Ann Hu, director, and writer of the Chinese Academy award-winning feature film Shadow Magic and Confetti spoke to our host Giles Alderson on this week’s episode.

Ann arrived in New York in 1979 after her daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 3 in China,  and much like the character in her film Confetti, Ann undertook the move to the US in order to find a school that would be able to help and teach her daughter.

During that time, Ann worked full-time, then went into full-time education. After that, she started a career in business and then moved into filmmaking.

Life Imitating Art

Her filmmaking has always been inspired by her own life. “My first film was about this person making his first film. And then the second one, at that point I just had a divorce and I felt bitter, so I made Beauty Remains. There was a lot of confusion in my life. So I gave all those confusions to the characters. And in the end, I was cured.”

Confetti was partially the story about her own struggles with her daughter’s dyslexia but was also partially fictionalized. 

“After making this film, I sort of re-walked this journey again, reflecting what I saw. There are so many parents, so many kids that you’ll run into having exactly the same problem and the same struggles. And I just wanted to show all of that.”

Making Her First Feature

One of Ann’s producers told her “there is a blessing in every delay. I tried so hard to raise money and find producers who could help, but it was basically hopeless.”

While waiting for money, and still feeling hopeful about her project, she decided to focus on  “doing the paperwork and preparation, preparation, preparation. I did a colour theme for each scene. And for the entire film.”

She likened her experience to practicing piano every day on a paper keyboard. Although she was unable to make her film, she focussed on the storyboard and the scenes and prepared (on paper) for when she would be able to make her film. 

After a while, she decided that she needed “to just get started. Regardless of whether I had enough money to put a film in the can. I just have to build this otherwise I cannot continue living.”

She took her savings to Beijing Film Studios and told them that while she was still raising money (and had a lot more to raise) she wanted to start on her project.

“The crew, in the beginning, were working all the award-winning films and they’d seen all the big directors around the world. So now they’ve got this person who was totally inexperienced and had no money but was tremendously ambitious. Eventually, they turned around and they took out their reserves to help me out and became all the in-kind contributions.”

Ann had also been speaking to Taiwan Central Motion Pictures who, after coming on set, committed to 5% of the budget. Sandra Schulberg managed to convince a German company to invest 10% of the budget, a friend invested another 10%, and on completion Pulse Production Company helped with post.

“Through the process, I did realise I am an independent filmmaker. That means you have an independent voice and that voice belongs to you. You’re responsible for it. If you don’t have money, try to find money because no one is responsible to pay for your voice.”

Last Words of Wisdom

Ann believes that “if you’re a filmmaker, you should own your own property. Write your own script or buy the right of a book that you really enjoy. People will give you a piece of land to build your project, that’s a dream that still happens, but the odds are not really there. 

If you’re ready to move forward effectively, you really have to have a good script (regardless of how you find it) and you have to own it. And then once you have that, you begin to build.

You gather your crew, you send it to studios or financiers or investors, you look for cast and you’ve actually put this project together. But it all starts with a script.”

For more brilliant filmmaking advice from Ann Hu, listen here.

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