Hard Work, Fun and Respect: Spotlight on Jennifer Liao

One of the goals at Short Film Fan is to feature people who make Canadian short films happen. This week, it’s a pleasure to post SFF’s recent interview with Toronto-based film director and producer Jennifer Liao. Jennifer runs her own production company called Believerville Productions, and is currently working on her latest film feature, ‘The End Of Days At Godfrey Global Inventory’. She graciously took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions and to share some of her thoughts:

Short Film Fan:  At what university or college did you receive your film training in?

Jennifer Liao:  I didn’t go to film school.  I have a degree in business and theatre from McGill.  I’ve learned about film making and continue to learn about film making by working on productions in different capacities, and by reading and watching and listening to as much as I can.

 SFF:  At what point in your life did you decide you wanted to become a film maker? Any family or cultural influences in making this decision?

JL: I knew pretty early on in my youth that I wanted to work in film and television, but the pursuit of an artistic career was adamantly discouraged in my household, so I was afraid of giving much voice to it.  Ironically, though, my parents first enrolled my sister and I in speech and acting training when we were really young; they saw it as a way for us to develop our language and public speaking skills.  It was a constant while I was growing up, and when I hit university, I snuck a theatre minor onto my business degree.  I intended to pursue both acting and production work professionally after graduation, and a few years in, I had an idea for a short film I wanted to direct.  I knew I’d really enjoy directing, but it was a total surprise to me how hard I was struck with the revelation that this was exactly the job I wanted to be doing while I was in the midst of shooting this film.

SFF:  Who or what were some of your film career influences?

JL: The NFB’s animated short films and the Canadian movies the CBC used to air in the middle of night.  I’m currently inspired by the films of the last few years from fledgling British directors Richard Ayoade, Peter Strickland, Andrea Arnold, Ben Wheatley, and Joe Cornish. I’ve long admired Nicole Holofcener, Ondi Timoner, Ted Hope, Mike Judge, Mike White, Karen Walton, Mynette Louie, Christine Vachon, Nira Park, and countless others.  And I aspire one day to put together a collective like that of Borderline Films, with like-minded partners trading off roles.

SFF:  How would you describe your film making style?

JL:  I’ll say that in terms of the actual process of making a film, I’m a believer in “Best Idea Wins” and no false hierarchies. So, it’s important to me to establish an environment where everyone on a project feels they have the support they need to do their best work and collaborate with each other, and can speak up if they have a suggestion or a concern.  I’m obviously not unique in that way. But, I think it’s a much easier thing to give lip service to than to do and I genuinely work at trying to achieve this as best I can.

   (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Liao)
(Photo courtesy of Jennifer Liao)

SFF:  You’ve made a number of short films, including ‘What You Eat’ and ‘CEO’. Where do you get your ideas to make such films as these?

JL:  WHAT YOU EAT was based on a short story by a writer named Ben Ehrenreich, so credit for that idea is entirely his.  CEO was inspired by the financial meltdown that resulted from the subprime mortgage crisis stateside, and was basically a reaction to reading about bankers complicit in the system that saw themselves as the victims.  Inspiration can come from anywhere, and if I happen upon a general concept I’m excited about, I’ll work on distilling it down to what I hope is an interesting story that can be done justice in the short film form.

SFF:  What challenges do you face as a film maker when producing a short film?

JL: I think the grand challenge for every filmmaker is to get the best possible version of what they are trying to achieve in the can, making all the decisions that have to be made and bringing everyone together around the same goal, while dealing with the very practical limitations of the filmmaking process: time, money, scheduling, weather, you name it.

SFF:  In your opinion, what draws people to watch short films?

JL:  A cool concept, an intriguing story, a performer or filmmaker that they like, a recommendation from a friend or trusted curator, an arresting still photo, the promise of any other element of the film that will be worth their time.

SFF:  Do you think short film viewership in Canada will grow in the future?

JL:  Yes.  Even with the explosion of short-form content on the internet, I think there are still more opportunities to showcase and promote short films in ways that are compelling to audience.  I’m in favour of the trend of festivals showcasing some of their programmed shorts online, for one.  The growth of websites and blogs that cover and curate short films also seem to me to be an important part of building a more engaged short film audience.

SFF:  Do you have any advice for any up-and-coming short film makers in Canada?

JL:  Work hard, have fun, and respect the craft and your craftspeople.  We’re fortunate in Canada to have a number of institutions that provide funding for short films, but they are of course extremely competitive.  So if you’re pursuing this type of funding, read the guidelines carefully and use your application as an opportunity to really articulate (for them and for yourself) why you want to make this movie and how you’re going to do it.  It could be helpful in keeping yourself personally excited and focused on what you need to accomplish, and convincing the decision-makers to put you on that shortlist.

 

We wish Jennifer all the best of luck in her current and future projects. Plans are in the works to screen ‘The End Of Days At Godfrey Global Inventory’ next year at film festivals before its formal release. For more information, please go to and ‘Like’ the film’s Facebook page and check out the webpage at:

www.facebook.com/GodfreyGlobal

www.godfreyglobal.com

For more on Jennifer’s work, visit her webpage www.jenniferliao.com and while you’re at it, give her a follow on Twitter @averagejenn

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