Tag Archives: Chinese Producers

Producer Mickey Liu brings music and drama together in acclaimed film ‘Nocturne in Black’

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.

NIB at LA Shorts Fest with producer Felecia Hunter
Mickey Liu and Felecia Hunter at the LA Shorts Fest

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

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Lili Huang casts an honest lens on the life of “Xixi” in award-winning documentary

Alfred Hitchcock once said, “To make a great film, you need three things: a great script, a great script, and a great script.” For award-winning screenwriter and producer, Lili Huang, these words resonate deeply. If her career has taught her anything, in fact, it is that a well-written script is absolutely essential to the success of a film. For this reason, Huang pours her heart and soul into ensuring that when she writes a script, she fine-tunes each and every detail to perfection, regardless of its size. This dedication to scriptwriting, coupled with her business acumen and knowledge of film production, make her a rarity in the entertainment business and an asset to any project she works on.

“For me, screenwriting is about using my writing skills to take a simple idea and turn it into a gripping story for an audience. I enjoy the entire creative process of writing, from developing each character, to building the structure, planting every small or large detail, and ultimately, of course, presenting a final story that people will eventually fall in love with,” told Huang.

When Huang looks back on her career, however, she recognizes that originally, her passion for screenwriting and producing were not as clear cut as most. On the contrary, they have slowly and progressively built over the course of the last decade and as she continues to explore the film industry, her love for the two professions only grows stronger. To date, Huang has written upward of thirty film and web series scripts and makes no plans to stop any time soon. In addition, she has received a number of prestigious awards for her unique set of skills and techniques. For instance, in 2011, Huang tested her abilities as a screenwriter, director, producer, and editor when she created her film, The Flower of the Future, and earned herself a nomination for Best Screenplay at the Golden Panda Awards in China. For another of her films, Mei Mei, Huang won Best Film at the Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival, earned herself an Official Selection at the IndieFest USA International Film Festival, and more.

To little surprise, Huang is used to receiving a substantial amount of praise for her work from her peers and fellow film-lovers. For instance, well-known Chinese director, Xuehua Hu, acted as both a mentor and colleague to Huang over the years, considers her to be an asset in the industry. When asked about what makes Huang so good at her job, Hu had the following to say:

“Lili Huang has a rare professional dedication and passion for filmmaking. Throughout her career, she has gained a comprehensive understanding of the filmmaking industry, especially as it pertains to the differences between filmmaking in China and in other parts of the world. I can say confidently that she is an invaluable, professional filmmaker.”

After years of developing her skills in the genre of drama, Huang felt that she was ready to branch out of her comfort zone and explore the realm of creating a documentary-style film. Given that documentaries interest her greatly, Huang was confident that this was an area of filmmaking through which her talents could prosper. In 2012, she felt compelled to tell the story of Xixi, a girl who was born in China, immigrated to the United States as a child, and moved back to Shanghai, China, as a young adult. Huang spent the next eight months gathering raw footage of Xixi’s daily life, endeavoring to capture every moment of happiness, hardships, romance, friendship, and more. Ultimately, Huang wanted to shed a light on the Xixi’s unique life circumstances and allow audiences to draw their own conclusions about the intricacies of Xixi’s cultural transitions.

“I wanted to show my audience what her daily life is really like. For her, having had just moved back from the United States to China, she was definitely experiencing life in a very different way than local Chinese people were. I wanted to share her point of view on her new life in Shanghai, on how she was adopting new customs, etc. I also wanted to audience to draw their own conclusions after watching the film,” she said.

Once she had concluded her filming process, Huang edited her footage and eventually, in 2013, Xixi premiered at the Golden Panda Film Festival in China. Later, at that same festival, she received a nomination for Best Director of a Documentary Film, and was overwhelmed with pride. Director Haiying Wu, who acted as an advisor for the project, offered a great deal of praise for Huang and had only positive things to say about the film. Xixi, in conjunction with Huang’s other achievements in her field, have proven that there are very few limits to what she can achieve when she sets her mind to it and fortunately, she intends to continue dedicating her efforts to telling meaningful stories and continuing to help contribute the art of film for years to come.

