Your new film, The Love Parade, is just the latest production to come out of the AI Films/Deadly Strike Productions film collective which you helped launch back in 2014. How did the group first come together?
A lot of it started with an earlier film we worked on called Shanghai Story. The producer on that project was Miroslav Karel [from Deadly Strike Productions] with myself writing and directing. Miroslav introduced me to Drago Lazetich and through him we eventually contacted Emilie Ohana, both of whom appeared in Shanghai Story [Emilie also appears in The Love Parade]. At that time, it was just the four of us, but we liked working together so along the way we’ve brought in more people for other projects.
Both Shanghai Story and The Love Parade feature foreign actors and have a very Western sensibility to them. Is there any aspect of China or Chinese cinema that you draw inspiration from as a filmmaker?
For me, what I’m doing right now, most of my inspiration comes from foreign films, but I’m not opposed to anything. The material I’m working on is just closer to other non-Chinese films.
Do you think there is funding available in China for similar or even bigger projects with more Western appeal?
I’ve been told Chinese investors are very reluctant to fund films that are aimed at Western audiences—that they’re only looking to the Chinese market—but I don’t believe it. Why would you target only China when you could produce something which would be interesting to both Chinese and foreign audiences? For a lot of people, especially those who have never been to China, it’s still an exotic location. I’m sure there is a broader market for films shot here.
[I]t’s how the film industry was made. In the past, people didn’t believe in talking movies. They didn’t believe in color movies. But, people took risks.
Over the past few years, a number of countries have signed major co-production agreements with China—ostensibly as a means to encourage cooperation, pool resources, and free up funding for international productions. Do you think the benefits of these types of agreements are accessible to independent filmmakers working in China?
It’s a different world. It may result in more funding for well-established filmmakers, but not for newcomers. Nobody wants to take risks with people who don’t have a body of work behind them. It’s understandable, but it’s how the film industry was made. In the past, people didn’t believe in talking movies. They didn’t believe in color movies. But, people took risks. I just hope it’ll change and new guys will get a chance to direct something.
Are there currently any reliable sources of funding open to foreign filmmakers in China?
Private funding is still probably the most successful one and then product placement. But, product placement doesn’t really work for small films unless you want to base you’re whole idea around the product. It’s been done before, but can you really do it without diminishing your artistic vision? You always have to make compromises if you want to get money.
Have all of your projects been privately funded so far?
Shanghai Story was funded by an investor from Europe, but the rest of the stuff we’ve done was all self-funded. In the case of The Love Parade, I just wanted to make it. I wrote a script. It was a short film and it wasn’t going to cost that much. If we’d spent a lot of time looking for investors, I don’t think I’d have been as excited about it by the time we found the money.
How important is it for you to have that instinct to act now to get a film made and not wait around for ‘the money to come in’?
It depends on the project. I have bigger projects that I know if I ever get them made it won’t be for another two or three years. I might not even start working on them for another year or two. But, for short films, you should just make it so you can get yourself noticed.
Is there anything in particular you find challenging about working in the short film format?
It’s always a challenge to get your story across in such a short period of screen time. But, working on a short film is also a great experience. On a small production you end up working as a closely knitted group. You’re also working with people who are passionate about the project and love to make films. It can be very addictive. You immediately film a project and you want to move on to the next one.
Your latest film, The Love Parade, tells the story of a man and woman going through a relationship break-up and how their experiences together have affected them. In your own words, how would you describe what the film is about?
The film, when you look into the deeper meaning of it, is really about love and fear. In life, I think we often choose the easy path rather than commit to something real and worthwhile that can be more difficult, but can also make us feel depressed and sad. Really, it’s about the fear of something beautiful.
The film opens with the man and woman in the midst of this breakup and he is pursuing her down a street as he tries to win her back. Where did the idea for this scene come from?
It was kind of weird, a number of years ago there was this underground film from about 1978 that I saw called The Foreigner. I forgot the director’s name. Debbie Harry was in it. Anyways, there’s a scene where this girl is moving through the streets and the camera is tracking with her as she runs. It was a weird film, but that one image sort of stayed with me through the years.
So, was that image then the jumping off point for making The Love Parade?
Well, the idea was that there are all these great movies that have these kind of little moments and I wanted to be able to revisit them. Like when you’ve seen a film a million times and you know it’s coming and you’re just waiting for it to appear. I thought why not make a film that’s made up of these moments? Why not structure a film around these little moments and try to build them up into something bigger?
In addition to directing you also wrote the script for the film. What was that process like?
It started with one of those nights where I couldn’t get to sleep and I started thinking about this idea. Eventually, I had to get up and I wrote the whole thing in one go. It was done in an hour or two. I didn’t do much re-writing, but later the actors had their own ideas and we were able to incorporate some of them if it made sense. I think there was only one part where I said this has to be word-for-word—where I had the whole thing, the cadence of the language how I wanted it already in my head.
How did things go once you go into production?
We had a Chinese crew and that really helped a lot. They were always very helpful—even in securing locations—even though it wasn’t their job. It’s a funny thing because they spend most of their time working on commercials and they’re very good at it, but you can still see the passion they have [when they get to work on a project like this]. They’re happy about it because they can be creative.
Where did you shoot the film?
We had a number of locations. There’s one main scene that ties everything together which was shot near the Bund and a nearby street [JinLing Road] with all these music stores that we used as well. For the love scene we moved to an Airbnb apartment. Finally, we had one day where we took [the film’s actors] Emilie Ohana and George Christopher Tronsrue around for a day of improv of them just being in love.
What plans do you have for the film now that it’s done?
I want to do a lot of screenings in Shanghai. It’s a short film, so it can fit into one of the events in town. We have some great actors and the visuals are really good, but it’s also a good story that I hope people can relate to. And, then hit some festivals—let the film have its own life. Send the baby out to the world.
Anything in the works for 2016? What should we expect to see in the coming year?
Right now, we’re finishing up a first draft of a script for a feature-length version of Shanghai Story that we want to get financed and another script for a pilot for a mini-series. I’m also working on a sci-fi feature called Alone with Danny Salay as an astronaut who wakes up in space and doesn’t know where he is or how he got there. But, the next thing I’ll be doing is a series of scripted dialogues between two actors or two directors or two musicians. There is a lot of stuff that we want to make, but we’ll see how it goes!
The Love Parade is set for release in December 2015. Check out the trailer below (VPN required if in the PRC) or on Youku here.
You can also find more information about the AI Films/DSP collective here.