Young Filmmaker Interview: Mida Chu

DadminFilm World, Young Filmmakers

Mida Chu cover photo

Name: Mida Chu
Age: 20
Hometown: Suzhou, China
Links to My Work
Most Recent: Dreams that Transcend All Boundaries
Best Known: Burning
On Vimeo:
Directing and Cinematography Reel
Random fact about yourself: I love whistling. I strive to expand my tonal range every day. Currently my range is three octaves. I am planning on recording an album of myself whistling this year.
One sentence of why I make films: I make films because I want to push the creative possibly of this art form, in order to craft emotional journeys that evoke thoughts on the fundamental questions that trouble humans since the origin of our species.

1. When did you first know you wanted to pursue filmmaking?

Ironically, my first experiences with filmmaking were associated with silly reasons. I made my first film when I was in the 5th grade in 2006. I was literally bored with my summer break and wanted to find an excuse to get together with my friends and do some cool stuff. I put together a treasure-hunting story summary (no script) and tried to film it in one day. However, many friends backed out. I ended up acting with another friend and my mom became the camera operator. Back then, I didn’t know how to edit, mostly because I did not even have the knowledge to import the miniDV tape footage to my computer. I held pieces of paper with writing on them as title cards and when I wanted to put music over the film, I literally played back the music from an MP3 from its headphone jack into the mic input on the camera. Anyway, I never showed the film publicly but did show it once to a friend of my mom’s who worked in the broadcast industry. She applauded my choice of music at the end of the film and I was wildly encouraged. I then went on and made my second film the following year with a much more elaborate plot and planning. I showcased the film during one of the class gatherings and it was a critical success.

But the bigger reason why I am making films today was because of a girl I had a massive yet secret crush on in middle school. During the very first week of middle school, I accidentally claimed to be talented at filmmaking (which I truly wasn’t), and my teacher assigned me to do a documentary competition later that year. I made it with a few friends the last day before the submission deadline and wasn’t able to submit it on time, but I put it on my blog a month later. To my surprise, the girl I had the crush on noticed it and shared it on her blog. Because of that, I was enormously flattered and extremely encouraged to make my subsequent films, including a 45 minute long series of short films to present during an art class to further impress her. I went as far as to cast her in a film…

The anti-climatic ending to this story is that I never told her that I liked her until we graduated and probably even today she still doesn’t know that my passion for film wouldn’t be there if it was not for her.

2. Can you tell us about your high school experience attending Interlochen Arts Academy for Motion Picture Arts and what you got out of that experience? Perhaps you can also tell us a bit about your collaborations?

Attending Interlochen was one of the choices that I will never regret making. If I can, O would use the word “magic” to describe the experience and it would not be an exaggeration. I met many great people from all types of art disciplines who inspired me, encouraged me, and collaborated with me. I made some of my closest friends during that period of time. But of course that sounds so generic, II’ll outline a few important aspects of my Interlochen experience as an MPA major (Motion Picture Arts), both negative and positive:

  1. The environment is invigorating. There are student showcases including concerts, plays, and gallery shows every week. Because I lived among people who constantly produced new works, I was very inspired to create a number of my own artistic works every semester.
  2. The MPA department can be lazy. Comparing the MPA department to other departments such as the music department, I did not have to do a lot of work (or practice) to get good grades or pass the classes. Many MPA students, indeed, slacked off a lot, filming their class project the night before the due date and hardly putting their heart into their own work.
  3. It’s easy to find the star here. The Interlochen theatre majors are pretty darn talented.  At Interlochen, I never faced the challenge I had before coming to Interlochen which included lackluster actors and people who failed in their commitment.
  4. The entire Interlochen school faculties (not only the MPA faculties) were very supportive of me and my work. I always walked into my teachers and ran my film ideas by them. The teachers offered a ton of opportunities as well, such as collaborations with other departments or with guest artists from outside the school. They were supportive but never over protective. One of my favorite teachers always criticized my lack of attention to my storytelling skills. Even though I always hated his view on my stories, I am very grateful to him for honestly pointing out the flaws he saw in my scripts.
  5. I had a number of opportunities to work on thesis film sets under a semi-professional environment. I use “semi-professional” because the teachers guided the thesis students as professionals. Of course, many of us were newbies and could never meet industry standards. That’s exactly the point though. None of the thesis films were intended to be great or perfect. It is the process of making the film and striving to be a professional that is the real lesson. My junior year film thesis was a disaster, but I learned a lot because of it.
  6. School can be very stressful. I would have classes from 8:30am all the way through to 5:30pm. Academic work isn’t heavy at all but if you try to do an ambitious film project on top of that, it can became real tough.
  7. There is wonderful scenery to frame in lovely northern Michigan. Fall, winter, spring each have their distinct taste and color. However, the winters were long. The location can at times be limited. There were also some stupid restrictions regarding students leaving campus. Shooting off-campus could also be hard to coordinate and accomplish.
  8. Interlochen is a very romantic place to fall in love. Enough said.

