"In post production, I let the audience open their mind"
In the following interview, Di takes us behind the scenes of "Whisper" and his upcoming projects, shares his thoughts about storytelling and the power of post production, and even has some tips for up and coming film editors.
Di, please tell us about your background. Where did you grow up, and how did you become interested in storytelling, and specifically film editing?
I’m from China. I've loved imagination ever since I was a little boy. And I really have interest in science- that's why I make sci-fi films. When I was 7 years old, after watching The Terminator 2, I told myself I want to make movies. So I decided to fulfill my dreams, and to have the future that I wished for as a child. I bought my first camera- Canon 7D when I was in University, and I got many chances to shoot fashion photography because my major at school was fashion marketing. At the same time, I started writing stories until I moved to Hollywood and got a chance to shoot them.
You've already completed 5 short films, including "Puppet Part", "Secret Shopper" and "Carol! Are You in There?"- A very impressive achievement! Tell us about the first short you wrote and directed and edited, Carol! Are You in There? What were some of your main takeaways from working on this film?
"Carol! Are You in There?" was the first sci-fi I've ever made! I tried many ways to create an interesting image like two same people who communicate in the same frame. And the main reason I shot it was because I was trying to edit it like a dark comedy, I think that’s my style, I don’t know if you can feel that in my film “Whisper”. In this movie, I tried to put happy music in a very serious scene and use the editing skill to create some ridicules things to let the audience have some interesting feeling on that.
It is about a cyborg who gets into a Church and asks the priest if God will bless him, also because Carol’s husband (Peter) got cancer before he died, they make a decision that bought a cyborg who looks the same as Peter, and copies Peter’s conscious in the Cyborg. But the Cyborg is not Peter, so when they live together, the Cyborg realizes he is not as good as a human being. When they watch porn, the cyborg has no reaction. So the Cyborg also copies Carol’s conscious. Then he feels he is better than real human being because he is both male and female inside. And the priest’s answer is love lasts forever, good job.
The story of Whisper is so creative and original. Congratulations on doing such a beautiful work. How did you come up with it? Let's talk about your creative writing process. Where does the inspiration come from? Do you usually base your characters on people you know in real life? How many drafts did you have for Whisper? Do you ever experience a writer's block, and if you do, how do you overcome it?
For the brain ideal, I was watching my grandmother talking to the incense which commemorates my grandfather who passed over many years ago. I never saw him and my grandmother was talking to the incense so emotional. I was thinking what if the incense answers her. What’s the meaning of our life?
I can't remember how many drafts I wrote! When writing the story, I tried to give the audience a world in forth dimension, and it's possible because the film has a screenplay. Christopher Nolan did that in Interstellar, but I believe it was much more difficult to me, because I had a low budget for a 15-minute film. And he was talking about love between the Father and Daughter. My story is about destiny. In the theory of relativity, past and future already exist, and my attitude for my life is what Diana said in my film, just do the things I think are right to do. I don’t know my future, but I think gonna accept it. I have to.
What was the most challenging thing in the making of it?
The most difficult things were to make it clear how old Diana was every time she answered Cooper. And I have to say it fails on set because both the time and budget are very limited. So, I had to edit the story make the scene work. In editing, it looks like they could communicate by making phone calls, but they’re really far away, because it is about time and space. So when I edited it, I took long shot in Coma, and cut back to real world, Diana’s age changed, because I wanted to separate the two worlds. And in the end, I cut it quicker and cross their dialogue. To make the audience understand, in the real world, Cooper’s dialogue is a little bit different from the cut where we can see Cooper in a coma.
Whisper received an Honorable Mention in the Sci-Fi category here at the Los Angeles Film Awards, and also won Best Editing and an Honorable Mention: Student Film at the prestigious Top Shorts Film Festival. These festivals are highly competitive, and your achievements are considered significant in the field. How do you feel about your success so far? What were some of the highlights of your career so far?
Well, I love sci-fi stories, my biggest dream was to show my imagination on screen to the audience, and after I guided their attention through editing, it made me feel so excited! And these festival prizes really give confidence. They made me feel- yes, I can keep work hard and enjoy making movies for a career.
