Beverly Au talks to three Lantau-based filmmakers, who are passionately pursuing their artistic visions.
Depending on the circles you move in, four-year DB resident Philippe Joly, 38, is probably the best known of the three Lantau filmmakers I sit down with. Last year he starred in From Vegas to Macau with Chow Yun-fat, he has just completed Pound of Flesh where he shared a few scenes with Jean-Claude Van Damme, and is now filming the latest Jackie Chan adventure, Dragon Blade. His first film as producer-director was the 2013 action flick, VOR, and he just directed (and wrote) his second film, a short, Paid in Full.
Harry Oram, 29, a DB resident of two years, produced, starred in and directed the action-adventure movie My Name is Tanyusha last year, with co-writer Philippe. He also produced and starred in VOR. With My Name Is Tanyusha currently in post-production, Harry is currently working on producing a short film, The Gift, and right now he is on location on the mainland for Dragon Blade with Philippe (and Jackie Chan).
Lloyd Belcher, 42, a four-year Tung Chung resident, who like Harry was born in Hong Kong, rounds off the trio. Specialising in sport documentaries rather than action movies, Lloyd has just released More Than A Race, which follows the 100-kilometre journey of top athletes in the 2014 Vibram Hong Kong 100 ultra-trail marathon. His first film, The Most Beautiful Thing, named for the race it depicts, has been selected for the 2014 Trails in Motion Film Festival World Tour. Right now, Lloyd is filming in Nepal for his PhD, and in January, he’ll be recording Malcolm Law’s attempt to run the length of New Zealand in 50 days.
Lights! Camera! Action
The first thing I learn about the Hong Kong Indie filmmaking community is that it is thriving and tightly knit. “The community is growing fast, and since it’s not very large yet, you are sure to bump into the same people from one set to another,” says Philippe, whose onscreen specialty is the ‘bad gweilo’. This, and the Hong Kong Government being ‘filmmaker friendly in terms of permits’, makes it relatively easy to make films locally, Harry says.
“Hong Kong is a small place and it doesn’t take long before the (English-speaking) community hears about someone seeking to make a film,” he adds. “Most of us want to see each other succeed, as a stronger, more prosperous film community would be to everyone’s benefit. What’s more, Hong Kong crews are incredibly loyal and hardworking.”
Talking about how Indie films actually get made, Philippe is quick to explain the reliance on friendship (and personal passion) rather than outside funding. “I focus on finding a dedicated crew, a good cast, and getting everyone involved to trust me as a director and share my passion for the film I want to make,” he says. “I am not saying you shouldn’t pay people of course, but on VOR, we had no money whatsoever and we filmed for four months. Good Indie filmmaking tends to create families rather than just teams. Everyone gets experience, exposure and meets interesting people that they may work with again on other projects of their own. The money, if any, will come later, from opportunities opened by the films made.”
“It’s like the Wild West here, it’s sort of every filmmaker for himself, no way is the right way and there isn’t exactly a path to follow,” Harry adds. “The key, as with anything, is you just gotta do it, and keep getting better at it. Get a track-record and the experience and recognition that will attract investors.”
“The key, as with anything, is you just gotta do it, and keep getting better at it. Get a track-record and the experience and recognition that will attract investors.” Certainly this is how it has worked for Lloyd, who was commissioned to film More Than A Race by the Vibram Hong Kong 100 organisers, Steve Brammar and Janet Ng. “They were familiar with my filming and photography work,” Lloyd explains. “They wanted a piece that would capture the race as it unfolded and also give an insight into Hong Kong as a destination for trail enthusiasts.” It helped of course that Lloyd is a keen long-distance runner himself.
If an Indie filmmaker is usually working on a shoestring budget, and passion is the only thing that gets a film made, he also tends to be someone who plays many parts, fulfils many roles. “I love being part of the whole process,” Harry says. “Acting is the most direct way I can do that but if I can’t act it, I will write it; if someone has written it, I will help produce it. I didn’t set out to be a director, but as I gained more experience in film, so I developed my own style and taste. Also, I felt like I had to step up to the top job [director] in order to make sure some projects happened.”
Philippe’s cinematic trek also began in front of the camera, and then expanded. “After a lot of acting and watching great directors at work, I realised that making a film was accessible, so I started writing screenplays. I became passionate about that too. From there, I decided to make my first film happen, and directed VOR.”
Cameraman, director and editor of More Than A Race, Lloyd describes filming, which took four months, as a ‘military operation’. “We started in December, capturing the racers’ preparations, and on race day, we had three cameramen (videographers Romain Riche and Robin Lee and myself) and one person in charge of logistics. I was on the back of a motorbike for some of the filming, and running up mountains to get ahead of the runners at other times to capture them as they passed by.” Lloyd edited all the footage for his film in his Tung Chung flat. So who gets to see these films? Who are they made for? Clearly, More Than A Race is a niche documentary, targeted at the international running community. To widen his audience, Lloyd had the runners interviewed speak in their native languages, providing subtitles as needed. “The film will include other audiences aside from the English one. The Vibram Hong Kong 100 is part of a world tour after all,” he explains.
More Than A Race enjoyed a Hong Kong Charity Screening at The Hub in Admiralty on May 23, and you can watch it for free on the video-sharing website Vimeo.
Harry and Philippe’s films are focused on the overseas markets and festival circuits, and most go straight to the foreign buyers, bypassing Hong Kong. Unlike films made locally in Cantonese/ Mandarin, they are not aimed at the mainland audience. “While the local bilingual crew and cast are often working on both, the foreign directors and writers tend to make films only in English, and for an English-speaking audience,” notes Philippe. “Everyone is trying to break into the vast mainland market but given the type of bloody action films I like writing, a fair guess is that passing mainland censorship would be out for me anyway.” On location Seeking to encourage and expand the independent filmmaking scene, the three moviemakers are also promoting Hong Kong, as a city that looks great on film. “With More Than A Race, I wanted to really show Hong Kong off,” says Lloyd. “I love that juxtaposition between city and trail.” Harry is also very proud of his birth city: “We have so much scenery that is iconic, so many large-scale Hollywood movies have been shot here for that reason: Batman, Transformers, Pacific Rim to name a few.” “Hong Kong represents a great location for my stories,” Philippe says. “It allows me to use a rich history, a strategic geography and a tradition of action cinema, resulting in a certain exotic feel and interesting characters.” Recording runners on some of our most formidable trails, Lloyd has done much to showcase Lantau, but how about Harry and Philippe?
“DB has great scenery for filming,” Harry says. “My current project, The Gift, which my film partner Lisa Belcher is directing, has scenes that will be shot on Lantau. We may be working with some students of Discovery College as well.” “DB offers a lot of nice crowd-free locations that can be used efficiently,” Philippe adds. “I’ve scouted a great DB location for my next project, Bloody River.” Stay tuned!
• Lloyd Belcher, www.lloydbelchervisuals.com
• Philippe Joly, www.driftingpictures.com
• Harry Oram, www.hkreels.com