Producer Xueru Tang connects with her heritage on upcoming film ‘Hot Pot Man’

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Producer Xueru Tang

Xueru Tang has two mottos by which she lives her life. The first is “work hard”. Her friends call her a workaholic, but to her, she is focused. She loves what she does and she strives to be the best, and she makes no excuses for that. Her second mantra is “believe in yourself”. The world “believe” is important to her. Every project she takes on, she truly believes it will succeed, and this belief keeps her pushing through any tough times, or any problems that may arise, causing her to face her fears. These two qualities, hard work and faith, combined with an innate talent, are what have allowed Tang to become the film producer she is today, and she is recognized around the world for what she does.

Having worked on award-winning films like Locked, Inside Linda Vista Hospital, and Emily, as well as last year’s popular commercial for Chinstudio’s Fall Collection, Xueru Tang has had a career filled with success. However, with her upcoming film Hot Pot Man, she got to feel a sense of accomplishment that she has yet to feel in her esteemed career, telling a story of her hometown.

“I was born and raised in Chengdu, China. The hot pot was created in Chengdu, and it’s my home food. It really important to me. All the story in the film happens in Chengdu, and it is shot in Chengdu. This really excited me when I heard about the project. I want to show the world how beautiful my city is,” said Tang.

The film, which will premiere in October in Chengdu, has received a lot of media attention. Newspaper Xin Cheng Kuai Bao and Jin Ri Toutiao reported about Tang, calling her a New Power filmmaker from the generation after the 90’s. They interviewed her about her experience in U.S. film industry, how she combined the differences between China and U.S. in film production and operated the whole project from funding to future distribution.During these interviews, Tang also shared her opinions about helping Chinese independent filmmakers spread their strength in U.S. market and form its own way to distribution and achieve a greater personal, marketing and social value.

“Five years ago in China, not every filmmaker studied film, and we don’t really think about the professional and how it is important. For today, we still don’t request professional producers who study producing or filmmaking as their college or university major. Everyone just works, never studies, and they just use their way or someone’s way to do thing. For me the kind of the producer who studied and worked in Hollywood, and knows about Hollywood style, is really difficult to find in China. I think this is similar to what it is like in Hollywood, they don’t know a lot about the Chinese market there. When they call me a New Power Filmmaker, I think it is because I understand both markets. In that way, I am a unique producer,” Tang described.

This understanding of both the Chinese and American film markets is vital for Hot Pot Man. Tang brought the Hollywood style of thinking to her hometown. She did the funding and location scouting for the film, and dealt with the stars, like the famous rapper Di Xie and the Chinese comedian Jian Liao, and their agents. She checked all the contracts with crews and locations, and made sure there was insurance and the required permits. She made sure labor was fair and didn’t allow for too long of work days. For distribution, she got the film into Chinese cinemas, negotiating in what she calls the “Hollywood” way.

“Xueru is our excellent producer. She delivered a business plan and pitch book in english and Chinese in one day. This work efficiency we have never experienced from one person in China. And Xueru was a very responsible producer. I remember, another producer couldn’t find the location and couldn’t make a deal with talent, so we called Xueru. She didn’t blame them, she just bought a plane ticket and came to China to solve all the problem. I really like working with her. She has respect for the views of others, and she brings a lot Hollywood working style to us, making our shoot very smooth and all the crew members very happy,” said Dage Zhang, Director of Hot Pot Man. “Xueru loves her job, she crazy loves what she does. She told me she believes the movie will change the world. She wants to produce good movies that will affect the world. And most importantly, I never once heard her say she could not do something, she always tried first, and I think that is remarkable not just as a producer, but as a person.”

Tang found the story of Hot Pot Man very interesting, and when she got the call asking for her help, she didn’t care that she was on the other side of the world, she wanted to come and do what she could.

“No one thought of this as a job or work, everyone thought of it as a film. It was really great team work. But working for this project, it’s my passion. I have special feelings for my city, my city helped build my personality,” she concluded.

Producer Albee Zhang talks her award-winning film ‘Caged’

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Albee Zhang

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.

Chinese Producer Yuxiao Wang Solidifies her Name in Hollywood

Producer Yuxiao Wang
Producer Yuxiao Wang

As international partnerships between China and the U.S. continue to rise, filmmakers in Hollywood are in need of more Chinese producers who are able to liaise between the differing audiences within the U.S. and China.

“Chinese film history has evolved very differently from Hollywood. If you want to make films for the Chinese market, you need to understand that history as well as the different genres and aesthetics that work in China. What works in terms of narrative with Chinese audiences is not always the same as works in other markets. It’s essential if you want to make a film for the Chinese market to have somebody that really understands the Chinese film world, culture, aesthetics and censorship in China. So it makes perfect sense to have a Chinese producer on board,” explains Michael Berry, Professor of Contemporary Chinese Cultural Studies at UCLA and the author of Speaking in Images: Interviews with Contemporary Chinese Filmmakers, and Boiling the Sea: Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Memories of Shadows and Light.

