Oliver Yan is a real rising star. This talented Chinese director, who started his career 10 years ago, has already been traveling worldwide with his films, gaining recognition and winning several international awards. He just returned from New York, and next month he's flying to Europe to participate in Nice International Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival, where he is again nominated for his wonderful work.
Last month, Yan's latest feature, "Home Away" won Best Picture award at LAFA, and became one of LAFA's biggest winners with 7 (!) awards overall. Our lead judge, Les Brandt, described Yan as "a gifted story teller and a brilliant filmmaker".
Oliver, last month you inspired us with "Home Away". How did you become a storyteller and a filmmaker? When did this journey begin for you, and how?
Thank you! I started my career in the winter of 2007. I wrote, directed, produced, acted, shot and edited my first short film "R" (7mins) which had no dialogue and won Best Foreign Language Short Film at the 2008 Washougal International Film Festival.
What are your main influences as a film director? In other words, which movies and/or film directors shaped your cinematic language?
Taiwanese Director Edward Yang, Hong Kong based Director Kar-Wai Wong and Iranian Films have always inspired me. When I was younger, many great American films influenced me, such as Schindler’s List, Forrest Gump, Shawshank Redemption, Brave Heart, Scent of A Woman, Lion King and The Lord of the Rings.
What was the inspiration for the story of Home Away?
The film is based on a true event that happened in Shanghai, which I head about on the radio in 2014.
Before directing Home Away, you directed another feature film, Flipping, and a few other projects. What are some important things you have learned during the production of Home Away, that you didn't know before? Did you try to do anything differently this time?
The important thing I’ve learned from the making of Home Away is that as a director you have to follow your heart and intuition.
The other thing is that you may permit yourself to make mistakes in a limited range.
From those mistakes, you will learn how to make movie in your way.
Filmmaking for me is a journey, it’s about my inside and outside exploration. I’d like to challenge myself and push myself to be better.
From the very first scene, it's clear that your cinematographer, Jong Lin, is incredibly talented! The way he captures the drama is stunning. The outstanding cinematography got him the Best Cinematography award at Los Angeles Film Awards. How did you meet him? What were some of the visual concepts you discussed before approaching this project?
My friend sent him my screenplay. After he read it, he agreed to be my cinematographer. Actually we barely discuss about film concepts, We just focus on how to complete our creation and shots in a limited time on set.
Even though it was our first collaboration, Jong and I were so matched. The collaboration was very efficient.
How did you meet Xu Cai Gen, (Mr. Zhou) the AMAZING lead character who also won Best Actor for his performance?
A friend introduced him to me. We talked for an hour and there was a chemistry. I am sure he is the best person to play this lead character. He devoted himself to my movie, and all of our crew members were moved by his great personality and talent. He is also a great father and grandfather in his real life.
You were also the editor of Home Away. Do you usually prefer to edit films you wrote and directed? How much did the story change in the editing process and why did you make the changes you did?
Actually It’s so hard to find a good film editor in China. Lots of editors are doing commercial and TV. But a good film editor is so important to the director. The editing room is full of creation and imagination. It’s about the soul of the film, to merge it in editing room. I couldn't find an editor that would really fit this project, so I decided to edit the movie myself.
The final version of the film wasn't far from my screenplay, as I drew every single shot of the storyboard by myself before shooting.
So you wrote, directed, edited and produced the film by yourself. How hard was it, making it on your own?
I am the one from the idea to distribution and selling the film. I spent almost 10 years on learning how to make movies, how to tell a story, how to sell the film. Filmmaking has given me so many invaluable things. I really appreciated it. I hope I could find my partner in the future.
Let's talk about some technicalities. How long was the whole shoot? Did you need any special permits to shoot in locations?
I shot the movie in 14 days. I spent almost three months on scouting locations. The locations renting was very high and some of the locations required permissions.
What was the film's budget?
It’s a low budget movie, below 500,000 USD. Recently, a New York based distribution company has been interested in selling the film.
Can you tell about your next project?
I am looking for funding for my next project which called “Love is Nothing”. We have already shot a teaser. We'll be shooting the film in Shanghai, and it will be a co-production project. I can't wait to start making it.
Home Away - Official Trailer