A few days ago I received in my email a correspondence from a Michael Wong, a Malaysian film director. He wanted me to check out his short film “The Story of 90 Coins”. Before we get to my thoughts on this short here’s a snippet of some questions and answers thrown towards Michael Wong as well as the cast:
Where’d the idea for ‘The Story of 90 Coins’ come from and who were your inspirations?
The short film is partially based on a true story of a friend’s friend. I guess there’s always an inspiration to us if we observe and dig deeper into every day’s life.
You have a lot of experience shooting commercials. What is the main difference you found in shooting a commercial as opposed to a short? How is your process different for the two?
I’m blessed to have spent 15 years of my life in the advertising industry being a creative and then the past 5 years as a film director doing mostly TV commercials. Personally, I think there are a few differences between shooting a commercial and short film. In this part of the world where I live, commercials were like 45 seconds or 30 seconds (now we’re getting a request for 15 seconds!) and you’ve got to deliver a message within that short time frame. So, the time duration is naturally a big difference.
Secondly, I tend to look at a commercial through a ‘magnifying glass’ because that’s how an advertiser will scrutinize their commercial in details; they are more concerned about their product appearance, product benefit, selling points, etc. On the other hand, I look at a short film with a ‘wide angle’ approach; seeing things in a broader perspective; getting an entertaining storyline that happens around interesting situations with good performance from the talents, etc.
This film being my debut short film, I realized that the approach in finding the right actor/actress for a short film is entirely different from shooting a commercial. The latter, in 90% of the time requires a good-looking face and physical appearance.
The short has a very unique and soft feel, conveying the romance surrounding it. What measures did you take to achieve this tone?
We wanted a romance/love story that really evokes memory and emotions of the viewers. Having trained as an art director back in the ad agency’s life, I pay a lot of attention in the crafting of the film, mainly the color tone and the music.
For example, on the art department, I requested wardrobe colors to match the emotion needed for a particular scene. Also, we took great effort in getting the right location. Does the color of the wall in the location help with the emotion? What about the existing lights, do we need warm tungsten or a colder florescent? On a humorous note, I think the polluted air in Beijing during that few days of filming really helped with the atmospheric feel (*wink).
Why did you get into film in the first place?
As mentioned earlier, I started off in the advertising industry as an Art Director and then a Creative Director, having worked in various multinational advertising agencies in China. As I climbed up the career ladder, I noticed that I’m getting more involved in management and politics than actually doing creative work. Eventually, I take a leap of faith and work as a film director on the receiving end, concentrating on the crafting and artistic expression.
The elements in the short film aren’t particularly “Chinese,” except perhaps a glimpse of an old grocery store in a Beijing hutong. There aren’t CCTV building or Tiananmen Square to remind viewers that this was shot in Beijing. Was it a deliberate choice? Why?
In my opinion, generally speaking, there isn’t anything particularly ‘Chinese’ in the life of modern young people in major Chinese cities. Being a Malaysian, I felt that the modern young Mainland Chinese are more westernized than us back home. As a filmmaker, I think it’s critical to be single-minded in the approach and not to let other unimportant elements distract us from the core story hence we didn’t focus on any specific landmark or background. It’s a story of a promise, a misunderstanding, and regret of this two protagonists and having trivial stuff doesn’t bring value to the storyline. The filming locations that we chose are true to live and places where the characters would go, as a real person.
What were the difficulties that you and your team faced during the shooting process? Air pollution? How long did the shooting and post-production take? Is this your debut short film?
The initial rough-cut ran at approximately 15 minutes long! The original storyline stretched a period of 6-7 years that begins during the protagonists’ university days. So naturally, a number of footages are quite large and tight filming schedule was a big problem. Multiple shoot locations (more than 20 locations depicting various period and weather situations) are just a production nightmare and in total, we took 4 full days of filming and nearly three weeks for post-production.
Surprisingly, the notorious air pollution in Beijing wasn’t a problem for us and in fact, it gave the film a nice atmospheric feel and texture. I love it! I guess this is the only moment I’m welcoming the pollution. (*grin)
I’ve directed many TV commercials and viral videos but this is the first time I’m directing a short film. I’m looking forward to doing a feature in the near future.
What were the satisfactions you derived from this project?
Having the opportunity to learn and improvised oneself is the best satisfaction getting out of this project and working with talented performers such as Han Dongjun (of the popular Chinese drama series Wu Xin: The Monster Killer’s fame), Zhuang Zhiqi (a 1st time actress) and José Acosta (a fashion/ shoe designer) were a blessing. They are such great actors and actress.
Additionally, seeing the short film being viewed and shared around the world gives me great satisfaction. It’s interesting to see that eNanyang’s Facebook page has gained more than 480,000 views and 15,000 shares plus thousands of comments. Seeing both praises and critics in regards to the story proved that somehow the story really resonated in people’s heart.
What is the essential message that you want to send to your audience?
‘Don’t let a promise become just a beautiful memory.’ Cherish what you have in hand.
Now, having read all that I have to let you know that if you have not checked out the film, which is up above, do so. This is a gorgeously shot piece. The colors are often muted, but vibrant when they need to be. Look no further than the shot above. I mean look at this thing. Wong does an excellent job of framing here. His script does the task of pulling the right heart strings. I’m so glad that Mr. Wong reached out to me. Thank you for crafting a beautiful love story that can give people hope in it and the serendipitous nature of the whole thing.
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