Cinema Studies Institute (CSI) undergraduate student, He Xu was the inaugural recipient of the Filmmaking Mentorship from Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto (LIFT), Innis College, and the CSI back in October 2017. Fast forward nine months, He has not only completed the mentorship program, but also a new short film, He's Strange Midnight. He is now in the process of submitting his latest work to film festivals.
He shares his mentorship program experience, and talks about his new short film.
What did you learn from the Filmmaking Mentorship program?
Being the recipient of LIFT, Innis College and CSI’s Flmmaking Mentorship program has been a fascinating and fruitful journey for me. I had the opportunity to attend six workshops (of my own choosing) throughout the year, and was guided by amazing mentors who are established in the independent ﬁlm industry.
In those workshops, I learned the frameworks of the ﬁlm industry throughout the stages of pre-production (book optioning, scripts, financing, funding, scouting, storyboarding, crewing), production (production management, everyday scheduling), post-production (funding) and distribution (distribution company, festivals). The workshops were often interrelated and presented the connections between the diﬀerent phases of ﬁlmmaking. Lots of case studies provided by the workshops widened my view and understandings of the industry.
The veteran instructors who guided the workshops included Coral Aiken, Melinda Ramsay, Marva Ollivierre, Laurinda Shaver, Danny Costa and Ron Hobbs. They are all established, experienced, talented and lovely ﬁlmmakers who focused on diﬀerent areas in film/VR production and distribution.
At the same time, I got to know and befriend my fellow ﬁlmmakers at the workshops, who are at various stages in their ﬁlmmaking career. There was tremendous ﬁlm related content to our conversations, which brought us closer together. We quickly became friends and supported each other on every stage of the filmmaking process. With our hearts fully open to opinions and advice from all directions, we were always able to urge each other on the path of artistic creation and remain inspired.
You were able to complete a short film, He's Strange Midnight thanks to the mentorship program. Please tell us more about it.
The film is about two young strangers, far from home and unable to communicate in a common language, who must spend the night together in the shoe store where they both work.
With the support of the mentorship program, I was able to make the ﬁlm with the lowest budget possible. We had a 20 person crew of volunteers, we benefited from free assistance from the industry on various stages of the production, we used free equipment from LIFT, and we covered our costs with a reimbursement from the Cinema Studies Institute. Each one of these benefits sounds like a dream to a student/independent ﬁlmmaker, but it was made possible by the mentorship program and everybody’s eﬀort.
Any final words about your experience?
I want to give my sincere and humble thanks to all who granted me and our ﬁlm project great help, especially Rolla Tahir (Education and Outreach Administrator at LIFT) whose guidance is vital to us, for bringing this project and our ﬁlm to life. I would also like to thank Renata Mohamed (Deputy Director at LIFT) for helping me throughout the bulletin and publication process. Thanks to all LIFT staﬀ who helped us in realizing the ﬁlm.
I would also like to thank Prof. Corinn Columpar (Director of the Cinema Studies Institute) who made this mentorship program possible, for her eﬀort throughout the program, and most importantly, her trust and recognition, which means a lot to me.
Finally, I want to thank Prof. Bart Testa and Prof. Benjamin Wright, who have been my most honest and important audience members since the very ﬁrst student work. Without their critiques and encouragement, my opportunity to participate in the mentorship program would have withered away.
The road to independent ﬁlmmaking isn’t a ﬂat one, but with this year’s experience of being a ﬁlmmaking mentee, I feel more equipped and conﬁdent to stride further in my ﬁlmmaking journey.