"It was very hard for my actors to meet my requirements. I suddenly asked myself: "Why not
Born in Zhengzhou, China, Xiang Shi was interested in filmmaking since childhood, and especially the Taiwanese New Wave. His passion for storytelling led to write his own screenplays. After studying art in Radio and Film College of Chengdu University of Technology, he entered the Public Administration College of the Zhengzhou University of China, receiving his Masters degree in 2017. Instead of pursuing a PhD, he directed his debut feature film "Hello, Goodbye" which won Best Indie Filmmaker at Festigious.
We asked Shi to join us for an interview, here's his story.
Xiang, we're excited to interview you today. How do you feel after winning an Honorable Mention: Indie Film, and Best Indie Filmmaker?
It’s really a great honor for me to get the recognition from the judges of Festigious Film Festival, especially the Best Indie Filmmaker Award is a confirmed approval for our efforts to make this film.
Can you share a bit about your background? How did you become a filmmaker?
The major I chose in my college years was related to the media field, but I didn’t really have the awareness to make my own film back to that days. In college, many of my friends loved movies, we even formed our own club, watching movies, discussing movies together, and then I gradually fell in love with the art of movie making and tried to shoot some short films by myself as an amateur film maker. Later I have discovered that the form of movie art is really to my taste.
You were born in Zhengzhou, China, and quickly became interested in Taiwanese New Wave Cinema. Which movies and screenwriters inspired your writing?
When I first chose movies to watch, classic Hollywood movies are my main choices, but I don’t really have strong feeling about them. Until one day I watched “Dust in the Wind” by Hsiao-hsien Hou and “Vive L'Amour” by Ming-liang Tsai, I was greatly shocked. I have started to realize these are the movie language I like. I am obsessed with the aesthetic traits of the Oriental way of thinking- both the narration and story are very light, focus more on emotion and atmosphere, flowing like poetries. I come to understand that this is the Culture Differences. As an Asian, I should make movies with Asian language.
What did you gain from your training at Radio and Film College of Chengdu University of Technology and your Masters Degree from Zhengzhou University of China?
When I studied my bachelor degree, my major was related to the film and mass media, and for I love movies, I read a lot of books about it. I have a lot of friends who are crazy about movies in college, they help me a lot. My master degree study helps me develop my rational way of logical thinking. I have become more mature in directing actors and film crew management.
What influenced your decision not to continue to doctoral studies, and instead, shoot your directorial debut feature (Hello, Goodbye) instead?
I think the magic of creative writing is very attractive. It is very exciting to make a good movie. Every time when I watch a movie, the desire to make my own becomes stronger and stronger. That’s why I choose to shoot my debut feature film, because time and tide wait for no man.
How did you come up with the screenplay and what was it inspired by? Did you derive anything from your own experiences?
The movie starts from a small idea. I saw someone along the street sending out ad flyers, or holding ad signs for a living. They have a tough live, but looks like the free birds in the world. Because they don’t have a choice, just to live. They have nothing, but seems like they have everything, as the whole city belongs to them. I am very concerned about this group of people and write and shoot a lot of footages about them. Then I told this idea to my producer Qingna Yang. He strongly supports me to turn this idea into a movie script. In a word, it is the ordinary people in the city giving me the inspiration.
How many versions of the screenplay did you write before approaching the production?
There are about 4 or 5 versions before the final settled one, we have a lot of discussion and changes in the story. But I think the final version is the best.
Tell us about your collaboration with producer Qingnan Yang. How did you meet each other, is this your first collaboration? What did Yang bring to the table, and what were the producer's responsibilities?
Qingnan Yang gives me lots of help and encouragement. He is my teacher during my undergraduate years. He brings a lot of influence to me, teach me a lot. You know, this movie is quite different from others, very bold in movie language innovation. From the very beginning, I received different voices and suggestions from my friends, which made me even begin to doubt myself, questioning my ability to undertake this job. But my producer Yang is always there to support and encourage me, give me the courage to keep going. He is the boss of the crew, and always coordinates every aspect together effectively to get things done. He is crucial to this movie’s success.
How many days did you have on set? Did everything go smoothly or did something go wrong during the shoot?
The pre-production period took a long time. I spend almost a year to finish the script. The shooting took a month. And it went quite smoothly. I need to show my gratitude to Qingnan Yang, and my director friend Huyi Sun again. They contribute a lot to the making of the movie.
Why did you decide to make the film in Black & White film as opposed to Color?
We thought about shooting this movie in color version before. But after a long discussion, as we had a low budget, we couldn’t spend more effort on color design. At last I decide to make my debut film black and white. So the audiences will not be distracted by the color. And I think black and white is purer to express the essence of the story, much fit for the temperament of the movie.
Maojun Hua, Jie Zhou and Peiya Dong all did a wonderful job. Can you tell us about the casting process, how did you assemble them, and how did you work with them to achieve such good performances?
Although they are not professional actors, they are very talented and good actors. It is very challengeable to direct their performances. When we began to shoot, it was very hard for them to meet my requirements. So I changed my way of directing. Why not let them be themselves? Just let them express who they are in their real lives. So when we studied the script together, I let them put themselves in the shoes of the people working along the streets sending out flyers. After a while, they finally got the feeling. That teaches me a lot. Actors and I, together we shape each other.
What was the most challenging part about making Hello, Goodbye?
As it is known to all, making a debut film is the hardest for a director, not to mention a movie like “Hello, Goodbye” with a different style differ from the others. I think the most challenging part comes from the notion. This movie, so to speak, can be told in one sentence. But I try to believe that movie is not just a tool to tell a story, or an accessory of entertainment business. It is a piece of art work, built on the notion of appreciation. I am not trying to tell a lot of stories in this movie, but to express a kind of emotion and energy inside of it. From the beginning, I think many people will not accept this way or this notion. That is the most challenging part for me.
What's next for you?
I am working on the script of my next movie now. I have to observe more about life, and people around me. In my next movie, I want to push the theme of people’s Inner Being into another level. Not just the outside of their ordinary life, but the inside part.