“I guess there’s always inspiration around us if we observe and dig deeper into the day to day.”
We sat down with director Michael Wong to talk about his debut short and the differences between directing for advertising and the short film…
Honey Wagon Confidential: Where’d the idea for ‘The Story of 90 Coins’ come from and who were your inspirations?
Michael Wong: The short film is partially based on a true story of a friend’s friend. I guess there’s always inspiration around us if we observe and dig deeper into the day to day.
HWC: You have a lot of experience shooting commercials. What is the main difference you found in shooting a commercial as opposed to a short? How is your process different for the two?
MW: I’m blessed to have spent 15 years of my life in the advertising industry being a creative and then the past 5 years as a film director doing mostly TV commercials. Personally, I think there are a few differences between shooting a commercial and shooting a short film. Commercials are like 45 seconds or 30 seconds (now we’re getting requests for 15 seconds!) and you’ve got to deliver a message within that short time frame. So, time duration is naturally a big difference.
Secondly, I tend to look at a commercial through a ‘magnifying glass’ because that’s how an advertiser will scrutinize their commercial; they are more concerned about their product appearance, product benefit, selling points, etc. On the other hand, I look at a short film with a ‘wide angle’ approach; seeing things with a broader perspective; getting an entertaining storyline that happens around interesting situations with good performance from the talents, etc.
This film being my debut short film, I realized that the approach in finding the right actor/actress for a short film is entirely different from shooting a commercial. The latter, in 90% of the time requires a good-looking face and physical appearance.
HWC: What camera did you shoot ‘The Story of 90 Coins on?’ Why did you choose this camera?
MW: We shot on Arri Alexa for the wide dynamic range and great skin tone. It’s perfect as we shoot a lot with existing ambient lights.
HWC: The short has a very unique and soft feel, conveying the romance surrounding it. What measures did you take to achieve this tone?
MW: We wanted a romance/love story that really evokes memory and emotion of the viewers. Having trained as an art director back in the days of doing ads, I paid a lot of attention in the actual crafting of the film, mainly the color tone and the music.
For example, I requested wardrobe colors to match the emotion needed for a particular scene. Also, we took great effort in getting the right location. Does the color of the wall in the location help with the emotion? What about the existing lights, do we need warm tungsten or a colder florescent? On a humorous note, I think the polluted air in Beijing during those few days of filming really helped with the atmospheric feel.
HWC: Why did you get into film in the first place?
MW: As mentioned earlier, I started off in the advertising industry as an art director and then as a creative director, having worked in various multinational advertising agencies in China. As I climbed up the career ladder, I noticed that I was getting more involved in management and politics than actually doing creative work. Eventually I took a leap of faith and worked as a film director on the receiving end, concentrating on the crafting and artistic expression.
HWC: What is your advice to filmmakers just starting out?
MW: Grab whatever opportunity comes and then make the best out of it.
Check out more on Wong’s work here!