3. What inspires your film work?

My films are inspired by a variety of things. I am often inspired by filmmakers or films that try to make bold choices either cinematically or to explore themes that other films don’t dare to explore. I am a big fan of Ingmar Bergman’s films, the conflicts sparked by the minimal settings of characters built with care and restraint strongly inspire me from time to time. Bergman’s film Fanny and Alexander (the five hour cut, not the three hour cut) is one of my favorites. I also really appreciate Charlie Kaufman’s innovative spirit in his story structures. I really love his film Synecdoche, New York for its depiction of passing of time and its intertwining of obscure yet universal themes.

Music always inspires me. Many of my film ideas are developed by mentally visualizing dramatic scenarios along with the music I like. Gustav Mahler is my favorite composer and I continue to return to him for inspirations. The way Mahler and many late romantic composers structured the abstract drama in their music teaches me how to sculpt the dynamics of my film drama in the temporal space.

Finally, philosophical issues inspire me to think deeply about the themes of the films I want to make. I enjoy understanding debates and questions that concern those thinkers across thousands of years, and seeing how those thoughts developed, were revised, and eventually deconstructed and reconsidered in the 20th century. For the past year, I have been interested in the philosophy of biology. The discussions regarding the scope of explanations concerning natural selection inspired me to execute a few thought experiments that I later expanded into film ideas.

An Added Note About Mida’s Love for Music

I am a huge fan of classical music. I listen to a ton of music every day. Whenever I discover a new piece of music that I like, I will spend half a day hunting down all the versions available in the world and try to find my favorite interpretation(s) among them. I also love to revisit my collections of different versions as well. I often spend hours listening to one piece repetitively. Sometimes I will do parallel comparisons on how differently conductors or orchestras tend to do a certain passage, or simply comparing how one conductor’s interpretation of a specific piece changes over time. For example, I have four versions of Bernard Haitink conducting Mahler’s 2nd Symphony. To further illustrate my craziness about collecting music: I have 74 versions of Mahler’s 6th Symphony. I’m a huge fan of the late romantic composer Gustav Mahler and his 6th Symphony is my favorite out of his ten symphonies. I have collected all the versions in the world of Samuel Barber’s First Symphony. My iTunes library is 363 GB, which used to take up more than half of my laptop’s hard drive and now it all lives in the Cloud.

I never told her that I liked her until we graduated and probably even today she still doesn’t know that my passion for film wouldn’t be there if it was not for her.Mida Chu

4. Are you working on any projects right now?

Yes. Though I am not in a film school studying film, I have been helping friends with their film productions. On my own time, I have been developing my own film ideas as well. I am in the midst of developing a sci-fi short film idea. I might shoot it next summer. It’s going to be an exciting project. I want to prove to myself that I have moved on from the style of my past to a new era. However, if the idea isn’t ready enough by next year, I won’t pull the trigger. I want to bake the idea as long as possible, because one of the mistakes I learned from my years at Interlochen is that I tend to rush my ideas, making them come true before they are fully expanded into something greater. Hopefully it’s going to be something groundbreaking.

Another important project I am working on is a film theory (the new system of cinematic language I was talking about earlier) that 1) guides the brainstorming process, and 2) evaluates plot lines and the thematic materials on a quantifiable scale systematically and critically. I am inspired to do this because I recently learned about symbolic logic. To give a basic overview of this project and its origin:

Why I think it would work

  • propositional logic determines the truth of a statement because of its logical operators and the propositions the logical operators interact with.
  • narrative plot works because of the causes and effects, and their relationship to each other
  • the truth table draws out the possibility space of the possible truth of the propositions, thus, determining the possible truth of the statement

How will it work

  • therefore, in a sense it is possible to come up with some kinds of causal-logical operators to represent the logic of the streams of the cause and effect events; then come up with a table like a truth table, sketching out the possibility space for the variants of the causes and the effects (from a given plot line), thus, expanding one storyline to multiple possible storylines on the table
  • some of those storylines will probably make zero sense, but some of them might have some special merits leading to the next step for the development of this system by creating a way to assign values for each causal-logical operator and to assess the overall value of the main causal-logical operator, which will subsequently represent the value of the overall plot, and
  • the eventual outcome of the value will be relative; dependent on the cultural, historical significance, but there will also be a set of rules that regulate the categorization of values. Those categorizations are similar to the conventional idea of “genres”.

