Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Guest post: Catching up with Rooth Tang at HAF

Rooth Tang on the hunt for backers at HAF. Photo by Keith Barclay.

Keith Barclay is editor of the New Zealand film industry publication Screenz. A sponsored journalist covering Filmart, he offers Wise Kwai's Thai Film Journal tailored coverage of Filmart, the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum and the Asian Film Awards.

This year’s Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF) ran in mid-March. From a record-breaking 350+ submissions, 31 projects from 15 countries and regions were selected. Among those 31 was Thai director Rooth Tang's proposed second feature, March April May.

Tang's first feature, Sway, premiered at Toronto in 2014. It had a limited release in Thailand late last year, which the Thai Film Journal reviewed, and later named in its Top 10 Thai films of 2015.

During the events in Hong Kong, Rooth took time out from meeting with potential partners and financiers to talk about his experiences.

The logline for March April May is “Science and spirituality collide when a young woman haunted by hallucinations embarks on a journey to America in the wake of her lover's suicide.”

A story about loss, holding on and letting go, Rooth completed his first draft of the script over a year ago, shortly after the Toronto premiere of Sway. He's spent time since moving it forward, to a point where he considers it “pretty close”. He's storyboarding at present and shared some of those images, although not for publication. The storyboard, Rooth explained, is he preferred tool to work from during a shoot, rather than a script. The script for March April May requires some VFX shots, and storyboarding is helping Tang plan those.

If possible Rooth hopes to reassemble the team he worked with on Sway, partly because Rooth is an admirer of Steven Spielberg's workflow and his commitment to regular team members, partly because he knows what he'll get from people he's worked with before. “It's good to work creatively, and we're a well-oiled machine.”

On a low-budget feature, minimizing risk is a very important part of planning.

Rooth also shared location photos to demonstrate his intentions for the story's color palate, the stark monochrome of a Pennsylvania winter a sharp contrast to the vibrancy of Bangkok streets and the natural warmth of red rock caves in China.

Halfway through the three days of HAF, Rooth had met with several Chinese producers and financiers. While there was interest in his project, there was also quite a lot of discussion about how to marry Tang's vision with China's censorship regulations, particularly around supernatural elements in the story.

There are a number of ways around those regulations, most obviously to create one cut for China and another other territories, so Tang was in no way discouraged. Tang intends March April May's high-concept science-fiction premise to have greater potential for overseas sales than the arthouse-leaning Sway. Also helping drive international interest will be the fact that March April May's story plays out across a number of countries, similar to Sway.

In Thailand as elsewhere, theatrical potential is diminishing for arthouse features. But as one door closes, the Internet opens, and for Sway Tang has sold worldwide online rights excluding Thailand to a video-on-demand platform.

While one Hong Kong project announced a sale during HAF, Tang was more cautious. While some projects at HAF were sharing scripts with potential partners ahead of meetings, Tang planned to share the script for March April May only after HAF closed, and only with the potential partners he was interested in having further discussions with.

Tang moves back and forth between Thailand and the U.S. After HAF, he was heading back to Thailand, taking on editing work to pay the bills as he moves March April May toward production.

The film financing forum HAF (14 – 16 March) ran as part of the Hong Kong Entertainment Expo.

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