Growing up, Mickey Liu always found himself stuck between two different pathways as a child. He studied business, but he loved the arts. However, as a teenager, he realized he could combine both these passions and become a professional producer. A producer is a leader, a problem-solver, a caretaker, a doer, a negotiator, a storyteller and an artist. Liu aims to be all of them, and he has achieved his goal, becoming one of China’s leading producers.
“The lack of professional producers is one of the biggest problems in the film industry of my home country. I feel the responsibility and urgency to become one. It’s very challenging, but also very rewarding,” said Liu.
Liu’s work in Chinese film is renowned. His movies such as Sail the Summer Wind, An Ill-Fitting Coat and Tear of the Peony exemplify Liu’s determination to transform the Chinese film industry and allow for more professional producers to take lead. However, one of the highlights of his career comes from his work on the 2016 film Nocturne in Black, which is actually in Arabic.
“I wanted to work on this project because of its powerful script with a musical element of the story. It was one of those rare cases where I immediately knew I would regret not being part of this. It was definitely a very ambitious and challenging project, but if we could pull that off, we would send a powerful message,” he said.
Nocturne in Black takes place in a war-ravaged Middle Eastern neighborhood, where a musician struggles to rebuild his piano after it is destroyed by terrorists. The film premiered and was an Official Selection at the 2016 Telluride Film Festival in Colorado along with Liu’s film Tear of the Peony. From there it was an Official Selection at the Los Angeles Shorts International Film Festival, won Best Director at NDU International Film Festival, The Marion Carter Green Award at the 2016 National Board of Review, Gold Circle Award Grant Winner at the 2016 Caucus Foundation, and Best Short Film Narrative at the Long Beach International Film Festival. What was the most exciting for Liu, however, was when he received the news that Nocturne in Black was shortlisted for Best Live Action Short for the 89th Academy Awards.
“It was definitely the highlight of my career. I remember receiving an email from Producer Felecia Hunter with the subject line “JESUS CHRIST” and a link to the Hollywood Reporter article in it. I was literally shaking while scrolling down the list and found out that we were shortlisted. I had no idea it could go that far, and I still feel very honored and blessed to be a part of it” said Liu.
When putting together a team for the film, Producer Felecia Hunter approached Liu, knowing what an asset he could be as a co-producer. The two had worked together in the past, and she knew he had great experience putting together and designing posters. Once he was approached, Liu read the script and immediately decided to jump on board. He then created the pitch book and designed posters when the film was just a script, which ended up being essential in the success of their Kickstarter campaign, and he also designed the look of the Kickstarter page. Half of the film was financed by the crowdfunding campaign. Liu also contributed editing notes in post-production.
Hunter and Liu attended several film festivals and awards to help promote the film. During the film’s festival run, he helped with coordinating the transportation of the film’s DCP copy and created promotional postcards for Nocturne in Black. Liu played a critical role in financing and marketing of Nocturne in Black, and that is exactly why Hunter approached him to begin with.
“Mickey is organized, thorough, and possesses a very keen eye for details. He knows how to communicate with department heads quickly and effectively, ensuring a productive working environment on set and throughout post-production. Mickey is an asset on any project or event he works on. He always goes the extra mile by working long hours; triple checking details; and doing much more than is required of his job description. Through our work together, I had the delight of experiencing his extraordinary talent shine from pre-production to having films he produced screen at the Telluride Film Festival and other notable festivals worldwide. Mickey Liu is a gifted artist, but also a skilled professional and invaluable collaborator. His writing, producer’s vision, and narrative insights have always been revelatory – the sign of a mature and talented film producer – and add an unforgettable quality to any project he takes on,” said Hunter.
The story is set in Syria, but for safety reasons due to the civil war in the country, the production took place in the director’s home country Lebanon. Liu was working long hours just to put together a good pitch book; he did a lot of the research and exchanged notes with the Director, Jimmy Keyrouz, to ensure the look of the pitch book matched Keyrouz’s artistic vision. He then worked on the typography and details of the book for days, and this was only the first step.
“Everyone on the team pushed themselves to a whole new level because we wanted to have the best possible version of the film. It was really a labor of love and I could feel it when I was working on it,” Liu described.
The team was one of the best parts about working on Nocturne in Black for Liu. He was extremely impressed with everyone’s commitment to the story and with the professionalism on set. Everyone was at the top of their game, and they were having fun. More than anything, however, Liu was most inspired by the story they were telling. He knows the importance it has and encourages audiences to see it.
“It’s imperative to remind people about what is happening in the forgotten parts of the world – murderously effective, half-ton barrel bombs are constantly dropped on innocent civilians. It’s a story about human spirit standing up to oppression, evil, and terrorism. In the story, playing music is the protagonist’s ultimate act of defiance in a world where music is banned. I think it sends out a powerful message. Our director once said, “Art is a mighty tool that helps us fight extremism and terrorism.” In some way, making this film is our way to join the fight,” he said.
Be sure to check out Nocturne in Black so you too can join the fight.
Top photo by Lingyun Zheng
By Sean Desouza