I hope that explains enough. I really do believe it’s going to work and I will use this tool to formally define what a great film is in my book, and I will use this tool to guide myself through the production of my next films. I’ll really put my sci-fi film idea on trial, drilling it with this system to its highest potential.

Don’t make your first big film thinking that it’s going to be a film that will represent you 100% as a filmmaker. It won’t be your signature piece or a masterpiece.Mida Chu

5. Can you tell us about an unexpected, exciting, eye opening or funny experience you’ve had while working on a film? Feel free to tell us about more than one.

There are unexpectedly good experiences and unexpectedly bad ones. The unexpectedly good ones are 1) the discovery of the usage of a fog machine, 2) the making of Under the Horizon, which was totally made within ten minutes, 3) the completion of Dreams that Transcend All Boundaries. I was literally giving up hope on the film, but during the last few hours,the editing of the film gave me the revelation that… the film wasn’t that bad.

Some unexpectedly bad experiences include 1) an actor infecting the entire crew with a stomach bug on the first day of shooting Dreams that Transcend All Boundaries, and 2) underestimating the frigid cold of northern Michigan and making the fatal mistake of shooting a scene on a semi-frozen lake. No casualties though, luckily.

7. What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to another young filmmaker?

I have two pieces of advice. First, don’t make your first big film thinking that it’s going to be a film that will represent you 100% as a filmmaker. It won’t be your signature piece or a masterpiece. Either you don’t have the skill to make it your masterpiece or, to be honest, you should keep thinking that you will surpass yourself.

Second, know what you need to sacrifice when you set your goal to make a film. Sometimes the quality of the film and the favors you need from your friends can be like a linear function. The higher quality the film you want, the more effort you might require your friends to make, and sometimes it might damage your relationship with them. You need to understand what to sacrifice, and to be very rational about it. Sacrifice the quality of the film or sacrifice your close friends? In a glance, it’s possible to damage the friendship and to make it up later, while you can’t repair your film that much (OK, forget about the “fix it in post” for now), but sometimes the quality you gain from the film might be marginal when compared to your meaningful friendships. Be careful and be conscious about what you are doing when you are in the zone trying to make a good film.

8. Can you tell us about your experiences collaborating with two theater groups?

I worked with two different theatre groups during the past two summers. I was invited to make a mini-documentary series and do the media design for Joe Hill’s Unexpected Laboratory in the summer of 2014. I co-founded Lamplighter Productions in the summer of 2015 with Jordan Sucher, and a few other friends who I met during the Unexpected Laboratory production. For the production of 2015, I was involved in the development of the show as well as the media design.

The overall experience of working with a theatre group of this kind (small-budget, independent, and experimental) is very, very different from working on a film with a few friends and a crew. First of all, the contents of the shows for both theatre groups were created from the ground up during the time I spent with the companies, thus, a lot of thematic materials were collaboratively developed. It was very organic in the way that the performance was formed hand in hand with the content and it allowed much more fluidity for improvisation and “play”.

Second, the work I did was very different from what I was accustomed to when making my films. Because the medium is very new to me, I had to abandon my thought process, which was usually restrained to the frame, the location, the blocking through a lens, and turn to the very different space that a theatre can give me. The conventional story structure that a film employs no longer benefited me with working efficiencies or artistic advantages. I had to follow others’ thought processes more lucidly and develop good ideas not from the context of presenting something “cinematic”, but rather from the perspective of someone sitting in a dark space facing a cube of physical stage while anticipating something new, exciting, and refreshing.

Lastly, another big difference was the amount of new information I learned during those two summer productions. Since both companies were small with very few people working together, one person had to take on multiple jobs, and by doing so I learned a good deal about the theatre process from renting space to marketing the shows. We made a lot of mistakes and got frustrated from time to time, but that was certainly anticipated. In the end, all the sweat and exhaustion paid off with the reaction of the audiences. That was always the most rewarding part, and for theatre, the reaction is much more intimate. It was one of the more memorable experiences of my life.

A Final Note From Mida Chu

I am a sophomore at New York University’s College of Arts and Science, majoring in Language and Mind. If anyone in the New York City area wants to hang out or collaborate on something, please let me know! Also, let me know if anyone wants to discuss my upcoming sci-fi project please. I’m down to chat about the existing plot fragments and get some thoughts on them. I have not assembled the crew yet so I would love to get to know some potential collaborators.

Kira Bursky

The Interviewer

About Kira

Kira Bursky, the founder of Big Little Filmmaker, is a nineteen year old filmmaker who has been pursuing her dreams for the past six years. A graduate of the Interlochen Academy of the Arts where she was a student of the school’s filmmaking program, Kira was a 2014 National YoungArts Finalist as well as a Presidential Scholar in the Arts Semi-Finalist and received the top prize for Best Overall Film at the 2014 All American High School Film Festival for We’re Okay.

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