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Simon Zhao Talks About 'We The People?'

Tell us about yourself. How did you become an artist?

I think becoming an artist is a natural process for me. I have always been intrigued by the beauty and excitement of art since a very young age. Then, ever since realizing the excellence in art, everything around me began to slow down, which allowed me to capture many beauties in this world, no matter how big or small. I then realized that I have a passion for art, so I intentionally tried to explore more of my artistic potential through many styles and media. With this in mind, I have become who I am today as an art enthusiast.

What was your first job in the art field?

I do not have a “job” yet. I am still a student at the Governor’s Academy in Massachusetts, United States. But if there is a chance to take up a job in the art field, I think I would like to be involved in filmmaking. However, there are infinite possibilities regarding my future. It is always too early to say what I might become.

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

I want to tell stories because the world is boring. I often think that great stories are alternative ways to live our lives, only inside the bodies of new characters. I would not call my work highly activist, but it incorporates some aspects of our lives. I tend not to focus too much on ordinary romantic themes that are not the most relevant to our lives but on more practical world issues. Yet, there are many definitions of the “practical world issues” that I want to address in my work. I shall not and can not limit how my audience interacts with my work, so I can not tell what exact themes I tend to include in my work. At last, I simply hope my audience will find some level of understanding inside my work.

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

One of the general visions that I have for my project is to be energetic and encouraging. I want my audience to be motivated after seeing the film or to refresh their minds from worldly events. I want my work to be the fuel for many people, even though this is very hard to achieve. The method for me is simple but kind of controversial: I begin formulating a project from the inspiration of music. Whenever I hear a song or simply a melody, I naturally formulate a story surrounding that piece of music. This often leads my work to resemble a music video, but I do believe that music, along with visuals, is one of the cores of film.

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

Many great directors have guided me on this filmmaking journey, from Kubrick to Nolan. I learned how to be distinctive from their works and to have my style. They all shaped me to find my ways of making my films. The very first movies that I fell in love with, the movies that opened my eyes, were the Pirates of the Caribbean series. I was shocked by the writing and the imaginary worldviews in the Pirates films. Most importantly, the Pirates series opened my eyes to the importance of music scores. Hans Zimmer is genuinely one of the greatest composers of all time.

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

As clíche as this might sound, Covid definitely makes the lives of independent filmmakers harder than ever. I don’t think this only applies to the independent film industry, though; everyone suffers from the same pandemic. There is a vacuum in the creative supply chain, as many filmmakers lost opportunities to show their talents. I am not judging any production nowadays, but it is just a mere fact that movies have become less creative in terms of ideas and individual contributions. However, I think this will definitely get better. The industry never lacks talent, and it will always find the passionate hearts to produce brilliant films.

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

First of all, I do not consider myself to be an established artist in any way. After all, I am still a student who is trying to find his place in this ever-changing world. I don’t believe I have the authority or the expertise to guide anyone, but I have a few thoughts to share. I think the most important thing is definitely determination to produce everything to the fullest potential possible and never give up halfway in between. I learned a long time ago that I should always push to my fullest ability. You might call this perfectionist, but being a perfectionist is always the first step to making perfection. The most important thing is always to be serious about any film you are working on and take responsibility for yourself. With this mentality, reaching every other success would simply be a matter of time.

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

Of course, films and stories always bring changes in this world. Movies and stories come from the minds of generations, and these generations are also the builders of this world. If there is any reflection of how or what this world has become, it would undoubtedly be in the vast world of films. Films shape generations. They influence our children, our grandchildren, and many to come. They are the legacies of today and the forever gifts for the future. I think this just gives another valid reason why people should take every film production seriously.

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

I don’t believe that the pandemic has changed the artistic taste of the audience. They still enjoy the same films that they enjoyed many years ago and will continue to enjoy those for many years to come. People like to watch movies that have a comprehensive writing scope, where each character has their journey instead of being strong, starting from the first scene to the last. Again, I am not judging any of the productions. I have no right to judge their production ideas as someone who has never done a feature film. But the audience does enjoy growth in characters, the process of overcoming challenges, and exploring their potential. This is probably the most relatable part of any film and the strongest attraction to its audience: the growth of people.

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

I am following a series of scripts I wrote during my freshman year of high school. As you can see, the writing seems to be naive and cringe most of the time. “We The People?” is the first in this list, and it is the first short film script that I have ever written. The next project is simply the second one on the list. It is called “Paradox?” It would be a more psychologically creepy film than “We The People?” but it consists of fewer characters–only one person. I am lucky to have encountered such great actors from the school’s drama team. I will be forever grateful for their cooperation. The film is done filming right now and is entering the editing stage. I do not know how long the editing process will take since I am only putting together the pieces. I am looking forward to the final product, though!


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