THE STORY STAYS IN THE PICTURE: An Interview With Filmmaker Haiyang Yu

HoldOn1He currently calls Los Angeles his home, but Haiyang Yu has a far more global vision.  He understands that thought-provoking and touching stories have the energy to influence the world. From fireside folk tales, to racy comedies, to cinematic dramas, this young, award-winning filmmaker believes that narratives are essential to human beings. His current project, the short dramatic film Hold On, tells a story that promises to touch the viewer.  In its 15-minute running time, the film explores the universal issues of religion, sexuality, and family in a big way.
In Hold On, A middle-aged, single Christian mother Sara (Lidia Vitale) discovers that her physically disabled son Ethan (Jesse Howland) is developing a strong need to explore his sexuality.  Sara is the sole caretaker of Ethan, who has limited use of his arms and legs. Every day, she goes to church and prays to God to be a better mother to her son.   One day, as she puts Ethan’s iPad away, she sees images that make her realize that he is gay and also in need for the intimacy of a partner.  She has to choose between her faith in God and the love and understanding she has for him. With little support from her church, the struggle weighs hard on her to fulfill her role as a good mother and explore the possibilities of a fulfilling relationship for her son– while asking herself, “Who should I serve – My son or my God?”  When Sara sees how lonely her son is, she decides to find him a partner. She pursues different avenues and interviews different young men, finally deciding on one of them.  But will Sara follow through with her well-intentioned plan?

 

Haiyang Yu started his writing career as a Mandarin creative copywriter after he got his Bachelors Degree in Communications in China. He includes Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ingmar Bergman, and Federico Fellini as his inspirations.  With the bi-cultural point of view and decade of experience working with artists around the globe, Haiyang has made the leap into features. He slates upcoming feature projects, including Nice To Meet Me, described as “a fun, thought-provoking, body-swap comedy”, and Falling Days. Falling Days is a coming-of-age drama/gay love tragedy set in 2003, detailing a Chinese-American teenager who lives ahead of his time. His quest for true love has alienated himself from his world and is challenged by the interference of his traditional Chinese mother.  So, he has to wrestle between choosing for her acceptance and pursuing his own honest life.

Haiyang Yu took the time to speak to me about Hold On, life as an L.A. filmmaker, and much more…

JR: Thank you for speaking with me!  I really enjoyed your film Hold On.  Is it based on, or inspired by, a true story in any way?
HY: No.  It’s not my personal story or anything like that.  I had watched a short documentary about the sexual needs of the disabled, and I was inspired by that!
JR: Ah, OK! I know that you went through a great deal of effort to find the right actors for the roles, and the search went beyond California.  It was a worldwide search.  The lead actress, Lidia Vitale, is from Italy, right?
HY: Yes.  She’s from Italy, and she’s great.  I posted a casting notice on IMDB, and she was the first person to respond.  She was very well-established in Italy, so I was amazed.  I contacted her.  She had a similar idea… but in Italy it is hard to film anything related to the Catholic Church or anything like that.  SHE found ME!  It was great to find someone else in another part of the globe who had a similar idea.  So, we talked, and we really connected, and we decided to work with each other.
JR: That’s terrific!  So… in this day and age, we have such great technology.  We can shoot videos digitally.  In “the old days”, everything was shot on film, which was expensive and took time to develop.  It’s come a long way.  In that way it has become easier for filmmakers to do what they do.  But it may also give some people the impression that it’s “easy” to shoot, edit, and create something that the audience would like.  It’s not as easy as it looks! As a professional, what have you learned about the art of making movies from when you first started? 
HY: I just learned from doing it!  In school, we had a class called “Cellphone Cinema”, where we used cell phones to film anything we wanted.  Technology is one thing, but you still need to focus on the story and the characters.  That’s not just about good technology.  I think that the storytelling is still the most important thing in film-making.  It’s easy to use your cell phone, and use your digital camera, and use software– but you still need to come back to the “foundation” of film-making: the story, the acting, and how to connect to the audience with your unique style.
JR: Another great thing about technology is that people can watch movies anywhere, anytime– not just in a theater anymore.  It’s a worldwide audience.  So, like you said, connecting to the viewer is more important than ever.  Now, when you were involved with advertising in China, did you get to satisfy your creative needs?  Did you go into film because advertising wasn’t “doing the trick”?
HY: I always wanted to do films.  I wanted to tell thought-provoking stories.  Advertising was a good start for me to do creative work, and to get a sense of how to communicate through the visual art.  In film, you can tell a lot of different kind of stories and tell what you are thinking about– through the words, the people, the humanity, stuff like that… Advertising is more commercial and about selling products.  For me, it is different.
JR: I get it!  When you were growing up, did you have role models as a filmmaker?
HY: I like Ingmar Bergman.  He is my top director.  And Federico Fellini.
JR: Oh, wow.  They both had their own style.
HY: Yes.  They were very unique.
JR: I hope that the newer generation re-discovers them… because they were so revolutionary, and because their work still holds up.  So, what have you learned about show business from being in L.A.?  I know that there are a LOT of people in that town who are in the business or who WANT to be in the business.  
HY: For me, when I first moved to L.A. I learned that it is the “world of film-making.”  So, for me, it’s very convenient to find actors and people to work with.  It’s a great place, but yeah: It’s also overwhelming. When I call an Uber, even the Uber driver is involved with the film industry. (Laughs) There’s a lot of people here.  It can be overwhelming.  I think about how I can survive!  You’re in the hub of the film-making world.  But it’s good!  You can collaborate, you can network… It’s a good place.
JR: Yes.  New York City is like that too.  There are a lot of actors, dancers, performers, and other creative people living here.  A lot of productions happen here. It can be overwhelming– or as some people would say, “saturated”!  But there’s always a lot going on, and it can be very inspiring.  I think that L.A. and New York are alike in that way.
HY: Right!
JR: On that subject, what was the biggest “culture shock” you had when you arrived in America and came to L.A.?  What was the most surprising thing that you learned?
HY: It was different than I had experienced before: I met so many people from all different cultures and backgrounds.  Then there was moving to L.A. and working in films.  That was the first time I started doing that.  It was a new experience.
JR: Most Americans only know about China and Chinese culture either from what they learned in school– which in my case was a very long time ago!– or what limited things they see on TV and the news.  But what would surprise most Americans to learn about China now?
HY: I think that right now Chinese people are starting to get rich, and are starting to buy things from all over the world.  That’s one thing. I met a lot of friends who have actually visited there, and they start to learn “the REAL China”.  The real place! (Laughs)
JR: True!  So, there is a lot going on in the 15 minute running time of Hold On: It deals with religion, and sexuality, and family… What made this such an important story to tell?  Why should people see it, and “get to know” these characters?
HY: First, I think that disabled people’s sexuality often goes unnoticed by others.  Many times disabled people are taken care of by their parents, so the parents think of them as kids and that they don’t have sexual needs.  That particular need is often unnoticed by society.  I think that it’s very important for us to know.  If others don’t help them, they can’t help themselves.  I see this film as being about the conflict between nature and culture.  We are human beings and have sexual needs, or the need to have a relationship or have a connection.  Then there is the culture: either tradition or religion.  So, there is some conflict.  I want Hold On to work into into a full length feature so that I can develop the “nature versus culture” thing.  I think that is very important for us to think about!

JR: Indeed!  So, in addition to making Hold On into a feature film, what else are you working on?
HY: I am writing a script about a gay Chinese-American man whose quest for love is challenged by his traditional mother… and also, society is not ready for him. There’s also a love tragedy with his Caucasian boyfriend.  The story is set in 2003– so like I said, the world is not ready for them.  Nowadays, the world is more open to same-sex marriage and stuff like that– but the tragedy has already happened, because they cannot live ahead of their time.  Today, it’s a totally different world.
JR: No doubt!  So, when you’re not working on films, what do you do in your spare time?
HY: I just meet people, talk, watch TV shows, watch films… just very common, basic stuff! (Laughs)
JR: Me too!  So, finally, is there an actor who you’d really like to work with one day?  
HY: Cate Blanchett.  She’s phenomenal.  I love her.  And Natalie Portman
JR: Good choice!  I like both of them too!  (Laughs)  Thank you for speaking with me!

Hold On PosterYou can watch the teaser trailer for Hold On here: https://vimeo.com/369433766

You can connect with Haiyang Yu on Facebook at:

http://www.facebook.com/yuhaiyangcoli and on Linkedin at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/yuhaiyang0425/

 

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