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Kaohsiung VR Film Lab 2019: An Interview with Director Kidding Hsu 許智彥

16 October 2019

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Kaohsiung VR Film Lab 2019: An Interview with Director Kidding Hsu 許智彥

Interview by Chng Ying Tong

After his debut as co-director of the widely successful Dear Ex 《誰先愛上他的》, Kidding Hsu uses the language of VR in Home 《舊家》to translate the warmth of a family reunion through the eyes of a grandmother. The 17 minute short made its world premiere at the 2019 Kaohsiung Film Festival, as part of its Kaohsiung VR Film Lab Originals initiative. 

Home details a summer afternoon as a family gathers in their old family home to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival. All of them surround Grandma, each showering her with love and affection in their own ways. 

Sinema had the pleasure to sit down with the budding Taiwanese director to talk about his experience working with VR:


(Director Kidding Hsu)

How did you begin the process of making this VR Film?

I directed a VR music video a while ago for the band WONFU but I consider that experience more of a commercial project, and saw VR as more of a tool. Since there were four members in the band, I knew that the camera would be focused on four sides to give the audience something to look at. My use of VR for this project was straight-forward and was more towards creating a sense of rhythm.

Hsu Yu-Ting and I both directed Dear Ex – she wrote the script and directed the performances while I was involved with its cinematography. After the film, since it was my first as a director, I was quite unsure about a lot of things, especially about what being a director encompasses, and about directing actors. I wanted to make sense of my experience and think about my plans for the future so I returned to shooting advertisements and music videos. 

Six months ago, Kaohsiung Film Festival presented an opportunity to shoot a film in VR. I began by thinking about perspective in VR. What exactly is VR? What is it that the audience feels when they wear their helmet – is it voyeurism? When I first tried VR I felt that it was quite a fresh experience – people couldn’t see me. When I wear the VR goggles, I could still look away and observe while everybody was watching me. Who will the audience be when they put on the VR goggles, whose perspective are they watching the story from? In the end, I chose to use my grandmother’s perspective.  

It so happened that my old home was going to be taken by the government. That was when I decided to make something personal, while using the opportunity to memorialize the home in film. It was going to be gone soon. Afterwards, I summoned up the courage to ask my family if they wanted to be in the project. Those that agreed were in the film and those that didn’t were played by actors. 

To me, the whole shooting process wasn’t all related to VR. Instead, I found that the process made me more confident in directing performances. I had confidence because what happened in the story is based on what happened to me. Each role was based on family members whom I thoroughly understood. This knowledge made it possible for me to direct more precisely and with confidence. It was filmed with just one shot till the end and there was no need for close-ups, jumps, dolly-ins, which made the whole process very easy-going.

Sometimes the VR camera will overheat and need to cool down, because of the unusually long scene. But we noticed that no one would jump out of character and ask for a smoke break. Everyone would stay in the scene and in character and chat and that created a cinematic feeling and a sense of homely warmth for the film. 

你是如何開始參與做這個VR影片的?

我很久以前有為旺福樂團拍過VR的MV。但那次的經驗就是一個商業案,所以那時候只是把VR當作一個工具。我知道VR會有四個面,那個樂團團員也有四個。所以我就讓他們盡量讓觀眾每個面向都有東西看。當時我的思維很簡單,只是弄節奏。

後來《誰先愛上他的》拍完,我們是雙導演,我是負責影像,譽庭姊負責編劇和指導表演。拍完之後,其實我有很多挫折,我在裡面拍得很不確定。因為第一次拍電影,所以很多東西都片片段段的,尤其對於什麼叫做導演、指導表演、指導演員。我就開始整理到底我接下來要怎麼辦。我就先回去拍廣告跟拍MV。

一直到半年前,高雄電影節就給了一個機會來拍VR。我那時候一開始先想的是VR的觀點。到底VR是什麼。觀眾戴起(頭盔)來的時候的感覺到底是什麼。是偷窺嗎?因為我一開始在感受的時候發現有一件事特別的爽 – 別人看不到我。我戴起VR,大家都在看我,但我也可以轉開。這個感覺很特別。所以我就想先focus在這裡。到底觀眾戴起來他們是誰,到底他們是從誰的視角在閱讀這個故事。所以後來就選用我的阿嬤。

