Indie films, historically, have sometimes attracted negative connotations – similar in many ways to the music industry’s original stance on the term ‘alternative music.’ Big production studios for the longest time wouldn’t go anywhere near an indie film, as they were seen as a direct threat to box office revenue and inherently poorer in quality than the big studio blockbusters. Oh, how times and tastes change. YouTube, Netflix and the greater internet at large have changed perceptions of indie films as more and more audiences are exposed to the visions of directors and writers unbound by the constraints of major media conglomerates, often times working on a skin-tight budget. In exploring the indie film scene further I came across director and cinematographer Zac Chia, who as one of the more renowned storytellers in the modern indie film scene has taken audiences and critics by storm in film festivals across the nation such as the Los Angeles Short Film Awards and the Atlanta Horror Film Festival. Our staff had the opportunity to ask Chia about his greatest achievements, the gritty details of filmmaking and the process of taking a written story and turning it into a visual journey.
What excites you most about your work as a director and cinematographer/camera operator?
As a director, being able to share stories that have moved me with others through the medium of film, and being able to bring an audience on a roller coaster ride — be it one of emotion, action or drama — excite me the most as a director. As a cinematographer and camera operator, being able to help others tell their stories and bring their vision to life with camera movement, lighting, and visual nuances excite me the most.
How do you find the creative inspiration and motivation to continue telling emotionally engaging stories?
There are honestly so many things that keep me creatively inspired all the time. Paying attention to my surroundings, experiencing new things, travelling, listening to others’ stories about themselves or of others, listening to folklore from different cultures, watching others’ work and reading others’ work are some of the ways I have accomplished this. I’m constantly inspired by the things around me, and I think that fuels me to tell stories.
Can you tell us a little bit about the story and creation behind your film Where Things May Grow? What are some the challenges you have to overcome as a director in order to bring an idea like this to life?
From writer and producer Taylor Blackburn, “the origins of Where Things May Grow came years before its production. I spent a lot of time in the Southwest growing up — in particular this small, middle of nowhere town in Utah. I really loved the vast landscape, the desolate beauty, and the feeling of being just a little removed from civilization. So I started mulling over this idea of a relationship coming undone in a world like that. Then it was only after I wrote the script that I realized where the story I told really came from. In college, I spent a summer living in a tiny studio apartment in LA with my partner at the time. Our relationship was coming undone, and even in a giant city there was this real sense of isolation. We didn’t really know other people there, and our living situation kept us together constantly. That’s what Jack and Charlotte are experiencing: the effects of isolation and codependency in a relationship, but on the most extreme level.”
For me, as the director, the challenge was bringing a 15-page script to life in just two-and-a-half days without compromising on the shotlist and visual design of the film. I am extremely blessed and thankful to my cast and crew, as it would have been impossible without everyone working and collaborating at a level that was more than their very best.
How did it feel to have Where Things May Grow screened at the Bates Film Festival? Do you happen to know roughly how many were in attendance? What did critics say about the film?
It was wonderful to have Where Things May Grow screen at the Bates Film Festival. Scheduling meant I missed the actual screening of the film, but I was able to speak with attendees and organizers about it during my time at the festival. I don’t have a number, but I’m told the Shorts block was well attended. I was excited to hear how much members of the audience engaged with and reacted to the film, especially commenting on what it had to say about relationships.
Have any of your other films won any awards/accolades? Are there any certain strategies you have found to be successful when marketing your films upon completion?
I have been fortunate enough to have had other films that I wrote and directed win some awards/accolades. Saptapadi (The Seven Steps) is still on its festival run, and so far, it has won the Diamond Award for the Best Romance category at the 2018 LA Shorts Awards, and is an official selection at the 2018 Seattle Asian American Film Festival. Most recently, it was selected to the Asian Film Festival of Dallas, where it will be playing sometime between July 19 – 26. We’re keeping our fingers crossed, and hoping that the film’s festival run will keep going! Room 205 is the winner of the Best Horror Action Short category at the 2016 Atlanta Horror Film Festival, the winner of the Best Film and Best Cinematography categories at the 2016 Jumpfest Snowman Films Film Festival, an official selection at the 2017 Kuala Lumpur Independent Film Festival, and a semi-finalist for the Best Short Film category in the 2017 Hong Kong National Film Festival.
As a cinematographer, I’m proud to say that L.A. Liquor, a film that I shot recently for writer and director Jensen Vinca has also taken off quite well on its festival run. It currently has 4 official selections under its belt — Trinity Film Festival, FILM FEST 52, I AM OTHER Film Festival and SHORT to the point International Short Film Festival. We’re hoping it keeps going well!
I’ve found that it’s good to attach an online press kit (synopsis, trailer, posters, stills, crew and cast bios, etc.) with festival submissions, and it always helps to include a cover letter to cater to the specific film festival. Targeting the right festival for your film is also incredibly important.
What type of camera shots and content are you able to create when using a gimbal that other directors or cinematographers can’t when using a more traditional camera?
The gimbal is such a versatile tool. It can be used handheld, on a jib, car mount, cable cam, and so much more! As a director, I love designing the visual style to fit the mood of the shot or scene, and with the gimbal I can move the camera in a huge variety of ways to fit different visual styles. As a cinematographer or camera operator, I can help the director or cinematographer move the camera to bring their vision to screen.
What were some of your roles while working on the production of Fox’s ‘The Four’? Are there any notable differences between working on a set for a TV show versus making a film?
I was the B Cam operator and Gimbal Technician on ‘The Four Collaboration’ sponsored by T-Mobile and Fox. For this particular segment, we only had about three to four takes to nail the shots, as the singers can’t give their all too many times or they’ll hurt their voices, and so that was an interesting challenge. When making a film, we usually get the opportunity to rehearse a lot more to nail the shots, and so, with this shoot, being able to foresee the problems that might occur and overcompensate to reduce any chances of a potential problem with the gear was a great lesson that I learned, and one I now bring to my work in film.
Can you tell us about some of the music videos you have worked on? Also, when you are filming for a personal project, do you try to envision how music will tie-in with the visual content?
I recently Gimbal Operated for cinematographer Sophie Bruza on a music video for Mvstermind (dropping soon), and that was a really fun one with a lot of movement. Another one that comes to mind is Geordie Kieffer’s ‘Bad Bitch’ that I camera operated on for cinematographer Vince Valentin. That was also a really fun one with a lot of movement. Music videos are usually spontaneous and as a camera operator, it’s a lot of fun to be able to bounce ideas off of each other, and discover new shots with the cinematographers and directors.
Are you currently working on any films or content we should look out for later this year?
I’ll be directing and shooting some micro horror shorts soon! Stay tuned for updates!