Sundance Film Festival 2022
US Premiere
Interview

Chenglin Xie 
Meal On The Plate
U.S Animated Shorts

chenglin.com

You are what you eat. In a world where people start to look like the thing they eat the most of, you can take this quite literally. When a newcomer prefers different eating habits, the visible consequences turn the world upside down.

Hi Chenglin thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times? Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration or opportunities?

These quite long strange times offers me a chance to finish the production of Meal On The Plate. I paused the production for a while due to other projects. As COVID delayed some of them, and work-from-home also saved my time, finally I had the film finished. And locking myself at home also gave me lots of time to think about new projects, I did get some good ideas and inspirations during this period.

Back in 2017 your animation Life Smartphone won the Gold Medal Award at the 44th Student Academy Awards, what did it mean to you to get this type of recognition for your film?

It means alot. The Student Academy Award is the highest recognition I could imagine for a student film, and Life Smartphone is the first animation I made. Winning a Gold really gave me lots of confidence. Back then, I was very new to the animation world, with lots of passion but not much experience. I believe that I can have the same passion for filmmaking, with or without winning the award. But with it, I am encouraged to do better while facing any difficulties.

Since winning this award how much has your approach to your films changed?

I don’t think I changed any for the award, but I always love to pursue the best way to visualize an idea, a story, while I make a new film. I believe each story has its own best way to be told, visualized. Life Smartphone is presented with very limited elements on screen, Father and Daughter is a “one take” traditional animation, and Meal On The Plate gathers more visual and audio elements, with a new style in storytelling and visual design, compared to my previous films. I always try to set some challenges for myself while making a new film. I love to learn, I want to push myself while making each film, and I believe the filmmaking process definitely becomes more interesting by doing this.

Congratulations on having Meal on a Plate selected in the U.S Animated Shorts section at Sundance 2022, how does it feel to be back at the festival and part of such an amazing line-up of films?

Thank you! I am very excited as well! I had a wonderful experience at Sundance 2016. I made friends, watched many great films, and was surrounded by thousands of people who all loved films. During the festival period, all in your ears, in your eyes, in your mind, is about film. I love to be surrounded by the people who come to park city from all over the world for nothing but film.

Even though Sundance finally goes back online, all programmers really work hard to help build virtual events for our filmmaker.  The “spaceship” is really cool. And yes, all selected films are still there. I am so happy to that mine could be one among those amazing films this year.

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"I remember that I got a good idea for Meal On The Plate while I was eating chicken legs at KFC, so I drew it immediately on a used tissue and it became a good shot on my film."

Can you tell me a little bit about how Meal On The Plate came about, what inspired your screenplay?

The very initial idea comes from a phrase that I believe some people may have heard, “you are what you eat”. So I was wondering what happens if people just visually change into what they eat, and some rough concept design was drawn by then. After I had some of my funny characters designed and lined up, I really loved them. And the story between those characters started emerging in my mind. Then I have the first draft written out.

When writing a script for an animation film do you give yourself much flexibility or do you like to stick to what you've written?

I give myself flexibility. Generally, I just write a brief outline, and then I will draw storyboards to explore more. To me, writing is more like a guideline, to figure out the basic structure, the relationship between the characters. And all details, performance, are added while I do storyboard. And sometimes plots change, because I can directly see and feel what works and what doesn’t, from the storyboard.

Meal On The Plate’s ending is figured out in the middle of the process. When I finished the preproduction, everything felt good except the ending. But I couldn’t have a better idea back then. So I just keep thinking about it while doing the production.


What was the biggest challenge you faced making this film?

The preproduction always has challenges. Cause I need to figure out the story, the visual style, and all important designs at this stage. Even though I will give myself some flexibility during the production, I still want to have everything to be chewed over and clear in my mind. All decisions during the pre production influences the later on production. But also, I enjoy this stage very much. Everything, every thinking is creative, without rules. All I need to do is really push my imagination, draw and write them out.

Do you think filmmakers and animators could continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?

I think each filmmaker has their own answer for this question. For me, I love to challenge myself and push my boundaries while making every new film. But one thing I want to emphasize is that, for me, I don’t make a film only for pushing the boundary. Everything is still about the story itself, the idea itself. I believe each story deserves a best way to be told. Even if we told it in a very traditional way, as long as it is the best fit for the story, we should go for it. I mean it is great if we could push our boundaries while making a film, and it is worth putting extra effort even if there are challenges and difficulties. But don’t give it priority while developing a film or story.

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Have you always had a passion for animation?

Absolutely!

Do you have any advice you would offer someone wanting to get into filmmaking?

Enjoying the filmmaking! Keep having passion! Being open minded! Watching more films! And always draw and write ideas you flash in your mind. It is very easy to forget a good idea, or lose passion about it. I remember that I got a good idea for Meal On The Plate while I was eating chicken legs at KFC, so I drew it immediately on a used tissue and it became a good shot on my film.

And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Meal On The Plate?

I don’t want to say anything about this. Haha

I could tell you that Meal On The Plate is fun to watch, those characters are cute, stupid, and funny, but also the story has serious points! So welcome to watch Meal On The Plate, wish you all laugh and get something after watching it!