For Chinese producer Huang Zhe (known in the industry as Gigi) it has never been a decision of nurture vs nature but rather both. Raised and educated early on in China, she chose to pursue a career in production based on an acting experience the summer after graduating high school. While she didn’t fully embrace acting, the idea of telling stories has always been something to which she was drawn. Beijing China is known universally for Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall but, this Beijing native refers to “HuTong” as the personal defining spot in her home city. As she explains, “My favorite place in Beijing is still the Alley that we call ‘HuTong. The ‘HuTong’ culture still retains its own character, which attracts everyone’s attention.” This fixation with authenticity, history, and character is a trait which Huang has brought to the many productions and type of productions with which she has been involved, making her an indispensable part of each. Whether aiding a director to achieve his/her vision, tweaking budgetary and scheduling constraints, or helping to produce stories which she feels emotionally attached to; Gigi has become a much sought after and respected producer in the modern film industry.
A great producer, much like a great actor or any other exemplary professional, feels that every project shares the same importance in the sense that it is an opportunity to create greatness. Gigi has produced a variety of commercial productions alongside notable directors such as Zhen Pan and Bianca Yeh. Working with animals, minors, brutal weather conditions, all variables are welcomed by Gigi as she thrives on problems solving. While adversity dissuades others, Gigi comments, “A producer must be a thorough and excellent problem-solver. We always stand in the position where the problem exists. There are so many details I have to think of in advance, requiring not just ‘a plan’ but a plan B or plan C for each situation.” Director Zhen Pan worked with Huang on commercials for Lepow [electronics] and declares, “It was a great experience working with Huang Zhe on the Lepow Branding Commercial. She’s such a leader, great listener, and talented individual. If you need help, she’s always there no matter what you need or which department you are in. She always thinks outside the box, managing to figure out a best way to help you solve the problem which, as a director is what I value more than any other trait.” While cats are notoriously independent/non-team players, the spots which Gigi produced with director Bianca Yeh for Katris appear seemingly effortless. It was such a positive experience that Yeh made sure Huang was signed on as producer for the spots she directed for JieLing Liquid Repellent spray, and Zephyr (high end stove/range), even though the production efforts had to be based on completely opposite sides of the country.
Most of Huang’s film productions are based around a more serious and contemplative tone. While she enjoys this approach in the film’s message, Gigi feels that it is in a large part her responsibility to set a positive an upbeat tone for the crew and cast who create the film. The 2016 film Promise Land dealt with the struggle of a man and woman of Jewish descent and their avoidance of the German military in the late 1930’s. Behind the scenes, the cast and crew were dealing with filming in very cold weather conditions. Gigi appealed to their sense of determination by appealing to their stomachs…and some very fine meals. Produced by Huang in the same year was I Heard the Flowers Blooming When I Was 80, a film which communicates that it is never too late to realize a childhood dream. This movie was originally crippled and seemed to be out of commission until its director persuaded Huang to come aboard and essentially “reboot” this project (which would go on to win for Best Screenplay at the 4th Golden Panda International Short Film Festival). One of the essential characters in the film is an old piano. As one can imagine, transporting this instrument across streets during filming was not an enviable task. Gigi’s planning of locations and “alterations” to the piano made for a very appreciative crew as well as a successful and award-winning completion. Max and Aimee, which Huang produced in 2015 was close to her as it deals with the topics of dementia and Alzheimer’s which has directly affected her own family. The film received worldwide critical acclaim and awards including a Special Mention Award: International Open Film Festival (IOFF), Lima Bean Film Fest (and countless others). Max and Aimee’s director/writer: Michael Alex Pearce was so impressed with how the film turned out that he approached Huang recently about creating a Virtual Reality version of it (which was completed in early 2017). Definitely a new type of production for Gigi but one which she threw herself into completely, as with all her projects. Kathleen Courtney (line producer of the 2013 feature film The Boy Next Door starring by Jennifer Lopez) enlisted Huang to work on this feature film and states, “I enjoy Gigi’s enthusiasm, as did everyone on set. I hope to work with her again in the future.”
Even though she has steered so many successful productions, Gigi leans on her early experiences and states, “I really like working behind the stage rather than being on the stage or in front of the camera. When I think of that first experience I had, after graduating from high school; when a few of my best friends and I went on a trip and filmed a movie for my friend’s portfolio to get into USC…I learned so much during that trip. We didn’t have advanced equipment, the only thing that we had was only a video camera, but we used different ways to solve problems. I still remember using small sprinklers to make the raining scene and using a bicycle instead of a moving dolly; I was riding on a friend’s shoulder and finished the high angle shot. In many ways, this experience taught me that if you want to make a film, you find a way to make it happen. My resources may be more plentiful and available, the cameras and gear and more advanced, the cast and crew more talented but, once you have a problem or snag in the production, you fall back onto what you know. For me, I learned that what I know is that I have to plan as much as possible and improvise when all else fails.” Isn’t that exactly what every filmmaker wants to hear from the mouth of their producer?