剛好那時候我那個舊家要被政府收回去了。我就想要回到我很個人的創作,所以就想要利用這個片子把那個舊家記錄下來,因為它要不見了,它要被政府拿回去了。然後就鼓起勇氣問我的家人要不要來演。願意的都參與,不願意的我就請演員。

但整個拍攝的過程,對我來講其實跟VR無關。而是我發現在這一次的拍攝經驗,我對於指導表演變得有自信。有自信的原因是這個故事其實就是我真實發生的故事。每個角色都是我非常了解的家人。這個經驗讓我指導表演的時候變得很精準,突然變得很有自信。然後加上因為它是一鏡到底,VR是一整個記錄下來,不用特寫,不用跳,不用dolly in。所以整個拍攝的過程很緩。

我們中間有時候VR的機器會過熱,需要讓它休息。因為很少有這樣這麼長的鏡頭。中間休息的時候,你就發現所有的人也不用跳出來說,OK,中間休息抽煙聊天。大家坐在裡面聊天的時候就有一個感覺,就是給我一個電影感,大家很舒服地活在這個空間裡面。

(Film still of Home)

There’s a scene in the film where the audience will unknowingly become part of the family photo. Was this audience reaction planned? 

Yes it was. And even though it was and that I expected the surprise, I still felt an emotional sting.

My plan was always to let my family be the first ones to read the script. My grandmother had just passed away, and my uncle became the eldest of the family. His thinking was that the family should remain tight-knit and not splintered off. My uncle had a lot of suggestions after reading the script, such as how the film should include the big tree behind our house, and how my grandfather’s memorabilia should be filmed. After much thought, I decided that the film should not be about remembering my grandmother, but more about how – through her point of view – she remembers our family. Because honestly, I was on my phone for most of the time when my grandmother was still around the house.

My grandmother spent most of the time in the house sitting down without a hint of emotion. This caused some in the family to be quite direct in their emotions. In the film, I wanted to show how we acted in front of our elders, such as the three brothers quarrelling over ice cream. I wanted to convey that all of us loved our grandmother. And that all of us love our country even if the way we convey that love is different, based on what we think is right. The message I wanted to transmit is that even if we don’t know for sure what our grandmother and country wants and needs, it should be unmistakable that all of us are acting in good faith.

Sometimes when we watch a quarrel, we as the third generation can feel very tired and helpless. Sometimes it feels like the entire family atmosphere is stressful. When I was a student, I rejected this feeling and even hated this family. But after growing up and with a child of my own now, I realised,  I wanted to show that feeling in the film too.

影片中有一幕是阿嬤和大家拍全家照,觀眾會不自覺的配合參與全家照,這是刻意塑造的反應嗎?

那個反應呢,我也是等到後期團隊把粗剪剪好,我戴上VR眼鏡的時候,我才發現明明是我set up 的,但我自己的手也會配合,我也會有這種感覺。

我那時候就是,先把腳本寫好就傳到我們家族的群組。那時候阿嬤剛走,而大伯就變長孫,阿嬤離開後他最大。他其實被傳統教育的概念就是要維護家族,不要讓家族分散。那時候大伯一看完腳本,就給了很多資訊,像是我跟你講那個舊家後面有一棵大樹也要拍起來。然後阿公以前有一些文件全部都要拍喔。然後我想一想之後,其實我不是要記錄阿嬤。我想要用阿嬤的觀點記錄我們。因為其實以前阿嬤在家的時候,我都在滑手機,老實說。

其實阿嬤因為一直坐在那裡,她也不會表達她的情緒。所以有時候,我們家族裡面有些人的表達蠻直接的。其實我那時候是想用阿嬤的觀點讓大家看一看我們在長輩面前的樣子是什麼,像是那個三兄弟不是為了吃冰有一點吵架。我想要傳達的是訊息是其實大家都很愛阿嬤。或是說,大家都很愛自己的城市、大家都愛台灣。可是大家都會用自己認為對的方式給愛。我不管你接不接受。「吃冰」、「不要吃冰」,又或是「我幫你吃冰」。後來還有肉粽,「少吃一點」、「你多吃一點」、「你要吃」。但誰知道阿嬤真正的需求是什麼。誰又知道你的國家真正的需求是什麼。我想傳達的是每個人都是帶著善意。

有時候看著吵架,我們第三代會看了很煩,很無奈。有時候會覺得這個家族氣氛讓人壓力好大。在學生時候,會很排斥,很討厭這個家族。但是長大之後,因為我剛有了小孩,發現,哇,其實有一種冷,不是小孩覺得冷,而是媽媽覺得冷。“你很冷!多穿一件衣服!”但小孩就快流汗了。我想這個表演上能呈現那個。

(Film still of Home)

Looking back on the experience of shooting this film, is there anything you would like to improve?

