A man reflects as people in his life begin to leave, in one way or another. Not much left to do in his golden years besides think about the past.
Hi Hon, thanks for talking to TNC, what has it meant to you to have released your latest short film Calling?
It means months of hard work, anxiety, hard drive crashes, the list can go on and on, I’m just happy that I can now share it and hopefully it’ll be seen. That it’ll mean something to someone.
The reaction to Calling has been amazing, did you imagine you would get this type of response for your film?
I never know how a release will be. All I know is that if I write and create an honest story, it will hopefully speak to those watching.
I understand that things do not happen in a vacuum and I need to be better about marketing my short films. I’ve always been really bad about promoting my work. This is the 5th short I’ve written and directed, I just wanted to leave it all on the table and get out of my own way. What’s the point of making something that no one sees?
Calling stars the amazing Raymond Ma, how did you go about attaching him to this project?
I made a casting call post on social media. My cousin saw the post and he referred me to a friend, that referred me to Raymond. It was very fortunate, he was perfect for the role and was very gracious with his time.
What has the experience been like for you working with such an established actor and filmmaker?
It was a strange feeling in the sense that I had to do very little directing. It was almost as if I didn’t need to be there. He’s a great actor and slipped into the role so naturally during takes. We provided him the materials and he did a fantastic job with what he was given.
"We only had the location for a short amount of time so everything had to be quick, but we had to get the scenes and singing right. "
Can you tell me a little bit about Calling, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
General concept came from a conversation I had with my Cousin. We were discussing the time that our Grandfather passed away, how my Cousin was at the house when one of my Grandfather’s walking buddies called. He broke the news to the friend. The friend responded simply and then carried on as if it was just part of his life, that it’s something he experiences more often than not.
There were a lot of thoughts that occured throughout the year (2019). I keep a lot of notes throughout the day, always writing bits here and there. Whatever crosses my mind, I ended up making other films in the meantime. The story lingered though, I thought it was time to make sense of all of my notes and thoughts. By using the story as inspiration, I mixed it with my notes and somehow came up with the script for Calling.
When writing a short film like Calling how much do you take from you own experiences?
I often write based on personal experiences and use my imagination for the rest. Being neurotic and overthinking situations tends to help with this process.
The story mentioned above stuck with me and I started thinking about what it was like to be at that age, to see those in your life leaving in one way or another. I used that as the primary inspiration. As time went on I began to observe other things like how people interacted with their parents, what it meant to be Asian and Asian American. How it’s hard for some parents to tell their kids that they loved them simply because their generation isn’t known for expressing emotions. Building ideas off of little observations throughout the days.
"The goal was always to make films, but I knew I needed to build a solid foundation and find my own voice through still images."
Colour, sound and music play a vital role in this film how did you get about creating the unique look for Calling?
I spent a few years obsessively taking photographs before I ever decided to make a short film. From the experience, I learned about color, composition, etc. I wanted to make sure I carried the same stylistic choices I made in photography to the short films.
The psychology of color is another thing I consider heavily when creating a project. From the color of the room to what the actors wear. In this case, I wanted to emphasize the colors of fall for the karaoke bar scenes.
Music had to play an integral role because of what karaoke means to some Asian and Asian Americans. How most males from older generations seem to be stoic, yet capable of expressing themselves when they get behind a microphone.
Does coming from a photography background help you when you're shooting a short film?
I wouldn’t be making these films if it wasn’t for photography. The goal was always to make films, but I knew I needed to build a solid foundation and find my own voice through still images.
It gave me the knowledge and experience I needed to know what I wanted. How a frame should look, how to direct actors/models.
What was the most challenging scene for you to film?
The bar and ending karaoke scene would have to be the most difficult. We only had the location for a short amount of time so everything had to be quick, but we had to get the scenes and singing right.
I was fortunate enough to have a great team of people. They knew what they needed to do and did it well.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
I grew up watching a lot of films and television. I suppose most kids from the 90s can relate to the idea of having the television raise us. Before the internet and social media found its way into our lives, the only thing to distract us was the television. These early experiences of watching whatever I could someone transmuted into wanting to make my own work. It was about putting out more into the world as opposed to merely consuming. To put things simply, I’ve always had a passion for films. I just didn’t know what to do about it until I got a bit older.
Has your style and approach to your short films changed much since your debut short?
In terms of production, things have become smoother with each new short. I often get to work with the same people and things run smoother because we know what is expected. It likely comes from a certain level of comfort as we know what the final product will look like after we put in all of the work.In terms of script writing and pre-production, the process is more or less the same. I get a spark of inspiration, review notes for concepts, swirl about in self-doubt, write a bit, think to myself how dumb this idea is, write some more, and it goes on from there until I have something decent enough to share with others.
Any advice to offer a fellow filmmaker?
Can’t say I’m in any position to give good advice as I’m still trying to figure things out for myself, but I guess I can say that the easiest thing you can do is write. You don’t need a complete script, it can be a sentence, or even a word. Just make sure to write it down. This way, you’ll have the pieces you need to weave something together. It might not all make sense to you at first, but you’ll be surprised by what you can create from a word you wrote down months before or a story you heard one evening.
"...I always try to leave the audience with some hope in the last few frames."
Do you think filmmakers should take more risks with projects that they want to make?
Yes, I think the fear of failure is what holds most people back. Life doesn’t happen if risks are not taken. If something fails, it fails and you would’ve learned something in the process. You can apply knowledge to the future.
If it wasn’t for taking risks, I might not have ever picked up a camera. Saving what money I had to buy a used Nikon. I might not have moved halfway across the globe with the intent of cultivating my photography and street photography skills. I might have cancelled the 1st short I wanted to make because I kept telling myself this was a waste of everyone’s time, that it was pointless.
It’s best to ignore the anxious voice that tells you that you’ll fail before you try. In the end, if you failed, at least you can say that you tried.
What are you currently working on?
I have a script I’ve been writing for a series of animated shorts. I’m just trying to make sense of it all before we move forward with animation.
Besides the script, I’m hoping to get back to my roots for a bit. Focusing on more portraits and street photography. My hope is to travel a bit, this way I can see more of the world. Showcasing different cultures and social groups. Focusing on creating cohesive stories through photo-series.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Calling?
My projects can be melancholy and sad, but I always try to leave the audience with some hope in the last few frames. I hope that when people see my work and see Calling, they realize that things can be difficult. That life is hard, but there will always be small pockets of hope and happiness. That perhaps all it takes is reaching out to those that you care about most in life, no matter how hard that might be.