Just how this unprecedented monotonous time doesn’t stop creative minds from delivering eccentric work, Daedalus continues to look for talents to share their motivation and inspiring stories about their ability to put creativity and ideas together.
We had an incredible opportunity to meet a youthful, talented, Paris-based film director and photographer, Zo Fan. Zo’s work is deeply influenced by cultural and social phenomenons.
We found Zo through “We Look the Same” a short film directed about microaggression towards Asians. Zo endeavors to blend various media types in a single project to convey a narrative that is closely mean to her.
We are fortunate to share about her journey as a creator, her way of working, as well as her forthcoming projects.
D : What got you into the filmmaking industry?
Z.F : Watching a lot of films. I started off making a lot of music videos and photo-shoots just with my friends. And I never knew that it was a thing. It was just something I enjoyed doing. Until the time I had to choose between business and film major, I loved them both. But then it was the moment I kind of sat down and thought it through.
The funny story was that because both of my parents are also in the creative few. They know, they’ve been there. They know how difficult it is to be in the industry. And they sat me down and said “if you choose this road, you don’t come back a week later”.
It was an insane decision. Because I think when you are at 16, you barely know what’s going to happen. How will you know what you want to do for the rest of your life? And choosing a school back then was like choosing the rest of your life.
D : Did you do any research to kind of reassure you about this huge life decision you were about to make?
Z.F : I think going online and just researching filmmaking and directing doesn’t help. It didn’t help at all. At the time, there was the movement of female empowerment. Every article I clicked on was talking about how much of a boys club it was. And it tore me apart. I didn’t know if I could do it.
But then eventually, what it came down to it was, I don’t know if I could do film for the next 10 years. But I knew that I wouldn’t do anything else. I couldn’t do anything else for the next 10 years for sure. So then I just said, “Okay, I’m going to film”. And then like the rest is kind of history.
D : Can you please walk us through your creative development process of filmmaking from start to finish?
Z.F : So when I say that I’m a filmmaker, I actually do photography as well. But these are just my mediums. I like to introduce myself more as an experience creator. Because a lot of times I do more conceptual works like fashion films and music videos. The reason why I’m sharing this is that I think my process for the different mediums goes differently. But overall, it usually comes down to knowing about the message. What is the message that I want to impart through this project? To build the narrative is such an important space in my heart.
To make “We Look The Same”, took about two years, which is not even that long. I think it could be longer. But then you know, you had to move on to other projects. It took a good one year to kind of develop the script. Then you take time to prepare for the shoot. I tried doing crowdfunding as well as reaching out to people. Shooting is this a shortlist. Because you just have three or four days to get it done. And then post-production editing.
Every time I have a chance to make a film, and I never want to make a film, no matter what the genre is, just for the sake of it. So I always try to make sure that there’s a message that comes through. I just want people to walk away feeling a little bit better. It’s important for me to start from there, where you kind of figure out what it is you want to share through this. What is it you want to bring to the world for this video? And then I go into very deep research.
D : That’s interesting. Tell us more about your deep research!
Z.F : I want to know every other thing, I go deep with people, and I go deeper. It could be anything from reading about the subject, or just watching other kinds of content. To see how people have approached this and come up with something different. Or just really researching visuals, I think visuals give me a lot of inspiration. Because a lot of times when you watch, you’re just like watching something that maybe is irrelevant, but something will always click. And that’s my research process. By then, I’m starting to think about the people that I can work with. I always see my films as like a platform to bring talents together.
From a very early time, I don’t know how or why. But I’ve always worked long-distance, even before zoom meetings were a thing. I work with people from all over the world because the Internet is so so great. After that, you shoot or gather the materials.
Then you go into editing. Editing for me is where most of the magic happens. Because it’s like cooking. You’ve decided the recipe that you’ve come up with, the ingredients that you need, and editing is when you actually cook the dish. My ideas truly form in the edit.
D : That’s true! There are a lot of YouTube videos that edit, for example, a rom-com movie into horror. Editing really can change the atmosphere and feeling of a movie.
