BFI Future Film Festival 2023
Catastrophe is about a cat grabbed by a group of scientists for an experiment. Being unaware of its own interdimensional travel due to the experiment, it explored the surroundings out of its curious feline nature. It is Schrödinger’s Cat reinterpreted and a satire in response to animal cruelty.
Hi Mo, it’s great to talk with you, how has everything been going?
Thank you so much for having me! I’ve been busy making my graduation film at the moment so everything is a little bit on the messier side, but all’s been great.
Congratulations on having Catastrophe part of the Future Film Festival 2023, how does it feel to be part of such an incredible line-up of short films?
Thank you! I cannot describe how honoured and grateful I am to be given the chance and have my film showcased among the mind-blowing works by all these crazily talented young filmmakers at the festival.
You are currently on the Master of Arts degree in Experimental Animation at the Royal College of Art, how much is this experience helping to shape the type of work you want to create going forward in your career?
I am very lucky to be around so many amazing artists in my cohort. My classmates, my tutors, everyone has such unique approaches and fresh ideas towards animation and moving images in general. It helps me think outside the box that I had trapped myself into and provides me with different viewpoints in terms of critical thinking and methodologies regarding my own filmmaking process. I definitely would say that I now have a clearer understanding of what I want and don’t want moving forward in my career as a filmmaker.
How important are festivals like Future Film Festival in creating a platform for short films?
Festivals like BFI Future Film Festival are such great opportunities for young filmmakers to put their works out there and showcase their talent to the world. Things can be rather intimidating for new talents fresh out of school so it’s truly wonderful that we’re given a platform where we can network and get support from peers and professionals who have already broken into the industry.
Can you tell me how Catastrophe, came about, what was the inspiration your latest animation?
I initially wanted to make a silly cat cartoon and the reason behind was quite simple: I had been missing my family cat for a while. But then when I had a conversation with my tutor she asked me if I was interested in Schrödinger’s Cat and that she was reading books about quantum mechanics. I said yes, absolutely yes. Astronomy is one of my obsessions and we clicked in an instant. People use Schrödinger’s Cat as an analogy in many fields of work and even daily conversation, but what did the cat experience inside the box? Did it wander off to another dimension when people were not looking? Although it was only a thought experiment, why kill a hypothetical animal in the first place? With these questions in mind, Catastrophe was born. I like tackling issues in a subtle and contextual way with humour instead of too much of an in-your-face, thus the satire and that pun in the title I had been desperately meaning to use.
The latest animation as of what I’m making at the moment is inspired by the medical condition in my own vision. It has a completely different visual style compared to Catastrophe but the notion doesn’t depart from my methodology of humorous and contextual storytelling.
Because of the painstaking nature of making an animated short using 2D digital and hand-drawn techniques how much flexibility do you allow yourself once you start going into production?
I usually spend much more time in pre-production before going into production to avoid redos or massive changes once the timing is locked into position. Still, tweaks and fixes occur sporadically during production, for there will always be small details overlooked before the film starts to take shape. Being moderately flexible and keeping an open mind can benefit the final film economically and artistically, but for me it is equally important to stay stubborn and stick to the idea once it’s past a certain time in production.
"I think these two concepts don’t contradict each other; on the contrary, they make a well-balanced healthy couple in the process of filmmaking, at least for me."
What where the challenges you faced making Catastrophe?
The time span was definitely one of the top challenges as I only had roughly a month to create Catastrophe from beginning to end. Otherwise I think at the time I was in extreme denial in terms of life in general for having only freshly arrived in London not too long before the film project brief. In light of the pandemic I had to take a leave from the college, so by the time I resumed my studies in person it felt like I was practically parachuted into this messy puddle, starting over in a new city alone from scratch, knowing absolutely nobody in the cohort, sorting out the housing and living expenses such and such, at the same time keeping up with school. That kind of contributed to the multiple breakdowns I experienced during the production. It’s rather difficult to put the feeling into words but I’m so glad I was able to pull through.
Looking back, what would you say have been the most valuable lessons you’ve taken from making this short?
Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, but it’s also okay to stay in your comfort zone. I think these two concepts don’t contradict each other; on the contrary, they make a well-balanced healthy couple in the process of filmmaking, at least for me. Utilize what you’re already good at with full strength while discovering the unknown. It’s not the end of the world if some don’t work out as you have planned.
Breathe. Talk to people, and don’t shy away from asking for support.
Where did this passion for Animation come from?
I grew up watching tons of cartoons and animated films as many people did. Doodling magical girls on my bedroom walls and practically every flat surface I could find definitely contribute but storytelling has its special place when it comes to my passion for animation. Now I think about it I have always been a storyteller since the very beginning. When I was just a toddler I started to draw my own comics, and believe it or not, with extremely detailed world-building! They look absolutely ludicrous to me now but in the meantime, so adorable.
How much has your background as a sound design teaching assistant help inform your approach to filmmaking and would this type of experience be something you would recommend other filmmakers?
I imagine what the sound would be like in my head as I create my storyboards and have designed the sound myself in most of my works. It’s something I find tremendously enjoyable. Although I’m fully aware that my knowledge in sound design only scratches the very surface, having the valuable experience of demonstrating to students the recording setups, software, hardware and the theory behind carved and solidified my approach to joining sound in preproduction. It really helps to shape my work and get a bigger picture of where the production is heading.
Not that everyone needs to be a teaching assistant for this but I would definitely recommend delving into the sound design field if it interests them. Talk to sound designers, sit in some classes at school where you can get some hands-on experience, if permitted. When working with a sound artist for your film it’s vital to give them the freedom to create but it can be very useful to articulate your own vision to them. Could lead to smoother communication too if you share some of the vocabularies, literally and figuratively.
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?
Yes, definitely. It is always beautiful to see when filmmakers are willing to challenge themselves vigorously and not shy away from speaking up in various perspectives within their works. One’s vision can be quite limited and by pushing the boundaries in the stories they’re also broadening the horizons of how people perceive and understand the world, therefore connecting the global audience from vastly diverse backgrounds together.
What top 3 tips would you offer a fellow filmmaker?
Keep an open mind, not only to others but most importantly to yourself. Be nice to yourself, it’s okay to step back and breathe a little. There is no such thing as a “perfect” film and what you’re making is definitely not going to be your swan song. You will continue to grow, to create so many more stunning works, and they do get better and better. It’s normal to not feel completely satisfied or fulfilled with your current work; we nitpick our own films all the time because we’re the most familiar with them. Reach out to people when feeling discouraged, it might not turn out as horrible as you may think it is, and sometimes it really requires no more than a pat on the shoulder to get back on track.
Scratch out ideas, many ideas, and remember there is no stupid idea whatsoever. Keep them coming and organize them once in a while. I have a folder in my iCloud notes dedicated to my rambles, horribly written poems and weird dreams. I cannot live without them and oftentimes they feed into my work in the most unexpected way possible.
Fix it later doesn’t exist, better attend those buggy spots while you’re still on it or they will forever haunt you in your sleep.
And finally, what message do you hope your audiences will take away from Catastrophe?
It really depends on the different audiences and what they would like to take away from it; whether it’s just a lighthearted laugh, a love for that curious feline creature in the film with eyes looking into souls, or the figurative meaning behind the satirical response to animal cruelty.
But for cat owners specifically, go kiss and cuddle your cats. They do love you, and they know you love them back.