Uses This

Interview

What do people use to get the job done?

Ming-Zhu Hii

Ming-Zhu Hii

Actor, experimental filmmaker

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Ming-Zhu Hii. I am an experimental filmmaker, a director/writer of the odd slightly more mainstream film project, and also an actor. When the equation is perfectly balanced, acting and working as a voiceover artist is my magnificent day job, which supports a lot of my more exploratory filmmaking work. It's this sexy little ecosystem then which I adore.

What hardware do you use?

We come from a live performance background and have only just started shifting into moving image in a big way over the last two years. So at core, it's still a fairly bare-bones setup. I'm married to my creative partner and we shoot all of our absolute no-budget projects at the moment on a Sony A99 with a couple of compact fluoros and LEDs for lighting, and whatever our lighting designer can bring the party; sound-wise we record wild directly into an H4n via our RØDE NTG2 and RØDE Lavalier, with a mix depending entirely on the scale of the project. It's probably time for an upgrade to the kit, but we're waiting until it's absolutely urgent.

Because of sound being such a tricky issue for a 2/3-person crew we've kept with doing a lot of sound in post. A lot of our more significant projects, the design and mix have all been done in post by our sound designer who has a far more articulated studio than we do. He works in live performance and installation mostly, so his take on it is really visceral which I like. We edit off a couple of MacBook Pro Retinas ourselves.

There are a couple of decent data projectors and splitters and other bits and pieces that we use for gallery work. But to be honest, that's not my forte. I just own the gear and hand it over to other people to work out how to use.

We hire in extra bits and pieces for shoots like field monitors, sliders and rigs when and where we need to, but so far have managed to keep things really lean which I like. It means we can move around very easily and are less reliant on raising budgets for experimental work which is important, because there is a certain element of freedom to screw up on the fly, and if you're needing to meet an investors' expectations, there is a greater constriction on playing around and making mistakes - which is of course, ultimately where a lot of the really good stuff comes from. But actually, it looks like we may be working with a dedicated DP for the first time on our next short, which will mean we will do our first hire in of a cinema camera. It's exciting, but I'm quietly terrified.

And what software?

In a nutshell: Celtx in pre, Final Cut Pro X in post on our smaller projects thus far - the simplicity has worked to our advantage not coming from traditional film editing backgrounds, and I've put up with the snooty looks; but I'm finally feeling the need to teach myself how to use Premiere Pro and put the Adobe suite to good use as our projects grow more complex. I'll probably be singing a new tune in a month or so.

If we're sound syncing, on set I sometimes use an iPad app called MovieSlate, which acts as a clapper board and as note-taking and syncing software, but I often just default to a clipboard, legal pad, marker and a manual clap.

In pre-production I start from coffee table art books and magazines to find images and scrapbook like mad before writing a word. I also have leagues of notes and images and resources filed neatly in Evernote. It has made me the most organised I have ever been. I actually don't know how it happened. I write the screenplay itself in Celtx. Usually I'll storyboard manually. Pencils and eraser. I'm a dreadful illustrator. It's stick-figures all-round.

What would be your dream setup?

Honestly, I'd really love someone else to look after both post and pretty much the whole production process for me. I want to be in on developing the project, and then the edit, each step of the way, but it'd be nice to have a proper post-production studio and a great editor and grader on board and to be able to outsource the bits that take my brain away from the actual storytelling. Like feeding the crew, etc.

And of course I'm looking forward to working on shoots where I can get in some really decent cinema cameras and glass; a slightly bigger crew would be great - not huge, but just slightly more easefully bigger. I want to iterate slowly at this stage. Find out what happens if I work with a crew of five instead of three. Incremental shifts towards bigger storytelling. It is an exciting time in the development of my practice. It freaks me out every day - I am enormously anxious about it, but also incredibly exhilarated. There's no denying that.