Young, Woman, and Asian. These three demographic categories often invite many stereotypes and judgements. Although gender equality has been considered as a main value, there are still many obstacles faced by women because of stereotypes. However, Livi Zheng, a young Indonesian woman from East Java, Indonesia, has succeeded to break away from the barriers that come with the three ‘tags,’ and made a name for herself in Hollywood filmmaking scene.
The 29-years young, talented woman began to make her mark after debuting with her first movie, ‘Brush with Danger’. An action film directed by her, it was selected for consideration in OSCARS 2015 for Best Picture. Recently, her new work ‘Bali: Beats of paradise’ was also listed for selection in Best Picture category in OSCAR 2019, along with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Roma’ and ‘A star is born’.
In a chat with Annisa Bella from Marketeers, Livi talks about her experiences to become a young cineaste and her struggles in the Hollywood.
What inspired you to make such a great career jump from an economic student to stunt woman to director?
After graduating from middle school, my brother and I fell in love with martial art and decided to move to Beijing. In there, we focused on practicing martial arts in one of the institutions in which experienced actor Jet Li used to practice. Since that, I got interested in moviedom, and started my career as a stunt woman.
However, later I realized if I want to tell the story, I have to be a director, producer or a writer. Finally I decided to chase my dream to become a movie director. But I didn’t know how I can be a director. Eventually, I entered University of Washington Seattle, majoring economic, assuming it will be easier to get a job. While studying in there, I enthusiastically got into the process of making film and took movie classes. After graduating university, I decided to study in graduate school majoring movie production to become a director. I started to write a script and made my first film ‘Brush with Danger’ with my brother. I got rejected 32 times, but finally ended up nominated in 2015 OSCARS. My career is still going on.
It must not be easy to start your career in such a competitive place like Hollywood as a youth. What kind of obstacles did you face in movie world?
Right. One of my mentors once said, “you’re everything wrong about a director because you’re Asian, woman, and you’re young.” How I’m the one who started from a scratch. My first film, ‘Brush with Danger’ got rejected 32 times, but it’s ok to get rejected. It’s fine to fail, because you only need one yes to success. So, if you wanna be a film maker, just go for it.
After ‘Brush with Danger’, ‘Bali: Beats of Paradise’ flim also got nominated in OSCAR 2019. What is the strong point of your movie?
Since I started making film, I was eager to shoot a movie in Indonesia. If I couldn’t, I always put some aspects of Indonesia in my film. For example, ‘Brush with Danger’ couldn’t be shot 100% in Indonesia. So I brought more than 50 genuine Indonesian art works to Los Angeles and Washington to put in my movie. I also put many Indonesian elements like accessories and so on.
Luckily, film ‘Bali: Beats of Paradise’ could be produced in Indonesia. It was like dream come true, not only because it was shot in Indonesia but also because the movie showcases Gamelan, which is the genuine culture and art of Indonesia.
In fact, Gamelan already showed up many times in Hollywood films like ‘Avatar,’ directed by James Cameron or a television series ‘Star Trek’. Unfortunately audience didn’t really notice Gamelan in Avatar. Because of that I set Indonesia as an identity of my work.
Seems like identity as an Indonesian has a strong influence on your film works. Through your movies, what do you want to tell about Indonesia to the international audiences?
Indonesia is a country which has variety of islands and ethnics. I saw many talented Indonesians when I was in America, but many people don’t even realize the existence of Indonesia. It made me to decide to promote Indonesia to people around the world.
You also founded a movie production company named ‘Sun and Moon Films’. How’s your business going and what kind of work is done there?
I founded Sun and Moon Films in 2012 and we have nearly 10 foreign employees. We are producing variety of films like wide screen, commercial, documentary. We also have big clients from Intel, Microsoft to Amazon. Interesting thing is our purely foreign employees are required to study about Indonesian culture. It makes Sun and Moon Films more competitive compared to other companies because we understand Asia and USA market better than others
Can you give some tips for young Indonesian cineastes for marketing their work?
For example, athletes in Asian Games have to keep training for days without a rest. We too have to. As a film maker, I have to keep practicing many skills from taking photos to editing videos to improve my skills. Don’t stop even if you don’t have budget. These days you can edit with your smart phone. So when we get a sponsor, we are ready. Our skill is already polished.
My advice for film makers is ‘Don’t keep being depressed.’ When I experienced first rejection, I was so sad and couldn’t work for 3 weeks. Now, I already get over it soon. I might be depressed for 1 or 3 hours but after that I have to get back to work. You have to revise your script, and prepare for better work. If you just keep being sad you are only wasting your time but if you just work on it, you can make your project better.
For marketing, if you want to make a product, you must have a belief in that product. You cannot make a film if you don’t even want to share it with your friends. So, marketing has to start from ourselves. From our surroundings, our circles, our parents. Our parents might have WhatsApp groups and it helps if they share it in their group chat. If you are afraid to share your work, you cannot make your video viral.
What’s next from Livi Zheng?
I will keep working and exploring cultural richness of Indonesia and infuse it into my work. Before long, I’m going to promote my recent work ‘Bali: Beats of paradise’ which will be released in Indonesia around June or July after releasing in America, Korea and Beijing.