underrated and should have been more widely released. Evan Rachel Wood delivered one of my favorite female performances of the year.

3. American Honey (Dir. Andrea Arnold)

My favorite release from A24, this is another movie that exquisitely portrays the disparity among social classes in the country. Intersting use of music, credits, and aspect ratio too! A must-see.

2. Jackie (Dir. Pablo Larraín)

Where do I begin with this one. Every decision on this film was on point. The score (which is my favorite of the year), that super 16 mm, the minimal use of stock footage, the production design. Along with my favorite movie of the year, I watched this twice and enjoyed it even more the second time.

1. Silence (Dir. Martin Scorsese)

The film that finally got made! After almost 30 years, Scorsese finally brings this dream project to the big screen. This was the most thought-provoking and impactful film of the year. Garfield, Rodrigo Prieto, and Scorsese deserve accolades for their work. There’s still hope for the Academy Awards.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Why Isn't Caitlyn Jenner Tweeting About It?

Hello! I hope you’re as excited as I am for Sunday’s telecast of the 88th Academy Awards. I’ve already filled out my ballot at the production company I work at. While filling it out, I stopped for a minute when I landed on the “Best Original Song” category. It brought a smile to my face to see that two of my favorite songs from last year’s movies happened to be nominated. They are Manta Ray from the thought-provoking documentary Racing Extinction, and Simple Song #3 from my third favorite movie of the year, Youth. I would have selected one of those two, but I reminded myself that I need to win this ballot and filled out the most obvious choice. (Wonder which one it is?)

However, I was deeply saddened earlier during the week one morning on my way to work. I was listening to a segment on KPCC about ways in which producers will shorten the awards show. It was heartbreaking to hear that I won’t get to hear my two favorite songs performed live simply because they are not “commercial” enough. As opposed to having all five nominated artists perform their songs like they normally do, this Sunday you’ll only be seeing The Weeknd (Earned It from Fifty Shades of Grey), Lady Gaga (Till It Happens to You from The Hunting Ground), and Sam Smith (Writing’s on the Wall from Spectre).

I haven’t really jumped on the #OscarsSoWhite bandwagon or been vocal about the lack of diversity (I mean, it’s a good year for Mexicans. Viva México!) at this year’s awards, but I wonder if I now have observations in regards to this because these are my favorite songs, or because it is now beyond the lack of diversity in the acting category. Anohni, who would have performed Manta Ray, is the first transgendered performer to ever be nominated in the category. Why is this not making headlines? Why isn’t Caitlyn Jenner tweeting about it? Sumi Jo, who would have performed Simple Song #3 is a South Korean soprano.

            I can only imagine how these two phenomenal singers felt when the weeks passed by after they learned they were nominated and not hearing back from anyone working on the show. Anohni wrote an open essay voicing her thoughts and concerns, and explains why she decided not to attend the ceremony on Sunday.

“…Now the papers were naming me as one of two artists to have been ‘cut’ by the Academy due to ‘time constraints.’ In the next sentence it was announced that Dave Grohl, not nominated in any category, had been added to the list of performers,” Anohni wrote.  “…The deeper truth of it is impossible to ignore. Like global warming, it is not one isolated event, but a series of events that occur over years to create a system that has sought to undermine me, at first as a feminine child, and later as an androgynous transwoman. It is a system of social oppression and diminished opportunities for transpeople that has been employed by capitalism in the U.S. to crush our dreams and our collective spirit.”

             This blogpost is not a rant but an observation. I wrote this because I’m a fan of both songs (and movies) and wanted to bring it to your attention since no one really is. If you have not listened to these fantastic songs, you can listen to them below.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Producers Guild Awards: A Night for the Books

            This past Saturday I had the opportunity to be a part of one the most exciting industry events for the second time. As a Producers Guild member, I attended a nominees breakfast and discussion presented by The Hollywood Reporter. The event, which took place at the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre on Vine, featured a producer from each PGA nominated picture. The discussion included topics such as the hardships of production, the casting process, and the controversial lack of diversity on and off screen. Dede Gardner (who went on to win the award later that night for The Big Short) suggested that change starts with us as Producers when it comes to the representation of minorities. Gardner is responsible for the PGA and Academy Award winning 12 Years a Slave, as well as last year’s Selma.

