Q&A with James Chressanthis, the Director of Photography for NBC's 'Gone' | The Urban Twist
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Q&A with James Chressanthis, the Director of Photography for NBC’s ‘Gone’

“A picture is worth a thousand words”, but when you view NBC’s ‘Gone,’ Director of Photography James Chressanthis will leave you speechless.

Christina Jeter

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James Chressanthis is one of the Directors of Photography on The NBC drama Gone currently being produced in Pittsburgh.


Chressanthis began his film career shooting break-through and first music videos for such artists as NWA, Dr. Dre, John Wesley Harding, Hammer, and Bobby McFerrin as well as James Brown and a Grammy nominated clip “Smells Like Nirvana” for “Weird Al” Yankovic.

I wanted to get behind the scenes and understand his style of cinematography when it comes to entertainment film making and see his imagery through the eye of the beholder,  as James makes everything captivating for the audience.

As the DP (Director of Photography) for NBC’s Gone, did you have to interview for the position or did the network just contact you and offer you the job?

It’s a combination of both. Producer Kim Moses who I worked with on Ghost Whisperer and some other projects called me in the Fall of 2016 and said, “Would I be interested in shooting a new project, a new business model with NBC. And I said: Yes, of course.” And so, she put me forward and I had to be approved by the NBC International folks.

How do you become a member of the ASC (American Society of Cinematographers)?  Did you have to go to college for this or can you succeed through experience?

You don’t have to go to college for anything in the movie business, though I recommend it very highly. You need to know aesthetics: fine art, painting, sculpture, photography, literature, music and not only from European culture but you need to know about art from all world cultures.

The ASC is by invitation only. I was asked to join after my first Emmy nomination for the ABC miniseries ‘Life with Judy Garland’.

Regarding your film, No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos, what inspired you to tell the story of these particular cinematographers from Hungary and not your own struggle of what you face working behind the camera?

Well, they had a very unique journey. Here is the story of that movie: two film students record the 1956 Hungarian revolution, Hungarian freedom fighters against Soviet tanks. The revolution is lost, and remember they are doing this at the risk of their own lives. They would have been shot on sight, had they been caught with a camera filming. When the revolution was lost they smuggled the film out of the country and once they were out in Austria, they were without friends, family, or country and had to decide what they would do with their lives. Laszlo and Vilmos said “Well we are cinematographers so we should go to Hollywood.” So, these young guys who had a lot of talent, but not a lot of experience journeyed to Hollywood, then changed world cinema, and remained loyal friends for over fifty years.

Their credits include: Easy Rider, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Paper Moon, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Deer Hunter, Ghostbusters and over one hundred feature films between them.

My film is a double biography and not just a Hollywood movie story, but an amazing journey. In 1985 I was a student of Laszlo Kovacs at the AFI and a year later I was an AFI Cinematography intern to Vilmos Zsigmond on ‘The Witches of Eastwick‘. Laszlo visited one day and I saw them together and I realized they had a great story. It took twenty years to finally film it. I was just a kid at the time, I had my own career to start and a family to raise.  I have had a very successful career so finally at an event in December 2006 I saw that Laszlo was ill. A journalist who knew I was thinking about this project turned to me and said you’re going to make that movie, aren’t you?

So we starting filming in February 2007 for nearly a year off and on and in May 2008 the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, appeared in over thirty film festivals around the world and earned my third Emmy nomination for the PBS version. These are two remarkable human beings, so it is a human story, it’s a Cold War story, it’s an immigrant story, it’s a story of brotherhood and love. It’s a story of cinema and changing cinema. And also standing up for your own beliefs and going after your own dreams.

On the set of Gone, you invited students from the AI (Art Institute of Pittsburgh) to visit the set and experience what it’s like to produce a TV show, what motivated your act of kindness?

