Interview with director Xinhui Ma

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

I’ve always been really into story telling, although I’ve explore other mediums like music and writing and drawing, and it all kinda leads to film / animation, since it combines all the things I’m interested in.

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

Definitely not, although I went myself.

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

I always made up stories in my head since I was little and sometimes I wrote it down. So it’s a pretty natural step for me to start making animation once I got some time on my hand. It can get tough to keeping making films since it take lots of discipline and it’s a lonesome and maddening journey particularly in the writing stages. But it also extremely satisfying and cathartic to finish a story.

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

Start writing instead of just be in your head, and you gotta make a decision in order to keep the production going. These are just what I learned from experience.

  • 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?

I know I wanted to include a dream sequence but I don’t know what it would look like or what it entail, and I know I wouldn’t have time to do it myself so I asked a friend. I have no idea what it would look like until the night of the deadline, and I just have time to export it out altogether. And it all worked out!

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

For Filla’ Void, I always envision it opening with an ad for the vending machine product, it was in the script and the storyboard, and I just don’t have the time to animate it along with everything else, and I had to cut it. The hardest thing to do is to edit yourself and kill your darlings.

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

It’s just friends and people that I met at complete random scenarios, I think it’s just about being interested in the arts and be open in life. Communication is key in collaboration.

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

I don’t really think that should be of my concern when I’m creating. I can only imagine what I want as an audience and do my best to achieve that, if you tell the truth, people will connect.

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

I haven’t have my work in festivals until last year, so I’m still figuring it out, but as an audience, I definitely enjoy seeing the films and talk to the artists afterwards.

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

Depends on what you wanna do, but originality is always more interesting!

  • What qualities or attributes do you look for in people you are looking to employ or work with?

Dependable and patience. I can be very particular and it takes work to get to where it feels right.

  • Would you recommend writers think like a producer when writing their script? Or, just write with reckless abandon and then worry about the cost, or whatever, after they’ve grabbed a producer’s attention.

As an animator, I’d say go nuts! Which is why it’s such an amazing art form, you can literally animate anything.

  • How involved in the writing of a project do you get? Are you more involved in the initial development?

I love writing, it’s the start of the engine. I always start with writing first, to explore my interest in the topic, and then I find the form of the story.

  • If you had an unlimited budget at your disposal, what would be your dream production project?

I’d love to make a feature film or tv show. I wrote this feature screenplay about dreams and alternative realities and I really explore that and dwell on it. That’s my dream project.

  • What does the future of film look like?

There’s lots of exciting films coming out pushing the artistic boundary, like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, The Bigger Picture by Daisy Jacobs. And there’s this trend of creator ownership happening in the tv scene, like Fleabag. I think it encourages more people to write what comes from within and not shy away from uncomfortable vulnerability, in order to be funny. I’m very excited and inspired!