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Xia, an English-as-a-Second-Language student and writer studying in New York, struggles with language. He lies to his parents about his goals, misses his classes and jeopardizes his student visa. When his former teacher invites him to a book reading in Brooklyn during class time, Xia has to choose between his passion and his obligations. His choice teaches him some sad realities about the ESL system, and the teacher he wanted to call ‘friend.’
The film was written over a period of a year, beginning in April, 2011. Pre-production began in earnest in May of 2012, with shooting expected to begin in late October. Liam and production designer Aria Chiodo began scouting locations throughout the city, focusing primarily on The City College of New York and the surrounding neighborhood of Harlem. It wasn’t until September that they narrowed down their search to City College’s Wall street location, The Center for Worker Education, after being given a tip about it from professor Andrea Weiss in the Media Arts department at City College. Producer Lars Fuchs and Production Manager Cristina Cordero worked hard to secure the location with CWE staff, who were extremely helpful.
Casting the film proved to be easier than expected. As the summer before production began, several classmates of Liam suggested that their classmate Xia Sheng, who had read the part in it’s first reading-in-workshop, was perfect for the lead role of the student. After a quick screen test, Liam quickly realized that they were right. The casting of Xia proved to be a major help to the writing, as it allowed Liam to write the film with Xia’s specific rhythms and way-of-speaking in mind. For the role of harried-bureaucrat-teacher John, Liam had in mind actor/improv artist Ben Thomas, who brought an interesting and unique quality to the role. Liam filled out the remainder of the student roles with classmates, friends, and former students.
Casting the role of Xia’s former teacher Drake took the most traditional casting approach. After a workshop reading, and an audition run by casting director Krystal Rowley, Brooklyn-based actor Jesse Presler won the role. Jesse and Xia proved to have a formidable chemistry.
Through location scouting and casting, Liam held numerous meetings with Cinematographer Chris Montgomery to decide on the look of the film. Many films were screened. The look of the film, and the style, was heavily influenced by films such as Police, Adjective (for it’s long static takes – perfect for the classroom scenes) and Man Is Not A Bird (with it’s almost haphazard handheld style for the outdoor scenes). Chris, a talented photographer, used these influences and his own ideas to create a unique, realistic looking image.
The film began shooting at City College’s City For Worker Education (CWE) on Wall Street on October 25, 2012. The first two days, which were almost all classroom shooting, went extremely well. On our third day of shooting, we moved to the Lower East Side to shoot the pivotal bar scene between Drake and Xia. After nailing the scene, we were informed by our Assistant Director, David Blaikie, that the city had decided to shut the subways down in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy, which was expected to blow through that evening. A small unit, made up of Chris, Liam, Xia, 1st Assistant Camera Chris Ungco, and AD David Blaikie, rushed to 34th street to shoot the film’s climatic scene. Production ended just a few hours shy of the subway shutdown, and everyone was sent home to wait out the storm.
The storm dealt massive damage to the city. Luckily no one in our shoot was hurt or lost their homes, but some in the LES and in New Jersey were stuck without power and access to the city. The subway remained shut down for much of the week and power wasn’t restored to lower Manhattan until almost a week later. Meanwhile, the production team, led by Lars Fuchs, Production Manager Cristina Cordero, and AD David Blaikie worked tirelessly to get everything together. Production resumed a week and a half later when we headed to The City College of New York (on election day!) to capture John and Xia’s office confrontation, and then to Xia’s apartment on 137th to get the opening scene of the film. Coming back was exciting, and continued into the next shooting day, when we shot the bookstore scene at Book Court in Brooklyn Heights. We had a tight shooting schedule (just 5 hours) to capture several key moments, but the crew was up to the task. Production went smoothly, with Book Court’s employees telling the crew it was the easiest shoot they have ever had. The team was thrilled.
The following week, production returned to a still very battered Wall Street to complete shooting. Some of our equipment had been stuck in their closet for over 2 weeks! The shoot finished smoothly–we did not require any extra shooting days and we stayed on budget. The crew celebrated with an Indian lunch and a few members of the team stuck around for a beer.
Shooting the film was exhilarating and challenging. We certainly had our share of set-backs, but in the end, a really wonderful group of people got together and worked passionately and professionally to tell a story.
A story that now had to be smoothed and fixed in the editing room. Cutting on the film began in early December when Matt Fleischmann was handed all footage. An quick assembly of the film was put together for the class. A few days later, Liam and Matt got together to watch ALL of the film footage. From there, editing started in earnest. Scenes were shortened, cut, recut, removed, put back in, restructured, moved around, and reassembled. We have emerged, two months later, with a cut we are almost completely satisified with. In the coming weeks, the film will be passed on to Nicholas R. Nelson for sound design and composition. Liam and Nick, good friends and constant collaborators, will work closely together on the film’s (crucial) sound design. At the same time, the film be sent for a final color correction. It will be exciting to watch these final stages!
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-The Future Perfect Production team and Tie Day Media.