Well, first off, back to ‘Laszlo & Vilmos’ when I was an intern with Vilmos Zsigmond on ‘The Witches of Eastwick‘. I didn’t have any money, I was an unpaid intern and learning so much, of course, then later they hired me and I shot little pieces of that movie, inserts minor things but big things to me being a kid at the time. And Vilmos told me, “Don’t worry I know you are having trouble with money, you’re at the beginning of things, and it seems difficult, but just remember you are going to be successful. And when you do I want you to promise me something: Help the next person.”

So that is what we should all do: pass it forward, it’s how we should live, it’s not all about a crawl through the mud & grasping for monetary reward. The biggest reward is doing well and helping others. The reason I came into contact with the students is that Darren Miller, my 1st assistant on B Camera was at Kennywood amusement park and bumped into them and they all started talking, and he came back and told me he met these very interesting film students that are about to graduate. Can they come and visit us on set? I said sure of course!

And they spent a full day on set while we filmed an episode of Gone.

My cinematography and photography have been a significant part of my life and have followed both similar and divergent paths. I always look where the ancient and traditional intersect with the archetypal and modern.

For more about James Chressanthis, make sure you connect with him on his blog and website.

 

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Entertainment

Q&A: Natasha Wanigatunga is a Fashion Model Whose Runway is Living Positively

Winner of Miss Sri Lanka USA 2015, Natasha Wanigatunga is a fashion model that has done campaigns for brands such as Pop Sugar, Nº21, Nordstrom, and Aeropostale. On the acting side, Natasha is best known for her starring role in the indie film ‘Act Drunk’.

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Born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, Natasha’s parents moved from Sri Lanka to Alaska to raise Natasha and her brother. Growing up in Alaska, made Natasha love and appreciate the beauty of nature and frequently hikes, walks, or watches the sunset during her free time. Her dream is to send a message to the world about how faith, positivity, and inner beauty are important characteristics to have and not lose.


What was your first gig as a model and as an actress?

When I was 12 years old I modeled ‘sarees’ with my mother in Sri Lanka, a dream come true.

What is the story behind you competing in the Sri Lanka USA 2015?

I’ve always wanted to compete in a pageant since my mom was Miss Sri Lanka 1981. When I saw the opportunity, I decided to make the most of the moment. I couldn’t have the full advantage as I was still in college, but it was a great learning experience overall.


How did you land the role in the film ‘Act Drunk’?

My brother, Stefan Wanigatunga, directed the film. He reached out to me and said I would fit the character best for his vision. We read over the script with the cast and it went great; this was my first lead in a short film.

Tell us about your nationality. What is your cultural background?

I am 100% Sri Lankan and born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. Two totally different climates with extraordinary beauty.

What was it like living in Alaska?

I wouldn’t change it for the world. I haven’t seen a sunset as spectacular as the ones during the winters in Alaska. Growing up around so much nature and care for the local community, is something I’ll always carry with me.

What is your favorite thing about nature and why?

It keeps me in the present moment. I take each morning of prayer and I spend time outside to embrace the nature around me. Nature is a teacher, it speaks to those who listen.


Since you live a healthy organic lifestyle, do you ever eat at fast food chains, drink sodas and/or alcoholic beverages?

Life is all about balance. To me, being healthy is to not deprive yourself. Everyone has different ways to indulge and it’s important to embrace that. I personally do not like supporting fast food restaurants that mistreat animals, so I tend to avoid them. I avoid drinking soda or alcohol because I don’t like the way it feels in my body. I do have a sweet tooth for chocolate and will always enjoy new foods from different cultures.

What is one recipe you would recommend to someone trying to eat healthier? 

Smoothies! It is my favorite way to consume the vitamins and minerals from Whole Foods. It’s a great opportunity to be creative as well. My favorite smoothie is half a banana, 1/2 cup frozen blueberries, 3 handfuls of kale, half an avocado, 1/2 cup almond milk, 1 heaping tablespoon of mesquite powder, a few drops of stevia, and ice. All organic and blended smooth, you can’t taste the kale and it’s loaded with nutrients.