Z.F : I find that fascinating because it is when you realize that reality is nothing like you imagined. But edit is where you get to create a new kind of reality for yourself. The final part is just sharing the videos and all that stuff, but it’s another story altogether.
D : Out of all of these processes, what’s the biggest challenge of shooting an independent film?
Z.F : I don’t think there’s one step. There isn’t one part that is not challenging. There was one time I was shooting a fashion film. It went so smoothly. I was minorly freaking out because it’s just too weird. Then suddenly there are last-minute problems. I think most creatives are really like challenges, right? Like, if things go too easy, it’s just a bit strange.
D : In your short film, “we look the same”. You deliver a story narrative about the microaggression faced by the Asian community in Paris. Tell us why you chose this issue in particular, was there any reason that leads you to choose this narrative?
Z.F : It was definitely stemming from a personal experience. There would have been moments if I’m walking on the streets, and this guy just passes me by and says “Konichiwa” or “Ni hao”.
D : How do you feel about those uncomfortable experiences?
Z.F : I remember being very affected and feeling very powerless about it at the start. It wasn’t an easy experience for me. But then as I stayed in France even longer, I will get this maybe once every other month, but it’s not like a daily thing.
But imagine if I was French. Imagine a Chinese who was born and raised in France, she is French. Just based on her “face” people would come up to her or and ask “where are you from?” or “how come your French is so good?”. Recently, I was masked-up and going into a printing shop. And then straight away, the worker said “can you speak French?” I understand if she knew I was a Singaporean, then fine. But I did not say one single word. And just imagine if I was French. How insulted would I be?
D : How do you think by narrating this story can contribute to fix the problem?
Z.F : Microaggressions are like paper cuts. You could ignore them because they are tiny. And most of the time people who experienced microaggression don’t want to make a big deal out of it. But if they have to get through this for the rest of their life, how terrible must it be? Microaggressions can happen in between genders at the workplace too. But I chose to focus on what touched me personally.
It’s an interesting thing because a lot of times people don’t know that they are micro-aggressing. Sometimes, it was not intended to insult me. It’s a cultural difference. And I think they don’t realize that it is uncomfortable for us. But all the more I felt like it was important to talk about it.
There are many contents about racism, even before last year, where the black lives matter movement happened. But microaggression? How many of us knew this word? Even I only discovered the word after I started researching this phenomenon. And the power of having a name for something felt very important. Because once you have a name for something it means is a thing. Before it was just “oh, is he trying to be funny? Let’s just not make this awkward”. But once you notice that it is actually a phenomenon, you can do something about it. And so I made this film. I wanted to be able to set a conversation about this.
D : Talking about racism, as an Asian creator, what do you think are the misconceptions and stereotypes about Asians that are often portrayed in films?
Z.F : There’s already a lot of talk in Hollywood about how they used to represent Chinese and overall all Asians. But then to be very honest, now I feel like those were things that were told to me that even made it aware. To me, it was not something I realized by myself, because the conversation was already happening. So I had people to kind of conclude all these things for me. I’m trying to answer from my own experience with the film to give a stronger answer.
D : That’s interesting. So in the field, there is a racial problem that hasn’t been in the spotlight as much as stereotyping Asian roles? What is it?
Z.F : My thoughts on it would probably be the fact that it has become the token Asian role. Maybe last time it was like a token black person. If we see this one Asian role and, okay, check, it’s not a racist film. Let’s move on.
I’ve been thinking about this for the past few years. You realize now, in Hollywood, there’s a lot more like black films with black lead characters. While black lives matter was happening and the rise of all the black leads characters after Black Panther, where are the Asians? It is great that right now we have the focus on the black people and they have a much stronger voice than years ago. But then is also only because now they realized that there’s a buying power of it. They finally realized that “Oh, my God, people want to see black people”.
If this was true racial equality, all sorts of people would be there. I mean even Asia is so huge. We have Indians to Chinese, the Koreans to Cambodians to Vietnams, these are Asians too.
