Builders of the Magic

Article by Amy M. Frateo

Actors, directors, and a handful of producers attain a level of prestige and fame that elevates them to the status of luminary or for mainly actors … stars. But it takes a village to create a brilliant film or stage work. We praise Orson Welles for “Citizen Kane” but how many know the name Gregg Toland – the cinematographer who helped revolutionize the film industry and propel that movie to become AFI’s #1 film of all time. How many know that it was Herman Mankewitz who wrote Citizen Kane with Welles, and how many know the name of John Houseman, the man Welles turned to most of all in so many capacities.

This is not Welles bashing. Praise to the brilliant Welles is more than valid but what about the other builders of his magic?

Today, we see that in many forms. Producers, production designers, and show-runners are given the task of taking the magic of the main artist in their hands and making it happen. Not an easy feat. A Production manager plans, coordinates and controls manufacturing processes so that products are delivered on time and within budget.

As a production manager, you’ll make sure goods and services are produced safely, cost-effectively and on time and that they meet the required quality standards.

Roy Shellef is praised for writing and directing “Thank You.” A modern noir film about an ill-fated date. Chantal Casutt and Thato Mothobi have been praised for their acting and great presence. All rightfully so, but but who do we site for the stunning locales and smoothness of the film. Rinati Rokach as producer and Albina Kim as production designer.

This article explores a group of women tasked with serving as producer/production designers and managers of works spanning in scope from intimate to expansive.

Rinati Rokach is not unfamiliar to creating magic. Rokach expressed her own cinematic mission: 

“Im drawn to projects that are not easy to handle – society-wise, I challenge myself by taking challenging issues to talk about and bring them to life.”

Under the title(s) of producer and production manager, Rokach can name-drop Martha Stewart, Kelly Osbourne, Nickelodeon, Live Nation, Coca Cola, Procter & Gamble, Nike, MasterCard, Intel, Elbit, and many more, as people and productions that have enlisted her keen eye and artistic acumen.

Rinati’s credentials as a production manager of live events in the realm of concerts is astronomical. Enrique Iglesias in 2018 who played to over 40,000 people; 2017: Guns N’ Roses, 62,000 people; Britney Spears, 52,000 people; Aerosmith,  50,000 people; 2015: Bon Jovi, 53,000 people; and One Republic 25000 people.

Albina Kim has been a right hand to Roy Shellef on many films. She recently sat with him and other filmmakers at Phoenix FearCon as she created the claustrophobic atmosphere of a multi-set film shot in pandemic – which meant she had to basically create from a remote location. Alone, along with Thank You are enjoying success in festivals across the country. Albina’s own film, which she directed and produced, Urdimbre, ironically is an ode to the production designer as the film shows love and care from the point of view of the lens of a camera.

Albina worked with another film producer, Ekatherina Behor, “Kat” is a prosperous and busy producer and casting director for films that explore the human condition through its dangerous frailties.

Invincible and Way-Up both deal with the workings of the mind as seen through interpretative dance while Volatility was another form of physical work. It’s the story of a failed boxer who needed an outlet for his aggression. He took it out on his girlfriend.

This was an unapologetic view of abuse. Albina Kim created the dark mood of the piece while Kat served as director/producer/and casting director. Undoubtedly – while unaccredited – as writer as well.

Talking of dance, Haley Ostir, overcome by the lose of her teacher, Roy Smith, decided to create and produce a video of an original dance piece with original music and dedicate it to him. This heartfelt cinematic tribute garnered great reviews and is available on many platforms.

Finally, and the most current is Yiqing Zhao and Gilda Mercado. Ms. Zhao, an acclaimed artist and life-coach, explored her own psyche in You & I. This clever work features a solo tour de force by Ms. Zhao (who is at the foundation of the script, direction, and production) and she gets to the deep-seated roots of writer’s block forcing her to confront her best friend and worst enemy – herself. Taking home numerous awards, one can find You & I on many platforms and festivals.

Ms. Mercado, an accomplished actress, wrote, directed, produced, edited, and starred in a bi-lingual solo work called Ella y yo.

This visually striking film is now part of United Solo Screen. The United Solo Festival, normally in Manhattan every year on Theatre Row, moved to the virtual arena in response to the national lock-down. Likening herself to Frida Kahlo, Ms. Mercado forced herself to look at herself from dark and deep angles and then through the lens of the camera. In doing so, she provided a powerful road-map for the audience to explore themselves the same way.

Both Zhao and Mercado created these pieces and even named them similarly (just in different languages) and created naturally-occuring parables of the power of women juxatoped with the obstacles womne still face. This article-exploration started out by praising Gregg Toland, Herman Mankewitz, and John Houseman but delved into the cinematic contributions of some very courageous and ambitious women.

Female artists have always been praised/critizied/and satirized as being the power behind the throne.

As producers, production managers, and production designers, its thrilling to see them ascend the throne they former and stereotypically stood-behind.

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