The Boy Who Dreamed: Asian Director Jacky Song Chronicles His Journey to Hollywood | Hype | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

The Boy Who Dreamed: Asian Director Jacky Song Chronicles His Journey to Hollywood

Interviewed by:
Francesca Escarraga
Interview date:
September 2021
Follow Jacky Song:

There’s a famous saying in Hollywood that directing is 90% casting. What was the dynamic like between you, your actors, and film crew? How was the casting process?

Collaborating with a close-knit cohort of incredibly talented actors and filmmakers was a real highlight of my career. We built the team chemistry early on, partly because the crew was made up of 80% filmmakers whom I had interacted or collaborated with before the shoot. I could effectively convey my vision to collaborators already familiar with my direction and the camera techniques I frequently used. In terms of the psychiatrist role, it was grueling to find a perfect match for this character: we auditioned around 50 actors for Dr. Vogue but none of them nailed the performance during the audition – my instinct told me that they were not the right fit. It wasn’t until the last day of the audition that we were able to lock in Tom Wade, who not only gave off a stern aura when rendering the role, but also had that majesty and aloofness required of the performer, which fitted with my anticipation for this ticklish character. Jodi Bianca Wise, who we cast as Young Dorothy, initially tried out for the role of Isabel, but the casting director and I both thought that her appearance might be more closely aligned with the other role, so we offered her the young Dorothy part, which she was also keen to play. Greg Kriek as Francis was a risky take, because we couldn’t meet each other in person before the shoot due to his commitments to another project in South Africa. But I staunchly believed that he was the one I was looking for based on his tape and ample acting experience in a wide range of genres. On the other hand, the mysterious woman, Isabel Courtney, had me sit on the fence for quite some time during the casting process. There were a handful of candidates whose portrayals were nearly impeccable and had a track record of in-camera acting. In the event, I decided to host another round of auditions to determine who would be the best team player – I focused on simulating the blockings for a selected scene on set and gave them directions to see how well they took feedback. Then I wanted to see how resilient they were in adapting to change and switching to a new role when I gave them a new direction on a whim. And there we had it: Autumn Harrison brought an almost ethereal quality to Isabel.

Were there circumstances in which you had to make difficult artistic choices or alter scenes/storylines due to factors such as accommodating individual needs/requests of actors and/or the crew, audience feedback, production limitations etc. If so, how did you compromise and make it work?

First and foremost, I always think that people who share similar characteristics and attributes are likely to have a real meeting of minds. But it is inevitable that a range of opinions exists within a team. On some rare occasions, if others had different perspectives from mine, I would use empathy rather than being forceful with my team.

I remember I was pulling off a car-crash scene in which two vehicles were to be operated concurrently in two lanes opposite to each other. Just before we were about to film the scene, we learned that our insurance company would only cover one vehicle to be filmed in the camera, which was quite at odds with our plan. I suggested redrafting the stunt but the creative team didn’t agree, because the amount of work required for the change was much greater than our original plan.

While I could understood their frustration when we had to change everything on an ad hoc basis, I explained that this was the only way to go. When it comes to safety issues, there’s no compromise. I spoke to them one by one privately in hopes of boosting the team morale, and expressed my sympathy about their additional workload and the potential overtime. But at the same time, I also asked myself the questions: are we acting in the best interest of the project? Who would be held accountable if we were to stick to this precarious plan, go against the insurance policy, and then something went south.

We eventually came to terms with shooting one vehicle in one lane at a time, which meant we had to overhaul the entire shooting plan – it was an improvisation that involved concerted efforts from all the department heads. We also resorted to using visual effects in the post to make it look like two vehicles operating at the same time. In hindsight, it was a great lesson to learn about how to collaborate with other team members when something unforeseen happens.

What films and which filmmakers have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?

David Fincher and Christopher Nolan have been my greatest inspirations from the get-go. Fincher is known as a perfectionist in the world of filmmaking; he tends to be very precise and meticulous in camera movements, blockings, and dialogue rhythm. Rarely do you find a director with such drive and persistence in his own style while consistently pumping out an impressive volume of high-quality motion pictures and TV series – in fact, I took some cues for the color tone of my last film from his early work.

Nolan, on the other hand, places emphasis on forming human connections and is apt to create some grandeur associated with high concept stories while integrating a sizable amount of visual effects into his work; the majesty and magnitude of the events he portrays in his movies are in perfect alignment with what I am hoping to accomplish in the distant future.

Although they have their own distinctive directing style, I’ve always been striving to sharpen up my skills by learning from two of the most renowned directors in contemporary cinema.

As to the most influential films in my life, Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan were the ones that tugged at my heartstrings the whole time I was watching them and produced recurring thoughts even days later. Spielberg constructed the imagery in those films in a way that reshaped the world in that tragic and depressing era. Such superb execution brought me back to the battlefield as if I was living in a war zone in titillating detail as the protagonist and an observer. This level of artisanship in filmmaking is the goal that I hope I can reach one day in the future.

How did film festivals, filmmaking competitions, fellowships, etc. play a role in your career?

Submitting my films to festivals and competitions serves as an initial part of the evaluation process for my work typically administered by a selective group of distinguished filmmakers in the industry. The waiting period is the most excruciating stage as there are many unknowns and factors that go into the decision-making process. For instance, some of the prestigious film festivals might take into consideration my premiere status during the reviewing process, while others might not. If I accept a screening opportunity from a lower-tiered film festival, there is a good chance that a higher-tiered one may not accept the film. But it was fortuitous that many competitions offered Incognito a slot, which significantly boosted the film’s popularity and exposed me to a broader spectrum of potential clients. In fact, I was able to connect with two agents scouting for a director for an action-packed feature film at the theater during the festival run of Dances with Films. We bonded after they had watched my film and realized that both parties had an affinity for martial arts, and shared a similar vision and aesthetics, so we came to an agreement not long after we met.

The pandemic has greatly affected the entertainment industry. How did it affect your side of things?

I am blessed that I didn’t get negatively impacted by the pandemic. Instead, I took it as an opportunity to hone my writing skills and broaden my mind by losing myself in books. There was no better time to write a screenplay, read an entertainment business book, binge-watch a noteworthy show, or explore content for my next project. I always think that a writer, director, or producer needs to be well-rounded and knowledgeable. The pandemic was the best time to soak up the contents of books and movies that would normally remain unexplored because my leisure time is usually spent hanging out with movie-making friends.

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