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Oliver Yan Talks About Home Away and Film-making

How did you start your career as a filmmaker? What or who inspired you to get into the craft of filmmaking? I started my film career from shooting a short film which named R that short is no dialogue,7mins. Actually, I learned by myself. What projects did you work on before Home Away? Before Home Away, I’ve made several short films. Where did the initial idea for the screenplay come from? How long did it take for the screenplay to take its current form? It is based on a true event in Shanghai. I heard it from Shanghai radio FM990. I wrote this screenplay in 2 weeks or so. The film has a quite interesting opening scene, with a long take. Someone asks something illegal from someone else. Why did you decide to start the film with that continuous shot? This long shot is one of the few shots that I am quite satisfied with in this film. This is the first shot of this film, and if you watch it carefully, you will find that when Mr. Zhou and Aunt Dong sat opposite each other, they are separated by window frame, which implies something. The purpose of adopting coherent long shots is to contrast this effect. In the second sequence where there is a purple-colored alley (or the scene inside the old woman's house when the maid is working), we realize how the film has focused on the harmony of colors. The color of the woman's dress and the color of the walls, the white items all over the place, they all point to a delicate decision behind it. How do these harmonies of colors and shapes introduce the scene and move the story forward? Are they significant in relation to the overall theme(s) of the film or are they simply related to your aesthetical preferences? Color has certain connection with this story. With the progression of story, both costumes and background colors are implying something.

The dramatic force between the characters has been so brilliantly created that seemingly everyday topics and discussions become important for the audience. How long did the casting process take? What kind of challenges and problems did you face while rehearsing for the film? How free were the actors in adding to the behavior, gestures and characteristic features of the characters? I spent nearly 2 months in casting and encountered too many difficulties and troubles during rehearsal, mainly from the schedule of actors/actresses. However, every one provided cooperation. On set, I would give them space to play freely, sometimes they can even not follow the lines and we just shoot as comfortable as they can. Some of the shots in the film, including the opening scene or the scene in the park and the fish market might remind the audience of the great frames in the cinema of Japan. For example, minimalist filmmakers like Yasujiro Ozu. Did the art-house filmmakers in your neighboring country influence you? Or is there a particular filmmaker whose films have inspired you to approach the story in this manner? In fact, the inspiration for me to create this film comes from an Iranian film A Separation. Minimalist film style is also what I like and appreciate. Of course, this is also related to the film theme.

There are times when the film progresses without a need for dialogues, by simply using its visual means. The power of images is so powerful that the narrative isn't affected by the absence of dialogues. What were your plans to approach the characters in a way that the audience can sympathize with them without using as many dialogues? The nurse, the old woman and the old man turn into recognizable, sympathetic characters after three or four minutes.

I have thought of that before shooting this film. By transiting information through actions of roles. It is in fact a “test” for the audiences. The progress of film with pictures rather than dialogues need participation of audiences.

Lighting and the visual style of the film is smooth and static at times, and still the rhythm of the film does not lose its balance. How did you manage to keep the balance between the tone of the film and its rhythm?

I have been focusing on maintaining the artistic aesthetics and narrative rhythm. In fact, the audiences of each country have different feelings on the film rhythm. Sometimes, you have only to follow yourself instinct. Film is also the art of balance.

Tell us about the difficulties during the shooting process. What were the obstacles you had to overcome when making Home Away? Do you think making independent films has gotten easier or harder these days?

It took me 14 days to shot this film, during which nearly 9 days were rainy days in Shanghai. All scenes at the shooting places were real, so we had to go to the location for filming. Every day, we had to face different shooting difficulties, we had traffic jam, crowding and sunshine problems.

However, filming is a process of facing difficulties and overcoming them, isn’t it?

Speaking of independent film, I think it is more difficult than before.

Artists like Ai Weiwei have repeatedly revealed and discussed the social problems in China. Do you think cinema can truly reflect the social problems today? Can cinema ever offer solutions to the problems we're facing today?

Frankly speaking, I don’t think it can. The precondition to solve the problem is first to recognize the problem. However, with the emergence and development of Internet, smartphone and new media, people would more like to have the “machines” think for them and to be immersed in the virtual reality, and sometimes even cinema and film are a way for them to escape from the real life.

What are you working on at the moment? What is your next project?

Home Away will be released next year in China. We are all prepare for this film promotion and distribution. My next project? Temporary confidential.

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