FILMMAKING WITH TALENT AND HEART: ZHENG HUANG

The role of producer is about money and schedules, correct? In its most simplistic terms, yes but it’s also about much more than that. For Zheng Huang it’s about art, personal connection, and the bonds that tie us to each other. While that might sound overly emotional, one should remember that we are dealing with the artist temperament; they are known to investigate feelings. A producer is the boss of a production. Everyone has experienced a boss who is only concerned with the bottom line as well as the one who is interested in you performing your job with excellence because you are happy to be there. Huang is very much the later. Every producer has a budget, schedules, etc., the nuts and bolts of their job. Approaching their role from an emotionally inspiring place is just as vital as a cinematographer who looks for the moving aesthetic in the frame (rather than one who simply makes sure everything is in focus). This approach is as intuitive as breathing for Zheng, which is likely why he has become such a sought after producer. Often the difference between good and great is how much you care; Zheng Huang cares a great deal.

Upon returning for the Cannes Film Festival, where his film “Lost” had been presented, Huang was interviewed about this by Neo. Neo was not only the host of an interview show but is also a director. Neo was instantly appreciative of Zheng’s passion for film and his unique perspective, so much that he enlisted him to take on the role of producer for his film “Never mind I Remember.”

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The film details the plight of a family who is forced to deal with an all too familiar difficulty in life. When seventy-year-old Lily loses her husband Frank to a heart attack, her son Jackie comes to her aid. He discovers very soon that his mother is dealing with a very acute case of Alzheimer’s. While Lily struggles to deal with her own constant sense of disorientation and unfamiliarity with those around her, Jackie comes to terms that he must now be the caretaker for his mother and realizes (perhaps somewhat selfishly) the impact on his own life. While both deal with the loss of Frank, Lily deals with the confusion of why her husband is not with her. The film is acted with mastery and captured with the same level of excellence. In one of the most tender and heart breaking scenes, mother and son find themselves in the same tent they used to play in decades before as Lily asks her son when Frank will return and he replies, “Let’s wait for him together.”

Zheng was drawn to this intensely emotional story by the script as well as a personal connection. He shares, “My mom’s aunt has had Alzheimer’s disease for many years but her only child never comes back home to see her. Luckily, her husband takes care of her very well. Because of genetic inheritance of Alzheimer’s, my own mother worries that one day she will begin to show signs of this disease. I am her only child and she has fears about my being too busy to take care of her properly. When she told me these fears of hers, I realized that this is a very deep and powerful topic, one which I want to explore. The son in the story is MYSELF but also every single child who has a busy career and big ambitions. Alzheimer patients can be a big burden for their children but there is no option here. Our mothers are our caretakers, our protectors from the moment we first come into this world. I directly relate to the story of this film and I know that there are many other people who do also. I knew that I wanted to be a part of telling this story and it demanded to be told with the proper emotional lens.”

The vast majority of a producer’s work for any project is in coordinating and scheduling, there’s no denying this fact. Obtaining permits, scouting locations, casting, “connecting the dots” is the norm for producers in a wide variety of settings. The secret ingredient of Huang’s approach is his focus on the communication and relationships of those he is involved with on each project. Neo, director of “Never mind I remember” reveals, “I feel extremely fortunate to have had such an excellent producer as Zheng Huang on my film.  As we were preparing for the shoot, I was having some problems with my 1st AD. This person has also directed and was giving a great deal of unsolicited opinions about the shot list. When I approached Zheng about the situation he said, ‘Neo, I will always support you whatever the decision you make in the end. If you tell me you will fire the 1st AD one day before shooting, I will be your 1st AD if you need; whatever you need, I’ll be there. The most important thing is: you have to be happy with what you do. You have to create your film, not your 1st AD’s film, or anyone else’s.’ This stirred something in me and I was able to confidently move forward and resolve the issue with my 1st AD, which meant that the entire production would benefit as well. Instances like this prove how Zheng is so much more than your average producer or someone who schedules events.”

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When discussing his definition of a producer, there are many familiar tasks and terms that Huang uses to describe his day to day. There’s a verbiage that he has in common with his peers and then there is one word which he continually refers to that stands out; empathy. It’s not something that you often hear a producer discuss as part of their skill set and yet Zheng professes that it is an essential part of what makes him successful as a producer. For someone who works with artists every day, it seems an obvious trait; to those who work with this producer, it is obviously Zheng Huang.

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