Because there is no way to directly review the footage, you can only see a plan. After putting on the VR goggles and watching the film, I cried – I am very satisfied with the end product. On the first two takes, I was very anxious because I was both the director and actor. There was once when my uncle’s car hadn’t arrived and I got worried about time constraints. Later, my wife criticised my acting performance, telling me to mind myself first before anything else. It was then when I made adjustments, and had no regrets with the entire process afterwards.

I came to Kaohsiung three days ago to test the film. The feeling I got was that the film came off as too hasty. I would have liked for the ending to be pulled back, giving the audience some room to breathe. I hope there would be an opportunity to showcase the 17-minute version of the film, which would be closer to my vision. I would also want to include my family’s portrait at the end of the film. I want to show the audience how my grandmother looks. Most of the audience that I spoke with felt that the ending was sad. But what I really wanted to transmit was the warm emotions of a family reunion. 

回顧過去在六月份拍攝這個VR的經驗,有沒有什麼你會想要去改善的嗎?

因為VR拍完,沒有像拍片這樣直接review,你只可以看一個平面圖。我那時候戴上VR眼鏡看完後,我就在裡面哭了。其實我已經很滿意了。其實中間有一部分是前面拍兩次,我就很急,因為我也是演員。當時我在現場,因為有時間限制,一直在想大伯怎麼車子還不來啊。然後我太太就說你演得好爛,能不能先把自己顧好好不好。後來我就有調整,所以final來講我是沒有遺憾。

三天前我有來高雄測試。測試完的感覺是我為了服務那影片時限的十五分鐘,我覺得片頭片尾都太倉促。我希望ending拉回來,讓觀眾靜一下。這個就還在跟影節溝通,看我們到底有沒有機會再出一個十七分鐘的版,讓大家呼吸一下,然後慢慢地結束。我也想在片尾出現一個真實我們家族的合照。我想讓大家看到阿嬤長的樣子。目前收尾的感覺很多人會跟我講說很悲傷。可是,我的目的其實是想要讓我的家族回來再聚一次。

Were there any challenges filming with VR?

There were different challenges at different stages.

While writing the script, I felt that it was very mild. It did not have the energy of a music video, with music driving the rhythm of the video. When I showed the script to Yu-Ting, she said that although the script did feel mild, there were still dramatic tensions in the ups and downs of the film. I wasn’t sure at that point of time. But after filming – and perhaps with the help of VR – I felt that, on the contrary, the mood is very strong.

Another challenge is with directing performances, because VR has its limitations. After positioning the camera, there are lines drawn on the ground where nobody can stand at or which is a challenge on its own. I think the cast did a great job in their performances. I think I was the only one who performed poorly.

在拍攝這個VR中, 你有沒有面臨什麼挑戰嗎?

不同階段有不同階段的挑戰。

一個是我在寫本的時候,覺得這個劇本很淡。它也沒有像MV裡的跑、晃,隨著音樂beat很快。然後我有給譽庭姊看,她就覺得雖然很淡,但是中間還是有一點點起伏。我那時候很不確定這個劇本到底有沒有戲劇張力。可是拍出來之后,可能因為VR幫忙,我看了覺得,誒,不淡耶,反而情緒好濃喔。

另外一個挑戰就是指導表演,因為VR有一些限制。機器放了後,會有幾個縫合面。所以其實在拍的時候,地板上會有拉線,人不能夠站在那裏。走位是一個挑戰。反而我擔心的演員表演不知道為什麼,大家都表演得很好。只有我表演得最不好。大家都很自在。

While watching the film in VR, I found that there was no one in the wheelchair when I looked down. If my perspective is grandmother, I should be able to see her legs. Was this a technical issue or was this intended?

This was discussed with my post-production team, who is very experienced. They showed me references and gave a few suggestions. Apart from adding the body, another method was to add voices, like Grandma’s coughing voice. However, after experiencing it, I didn’t like how it limited the audience’s imagination. I want the audience to explore without knowing that they are Grandma at the beginning. 

