For those people who aren’t familiar with EPPI, when did it get started?
FE (Franz Eppensteiner): EPPI started in April of this year . It’s a platform where music, art, and social commitment [MASC] come together and a place to connect people who want to help people in need.
As part of your latest project—‘I just wanna see your SMILE’—you’ve released a music video aimed at raising awareness and money to provide surgery for children born in China with cleft lips or palates. How did the project get started?
FE: A while ago, I’d written a song called ‘Smile’ and whenever I played it people really liked it. When I came to Shanghai, I heard about an organization which is helping kids who suffer from cleft lip and palate and I thought, “Wow, I can help these kids with this song.” I connected with this organization and more and more people got involved.
Where did the inspiration to write the song come from?
FE: Two or three years ago, I was working in Tirol [in Austria]. One day over lunch I met a girl with a lovely smile. We had a nice chat and I knew I wanted to see her again. That moment inspired me to write the song. I thought it was a good song, but I didn’t expect people would like it as much as they did. So I kept playing it.
At what point did the two of you start working together?
JK (Jinke): The first time I met Franz he was playing the guitar and singing on the street [in Shanghai]. I used to live in Paris and it brought back memories I’d had because there are a lot of artists out in the streets spreading happiness throughout the city. We talked and then about a week later, he phoned me up and said, “I have a project called ‘I just wanna see your SMILE’. Can you help me work on this music video?” I was interested and I said, “Yes. I’ll do it.”
Did you have any experience producing or directing music videos prior to this project?
JK: I work as a director, but most of the projects are for business or advertisement. I’d filmed music videos in Chinese, but this was the first time to work on a music video in English.
How do you usually approach working on a project like this?
JK: The first thing always I want to know is what the lyrics are and after that I can write a bit of a simple story for the song to go along with it. Then, we can prepare a storyboard we can work with and find a location where we can shoot. Once we find the actors we can prepare a plan so our team can execute it.
Did you work together to develop the concept for the story in the music video?
JK: Before the shoot we met several times and started storyboarding what we discussed together. We also invited the cast to see what happened in the story so they would know what to prepare in advance because we only had three days for the shooting.
In addition to this you had to put together a cast and crew, secure a location, and schedule the shooting itself. What was that process like?
FE: One word: Crazy. I was teaching more than thirty drums and guitar students at that time and we had only one or two months to make it all happen. So many changes happened during the planning and preparation. I was also planning on going to Austria and Greece for the summer, which did not give us much time to make all this happen. Somehow we made it, but it was a crazy time.
You ended up with about fifteen-to-twenty people volunteering on the project—many of whom came from the local film community here. How did you first manage to reach out to people and ask them to get involved?
FE: Earlier this year, a friend invited me to the Stay in Character indie film gathering in Shanghai. I’m not a film person, but I went and as a result made some very important connections. It was a big start. The indie film network and was a key element to getting this project done.
When did the production finally take place?
FE: We shot it in early July at and around a café in Shanghai. Some scenes we shot around the café. We used the outside space. We used a little lane nearby. We used the street next to the café for the scene with the taxi. We were lucky because we could fit all those scenes in there.
How important was it to have the right team in place to make this project happen?
JK: Our team was a mix of professional and non-professional cast and crew, including people from different backgrounds and cultures with different opinions. We also had a very limited amount of time, but we needed everyone to get the work done. If we’d lost anyone during the shoot we would’ve been finished.
What was the most challenging aspect of shooting the music video?
JK: When we’re shooting anything it’s not just one take and we’re finished. I always want to get a good quality shot. So, if it’s not good, we need to change it a little bit. Especially with actors, a professional does a take two or three times and he’s finished. If someone isn’t a professional, you can still see it doesn’t look right. If you’re not a professional actor, you need someone to teach you how to do it. It takes time.
Was there any one thing you can highlight that you came away from the project with as a learning experience?
FE: There was so much I learned—mostly thanks to Jinke. I had never produced a music video before. The biggest surprise was finding out how flexible you have to be. Every day there was a good and a bad message. You’d build on something and then it would be gone. You always had to be flexible and find a new solution.
Now that it’s finished, what has the response been like?
FE: It’s been very positive. We did a big live event on 11/11 [Chinese Singles’ Day]. We launched a new website and a Taobao shop and released the music video at the same time. We are working on the subtitles now and will promote it on WeChat very soon. It’s already on our website and so far people really liked it.
What plans do you have in store for the project going forwards?
FE: Right now, we’re getting ready to reach out to people all over China. We are building up some future partnerships to be able to promote the project properly. We’re also making the EPPI platform bigger and creating more collaborations so more people will hear about it and will be interested in supporting it.
Is there any more film or video production you’d like to do in connection with the project?
JK: I think we could make a documentary following the story of a real child who can’t smile [due to a cleft lip or palate defect] and doesn’t have the ability to express her emotions. After she gets surgery we could see how she can express herself and how it changes her life.
FE: That would be awesome.
Will we get to see another music video soon?
FE: Definitely. I already have plans for another one scheduled for February. Hopefully, we can release it in spring. We’ll tell you when we know more! Stay tuned on our website!
You can learn more about the “I just wanna see your SMILE” project at the EPPI website here. You can also support the project by purchasing a t-shirt via their website or at one of their upcoming events around Shanghai. Money raised goes to providing surgery for children born in China with cleft lips and/or palates. And, check out the ‘Smile’ music video below (or watch here)!