One such producer who has been sought after by productions within China, the U.S. and co-productions between the two, is Yuxiao Wang. Over the past few years, Wang has produced an impressive list of films, television series and commercials that have aired in both countries.

Wang has become known throughout the industry for her work as the producer of the films “Harmonica,” “Locked,” “She Gives Me Sight,” “Wasteland Walker,” “Dustin & Toilet,” “Successor of the Southern Star,” “Los Angeles Kidnapping” and more. She also produced the series “West Journey,” which was shot in the U.S. but is geared towards a predominantly Asian audience. The series takes viewers around Los Angeles and across the country on Route 66 with featured guests such as NBA star Shaquille O’Neal and Metta World Peace.

“Since most of the crew traveled from China, I was the only local person who helped them with shooting. It was tough persuading different location owners to agree to let us shoot, but I managed to make it happen,” explains Wang about producing the series “West Journey.”

It’s clear to see through her past work as a producer that Wang knows how to pick award winning projects. The war drama “Harmonica” took home the Grand Prize from the Carnegie Mellon Film Festival and was awarded at the Los Angeles International Underground Film Festival, the dramatic crime film “Locked” earned several awards from the Los Angeles International Underground Film Festival, including two Best Actor awards, the Best Film Award and the award for Best Narrative Short, and the film “She Gives Me Sight” garnered several awards at Hollywood Boulevard Film Festival, Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival, Direct Short Online Film Festival and the LA Underground Film Festival.

In addition to her cross-cultural experience, Wang’s extraordinary ability to find the perfect people to head each department on a production, find locations that fit both the story and budget, and pitch the project in a way that effectively gets each production the funding it needs to not only be completed, but gain distribution on an international scale, have made her a highly sought after Chinese producer in the Hollywood film industry today.  

The story of what led Yuxiao Wang to become a producer is both ironic, and telling as to the kind of tools she brings to the table. As a transfer student in Japan, before she became a producer herself, Wang was involved in the production of a film where a mishap with one of the grips happened on set, and what followed was a little out of the ordinary.

Wang recalls “The Japanese mafia came and threatened to destroy our camera, the producer, at that time, went up and tried to settle things and find a solution to the problem. That was the first time I noticed the importance of a producer, they are always ready to solve any problem.”

Like any producer, Wang has undoubtedly encountered her share of problems on the productions she’s produced, however her quick problem solving skills and ability to think outside of the box have come in handy every step of the way.

Talentik
Film Poster for Talentik

Sky Culture Entertainment hired Wang last year as a producer on the new sci-fi feature film “Talentik” starring California Women’s Film Festival Award winner Lee Chen (“Veep,” “Girl Meets World,” “Before I Got Famous”), Nick Culbertson (“Ahimsa,” “Julie and Her Friends”), Edward L. Green (“Savageland,” “First Timers”) and Jessica Treska (“Broken Pines,” “Silver Lining”). The film, which was released in China in February through the popular internet platform Sohu, quickly gained traction with audiences and garnered upwards of nine million views. While working on “Talentik” Wang was also busy producing the upcoming sci-fi feature film “Rift” from One All Entertainment.

“Rift” is yet another film that Wang was heavily involved with from the beginning of production, which was shot in the U.S., but made for Chinese audiences. The film, which is slated to be released in China within the next few months, includes a cast of both American and Chinese actors and revolves around a Chinese astrophysicist who is caught between two parallel universes. The film stars Asians On Film Festival Award winner Jack Yang from the films “Seven Pounds” starring two-time Oscar Award nominee Will Smith and “American Ultra” starring Oscar Award nominee Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, Greg Depetro from the Platinum Reel Award winning film “For All That We Are” and the IIFC Award winning film “Abducted.” and award-winning actor Allen Theosky Rowe from the series “Hawaii Five-0” and “Far Cry 4: Fallen Country.”

Wang’s skill at creating a bridge of communication where language and cultural differences were concerned, as well as raising funding and solidifying shooting locations across Los Angeles were all integral to turning the film “Rift” into a reality– as they have been for all of the projects she’s produced to date.

As the film industries between China and the U.S. continue to join forces, having multi-talented producers like Yuxiao Wang who are well-versed in both cultures has become increasingly important.