“GO BACK TO CHINA is a coming of age story about a spoiled rich girl who, after blowing through half of her trust fund, is forced by her father to go back to China and work for the family business. What started out as a way to regain financial support soon turns into a journey of self-discovery.” Director Emily Ting on GO BACK TO CHINA which screens in the 2019 edition of SxSW Film.
Congratulations on your film playing in at SxSW this year! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?
Yes, this is the first time I’ve had a film screen at SXSW. But unfortunately, due to my pregnancy, I’m not able to make it to the festival. However, my cast and crew will be representing the film at the first two screenings!
So how did you get into this movie-making business? Talk to me a bit about how you got your start and what you have worked on in the past.
I have always wanted to be a filmmaker and had gone to film school at NYU. But shortly after graduation, I was forced by my father to return to Asia and work for the family business. So as you can see, the film is just a little bit autobiographical! I spent my entire 20s working for my father and feeling like I was robbed the chance of pursuing my dreams. Finally, on the eve of my 30th birthday, I decided to move to LA and get back into indie film. I started out by producing my friends’ micro budget indie films. After relearning the process and making the necessary contacts, I was finally ready to direct my first feature film ALREADY TOMORROW IN HONG KONG.
How did this project come together for you?
After my first film, there was a lot of expectation for me to write more rom coms. But I kept coming back to this story. I felt like I needed to tell this story first before I could move on to anything else. I wrote the first draft in early 2017 and received some pretty good early feedback. This emboldened me to really set up this film as my next project. I spent a few months developing the script and started sending out offers to actors by that summer. At the same time, my reps were sending the film out to potential financiers. But before CRAZY RICH ASIANS, a Asian American family drama starring an all Asian cast was still deemed a hard sell. Instead of waiting around for someone to write me a check, I decided to roll the money we had made from my first feature into this one. We shot the LA portion of the film for 5 days in early 2018, halted production for almost 2 months so that I could go and prep in China, and finished production in Hong Kong and China in April 2018. The shoot took a total of 20 days. We then spent the summer editing in LA and started our festival submissions in the fall.
What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?
There will always be long and difficult days on set during production, but it’s knowing that you will have this precious gift at the end of the process that keeps me going. I am currently pregnant and it’s eerily similar to the process of making of a feature. You spend almost a year gestating a human or working on your feature, and there are days where you’re just totally over it, but at the end of the process, you get to give birth to a precious baby. That makes it all worth it!
What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?
I think that the biggest challenge with this film is that we shot in three different countries. We shot for five days in LA, three days in Hong Kong, and 12 days in Shenzhen. It is like prepping three different films. And even though we were able to use mostly the same crew between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, doing a company move with your entire cast and crew to another country at the end of a shoot day was definitely not easy. The moment I yelled “that’s a wrap” and “that’s a picture lock” and the moment we received our invitation from SxSW were probably the most rewarding!
I’m about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.
Every time I start prepping a new film, I always think about the color palette first. For ALREADY TOMORROW IN HONG KONG, we shot entirely at night and used a really saturated color palette dominated by reds and greens that really reflected the neon night scape of the city. I wanted a very different look for this film. I went with a really pastel color palette, dominated by coral and mint, and shot the film mostly during the day. I wanted to show Sasha’s softening over the course of the film and had the production design and costume reflect her arc.
I have known my DP Josh Silfen since college and have worked together many times. He did a fantastic job on my previous feature, so it’s just a no brainer to have him come back and shoot this one. We shot on the Sony F55 with Zeiss Ultra Primes.
After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?
We have nine more confirmed film festival invitations after SxSW. The only one I’m allowed to reveal right now is Cinequest in San Jose. The rest we can only announce after the festivals reveal their lineup. Hopefully, we will be able to find a distributor soon, so that we can release it wide to the general audience.
If you could show your movie in any theatre outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?
I really want to screen this film at the local theater in Shenzhen, where we shot the film. I really want to share this film with the factory workers who worked as extras on the film!
What would you say to someone who was being disruptive through a movie?
I may ask them politely and quietly to stop whatever it is they’re doing. But getting into a confrontation may prove to be even more disruptive.
We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?
Just go out and do it. If financing is a hurdle, write a simple film with a few characters, a short timeline, and locations you have access to. Get your friends together to work for cheap/free and crowdsource the budget. I see so many filmmakers waiting for years to get their films financed, because the project is overly ambitious or they think they need a certain name actor or amount of budget to make it ‘right.’ SXSW has launched the careers of so many filmmakers who made films with no stars or money. You don’t need all those bells and whistles to make something interesting or meaningful.
And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?
I went to Sundance in 2013 and the movie I wanted to see the most was BEFORE MIDNIGHT, since BEFORE SUNRISE/SUNSET were my favorite films of all time. I stood in line every morning to try to score tickets, to no avail. Finally, on the last day, I got tickets to a 8:30 am screening. I literally cried of joy upon seeing the first frame of that film, and it definitely did not disappoint.
This is one of the many film titles playing at SxSW 2019. For more information on this and any other title playing in the festival, point your browser to http://www.sxsw.com/film!