How do you encourage others to stay positive? What is a motto and self-help approach routine they can or you do daily?

I live each day with prayer, gratitude, and grace. Depending on my schedule, I take 30 minutes to pray and meditate for all I’m grateful for each morning. Every day I thank Christ for this day, my family, and my health. Life is all about an attitude of gratitude. Having grace begins with forgiveness; I forgive myself and others daily. This keeps me centered and grounded to be the best version of myself.

Follow Natasha Wanigatunga on her IG as she shares her happiness with everyone while pursuing her career in acting and modeling.

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Interviews

Q&A with ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ Director Simon Curtis

Here is why Winnie the Pooh’s favorite friend was Christopher Robin instead of Honey. Find out how their friendship came to be in this Q&A with ‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ film director Simon Curtis.

Christina Jeter

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Winnie the Pooh
Images Provided By Fox SearchLight Pictures

Goodbye Christopher Robin gives a rare glimpse into the relationship between beloved children’s author A. A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) and his son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), whose toys inspired the magical world of Winnie the Pooh.


Along with his mother Daphne (Margot Robbie), and his nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald), Christopher Robin and his family are swept up in the international success of the books; the enchanting tales bringing hope and comfort to England after the First World War.

But with the eyes of the world on Christopher Robin, what will the cost be to the family?

What is the story behind you landing the job as director of Goodbye Christopher Robin?

I was sent the script and I loved it immediately as it took us inside the story of the writing of ‘Winnie the Pooh’ and introduced us to the remarkable family that created it.

Were you a fan of the ‘Winnie the Pooh’ series as a child?

I cherish memories of my parents reading the stories to me and loved Tigger the best!

Why is this film a must see for everyone, not just children and parents?

It’s a timely reminder to spend time with your family when you have the chance.

Do you have a memorable scene of directing actress Margot Robbie, that she just sparkled in?

I adored working with Margot and particularly like the scene where she first gives the famous toys to Christopher Robin the joy on her face when she hands him Tigger is one of my favorite shots in the film.

What was your method of making the audience see the script as you envision it?

As a director you try to do every scene as well as possible and look forward to shaping it in the editing room.
Which scene was your favorite to direct?

I loved filming the idyllic sequence when father and son play together in the woods. It is the heart of the film and both Domnhall and Will perform it brilliantly.

Make sure you go see Goodbye Christopher Robin October 13, 2017.

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Entertainment

Come See Why Creator Jessica Caesar is the Ruler of all ‘Meme Queens’

What happens when ‘Mean Girls’ meet ‘MEME Queens’? You’re just going to have to watch for yourself as actress/writer Jessica A. Caesar showcases her new show on Elizabeth Banks’s digital platform WhoHaha.

Christina Jeter

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Jessica A. Caesar created and self-funded the comedy web-series ‘MEME QUEENS‘ presented on actress Elizabeth Banks’s co-founded digital platform ‘WhoHaha’, which provides a shining spotlight on funny women.


‘Meme Queens’ is a scripted comedy that follows two former beauty queens, who are now in their late 20s, broke and willing to do anything to become rich and internet famous. They participate in a low-budget internet reality show that captures their most UN-glamorous and meme-worthy antics which are made into the funniest internet memes.

How did you raise income for your self-funded a comedy web-series ‘MEME QUEENS’?

I took my earnings from my last few acting jobs and put it all into MEME QUEENS.  I knew that I didn’t want to do a Kickstarter and trying to find investors to fund your first project can be a big obstacle.  I’ve been wanting to create my own web series for years and I didn’t want anything else to hold me back.  However, I didn’t have a big budget to work with. I was fortunate enough to have friends who were willing to work for me for less pay and some who were willing to work just for food lol.

What is the story behind you submitting your show on Elizabeth Banks’s digital platform WhoHaha?

