My experience with "Must Come Down"

I recently had a first in my life in the form of producing and writing a live-action short, and it was quite the adventure. Considering that it was my first time having anything I've written be produced, it's pretty insane that production took place over three different continents with a professional crew filming it up in Vancouver.

Osric Chau as The Boy

Osric Chau as The Boy

The whole adventure was started by Mr. Osric Chau, who I'm proud to have as a friend and a collaborator since we started working together this past Spring on his feature No Stone Unturned. He signed up for a filmmaking contest titled The Mighty Asian Moviemaking Marathon (Or MAMM for short) which gave a very short period of time to develop, write, shoot, and edit a 6-minute short film based on a chosen theme. The theme that Osric chose was "Fairy tale" and so he and I began wracking our brains trying to come up with a good concept to pursue.

At first, I wrote a couple of scripts exploring a fairy tale narrative about a boy training to avoid being picked on by bullies (described in the narration as "trolls"), but both Osric and I felt that there just wasn't enough there - it had some charming moments but there wasn't enough heart so it was back to the drawing board. Next we decided to start exploring the idea of doing a kung-fu prologue or epilogue to an existed story - maybe an animated movie? Seeing as it's the Mighty Asian Moviemaking Marathon we started going through animated movies to try and find Asian characters whose stories we could expand upon. Quite quickly, however, we discovered that, outside of Mulan, there are virtually no Asian characters in any of the major American animated films except for one: Russell from Up.

As a joke, I proposed "Well, what if Muntz came back, killed Carl, and then Russell spent the next ten years of his life training to become a warrior and take his revenge?" but no sooner was it out of my mouth, we realized that it was not only very funny but it also had the potential to be incredibly touching. Osric was on-set in Vancouver on a different project at the time (some TV show or something?), but by night he began pulling together his crew while I started in on the script. It was a crazy couple of days as we emailed back and forth constantly trying to get the team assembled.

It was early on in the project that Osric proposed a new challenge to me: How did I feel about an animated opening sequence? I thought that was a great idea, but I was a little worried about whether or not we could get it done in time. At that point, however, the gauntlet had been thrown so I started getting in touch with my contacts to see what I could rustle up. Luckily, I live in the same house as a pair of incredibly talented artists, Carolyn Chrisman and Wyatt Banks and right down the street from freaking awesome animator/illustrator Michelle Lin, so I quickly formulated a plan...

Pulling together the team, we got a concept hashed out for a 1-minute intro, storyboarded by Carolyn, with characters by Michelle and compositing by Carolyn again. Add Wyatt's brilliant narration to finish it off and presto, my phenomenal animation crew managed to pull together a truly beautiful project in a shockingly small turnaround time. While that was going on, Osric was up in Vancouver choreographing fight scenes, assembling his costume, finding locations, and ultimately filming the live-action portions of the film. He actually filmed nights after doing shoots for Supernatural, resulting in what added up to some massive exhaustion.

After that, it was a crazy dash to get the film in shape in post-production. The biggest problem we faced was just how to get the footage from Vancouver, where it had been shot, down to Los Angeles, where our editor Stanley Tsang was at the time. We shot everything on a RED Epic, so the footage ended up being almost 200gb in size! We tried numerous solutions and all kinds of web services, but finally the quickest solution was actually to have Osric jump on a plane and come down to LA to deliver the footage by hand on a harddrive. Once Stanley had the footage, he and Os had to have a couple of marathon sessions getting it ready. Editing, color-grading, sound design... These guys did everything in only a few short days and like Os, Stanley was working another gig at the time, so all of his editing was done in crazy overnight periods.

As if all that wasn't enough, we suddenly had to get this thing scored in about %0.01 the amount of time that one would usually give a human composer. Luckily, we didn't have to worry about "human composers" because we had Derek Zhao: Derek's turnaround time for the music was nothing short of insane, with a full minute of it being done in around an hour. Not only was it fast, it was good - When starting this project Os and I immediately knew we wanted him to score this thing because of his amazing ability to blend together different genres and we knew that he could do a phenomenal job at creating a score that was dramatic for the revenge-soaked opening but able to also capture the 'sweeter' and more touching elements of the ending. That music really helped tie the whole thing together in the end.

Must Come Down screened this weekend at the Vancouver Asian Film Festival and it was such a blast. The crowd's reaction was great, it was awesome to see it on the big screen, and it was so cool to have such fast turn-around time from the start of this project. This weekend I got to meet everyone that was involved in the live action side in Vancouver and they were just a swell bunch of people. Now the short is available online for all to see and I couldn't be prouder, please check it out and let me know what you think!