I settled on leaving clues around. The audience sees a picture of the grandfather hanging on the right, with a photo in the distance of both the grandfather and the grandmother. There was only one bird left on the balcony. These were the many symbols I used to show that her husband has passed away, and that she is now alone. Everybody is talking to you, but you don’t know who you are. It was only when the last hearing aid is turned up, when you know for sure that you are Grandma. I want the audience to slowly find out who they are in the film. 

看短片時,如果往下看輪椅的話,其實輪椅是空的。如果真的是阿嬤的話,是會看到她的腳。這個是技術上的問題還是你故意要的?

這個其實有跟後期的團隊討論。後期團隊是很資深的團隊。他們給我看reference,也有給了幾個建議,有加入人的腳以外,另外一個是加入聲音,像阿嬤咳嗽的聲音。體驗完之后我覺得就是不喜歡因為它把想像空間給添滿了。我希望觀眾在前面能探索,而不希望觀眾一開始就知道你是阿嬤。

我給了一些痕跡,那時候右邊有掛一個那個阿公的照片。遠方能看到一個掛著阿公跟阿嬤的照片。遠方陽台只剩下一隻鳥。有很多符號我想告訴大家,她的先生過世了,現在只剩她一個人。每個人都在跟你講話但是你也不知道你是誰。最後那個助聽器調大後,你發現你是阿嬤。我希望慢慢讓觀眾發現他究竟是誰。

(Behind-the-scenes footage of Home)

Where do you see VR’s role in the future of storytelling?

Because the camera hardly moves, I had the opportunity to practice my shot coordination because the frame is static. For example in films, a simple handshake could take different shots to demonstrate. That was difficult for me because I was not unsure where the focus was. In VR, the frame is static. Because of that, I wholly focus on the actor’s performance. 

Regarding VR’s narrative language, I don’t think I have a clear answer to that yet. I feel that VR offers perspective. I saw a Korean film that used the point of view of a ghost to tell the story, with the camera slowly descending to a coffin to transmit the message. Currently, all the great movies I have seen are based on these different point of views. I am still figuring out the medium’s narrative language. 

你如何看待VR在電影未來的故事的敘述方式扮演的角色?

除了我剛剛說我把我的真實經驗轉化成腳本然後確認我原來是可以導戲之外,我也在練習調度,因為鏡頭不會動。以前拍電影,比如說我走進來跟你握手,握手的時候要跳主觀。那時候的分鏡一抓下來,我整個場面調度都亂七八糟。我根本不知道什麼時候是重點。可是這次鏡頭不會動。因為事情很單純,我只要顧調度,所以我就可以focus得很好。

回到VR的敘事鏡頭語言,之前有人問過這個問題我也還不清楚,我也還在整理。我目前有的就是觀點。之前我看過一個韓國導演的電影,他是用鬼的觀點。鏡頭慢慢下來而你發現船上在辦喪事。目前我看到很棒的片子都是以觀點為主。所以那個敘述語言我也還在還在整理,沒有很清楚。

What do you think will be your next VR or AR project?

I think I am still a bigger fan of films. This might be because I haven’t seen enough of other VR films, or because of the limited reach of the medium. It’s not like a movie in the cinema or on Netflix where thousands of people can easily access them. Since I have a background in filming advertisements and music videos, I am more used to doing commercial art meant for a mass audience. I want to tell stories in movies, and I think it’s only with a feature length where I can fully convey what I want to say. This is why while I’m going to start preparing for my next film, I am unclear about my next step with VR. 

你如何看待VR在電影未來的故事的敘述方式扮演的角色?

除了我剛剛說我把我的真實經驗轉化成腳本然後確認我原來是可以導戲之外,我也在練習調度,因為鏡頭不會動。以前拍電影,比如說我走進來跟你握手,握手的時候要跳主觀。那時候的分鏡一抓下來,我整個場面調度都亂七八糟。我根本不知道什麼時候是重點。可是這次鏡頭不會動。因為事情很單純,我只要顧調度,所以我就可以focus得很好。

回到VR的敘事鏡頭語言,之前有人問過這個問題我也還不清楚,我也還在整理。我目前有的就是觀點。之前我看過一個韓國導演的電影,他是用鬼的觀點。鏡頭慢慢下來而你發現船上在辦喪事。目前我看到很棒的片子都是以觀點為主。所以那個敘述語言我也還在還在整理,沒有很清楚。


Check out the VR short’s trailer and a behind-the-scenes look below:

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