Whisper - Trailer
What are some inspirations that influence you editing technique and style? Which films have made an impact on you and your work?
Many films made me want to become an editor. One of them is... “Memento”. Yes, another Christopher Nolan’s film. I don’t like linear narrative structure, I prefer to play games with the audience to open their mind. In my film “Whisper”, I tried my best to break the timeline to show the ideal “past and future” already exist. I believe this makes my films more complicated and interesting!
Because of your impressive skills, you were recently invited to take a position as a News Reporter in one of Hong Kong's TV stations. What a great honor! What can you tell us about your responsibilities in this role? How is News Editing different than narrative film editing?
In Phoenix TV station, my job is to shoot & edit the news, and put it on TV every day. And I think film editing and news editing are totally different things although these are all trying to attract the audience’s attention. For movie and other artistic pieces, they’re all about emotion! As a movie editor, my job is to make the film give the audience the right emotion that the director wants. For news, I don’t think I have the rights to guide people have emotion on something, it’s not right! I believe news should just show the audience what happened, why they might need to know that and let them think themselves. I don’t think it is easier than movies, it’s TV, it should be interesting! And most of the news reports have emotions there! So in my understanding of good news editing is, good picture, not your own emotion or agenda- make it interesting! And it’s not easy at all.
Another example for your exceptional editing is the fact you've been invited to work with famous film composer, Brian Tyler. There are many up and coming editors out there, but he chose you because of your extraordinary talents and impressive work experience. Tell us about this gig, and what was it like working with a person of such caliber?
Brian Tyler knows me because I had an interview with him for his new music for a Chinese movie, and the music has already been showing in Dolby Theatre recently. He is very open minded and kind, we laughed a lot. And I asked his number, I sent him the news and my other works. I think he has interest with that or maybe he feels I’m an interesting person! And he is really great that he could always find the right emotion for the scene of the story, read the script, find the right tone, I’m so surprised!
What is the difference between editing a film you directed, and editing a film you didn't direct?
When I edit my film, I clearly know what kind of emotion I need, but it’s not easy to cut away an unimportant clip which I spend lots of time and money on, but I still push myself to do that. I forgot who said that: “As a producer, the film is like my child, never grows up as you wish” If it is other’s people’s film, I will read the script, find the right emotion, cut the useless shoot away…
People don't often understand this, but editing is such a crucial, important element in a film and impacts the overall success of the film. A good editor is one of the most important ingredients to making a good film. What would you wish people knew about your job?
Well, when I realize the editor for any film, it must be terrible editing for any new skill, new story structure… most of the time, the editing is great, I will seek in the movie, but totally forgot that part of the job.
Also, what are some tips you can give to beginners who just opened their editing software for the very first time?
I use Pr (Adobe Premiere) as my first software, it’s powerful for low budget short films. And my film “Whisper” is edited on Pr. But for sure, Avid is the best software for a feature film or TV, Avid is good to manage the amounts of footage.
What are your short term and long term career goals?
I plan to keep working as a news reporter for a few more years, because it opens my mind to write a story, and of course, to make more friends and connections in the industry. I interview successful people every day. And I believe Brian Tyler is just the beginning, it will bring me more opportunities. And of course, I want to be a film editor, director, writer, I love it.
What can you tell us about Caged Bird, the short drama you're currently working on?
Caged Bird is my friend’s film, she is an actress and she wants to shoot something based one her life. When I read the script, I just gave the name “Caged Bird” as the title of the story. It's about her passion to stay in Hollywood and fulfill her dream, but also about struggling- she lives far away from her family. Her mom comes from China to bring her back, so she has to make a choice between family and dream, but if birds want to fly, they have to leave the cage. I think it is emotional because it happens to so many international people.
Do you have more upcoming projects you're involved in?
I am planning with a Hong Kong film company for an Action feature film, currently called “China Town Story”, I will be 1st AD and editor. Collin Chou will be there. The next step is to shoot a scene in order to raise more money on April 28. I will be the director and editor.