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An Interview with Cheng Kai Kao

Tell us about yourself. What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

I started by making fashion videos for magazines and fashion brands. I spent a lot of time with small cameras and camcorders in the beginning. Not long after, I was introduced to the process of filmmaking by inviting my film school friends to help me on a stop motion thesis animation short for my design college. I fell in love with making images by actually making them and constantly looking forward to leveling up the craft.

Talk about your last work. What are some of the challenges you faced during production?

My last work would be Experience That with Leo Wang. The most challenging part was to get Leo in the right suit on a fairly tight budget. We took Leo to several shops to fit the

suits, wanted to have a secure version before we showed it to his record label, which also manages him. It was hard because of me; I tend to believe the suit is easy to find, and I always portray my subject as what I like. I have been influenced by gangster movie and their suits a lot. But the image of the song and Leo was slightly different from the suited men images in my head. Eventually, we found a pretty elegant way to style Leo with a scarf instead of a necktie, and it came out just right.

What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?

I think this answer will gradually change over time. Sometimes I want to tell stories because there’s a time of feelings that permanently reside in my heart, good or bad. Expressing the feelings of the memories in the story feels like a therapeutic move. Sometimes I want to tell stories because I figure something out, and I have eager to share the process as a human being. I remember three years ago, my main focus was to build as many in-depth cultural images for Taiwanese musicians. I believe I was doing it for being part of building the ethos in the society of our generation. In recent years, I have been incorporating spiritual awakening and self-awareness ideas into my works.

Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project?

Like the last question, I would dig into what I have been working on as a human, emotionally or spiritually. I take my time to figure out what I want to say to the world in the upcoming project or what matters to me, along with the subject I’m shooting. I meditate twice daily to ensure I have a great set of mind to be creative. I would also do literature, images, and movie research according to the subject.

Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?

I was influenced by many big names at the beginning of learning filmmaking, i.e., Akira Kurosawa, Ang Lee, David Lynch, Edward Yang, Martin Scorsese, and Stanley Kubrick. As I studied more films, I found Spike Lee influenced much of what I have seen, especially music videos. Tampopo is a film that I just realized after I watched it a few times that it is remarkable in the history of filmmaking and very close to what I imagine the best could happen in the cinematic art form.

How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?

The tools for filmmaking have been much more accessible, and I would consider myself one of the lucky children that have benefited from the digital era. Regarding COVID's impact on indie filmmaking, technically, it opens some doors for the crews to find new solutions, such as remote shooting. I had one shoot where the whole crew was in Taiwan while I was in New York directing it, and it came out fantastic. Furthermore, spiritually saying, many creators have more time to rethink the way of living and the work-life balance during the pandemic. I started to know more about myself when the world resets, free from the peer pressure, and gradually found my paths, so I guess there are many like me.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?

Lots of people would give advice like you have to find your own style and tell your own

stories, and you have to find the stories that really touch the bottom of your heart; those are very true, but I think even though I knew it the first day I still struggle a very long time to know what I genuinely want. So I would say start to meditate whenever possible. By tapping into your subconscious, you would be able to find what they say is “your truth.” There’s nothing you should avoid; life is full of lessons from the mistakes, and be happy that you can learn from those mistakes, even if it is copying someone else’s work.

Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?

Absolutely, art exists not to change the world, but it always does.

What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's taste?

That’s an interesting question, I don’t think the pandemic will initially change people’s tastes in films, but it allowed many to discover more about what they did not watch before or rewatch classics. I’m one of them. As far as the streaming platform has become more of a new norm, It’s tough to say what people like to watch these days. It just becomes more diverse, in my option.

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

My upcoming project is inspired by my personal experience as a young couple moving to a new place to find new ways of living, and it would be more of a narrative music video. That is all I can say.


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