Sky Wang is an award winning director. His debut feature film “Lost in Apocalypse” has won over 80 awards and received 40-plus nominations. Sky was born in Mainland China and eventually moved to the United States. He graduated from Columbia College in Chicago with a degree in film where he directed numerous shorts.
On the occasion of the film screening at the Fractured Visions Film Festival, we spoke with him about his casting process, working with actors and the music used in “Lost in Apocalypse”.
Lost in Apocalypse is your debut feature. Can you tell us about how you came to be a filmmaker and why you choose this project as your debut?
I have to start off by saying that I actually didn’t choose this project, because the project chose me, in a way. The best that I can explain it is as follows. As many other film school graduates, I was living in LA, trying to get my own projects going, often unsuccessfully. Just when I was on the verge of almost giving up, I decided to visit a buddy of mine in Las Vegas, and have one last hoorah before joining the “normal life”. A producer friend of mine, who works in the Chinese film industry, gave me a call as I arrived in Vegas, and told me about this project. I took a look at it, and thought that it was one of those things that I’d hate to miss out on. The concept of the project was intriguing, and the challenge of getting done within the limited time I had, was also strangely appealing to me. So I drive back to LA, got on a plane, and flew to China the next day. The rest is history.
As of now, according to IMDB, the film has won over 80 awards in festivals around the world. How does that success make you feel and in what ways do you think it will shape your future career?
It’s very humbling to know that the film is received well amongst fellow filmmakers around the world, because we definitely did not expect any of this. Chinese cinema usually isn’t this lucky with a western crowd, but somehow we’re getting through to folks. I don’t think this will affect much of how I will approach my career, but it’s certainly very heartwarming to know that perhaps I can continue pursuing all this, and that’s good enough for me.
Can you tell us about the casting process? I read that Martin Yang had never acted before. Is that true? Did you find working with a first time actor challenging? His performance is very natural, did you help him with that?
For as little time as we had on prep, fortunately, we didn’t skimp on the casting process. We held open castings calls, and invited actors from all walks of life to come and audition for us. The main cast is made up of actors from very different backgrounds. And yes, in Martin’s case, he wasn’t a professional actor when we cast him. He was actually my Casting Director’s assistant, who just came into the production to help out, but after trying out many other actors for the role, it was apparent to all of us that he was meant to play Jack, so it was a no brainer. I can’t, however, take much credit for his performance in the film, as it’s his talent on display here. I do however feel that working with amateur actors, in a strange way, is not too dissimilar to what I used to do for short films in college. So, I was in my element.
My favorite actor in this film is Mingyi Yang. Can you tell us about working with him on this film?
In contrast to Martin, Mingyi Yang is a very different case. Not only has he been a professional actor for a long time, he actually used to teach acting classes in universities. When he came in to audition for the role, I believe we cast him on the spot, which is rare for us, but he was just that good, and the chemistry he had with Martin was just magical. In my opinion, Mingyi represents the best of actors working in China today, and it’s great to know that his performance is also being appreciated by others.
The film is very beautiful in terms of visuals. Can you give us some details regarding your cooperation with Xiaowei Wang?
I didn’t know Xiaowei prior to this film, and both of us were brought onto the project by the producers. Needless to say, this wasn’t the most ideal situation, considering how little time we had to prep the film. A lot of it had to be built on instincts, and instant trusts we had in each other. Luckily, I think it all worked out just fine. Xiaowei had been working in the Chinese film industry as a professional cinematographer for quite some time, and he was very confident in his abilities to achieve what I wanted, and I very much believed in him. Sometimes, people just get lucky with finding each other, I suppose.
The film has great music. Can you tell us about the process of scoring the film?
Unlike the cinematographer’s case, Composer Jason Gertel has been a long time collaborator of mine. In fact, he was the friend I was visiting in Vegas, and convinced me to take on this project. Though we have a short hand when it comes to working together, this was still a very different type of project. This was our first feature, and first project in Chinese. Considering Jason doesn’t speak Chinese, I had to work very closely with him in understanding how the film plays out, both in the grand and detailed sense. Luckily, music is a universal language, and we just did what would entertain us, and not let any barriers stand in the way. So, to much of my joy, it’s so good to see him getting the kind recognition he deserves also.
In general, how was the shooting of the film like? Any memorable episodes, good or bad?
The shooting of the film lasted about two weeks, and it was an intense period indeed. Like I said previously, a lot of it was just me working off of my own instincts as a filmmaker, and trusting the team around me. As you can probably imagine, there were many interesting episodes during the production, and it’s hard to pick just one instance. But what I can say, is that not a lot of audience know that the “top level suite” the characters have lunch at in the movie, is actually a karaoke room, with no windows. And it was a horrible working condition, trying to renovate the room into something it’s not, adding lights into the room that essentially had no air, and we also couldn’t run AC, due to the noise it’d create. Therefore the fact that no one notices it, already proves that everything was worth it.
What is next for you? Are you working on a new film you can tell us about?
Yes, though this film was never part of my plan, it did give me lots of reason to continue working as a filmmaker. I may dabble into genre films again, but at this very moment, I’m working on a biopic, of a personal hero of mine. So hopefully I can talk about that in much greater details, in the near future.