Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?
I am still currently a student at Columbia University, and there really isn’t much of a “career” that I have developed thus far. However, I would say that my involvement in ShanghaiPRIDE as well as my experience organizing ShanghaiPRIDE Film Festival for two years as a member of its creative team definitely had an influence on my academic as well as professional trajectory.
What motivated you to make this impact video?
The video was made as my independent project during my internship at Justice4Her program under Radio Netherlands Worldwide Greater China. The goal of the program is draw public attention to workplace gender discrimination as well as the issue of domestic violence. When looking for stories of domestic violence, we realized that many victims tend to stay quiet after being abused for fear of losing face of the family or further retribution from the spouse. This is when I first had the idea of focusing my project on addressing this issue.
Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.
Canon 60D and Canon 550D
Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story.
To produce the video, I hired a special effects make-up artist that typically works with larger film productions. We won’t be able to realize our creative ideas such vividly without her doing the make-up for the actress and advising on the script.
How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?
At the very start, I only conceived the story to be a very straightforward “youtuber trying to offer a post-domestic-violence make-up tutorial while unexpectedly interrupted by the husband” story. It wasn’t until the make-up artist joined the team that I first started to consider the stories behind each “wound” on the character’s face and each “punch” into the character’s eyes. I started to ask myself “what happened the previous night?” and recreated a backstory for the video. As I communicated the backstory to the actress and the make-up artist, the story and the video itself became more convincing and authentic.
Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.
The project was the first time that I tried shooting with two cameras and the first time I produced the video and the audio separately. It was definitely more challenging when it came to editing the footage, but at the same time I learned so much from the process.
What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?
No matter how inexperienced you are or how little professional training you’ve received, if you have an idea and a vision of an impactful story, get up and grab your camera and share it with the world. There can be plenty of fancy cinematography out there, but there aren’t as many good stories.
What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?
My favorite part about filmmaking is turning on the camera and trying to actually bring to life all the scenes you’ve acted in your mind a thousand times before walking into the studio. There are moments when you exclaim, “this is exactly how I imagined what it would would look like!” And there are many more moments when how the scene turns out in front of a camera totally surprises you – because it is a collaborative effort, everyone involved has his or her own ideas and understandings to contribute to the production. In the end, when the final video is exported and you watch it from start to end, everything again makes sense, and you don’t even remember how you originally conceived it to be. You start with an imagination and vision, and you work to make it something tangible and even more beautiful.
What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?
A camera. Beautiful things happen when you turn on a camera and remove the lens cap.
Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.
The main character in the video is actually my friend at Columbia who happened to be in Shanghai when I was looking for an actress for the video, and the “husband” in the video is actually myself. Probably nobody involved in the creative process was professional – except for the make-up artist. It was very much a group of friends gathering together trying to make such a thing happen. I’m very glad that a production experience that I personally enjoyed so much also resonated with so many more people out there. I wasn’t tailoring it to the public taste for sure, but somehow the video just worked. I’m very grateful.
Please provide a brief description of the work or organization featured in your video:
The characters in the video are completely fictional. The video was produced as part of the video series of Justice4Her under Radio Netherlands Worldwide. Justices4Her works to empower female migrant workers in China and seek to bring to public attention issues such as gender-based violence and workplace gender discrimination.
What have you learned about the value and impact of the project?
I never imagined that the video was able to achieve a viewership of over one million within the first few days after its release. There was such a heated discussion online because of the video. I guess this was the first time that I realized how powerful images can be and how large an audience I can resonate with if I tell good enough of a story with my camera. This is inspiring, and definitely makes me want to commit further on this path of filmmaking and change-making.
What do you want audiences to take away from your film?
With issues like domestic violence, it is often not enough to just provide the resources and wait for the victims to come forth. The issues are usually complicated by cultural norms and societal pressures. They require us as outsiders to really take the perspectives of those affected and phrase our messages more thoughtfully.
Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:
Traditional family values’ role in domestic violence.
What informs victims’ decision to step up or cover up?
Is this an issue specific to China?
How do we encourage more victims to step up against the abusers and face their traumatizing past?
Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the film. How have things changed or not changed?
Justice4Her produced another video on the issue later last year.
What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?
If you speak Mandarin and have any skill sets to contribute, contact Justice4Her via its Weibo, WeChat or Website. The program is always looking for extra hands.
Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):
Website of Justice4Her: http://chengyusan.cn/
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