A poetic animation on seeing someone else succeed in a path you once considered.
Interview with Writer/Director/Animator Chia-Hsin Lee
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
I was an ecology major before I became an animator. Two years ago I met a girl who was an animation major but changed paths to doing ecology. Our paths seemed to have switched, but instead of becoming best friends, we were very jealous of each other. One day while I was deep in my hatred and anger for her, I thought, "Wouldn't it be grand if we were the same person just split into two, then you could do ecology for me, and I'll do animation for you?" That's when I got my film idea.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
"Once upon a time, there was a girl who stood at a fork. She wanted both and couldn't pick one, so she split herself into two and went off on different roads. Decades passed and they both became successful in their respective fields and have forgotten the existence of their other half. One day they finally meet again and hated each other because the other has what one used to desire."
That was my initial pitch. I hope my film has not lost its original core, and I hope the audience gets to see how it has evolved.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
The theme is on jealousy, and during the four months of writing the poem, I interviewed many people on their experience on jealousy. It turns out that most of my interviewees feel/felt jealous not because they are different from their counterpart, but because they share something that is the same as the other person. Furthermore, they tend to fear that the other person does a better job than them on that specific shared trait.
While writing the poem, I was stuck and couldn't figure out the ending to the story. One friend of mine shared her story with me, saying that after she won an award, an old "frienemy" who used to be rivals with her but then switched path, called her on the phone to congratulate her and thank her for continuing the path of art for both of them. That sentence touched my heart and then gave me the idea for the ending of the film.
I think everybody has had some experience with jealousy, either on a large or minor scale. And if you have, I hope the ending of this film can bring you peace. At least that's what it did for me while I was making it.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
The script was originally with a paleontologist doing a monologue in a museum during night time. She was jealous of other people who were like a mirror to herself. After she found her peace, dawn light shone into the museum making the previous monstrous-looking specimens serene and beautiful. It was going to be a stop-motion film.
However, my film workshop teacher said this was the most boring film he could imagine, so then it changed into two girls in a forest being jealous of each other. One is doing one thing, and the other doing another. It became much more tangible to work with, but I couldn't settle with what the two girls are doing. My CG teacher then told me to ask myself what the story is that I wanted to tell, either one is more practical picking berries and the other is more romantic picking flowers or any other comparable combination. I then thought the story I wanted to tell was that no matter what career path you choose, they are all the same, and they are all beautiful. So then I decided to use two colors because you cannot compare colors, they are just different, they are all beautiful.
After that, I had the entire film in my mind visually, with the colors crawling and trees growing, but I didn't have the technical knowledge to realize it. At first, I still wanted to use stop motion, to build the colors and growing trees as I film it. But then an upperclassman of mine told me to try out CG (computer graphic) because with a single click you can change the whole scene immediately. So then I spent the next three months learning CG from my teachers and testing the trees and ink to see how to make them work the way I wanted.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
One of the most memorable feedback I have received said life is exactly like what the film depicted - an endless cycle of red and blue. Others say the premise was very clear from the beginning - about choosing two roads. Still, others say it brought goosebumps and tears to their eyes, which is what I hope the film does.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
There have been different interpretations from audiences, including one about other halves of relationships. None of them has been offensive so far so I'm glad and am open to hearing every interpretation out there.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I hope people who are curious can have an understanding of how a short film or any art form evolve and change during the making process.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
I hope journalists, film festival directors, and distributors can come on board! If producers are interested, they can contact me for my next short film, which will be finished in April 2020.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I hope people feel a sense of peacefulness after watching this film.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
We don't talk about jealousy openly that often, because it is such a guilty thing to have. I am not proposing everybody to go and openly express their jealousy. That would be immature and cause unnecessary conflict. However, it would be helpful to simply recognize it, both in yourself and others.
Would you like to add anything else?
I studied one year of landscape architecture (after ecology) before switching paths to animation. When I first entered school in CalArts, I wondered if it would be cool to make a film with just a POV (point of view) camera walking through the landscape with no character at all. Without intending to do so, I made one. I guess the subconscious has always been there influencing us.
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I am currently developing another animation short film that will be finished in April 2020. It will be on the topic "You can lead a horse to water."
Interview: August 2019
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series, music video, women's films, LGBTQIA+, POC, First Nations, scifi, supernatural, horror, world cinema. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
In an Empty Wood
A poetic animation on seeing someone else succeed in a path you once considered.
Director: Chia-Hsin Lee
Writer: Chia-Hsin Lee
About the writer, director and producer:
CHIA-HSIN LEE is a filmmaker currently studying character animation in California Institute of the Arts. She was born and raised in Taiwan. Before Chia started her career as an artist, she studied Biology and Landscape Architecture, while working part-time in the Paleontology Department of National Museum of Natural Science. In the future, she hopes to bring Art, Entertainment, and Science together with her films.
Key cast: Chia-Hsin Lee (director, writer, animator), Hao Feng (voice actor), Kion Heidari (composer, vocalist), Benjamin Scanlan (percussionist), Benjamin Huff (sound mixer)
Looking for: journalists, film festival directors, producers
Facebook: Chia-Hsin Lee
Hashtags used: #cg #film, #animation, #calarts, #chia, #red, #blue, #jealousy, #2018, #trees, #shorts
Funders: Used the computers at school so didn't spend a single dollar. Crew are all students at school.
Where can I watch it next and in the coming month? Overmountain Animation Festival/ Johnson City, Tennessee - Aug 9-10; Mosaic World Film Festival/ Nordlof Center in the Rockford, Illinois - Sept 13-15; FEEDBACK Film Festival/ Carlton Cinemas in downtown Toronto - Nov 14; ANIMA2019 - X Córdoba International Animation Festival/ Córdoba, Argentina - Oct 9-11; also available online