            The day continued later that evening at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza where nominees and guests kicked off the night with drinks, dinner, and the awards ceremony. It was really nice catching up with colleagues and friends, as well as meeting with a bunch of inspiring producers and directors. One of the highlights was an appearance by Lady Gaga, who performed her Oscar nominated song, Till It Happens To You. The song is nominated for the documentary The Hunting Ground, which was honored with the Stanley Kramer Award for the positive impact it has caused in the nation.

            January 23rd is definitely one for the books. Besides the fun (and drinks), the night served as a reminder of why I’m here and the goals I set for myself. Congratulations to all the nominees and winners.

PGA nominees discussion panel at the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre

Good times with my friends Julie Park and Sue Zen Chew

Good times with my friend Sue Zen Chew

Posing with friend Daniel Dreifuss (No), dinning with former colleague Omar Linares (Los Golden Boys, Tiny & Shekinah's Weave Trip), and sharing a moment with Mary Parent (The Revenant)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Top 10 Motion Pictures of 2015: Survival

After a lengthy hiatus from contributing to this blog, I am back for good! My goal is to write three or four posts a month as part of a new year’s resolution. To kick off that resolution, I found it fitting that my first post of 2016 is a flashback to last year (Notice it’s Friday? #FlashbackFriday) and since we’re currently in awards season.

From forty seven movies I watched (released in 2015), these are the ten that in my humble opinion are the best due to production value, technical elements, story, acting, and the impact they left on me; you know, there are movies you simply can’t stop thinking about or they lead to thought-provoking dialogue, and these were it. And don’t worry, my thoughts on each movie are very brief and don’t contain spoilers. If you’re interested in the post of my top ten from last year, click here; no, here!

10. Ex Machina (Dir. Alex Garland)

Chilling, fascinating, and scary at the same time. Ex Machina makes you question the direction in which we’re going as humans when it comes to technology and artificial intelligence. I found the use of arechetypes and foreshadowing exquisite and not over the top.

9. Macbeth (Dir. Justin Kurzel)

I wish this movie had been on the radar during the awards circuit. It’s such a piece of art with phenomenal production design, breathtaking shots, and an interesting use of red and yellow colors that aid the story visually. It requires full attention and commitment, due to the nature of the dialogue and language, but it’s a feast to the ears and eyes.

8. Beasts of No Nation (Dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga)

My biggest complaint is that I wish it had been released in more movie theaters! A Netflix representative agreed with me. I had the fortune of watching this on the big screen, absorbing all the sounds and visuals the way they were meant to be experienced. Abraham Attah, is a first time actor from Africa who plays our protagonist and he’s a gem.

7. Mad Max: Fury Road (Dir. George Miller)

Talk about the definition of an action movie. This was probably the most fun I’ve had at the movies in a while.

6. Steve Jobs (Dir. Danny Boyle)

This movie is a roller coaster of high energy that’s divided into three phases that take place in different years. The way it’s structured is what I enjoyed the most, and the tempo of the storytelling. If music was visual, this is what watching good music would be like.

5. Room (Dir. Lenny Abrahamson)

Dark, haunting, and hopeful. Room is another movie where the edit and structure worked really well. Two acts, very different from each other, that deal with human issues that anyone can relate to in one way or another. Along with Abraham Attah, Jacob Tremblay is not only a breakthrough child actor this year, but a breakthrough actor, period.

4. The Hateful Eight (Dir. Quentin Tarantino)

This movie is a treat to any cinephile. I had the fortune of watching it in 70mm with the 12 minute intermission. Another fun and challenging movie to watch from Tarantino.

3. Youth (Dir. Paolo Sorrentino)

An incredible artistic accomplishment that is classy, funny, and interesting. If you’re into music, I doubt you won’t enjoy this. It’s different from many things that are out there at the moment.

2. The Big Short (Dir. Adam McKay)

Probably the most important movie in terms of the story and theme. What a great way to compile a heavy load of critical information into a two hour movie. The dark humor fits with the unforgivable damage and tragedy that was caused during the 2008 housing crisis.

1. The Revenant (Dir. Alejandro G. Iñárritu)

I watched this three times; I think there’s no need for me to write much to describe my admiration for this ambitious and elegant movie. As many of you know, Iñárritu is my favorite filmmaker and a huge inspiration in my life, but that’s besides the point. The Reventant is a game changer that will move your senses in various ways.