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The Body of Levi: An Interview with Freddy Cheung

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

I used to make films with my best friend in his backyard and his camcorder. Nothing crazy, just kids messing about really. Later on in my teens I discovered DVD extras and would watch every movie I had at least twice, even the bad ones. Once just to watch the film and the second time with the Director’s commentary to see HOW they did it. To me making a film seemed fascinating and I loved hearing about the process.

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

For me the most difficult moments ofThe Body of Leviwere dealing with so many moving parts. With one scene needing more than a dozen people on set, controlling the set became a challenge. People have a natural tendency to chat in between takes and the sound of over a dozen people chatting in a small living room can become cacophonous and overwhelming.

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

I think stories have a way of healing. It allows a space for us to share thoughts and feelings we otherwise wouldn’t or can’t explore . In a story you can feel what a character is feeling, and that makes the art of storytelling a practice in empathy.

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

For me the first step is to find a story that resonates with me. Once I take that first step I find everything just gradually begins to snowball.

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

I can’t possibly name them all but a few would be Scorcese, Kurosawa, Kubrick for the old masters. Paul Thomas Anderson is another andThereWill Be Bloodwas a huge reference point for me while makingThe Body of Levi.DannyBoyle becauseTrainspottingis one of my all time favorites. Lately I have also been getting into the work of Lynne Ramsay. Her last filmYou Were Never Really Hereis mesmerizing.

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

It’s been a tough few years. For me I haven’t shot anything since the pandemic started, out of an abundance of caution. But all this must pass. Eventually everything will return to normal. There was talk about how festivals would become permanently online but I’ve been to a few in person ever since I got the vaccine and people are eager to get back out there.

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

Don’t be too precious with your work. I’ve met many directors, writers and actors who feel like their work is above criticism and will refuse to take advice on how to improve it. I feel like this is very counter productive especially in the field of filmmaking where everything is so collaborative. That isn’t to say you should never stand your ground, but be careful about the battles you choose to fight. It isn’t always worth it. Sometimes that one shot or scene isn’t gonna be as good as you think it will be. Be flexible.

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

Film is one of the most powerful mediums we have to reach people with. So yes I do believe films and stories can change the world.

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

A lot of people I’ve talked to want to watch something lighthearted after years of doomscrolling. Understandable since we’ve all been through so much stress. I think comedies and escapist films will dominate the market.

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

I am currently in pre-production for a short film with a fantastic team. The film is set in Japan and I hope to shoot on location sometime next year.


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