Story Chen directs ‘Drunk of Sun’.
We spoke to director Story Chen and producer Juan Sebastian Jaimes about their recent short ‘Drunk of Sun’. We discuss making a film in the midst of a pandemic, directing from in front of the camera, and the importance of trusting your team.
Read the conversation below:
Story Chen on Departure and Collaboration
You made this film during the pandemic at a time when New York City was very quiet, what was it like trying to make a film during that time?
STORY CHEN: I was locked down in my apartment, so was the rest of our team, but we were having a group chat saying that we have to make something.
Considering the circumstances, we’re not allowed to gather a lot of people, most equipment shops are closed – we had very limited resources. I was thinking, what can we do to utilise all the resources we do have?
I’m a big fan of Tarkovsky, his films are about landscape, humans in nature, and we have some beautiful scenery around New York City, we have lakes, forests and so I decided on those as the main visual elements. The story developed from there and I wanted to explore how the environment could symbolize the emotions of a departure or farewell.
It’s interesting how you’ve almost reflected how the city was feeling at the time.
JUAN SEBASTIAN JAIMES: This is one of those projects where we had an idea where we wanted to go, like the initial idea, but then it started taking shape on its own.
STORY CHEN: Our cinematographer brought in this idea that the pandemic is like a battle between human beings and nature. This helped us to tell our story about this exceptional time.
It’s great to hear it was such a collaborative process.
STORY CHEN: Our team, we trust each other very much, everybody has their own ideas and input. When the post-production team jumped in, they also had their own perspective on the footage. They discovered a new rhythm of the film.
What would you say to filmmakers about remaining flexible throughout a project?
STORY CHEN: I’m a director that really welcomes new ideas. When I choose my team, I know why and what I hope they will bring to the project. I know my own limitations, and I’m willing to embrace them. It’s a chemistry between you and your team. The goal is to make the film better.
JUAN SEBASTIAN JAIMES: I believe filmmaking is a creative collaborative process. It’s not a one-person thing. What makes a great filmmaker is being able to trust your team. As a producer, I do get a little nervous sometimes, to suggest, or to say perhaps we should consider other ideas. But Story was very open to it, and I admire her for that.
I wanted to ask about the set-ups and scenes. Did you have specific frames in mind? Did you look at the locations together and plan or was it freer than that?
STORY CHEN: Juan did a really great job of finding a location with all the elements, making it a reality.
JUAN SEBASTIAN JAIMES: Just to say, the location was owned by a friend. There was no Airbnb, everything was closed. We went there with very modest resources, there were only six of us, a generator, a smoke machine and the camera.
STORY CHEN: We had storyboards, but when you get to the location, storyboards and composition have to change to accommodate the location. We had some visual elements that were key, the rain, the fog. We had a cliff idea, but the park was closed. You’ll see the floating scene, and this was how we incorporated that original cliff idea. There were a lot of things like that.
How did you find also being in front of the camera?
STORY CHEN: First of all, I had to make the decision because we didn’t have many choices. The other actor is a friend of mine. We originally cast two actors and two backups but they all dropped out. I was nervous because I hadn’t been in front of a camera for years. To be an actor and the director, you have to be in constant debate with yourself.
Shooting on film, did you have playback?
STORY CHEN: We rented a monitor, but it didn’t work! I would sit in a frame, and then the DOP would take a photo through the viewfinder and show me. I had to trust the discussions we had in pre-production.
Finally, what are you reading at the moment?
STORY CHEN: I just read a Japanese novel called ‘100 Miles to the Habitat’.