Interview with director Hsuan-Wei (Jackson) Wu


Hsuan-Wei Wu (Jackson) is a Taiwanese Christian filmmaker, an MFA film graduate at City College of New York, and the BAFTA NY 2020 DLT Entertainment Scholarship recipient. His short film “The Angel in The Globe” has won multiple short films and student awards and has screened in film festivals all around the States. His latest short film “I’m Home”, which is currently running in festivals, has also won awards from ICVM Crown Awards and Centre Film Festival. Hsuan-Wei focuses on making films about Asian Culture, gospels, and human connections; he wishes to show the world a more comprehensive depiction of Taiwan and its people.

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

Since I was little, I fell in love with drawing and just creating stuff in general, but I never really dive into it and train myself to become a better painter or artist. In my high school years, I had the opportunity to shoot a small video project and that got me into video making. I started out as an editor and even till now, I love to edit my own film. I find editing a way of creating, expressing, and telling stories in the editing language, but by editing itself, I don’t have a story to tell. I need to create one and use all the asset, knowledge, tools, etc. I have to turn ideas into pictures. So after a few scrappy video projects in high school, I know that I enjoy doing this, I have stories to tell, and I want to get serious with it. So I decided to apply for film school/major for my undergraduate studies. After I started study film and forced myself to be in this environment constantly, made me ask myself a question. What can I get out of being a filmmaker, am I enjoying the process, what is the thing that keeps me going and want to make more film? Not just that the result is rewarding, that’s not enough, because we all will fail at least once, but the urge to tell the world your perspective and beliefs are the things that keep me going.

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

There are many cases out there that a successful filmmaker does not necessarily come out of a film school. Film institutes are there for a reason, but it’s not a must have experience. People can learn a lot from going directly on set and grab everything from that environment, but the only that a film institute have and other places don’t is the connection you’re building. Great film schools have great resources and the classmates you’re studying with together, are most likely to become your life long crew members. Professors, faculties, and your classmates will have a better chance to become your future producer, DP, co-director, or the people that get you your next gig or recommend you to other great opportunities. I think that’s the great thing about going to a film school, to learn the basics but build up your own connections.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

For me, getting started for something is harder than keeping myself going. Before I start something, maybe it’s writing a new script, start going out to connect to people, or just simply going somewhere that I don’t usually go, these all gave me anxieties. I like to overthink a lot, because of my fear of the unknown, me constantly doubting my own abilities, afraid that I might not succeed. All these voices keeps me from starting something new, but I once heard a director said that he’s never stressed with what he’s about to do, because stress is a result of you being passive, people overthink before actually doing things, but then you start doing it, you’re not stressed at all. I agree with the statement, because as soon as I keep myself started on a new project, I will just keep on going, until I accomplished it.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

Before shooting this film, I had a lot of worries. I worry the things that are not a director’s responsibility. So I put a lot on myself, thinking that I should be the one that’s taking care of the entire project, because this is my story and my film. In fact, we need to understand out own limitations and understand that as a director, we might have some bigger responsibilities, but on set, all we need to do is focus on directing and make sure that your vision is correctly translated through the lens. The most important lesson I learned is to trust your crew, of course we need to have a good one, but once we selected all the talented people to join the project, we then need to let go of a lot of concerns, and just let the right people do their job. Trusting your crew and building up that trust will help you, your film, and the filmmaking experience feel like butter.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

The biggest thing I experienced is the things that you can’t control, for example, the weather. When I’m writing my film “I’m Home” I didn’t write any scene that has rain, but when we settled the shoot date, we found out that all the days will be raining. I didn’t have time to reschedule at the time, but I learned to work around it, I reimagined the film and find that the rain adds a lot of chaos to the story, which works. So rain ended up being my best friend. Other things like tight budget, having people constantly walking by when shooting, environmental noises, time, etc., these are all the things we know that might happen, but don’t want it to happen. Although on every production we might encounter the same issues, but each time we learn from our mistakes, and we expected the unexpected. The whole crew work together to make things happen, to resolve challenges, and that’s the fun thing with filmmaking.

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

When you’re creating a short film that can only be 15min long, you’ll need to give up on a lot of precious moments that you originally planned. I think this not only applies to the films that have time requirements, but all the directors also have this same issue with not being able to give up on that big scene or that one great shot. We all need to learn to let go of things that just don’t work or the moment that’s just not helping the story.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

To use “I’m Home” as an example, this is my first time shooting back home, in Taiwan. I didn’t grow up there, so I don’t know anyone at the time. Luckily, my cousin has connection with a senior back in college, who has his own production studio. I got connected to him, who ended up being my DP. He introduced me to the producer from his company and she just got me all the people I need. They are all people that they’ve worked with before. I’m very fortunate to be able to have them on my team and they are all passionate filmmakers and hard workers. To be able to keep the relationship strong, is to communicate, appreciate all of their work, and show your appreciation with action. I like to start a prayer before every shoot and name every department in the prayer. Even though we all might have different beliefs, it’s great to know that everyone’s taken into account.

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

I think there are different kinds of director. Of course, we know that commercial films need take audience’s taste into account, or the film will not sell. When you’re a filmmaker that wants to share a perspective, your own interpretation of truth, or anything that you have strong opinions in, then I think what the audiences want are less of a concern, but at the same time you also need to know in a marketing standpoint that if no ones watching your film, how will you be able to preach your ideas on things. For me, I figure out what audience I want to target first. People can disagree on your ideologies, but I think it’s a great practice to take you audience into account and stand in their shoes. What will make the greatest influence, but still being respectful to other people.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

Originally, film festivals are a way for me to approve my own work. When I get selected, I felt that I gain value from getting into festivals, but recently, I find myself not worrying too much about other people’s opinion. Not getting into festivals, doesn’t mean your work is bad. Sometimes festivals are just looking for something slightly different from what you delivered, but what your film meant to yourself is the most important. To me film festivals are way to get my work out there and let a bigger audience see. This act as potential opportunity for me to work with other great filmmakers or people that share the same perspective as yours. Film festivals can help me expand my connection and help market my own work. Getting in big festivals are definitely still exciting. Be proud if you got in, but no need to get discouraged if you didn’t.

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

I think this depends on the comfort level of a filmmaker. If a filmmaker is just starting up and sticking to a safe cinema style can help them convey their stories, then why not? Once a filmmaker develops ones own style, one can be as original and free as one wants to be. Film style, genre, mood, etc, are just tools to help you tell a story, but classical style do the job, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.