Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Matter of Time

A Matter of Time from Mu-Ming Tsai on Vimeo.

A short film I directed for an editing class. The original assignment was to just come up with anything that's two minutes long and edit it, but I figured why not just shoot something myself and edit it? That thought quickly turned into "Why not work with a full-sized crew and shoot a short film?" Plus at the time I was itching to direct something, so I conceived and shot "A Matter of Time" in less than two weeks.

After doing "The Human Cave," I wanted to do something that "Took it's time." It was also relevant to the whole theme being the weight of time, I wanted the audience to physically feel the time that was happening on screen. I remember my editing teacher and classmates commenting that the pace was too slow, but after they saw the whole thing they understood the idea. In film school (Especially in the States?) it's always about "what happens next?" Honestly I was really insecure in the editing process, for fear that the audience would be bored, but turned out it was a good choice to stick with my intuitions. I mean, even if it is the wrong choice, I don't have producers and financiers looking over my head and making decisions for me, I'm proud of the outcome.

Technically, the most difficult thing was shooting by the beach. Ocean Beach, SF, especially during spring is just not the ideal place to shoot a film. I had Vitale, my very talented DP do a long Steadicam shot of people collecting packages in the water, but there was just too many issues so we had to cut it out. The extras were freezing, they wore too less, lens were fogging, the wind was so strong the softie hardly worked, I'm really grateful for even finishing the shoot and for the actor's and crew's hard work. Daniel, my editor and who served on the shoot as the script supervisor, told me as a friend: "Mu, don't shoot at the beach again, ok?"

At the very least, we got the money shot of the film, a.k.a "The Giant Clock." Jack Perez, my directing mentor who directed "The Big Empty," "La Cucaracha" and "Mega Shark V.S. Giant Octopus," (Yes, the trailer that was a YouTube sensation) showed us how he did a forced perspective shot in MSVGO. I thought that was super cool, and did a homage to that, and put it in a different context. We only had like 5 minutes to do two takes of that shot because my actor Author had to leave early, I was yelling to my actor, the wind was gushing... it's still a miracle we pulled it off. In this day and age of special effects and CGI, it feels great to physically see your creation happen in front of you!

All in all, it was a great experience, 1st time I tried to tackle a semi-fantasy film. I was satisfied with the outcome. Next on I will be shooting "Plastic Revolver," which is a super fast paced film. It's good to switch between paces and genres from time to time.

Makeup Artist Showreel for Civa Chen

Civa Chen - Makeup Artist from Mu-Ming Tsai on Vimeo.

My long time friend Civa who I've known for 15 years is currently a freelance makeup artist. Alvina, the still photographer in this shoot came up with the idea to do a promo reel for her. This was the first time I shot a short documentary promo; the idea was to incorporate still photography, make up and modeling in the shoot. Usually I do narrative shoots with designed lights, this time I wanted to challenge myself to run-and-gun shooting with minimal preplanning. Plus, I have zero knowledge in makeup and the process, so I had to capture moments that I thought were interesting as an audience, and edit it with voiceover so that it's concise and to the point. The results were satisfactory and Civa loved the final product. Another happy client!

Cannes Young Lion award winning short - WaterAid

WaterAid For Dennis from Mu-Ming Tsai on Vimeo.

Cannes Young Lion award winning short I directed. I remember getting a call from Sean the producer one Friday night about needing a director Saturday morning, between two days of my shoot on "A Matter of Time." I thought that since I was in the mood of shooting, I might as well shoot another short commercial in between. As the saying goes in the film business, "showing up is half the success," who would've known that this ad we did in 48hrs. got screened at Cannes?

Special thanks to Dennis, who was actually on the streets and let us interview him. Working with a creative team from Crispin Porter Bogusky, the idea was to give him a hotel room, let him shower and have "clean water" for a day; at first I had ethical concerns about the idea but after interviewing him and seeing how clean water made a big difference for him, I was moved. I think the best thing about filmmaking is when you learn or gain empathy about subjects you never would've understood or thought you could identify with. This was a memorable and rewarding experience for me.

The Human Cave

The Human Cave from Mu-Ming Tsai on Vimeo.

This short film came after my overtly "cerebral" period in filmmaking. One of the most common notes my teachers gave me was that a lot of my films were way too "intellectual" in a negative sense, which meant that I spent too much time polishing dialogue and conceptualizing that I often neglected the emotional side of filmmaking. In "The Human Cave" I tried to strike a balance between the emotional and the idea, and the results were rewarding. I regard this film as one of my favorites to date.

I think this case was also a great example of how being open minded can benefit to the production. Originally in the script I assumed that the counselor would be a 20-ish young lawyer, but Shahaub (Who plays Doug) suggested Steven Cloyes whom he knew from the Beverley Hills playhouse in SF to play the character of the counselor. It then occurred to me that it was actually a better choice than what I originally intended, because it gave the story a totally new father-son dynamic. Steven was already a great actor, the subtext I gave him was that Doug was the son that he never had, which changed the whole way he portrayed the character.

Shahaub on the other hand is an extremely talented natural actor, somebody who can nail both slapstick comedy and serious drama. We discussed the moment when he realized he had a son outside, and we talked about how we would react to something with such a great impact on our outlook towards life. We realized when serious shit happens, our first reaction is laugh, then cry. Life tends to be the most absurdly funny from time to time, albeit all the pain.

A side note: if you are a fan of Japanese horror manga artist Junji Ito, that's where the idea of "The Human Cave" came from. Shhhhh...!

Cinepod Title sequence

Cinepod Title sequence from Mu-Ming Tsai on Vimeo.

Opening sequence for Cinepod.

Cinepod promotion - tv commercial

Cinepod promo 1 from Mu-Ming Tsai on Vimeo.

Promo 1 for Cinepod.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cinepod Promo v2

Cinepod Promo 2 from Mu-Ming Tsai on Vimeo.

Promo 2 for Cinepod.

Contact Me

Currently I am based in San Francisco, CA.

The best way to contact me would be by e-mail:

I check my e-mails everyday, and promise a swift reply.

Thank you!

Mu-Ming Tsai

For the past several years I have been studying in film school and applying my knowledge to practical filmmaking. I have done everything from studying film theory to carrying electric cables on set, challenging myself to understand every possible position in filmmaking.

I have been very lucky to be the winner of multiple awards, including Championship of the Golden Melody awards in Taiwan, two time special recognition in the Taipei International film festival for "Taipei, Taipei," "If in Taipei, a Traveler" and most recently directed the Cannes Young Lion film competition winner "Wateraid for Dennis."

I see myself as part of a new breed of digital filmmakers. I started my studies in film school soon enough to experience 16mm and 35mm film, but since 2010 I've been shooting extensively on DSLRs, and have exploited the format in all phases of production. For me this has been a great opportunity, because my philosophy in filmmaking has always been to produce the best content with the lowest possible cost.

Although filmmaking is widely democratized nowadays, I believe that at the end of the day it's the raw talent and attitude that counts. As I keep challenging myself and absorbing knowledge, I highly value professionalism. Always being punctual, always in communication and always bringing the best and devoting myself to my clients, crew and work.

I have posted most of my work on this website, and I'm constantly looking to work with different people and expanding my network. I look forward to working for you, and establishing a great working relationship.

Mu-Ming Tsai