There’s more progress to be made on that part. But I understand, it takes steps. So in summary, it’s just I still feel like there’s more to be done. You just have to stop casting based on race. Because when you write a character, unless there’s a specific characteristic in the story, race is not a personality nor a character trait. I feel like once they start to cast without looking at their skin color, that’s when things can be more progressive.
D : Listening to your answers, you are very passionate about the narrative you are delivering. How important is it for a young filmmaker to use this medium to voice the unheard social problem considering a lot of films are now just made for the sake of aesthetics?
Z.F : I mean, of course, it’s gonna be important. However, I feel like the world just needs a little bit of everybody. For the people who bring in just aesthetics, aesthetic is a form of language by itself
It just is a free world right now, which I think is great. Because you have the people who just want to do it for aesthetics, they are probably going to discover a lot more interesting things in aesthetics as they are only focusing on it there. But then there will also be the ones that would maybe be focusing on the really heavy topics.
D : Wow, I did not expect your answer. Usually, creatives are gatekeeping the industry into a specific genre. But I guess your answer was very compelling. We do need a little bit of everything.
Z.F : It’s just unique to have it all exist in an ecosystem. Like, if you take out one insect, the whole ecosystem will just crash and die. For me what’s important is that you have as many different kinds of people as possible.
D: You mentioned that you also do photography. Do you have any other medium outside filmmaking and photography to express yourself?
Z.F : Let’s put it this way photography and filmmaking are like my mother tongue. They are the most comfortable voice that I can speak with. Other than that, I do writing, I do music, I played piano, and compose music.
Recently, I’ve gotten into doing sculptures. I have fun doing a lot of things. But they’re not necessarily the thing that I use to express myself. I just have fun doing them.
I just always feel thankful for the fact that like, the fact that we can try out a lot of things, I think it’s a blessing.
D : What’s next? Are you working on any upcoming projects? You shared with us about your project “Own Your Roots”, tell us more about it.
Z.F : Oh tell me your first impression about it!
D : I think it is very contemporary and cool. What caught my eyes the most is the fact that you used an elderly model in one of the pictures.
Z.F : Okay, so just to share a little bit about it, it started as a long-term project. By means, I’m not in a rush to finish just one piece or two pieces. But I want it to be an ongoing project where it will be a multimedia, audiovisual project. Meaning, it will be more than just photoshoots it can be anything from a music video or any medium that comes out.
I’m trying to bring traditional elements into the future by infusing them into modern elements. When I say traditional elements, I want to explore the elements that are perceived to be old-fashioned. The things that our grandmas do. Just think about your childhood days, the things that you just don’t want to touch because it looks old-fashioned, not pretty, and not cool enough. I want to make it cool by bringing it into modern visuals.
I remember when bomber jackets were a huge thing and then they started to sew dragon patterns on them. And I found it so cool, it hit me that why do I have to find my culture cool only when Western people or Western companies take it in and make it into the Western world.
Why am I waiting for other people to show me how cool my culture is. I want to take ownership of that. I wanted to find the thing that will empower my culture, and then make it cool. But then, my goal is not just to work with my culture but also the world culture. For example, in the old lady shoot, I had a stylist from Mexico. It was crazy because I was able to learn more about my culture through her eyes, from a different perspective.
I would love to have this project to kind of travel the world and then work on all the traditions around the world that are being forgotten and able to bring it to a modern future, through the power of media.
D : Do you have any insight or advice for people who want to step into the filmmaking industry?
Z.F : No regrets. It’s gonna be the toughest road of your life, but then no regrets whatsoever.
Film school is the best school in life. It teaches you about life because in every single project you have to understand a new universe. It opens up new doors. If I was a normal person working in an office, why would I care about, I don’t know, surgeons? I would never think about these things. Or even what am I working on recently, a campaign where we are trying to show how moms support each other because these are very common things. But because you’re a filmmaker, it’s your job to dig further into what are the moving parts.