I wanted my show to reach a wide audience. Elizabeth Banks co-founded WhoHaha almost a year and a half ago as a platform for female creators to distribute their content. I pitched MEME QUEENS to several different outlets and got turned down repeatedly. In a way, I’m kind of glad that happened because I then reached out to WhoHaha and THEY LOVED IT!  Another reason why I’m happy that it’s on WhoHaha is that Elizabeth Banks said in an interview that “She was told growing up, ‘The world is your oyster and you can be whatever you want.’ The fact of the matter is, that is empirically untrue for most women.” I agree with her. One of the main reasons why I started developing my own content was to showcase myself as a comedic actress. A lot of times I am not given the opportunity to do comedy because people look at me and assume that pretty girls can’t be funny.

Who inspired the title and theme for your show ‘MEME QUEENS’? 

You ever watch the Miss USA Pageant just for the cringe worthy moments during the question and answer portion? I do lol. There are a bunch of videos up on Youtube if you haven’t. It’s just pure comedy. The girls are beautiful and they are trying their hardest and they think they are answering the questions intellectually, but they’re not lol.  I also wanted to do some kind of spoof of reality TV. I thought it was clever for the characters to do an internet reality show and be willing to do whatever it took to become rich and internet famous. I couldn’t come up with the perfect title for the longest time. I wanted to incorporate “beauty queens” “fame” and the “internet” in some way. Gilli suggested MEME QUEENS and it stuck. Then I came up with the idea to include one meme into each episode and that would also serve as the title for that episode.

Do you know Elizabeth Banks personally?

No, I wish lol. She is one of my inspirations though. She is an amazing actress, she is stunning, and also produces and directs. She does it all and I see myself doing the same in the future.

What roles did you play on the shows Atlanta, Vice Principals, Grey’s Anatomy and Grimm?

In Atlanta, I played one of the 3 girls Earn encounters in the club episode.  I ended up dissing Donald Glover’s character which is pretty funny.  I played a reporter on Grey’s Anatomy and a female lieutenant on Grimm. I can’t talk about my character in Vice Principals since Season 2 hasn’t premiered yet.

Why should the audience tune in to watch your webseries ‘MEME QUEENS’?

I promise you this web series will make your stomach hurt from laughing so much. The leads are female and it is also written by females and it shows that we can be funny just as much as males can.  The entire cast is ethnically diverse as well. So was the crew.

Are you the only script writer for ‘MEME QUEENS’?

No. I wrote it alongside my dear friend Gilli Messer.

How did you come to partner with fellow actress/writer Gilli Messer?

Gilli and I met in an acting class years ago.  We both didn’t have a scene partner one week, so we decided to work together.  We did a comedy scene from this MTV pilot and had great chemistry.  Shortly after that I asked her to be a part of a Funny or Die sketch I was doing. Then we started doing more sketches together and the rest is history.

How did you go about finding location and crew to shoot all 7 episodes of ‘MEME QUEENS’ in 3 days?

We actually shot everything pretty quickly. I ‘ve worked with the Director / DP Marco Infante numerous times and he moves very quickly, which I love.  The apartment scenes were shot at Marco’s condo.  I had worked with Ken Mader (location manager) on previous projects so all the office scenes were shot at a location he uses frequently for filming. Erik Griggs, who plays Jay Fizzy, is also a Grammy nominated and award winning songwriter and music producer.  We’ve been friends for almost a decade and he let me use his recording studio.  Gilli’s Mom in real life also plays her mom in the show and we were able to film at her parent’s house.

Now that you have your own show, have you given up on being a part of other networks projects and will continue to produce and star in your own series?

I was never the type to wait for the phone to ring lol.  It has always been my dream to star in a sitcom or single camera comedy. As an actor there can be periods of unemployment.  That’s why I am always doing both – trying to land my next network project and continuing to produce and create my own content.

You can watch the remaining 6 full episodes of ‘MEME QUEENS’ here.

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