You can find inspiration for your short film everywhere, even in your neuroscience class. Just ask Winnie Cheung.
Writing and creating a short film can be challenging. But if you're willing to mine your own life, you never know what you can find! Albatross Soup is an animated short film where one is asked 'A man goes into a restaurant and orders albatross soup. After he eats, he goes outside and shoots himself. Why?' and must find an answer by working through only yes and no questions. It's a frustrating and tantalizing puzzle used in academic studies to map out lateral thinking.
That's why we're so excited to have an interview with filmmaker Winnie Cheung where we can discover how she created the mesmerizing, rainbow dripping visual trip for the eyes.
Cheung is a Hong Kong-born, Queens-raised, Brooklyn-based filmmaker who evokes a multitude of artistic mediums in her films, evident with this docu-fusion animated wonder, and should there be any interest in sharing her perspective she's very keen to talk about the challenges presented to making experimental shorts in the US, and the inspiration and craft in this work specifically.
Check out the teaser for Albatross Soup below:
NFS: Where did the idea come from?
Winnie Cheung: One of my best friends came back with this riddle while interviewing for his Ph.D. for Cognitive Neuroscience. It’s an area in the psychology department that explores how our brains problem solve, learn and remember. The riddle shows how each person comes to the same exact conclusion in their own unique way.
The riddle spread quickly. You’d want to play it with other friends as soon as you solved it yourself. It’s equally fun to guess as it is to be the riddler yourself. You’d get to see what’s going inside your friends’ minds. Some take a very analytical approach while others come up with rather absurd responses. That’s the magic behind the riddle and the film.
NFS: How did you get your budget?
WC: I funded everything myself. There is very little financial support for indie animation in the US. I noticed that when we started touring with the film. We screened alongside a lot of European productions that had so many financier logos at the end of their credits! Since my background wasn’t in animation, I figured that it was easier and faster to fund it myself rather than applying to an institution that did not yet understand my aesthetic. To be fair, I didn’t know either. Since
I’m also a commercial editor, I can afford to fund my own passion projects like Albatross Soup. As we were nearing the finish line, I had two production companies CAUSE + EFFECT Films and Picture Farm Productions come on board. They said yes because they knew me, and knew the work I had put into the film. Since working on this project, I’ve learned that indie animation is truly a labor of love, but I think the market is changing and I hope that there would be more opportunities to fund and produce animated films in the future.
NFS: What did you edit on?
WC: We used mostly the Adobe Creative Suite to draw, edit, animate and color our film. We used Slack for project management. It’s a great way to collaborate even if we’re all in different time zones.
NFS: What was your distribution plan?
WC: I didn’t have a distribution plan. I had made a few shorts before this one and had a lot of high hopes of where they’d go only to be shot down. With Albatross Soup, I focused on making the best film possible. It had a nice theatrical run which helped spread the word and it snowballed from there. The film caught the attention of several online outlets such as Vimeo Staff Picks Premiere and Short of the Week.
NFS: How has the festival circuit treated you?
WC: Very well. We premiered at Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal last year and have since screened at Fantastic Fest, Sundance and GLAS Animation plus a new slate of upcoming festivals. More so than the attention, I’ve learned so much from all the festivals that I’ve attended. As someone who did not go to school for film, I haven’t had a lot of institutionalized support. Attending these festivals have felt like master classes.
Fantasia International Film Festival 2018
Sundance Hong Kong 2018
Fantastic Fest 2018
GLAS Animation 2019
Florida Film Festival 2019
Omaha Film Festival 2019
Fear No Film 2019
NFS: How will making a short help advance your career?
WC: Albatross Soup is my fourth short. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the process which I did. If it were a feature, the consequences would have much larger. You learn more about yourself with every short. I felt like I finally found my voice and aesthetic with this project which was the hardest part for me as a filmmaker. Now I have the confidence to trust my intuition when it comes to making creative decisions.
NFS: What's your ultimate goal in Hollywood?
WC: I think it’s dangerous to set lofty goals, but if you find happiness on each project you work on, you’ll never aim for greener pastures. I want to find projects and collaborators that make storytelling fun and I think that’s already happening!
NFS: What do you plan on doing next?
WC: I’m currently writing my first feature -- a psycho-erotic thriller about a woman in an all-female motorcycle gang with repressed sexual trauma that manifests as a slimy swamp monster. It’s also quite dark with a lot of crossover themes such as guilt, shame, and anthropomorphism.
NFS: What's the most important lesson you learned while making the film?
WC: Overplan and prepare. Put in the work. Choose the right collaborators. When it comes time to push through the grind, your team will be right there with you because you’ve done all you can to make them believe in you.
NFS: What's advice you'd give No Film School readers about making a short film?
WC: Give yourself room to play and don’t forget to have fun.
Watch Albatross Soup below!
What's next? Start your career by making your own short film!
Chances are you’re reading No Film School because you’re not only obsessed with Hollywood, but you want to be a part of it. But breaking in is never easy. That’s why I think writing short films and even making them yourself, has become a viable option for breaking into the business.
Of course, writing a short film is no simple task, but today I’ll take you through a few great strategies to get your short film ideas on the page, and then hopefully on the screen.
Click the link to learn more!