From the time Albee Zhang was a child, growing up in Shanghai, China, she knew she wanted to make movies. The entertainment industry always fascinated her, and her creative senses were always strong. As she grew, this dream turned into both a passion and a reality. Now, Zhang is an internationally sought-after producer, living her childhood dream.
Throughout her career, Zhang has achieved what many still dream of. She has worked on hit television shows around the world, such as the British game show The Cube and the Chinese home renovation show Mei Hao Jia. She has made many successful commercials such as the series for Alpine Dairy. She has made films, such as Bride: Shanghai, I Love You, that have gone on to premiere at international film festivals. However, despite all of this, the highlight of her career was just last year when she made the film Caged.
“For a very long time, I was surrounded by fantasy, drama and science-fiction stories. When I was approached about this project, my eyes were brightened up. I had never done any sort of masculine project like this. Brotherhood versus self-ego, money versus fame, blood and underground fighting, all these elements had so many possibilities to be an outstanding project. I knew I had to challenge myself and see how much I could pull out of a project like this,” said Zhang.
Caged is a short film that follows James, a young man who fights in underground cage matches to make ends meet. In the film, James gets the life-changing opportunity to fight professionally, but when his brother Marco crosses a desperate drug dealer, James is forced to choose between his obligations to his brother and his dream of a better life.
“It is a very strong and straight forward theme for a narrative film. By looking at the character struggling through his life, at some point it kind of reminds me of the filmmaking life. Until the day we shine, we are always struggling. The character inspired us, we made the character. It’s a story about MMA fighter, but truly it’s a story to everyone who is fighting for their dreams,” said Zhang.
The film premiered at the New York City Independent Film Festival in May, and went on to have tremendous success. At the 2016 Media Awards it was recognized for Achievement in Film Direction, Achievement in Production Design, and won Best Male Actor. It was an Official Selection at some of the world’s most prestigious festivals, including the Festival Corner of Festival de Cannes, the Auckland International Film Festival, and the London Lift-Off Film Festival Online.
“It means the world to me and my crew that the film has done so well. It proved that everything we risked was worth it. Most cast and crew worked on this film because of friendship. Some of them even volunteered to work on this film. We all had the faith that this project would carry our enthusiasm to somewhere. It didn’t let us down. The honor belongs to the whole Caged family,” Zhang said.
As producer, Zhang managed the cost of the film to fit in an extremely tight budget and schedule. She also acted as production manager for the project, and ensured the crew was always safe and well taken care of on the set. Half of the sets were built in an abandoned basement of an ancient apartment to create an underground style, beat-up looking environment. It was a very bad condition location for filming as it was moist, very dusty, bad air-circulation and completely in the dark, pretty much like a dungeon, but it was perfect for the feel and look of the film. yet it’s exactly we wanted for the film set. Zhang made sure everyone was safe and happy, taking on yet another role.
“I was worried it would be too depressing to work in this kind of environment for four days in a row. We started working when the sky was dark in the morning, we walked out of the location and it was still dark but it was at night. Not seeing daylight for four days could be very intense and uncomfortable. I received zero complaints,” said Zhang.
Zhang made sure any dangerous spots were labeled and blocked, masks were provided, hanging wires were well placed and taped. She oversaw the crew and the fierce fighting shots were shot in the safest but most realistic way. She also arranged a crowd funded online campaign for the film, and received 20 per cent more than what she was aiming for. There is no doubt that she was pivotal to the film.
“Albee was indispensable to the making of our film and bringing it in not only on budget but under budget. She is an energetic, diligent and down-to-earth person who always speak for her crew. People work for her again and again. I also look forward to working with her again,” said the Director, Nick Powers-Gomez. “She has the drive to roll up her sleeves and do whatever needs to be done and fill up whatever position that needs her.”
All those that work with Zhang are continuously impressed by what she brings to the table, not just as a talented and committed producer, but also as a kind and thoughtful person. She not only understands what it takes to make a film a success, but she aims to do more than win awards. She is a storyteller, and constantly seeks to challenge herself. Her passion for what she does is always evident.
“Making film is utilizing a visualized universal language tool to bring out our mutual emotions. I put a lot of attention and work building up character relationships and finding the universal themes, such as love, family, fear, and friendship,” Zhang concluded.