indieactivity : Give a background of your personal filming and share more about the story?
Hongyu Li : At the age of 22, I moved to Los Angeles from China to study film. Because I came out when I was just 18 in a country not as open to gay culture, I immediately appreciated the diversity of this city. As an average looking guy who can barely lift a sandbag, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I didn’t fit in with the stereotypical gay men of WeHo. I don’t jog shirtless. I don’t talk about diet plans, juice cleanses and three-week transformations. And I don’t look like every other hot guy on Instagram.
While we ask people to accept the LGBTQ community, the LGBTQ community often only seems to accept the young, the beautiful, and the perfect. Recently, it seems open marriage has become another standard to measure up against. The question being, ‘Do you belong to this “progressive” community or not?’
I began to wonder if the question of opening up the relationship was a dilemma for couples who have been together for many years. So I started to research the lives of older gay men, thinking “How do they struggle with stereotypes?” And what do older gay couples, who no longer fit these stereotypes do when their long term relationships hit hard times? Hank explores the challenges older gay men face and the often heartbreaking choices they make to keep their marriages alive.
indieactivity : Did you start writing with a cast in mind?
Hongyu Li : I didn’t have any specific casts but I always play scenes in my mind, like lighting setups, camera movements etc.
indieactivity : How long did you take to complete the script? (Do you have a writing process?)
Hongyu Li : This script took me around 6 months from development to script lock. Everything started from an image: a middle aged gay man walks on the street alone nakedly at midnight. Then I wrote my short synopsis and pitched it to some friends I can trust. I talked about it everywhere just for testing which part made them excited and which part bored them out. Then I wrote beat-sheet on index cards for getting a good structure of the story. I wrote down the first draft of outline until I felt very confident about it and handed in to my co-writer for the further discussions. We had around 13 revisions for Hank (which scared my producer because she was afraid of the location changes so that I locked script locations in the 7th revision for the pre-production team.)
indieactivity : During production, what scene (that made the cut) was the hardest to shoot?
Hongyu Li : As a director, I always break down what’s the most important scene in the script and what’s the most important moment in a scene. When I made breakdown for Hank, I realized that, every scene has its own challenges. For example: LGBT meeting scene is the first time I have to handle 10 characters in the same scene at one time. In the cave scene, we applied for the permit to shoot in the Griffith Park at midnight for only 4 hours. In these 4 hours we had to set up the light in the cave and two actors had to have intimacy in the cave.
In the same time, police and park rangers supervised our production. Oh man, that was stressful but super fun! However, my cast and crew is very professional. We held 3 pre-production meetings together and had lots of individual meetings with each department head, and I had a few rehearsals or conversations with every lead and supporting actors. As a second time director, I learned a lot from this film.
indieactivity : What works better in this latest production that mightn’t have worked so well in the last one you did?
Hongyu Li : I have a habit that I’m proud of, which is writing the director debrief. I always think about which I did right, and what I could make it better and which is not working that well than my expectation. For Hank, I think I hired two very professional casting directors (Morman Boling Casting). Good casting contributes 60% of success.
indieactivity : You wrote and directed the film, what measure of input did it take to don these hats?
Hongyu Li : I think as a showrunner or creator, you have to be really determined about your own projects. You have to love it so that you can convince other casts and crews to help you reach your goal. I had kept genuine enthusiasm for Hank for more than half year. That was not easy but I know it was the key to inspire and encourage my team.
indieactivity : Is there anything about the independent filmmaking business you still struggle with?
Hongyu Li : As every indie filmmaker, funding money is not easy. But I learned a lot currently about film festival funding and lab and applying some programs of big studios like Disney. I believed that, after tons of rejections, I would get one acceptance eventually.
indieactivity : Where do you think your strengths line as a filmmaker?
Hongyu Li : Curiosity, communication, sensitivity and doing research. My bachelor degree is in journalism and I learned how to build the bridge of communication with strangers, and they trusted me because I never shy about showing my vulnerability and weakness to them. I do a lot of research before I start a project. It helps me improve my own confidence to create an authentically fictional world.
indieactivity : Let’s talk finance, How did you finance the film?
Hongyu Li : I have to be honest, my crazy rich Asian parents financed every single short film I made so far.
indieactivity : How much did you go over budget? How did you manage it?
Hongyu Li : We did go about 10% over budget. We should put more budget in the post productions. I hired a producer I’ve worked with for almost three years and she produced most of my short films. She controlled the budget part. As a director, you want everything perfect. Guess what, it costs money! So we set up a “safety word”, which is my full name. Then I know okay, we can’t afford it. I respect her.
I wanted to give her authority so that she can refuse DP’s unreasonable equipment list, or Production Designer’s super expensive prop list and they won’t come to bother me. Because that WAS the final answer.
indieactivity : How important is marketing? Do you think a project can make any dent without it these days?
Hongyu Li : Marketing is everything. Trust me, you don’t want to spend ten thousand dollars to make a film and only post it on your Facebook! You need a very professional team to help you promote your film and YOU. Marketing is not only to let more people know your film, it’s also helpful for your entire career.
indieactivity : Can you tell us about your marketing activities on the project – and how it’s gone for you?
Hongyu Li : Running film festivals, keeping in touch with film festival programmers, following the lead of our publicist, London Flair PR to create buzz. I talked about my film on CBS, LA Talk Radios…Getting more attention for my work is very beneficial to my future projects.
indieactivity : What do you hope audiences get from your film?
Hongyu Li : Encouragement and inspiration. I created relatable characters and my only hope is reaching their heart and building the connections.
indieactivity : What else have you got in the works?
Hongyu Li : I currently finished an 18 paged pilot sci-fi story about a 12 year old Asian boy’s journey, tackling the social issues of school bullies and race. Also, I’m developing a project about international immigrants leaving Los Angeles to show the influence of current immigration policy changing people’s life.
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