Filmmaker Interview by Chris Olson
You were recently the Editor for short film Under the Flag. How and why did you
get involved with that film?
This short film is one of my thesis films at the American Film Institute Conservatory. I worked with the director, Jiawei Cheng, a couple of times before we started working on this one. Our collaboration had always been inspiring and adventurous, which we both appreciate a lot. I know the director always wants to tell a story about an individual rising against his/her system, and she was passionate about making this film happen when she pitched her idea to me.
I was born and raised in Beijing, then got the chance to study art and film in Hong Kong and the US. I’ve seen people resisting the injustice of the system they lived in, but got defeated and absorbed by the system’s power. Being a young filmmaker, I want to use my work as a medium to convey messages and speak out the truth about contemporary society. Therefore, I find this story, and the theme truly appealing and thought-provoking, so I jumped on board without any hesitation.
What did you hope to bring to the film through your editing?
Our story involves several dance practices and performances, and I knew from the start that these would be the highlight sequences of our film. So the whole team put extra effort into the rehearsal and planning for these dance numbers. I, as the editor, was also brought on from pre-production. This is something directors overlook a lot. Having the editor’s input on script development and shortlist can ease a lot of stress for the DP and director before the shooting.
I also communicated with our choreographer beforehand and edited a sample sequence using reference clips and rehearsal footage, just to get the whole team on the same page. I want to make sure that my editing can translate the emotion and subtext of each dance number, to help the audience get into our protagonist Yiyi’s mind, and feel with her struggle in that corrupted system.
The director and I both agreed that we want the film to have a cold tone in storytelling, without lingering on beats and drama. Thus for the editing style, I want to make sure every cut is there for a reason, and every scene serves its function. I used harsh cuts for transitions between scenes and made intentional shot choices to hide Yiyi’s face, to show her helplessness under the pressure of the bigger power structure. I also tried to emphasize the uniformity culture and the cut-throat competition with the help of sound effects throughout the film, and used some authentic sound cues to recreate the ambience of a Chinese high school.
How has the industry been for you since the outbreak of Coronavirus?
I have to admit that things were kind of depressing during the pandemic. Productions had been shut down, and there are fewer job opportunities for post-production as well. As an international filmmaker, it’s even harder to get work.
Fortunately, I still have the support and encouragement from my filmmaker friends and mentors from school. I think it’s crucial to not give up on the film industry in such a difficult time. I would take on whatever opportunities to practice my skill as an editor/assistant editor, and try to keep my connection with people, and patiently wait for the return of cinema.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to become an Editor on a film?
I think a good editor sometimes can be the therapist for the director and the whole team. It’s very common that filmmakers feel discouraged and stressed out after the shoot because they didn’t get certain shots or performances as how they had envisioned them. And whatever went wrong in production ends up in post. The editor is the last hope for casting a magic on the film, and helps the director and the team shape the film into its best version.
Other than the technical skillsets, persistence and creativity are the two characteristics I would praise for when it comes to editors. Be organized, this will save you so much time later and make you focus on the edit. Of course, good communication skill with the post team and the director is indispensable.
What's next for you?
Right now I am editing a short documentary about Chinese people’s life in Los Angeles during the pandemic. Although the situation is depressing, it’s nice that we have the chance to capture some precise truth and reflections in this bizarre period.
Another project I’m working on is a coming-of-age comedy. Due to the strict COVID ordinance, we lost our reshoot. However, thanks to this inevitable obstacle, we came up with the idea of adding animation to enrich the story and emotional beats in the edit.
I’ve been talking to some directors as they’re developing their feature scripts during this
pandemic. Hopefully, once the industry opens up next year, there would be a record amount of work for us hungry filmmakers. After all, people need stories.
What are some of the best films from an editing perspective and why?
My recent favourite would be last year’s Oscar hit “Parasite”. The editor Jin-mo Yang mentioned in his interview that ‘I had to refine whatever we had’ because director Bong Joon-Ho only shoots necessary footage. This can make the editing process both easier and challenging. With the fewer option of setups, it requires more on the editor’s choice of the timing and dividing of each cut.
The reason why “Parasite” is so immersive and rhythmical is because of the harmony of accurate camera work and timing of the editing, which started from the exquisite storyboard. This also confirmed my suggestion on bringing the editor into pre-production. And don’t even mention that famous montage sequence! Classical music, slow motion, and linear camera movement help connect all sixty scenes shown in a five-minute montage. That’s what I love about efficient editing. Watching and learning from these great examples always make me feel fortunate to be an editor.
Who would you love to work with?
I enjoy working with people that share the same passion for the art of filmmaking, as I always seek for inspiration and growth through collaboration. I tend to keep a close personal relationship with my past collaborators, as I do not only take filmmaking as a career choice but also a path to fulfil myself as an individual.
What would you say if you were a dolphin?
“Stop polluting the ocean.”
Watch the Movie Trailer for Under the Flag below: