Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of interviews, conducted via email, with directors whose films are screening at the 2009 SXSW Film Festival.
“Made in China”
Director: Judi Krant. Writer: Judi Krant and Dan Sumpter
Lost in Shanghai, an inventor discovers that it takes more than a bright idea to succeed. Cast: Jackson Kuehn, Dan Sumpter [Courtesy of SXSW]
“Made in China” will screen in the Narrative Features Competition.
Please introduce yourself…
I’m Judith-Anne de la Cruz Krant. Most people call me Judi, though I never thought the name suited me. I might change it one day to “Beastlet,” or “Lyon Gardener.” I’m the writer/director of “Made in China,”which is in this years SXSW narrative film competition.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?
I love storytelling.
Filmmaking is a comprehensive form of storytelling. You’re communicating on multiple levels, through language, picture, music and sound. It’s a potent collage.
How or what prompted the idea for your film and how did it evolve?
My friend, James Choi, and I decided that we were going to make a movie… PRONTO; come heck or high water. It would be something for him to produce and me to direct. So, he was to raise a humble budget and I was to deliver a humble-budget script. Knowing that we’d have limited funds, I felt we could get more production value if we shot in a location that was inherently visually exciting.
A good friend and fellow filmmaker, Petter Eldin, had recently moved to Shanghai and was raving about how cheaply one could shoot there. I started kicking around China-based story ideas with Dan Sumpter and we soon had a plot outline that made us laugh so hard, we nearly choked on our Boba. We worked manically on the script while James started pulling other elements together. He found Jackson Kuehn, our lead, and brought him to me on a tiny red velvet pillow, with a note that said “Meet Johnson.”
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making your film.
“Made in China” is a micro-budget production, so we had to be efficient and resourceful.
Since we were shooting under the radar in China, we didn’t have a production company on the ground waiting to decode Shanghai for us. Bronwyn Cornelius and I went there two weeks before the rest of the team with the mission of getting local. We had been told that we weren’t really supposed to be shooting in the old neighborhoods, so we had to be a very low impact and inconspicuous crew when we were on the streets. Those neighborhoods are being torn down at a rapid pace right now and I’m thrilled that we were able to capture some of them.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
Shooting a low budget indie in a communist country you’ve never visited, where you can’t speak the language, and without the permission of the local Censorship Board is a fairly dicey proposition.
At one point, we had a London-based production company ready to supply us with the entire team: an executive producer, a line producer, two camera men with equipment, a sound operator, and an editor. We were beyond excited when that came together.
Then, they started getting nervous about shooting under the radar in mainland China. Their solution was that we shoot it in very camera-friendly Hong Kong.
I had my mind set on capturing a city that was fairly unexplored by the indie lens, so we had to part ways with that company and turn down all of those resources. It was a brief snag in our moral, but we were determined to keep moving forward. As Milton Levine, inventor the Ant Farm says, “Persistence is the key to success and procrastination is the key to failure.”
Not long after the deal with the London folks fell apart, Monnie Wills took a shine to the script. He got onboard with our crazy cowboy plan to shoot guerilla-style in Shanghai and helped us gather the rest of the resources we needed to get on a plane bound for China.
How do you define success as a filmmaker, and what are your personal goals as a filmmaker?
If it makes my mom laugh and my dad proud, I’m golden.
What are your future projects?
I have a couple of new scripts to water.