Originally from Taipei, Taiwan, Diana Chao is a highly successful, 32-year-old, Los Angeles-based director. After obtaining her MFA in Film Production from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts in 2013, Chao continues to direct shorts, commercials, and features professionally, both locally and abroad.
“I was first hired as a director in 2011 for Violence in the Closet in Taiwan,” Chao said. “In 2013, instead of directing a school thesis film, I decided to do The Restoration as an independent project in which professional crew were on board, where I could immerse myself in telling the story without supervision. I launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for making the film. Upon its completion and recognition for festivals, I have had the pleasure to be hired as director for more projects.”
For Chao and her career, this achievement was just the first of many.
The Restoration is a story that focuses on our desire to say goodbye. Inspired by an event that occurred in Taiwan in 2008, it follows Sean, a young restoration apprentice, who learns about closure and his feelings toward a family member’s departure while working on a project with an experienced restorative artist named Joanna. Together, their skills in preparing a corpse for its transition from the present are challenged by the extensive damage caused to the body. The film stars John-Scott Horton, Katie Savoy and Jason Caceres.
Chao first wrote the script back in 2010, where it was short-listed twice for a USC production class. “I pitched it the first time and had meetings with various directors the second, but ultimately they had their own visions about the project. Jeff – my classmate and trusted friend as well as the editor of The Restoration – encouraged me to make the film myself. With his support and encouragement, little by little, The Restoration storyline evolved into its current version,” commented Chao.
The short film was beautifully shot by the award-winning Cinematographer, Will Jobe. He and Chao initially met at USC where they were classmates and both received their MFA degrees in Film Production. Jobe’s work has screened at South by Southwest, Slamdance, and Cannes, his clients including well-known names such as ESPN, Hallmark and Subway Sandwiches, to name a few.
“Diana was the principal creative force behind The Restoration,” Jobe praised. “She was meticulous in the planning of her vision for the film and coordinated with the heads of each department to ensure its proper execution. I remember in the many preproduction meetings how Diana exposed me to a variety of visual references that I had never seen before. I discovered the work of both Easter and Western directors and cinematographers that exhibited fresh aesthetics that differed from the Hollywood norm. It was obvious to me that Diana had a keen academic understanding of film history, but was also well versed in many different genres and aesthetics of modern independent and international cinema. I feel that The Restoration was only a first step in seeing Diana’s true potential.”
The Restoration was the independent project Chao directed in which she had full control. Thanks to her training and education from USC, Chao had acquired a full understanding of how production works, as well as the role of every individual on set. Elaborating on this, Chao said, “Production is teamwork with hierarchy. As a director, it’s crucial to do my job and let the team do theirs. I was passionate about making The Restoration. I don’t necessarily know the technical details of how to execute each person’s job, but as long as I was clear about my vision, my team wasn’t confused about how to help me make the film.”
Chao wound up receiving much praise and recognition for her film, including an award for Best Original Score from the 2015 Long Island International Film Expo and a Merit of Cinematography from the 2015 Rochester International Short Film Festival.
In April of 2012, Chao was asked to document the production of the feature film Finding Mr. Right in New York City, a US-China collaboration. Chao acted as the director of the film’s promotional materials and was therefore given the challenging responsibilities of conducting interviews, editing footage, and bridging communication between three main parties: the production company, the promotion company, and the main cast, directors, and their agents and assistants.
According to CEO Lisa Chen, who collaborated with Edko Films on Finding Mr. Right and speaks very highly of Chao, creating the promotional material is the, “Single most important tool for a film’s publicity. Great promotional material can get you into festivals, boost your crowdfunding, and even land you a distribution deal.”
From a commercial standpoint, Finding Mr. Right grossed the U.S. equivalent of $84.4 million at the box office. Additionally, the film won 2 China Film Director’s Guild Awards for Best Screenplay and Best Actress, was nominated in the same awards show for Best Director and Best Picture, took home a win at the 2013 Golden Phoenix Awards, and received 2 nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 2014.
“We fully trusted Diana as the director for our promotional material and the footage that she made was exceptional and used for marketing and promotion throughout China. Due to Diana’s prowess as a bilingual filmmaker, Diana was able to bridge the gap between the Chinese production team and the local freelance filmmakers. Her work provided an easy way to get the word out about the production with her concise, creative, and impressive directional style, which also influenced the entire production as a whole,” said Chen.
It is evident that Chao excelled in generating extraordinary press materials for the film, her efforts playing a vital role in its ultimate viewership and success. Her work has a tendency to reach and inspire wide audiences in every instance, as also demonstrated by her work on the 2011 short film Violence in the Closet.
Violence in the Closet is an eight-minute short film and Public Service Announcement (PSA) that brings awareness to domestic violence among the LGBT community. The film tells the story of a 30-year-old lesbian, WenWen, undertaking multiple pressures in life and arising conflicts between her and her girlfriend. “It was meant for promoting the amendment of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act and letting the LGBT community know that homosexual couples, partners, and roommates are also under protection of the law,” Chao further explained.
Due to budget limits and time constraints, Violence in the Closet was shot over two nights and finished within one week in order to meet the deadline of the annual fundraiser it was intended to screen at. “Because of the NPO’s (Non-profit Organization) budget limitations and of Taiwanese actors’ hesitation to be cast for lesbian roles, we ended up casting non- actors who are lesbians,” Chao added. This route came with a few challenges when it came to directing, but nevertheless, Chao overcame them and prevailed.
“There’s a set of languages a director uses when working with professional actors,” she went on to describe. “Non-actors don’t really take those directions. I found method acting helpful – it doesn’t require actors to become the characters, which is difficult for non-actors. Instead, it helps actors find the expressive emotions that they share with the characters. By walking them through the emotional beats the characters had in the script, I was able to overcome that challenge.”
Chao performed the service of directing the project for free, out of the grace of her heart, and for the betterment and expansion of the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association.
Originally founded in 1998, the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association is a non-profit organization aimed at providing a space for acceptant and empathy in the LGBT community. It is now the oldest and the largest, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organization in Taiwan.
Violence in the Closet was released at their 2011 annual fundraiser, Taipei Hotline events, and online in an effort to help raise awareness and funds for the organization. Chao’s work helped the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association earn a total of $103,722 in donations.
Jennifer Hsin Chieh Lu, the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association’s Director of Public Affairs, stated that Chao’s generosity provided them with, “A rare instance where we were able to engage an extraordinary filmmaker and director for the betterment of our cause, and thus, the betterment of our society. Violence in the Closet was highly influential, important, and touching to many viewers. We needed to work with a remarkable director who understood its sensitivity and was able to deliver a powerfully striking, unforgettable message. Without a doubt, Diana Chao achieved to direct such a powerful short film for us and was able to successfully send the message to the audience.”
For The Restoration, please visit: https://vimeo.com/121533655
For Finding Mr. Right, please visit: https://www.youtube.com/user/edkofilms
For Violence In the Closet, please visit: https://youtu.be/MXfVRGk3kSg