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Meet Haiyang Yu

Today we’d like to introduce you to Haiyang Yu.

Haiyang, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was born in China, Yanji city, near North Korean and Russia. I liked storytelling since I was a kid. At that time, I didn’t know what’s screenwriter, what’s director, I simply loved telling stories visually. Until at the age of around 9, I confirmed that I wanted to be a filmmaker. My parents didn’t agree with my decision at the beginning because in my family, nobody worked in arts and films. So instead, I learned communication, major in advertising in college. After getting my bachelors degree, I got jobs in some of the top advertising agencies – TBWA, JWT, Saatchi&Saatchi, Ogilvy- as a Mandarin creative copywriter in Shanghai China. I worked for over 20 local and global well-known brands, like McDonald’s, GE, Adidas, COACH, Absolut Vodka, Clinique, Skittles, Mini-Maid, just name a few. From TV Commercials, Print Ads, Digital Campaigns, to integrated marketing communications, I created all sorts of works for brands.

Advertising requires me constantly trying new things and accepting new challenges. Especially in today’s era, the form of media has always been innovated, and the form of advertising has also changed. When I first entered the business, it was in 2010. I did digital. At that time, I was doing the activation campaign site. Since 2011, video sites became popular in China, so I did a lot of viral videos. Later, smartphones were popular, and I began to do H5 website and interaction specifically for mobile phones, later, shopping online, live broadcast, short videos, VLOG became popular. There are always new things coming out, and we must constantly pursue new forms. This requires advertisers to constantly change their thinking and learn quickly. The experience of the previous year may not be useful in the next year. I feel this is very interesting. For me who likes to be fresh, I enjoy doing that.

In addition, 4A provides me with a very good platform, so that I can have the opportunity to work for international clients like McDonald’s, GE General Electric, Adidas, and my work has to achieve the highest standards in the industry, otherwise the boss will not approve it, and the clients will not pay the bill. This requires me to constantly challenge the limits of my own. The process is painful. Fortunately, I was surrounded by very talented colleagues. I learned a lot from them. In retrospect, my working style and standard are cultivated and shaped in the experience of working in the advertising agencies.

During my career life in advertising agencies, I shared my work to my parents, and they started to believe that I could do creative work and art. The TV commercial I did for GE was shown at CCTV which is the major media in China. For my parents’ generation, to have work shown at CCTV is a super big deal. They knew that I was still dreaming to become a film writer-directer, so they started to support me. Then, I quit my job and started to work as a writer-director. I wrote and directed my first short film “Barber” which discusses euthanasia and its alternatives. I was fresh, didn’t know much about filmmaking. All my experienced I had was from advertising work. Now when I look back, I made many mistakes in that short, but the good thing is I got myself started. Everyone starts from knowing nothing. I used that short film as my portfolio and applied for film school in the US. I finally got an offer from ArtCenter College of Design.

At ArtCenter, the faculty didn’t treat us as students, they treated us as co-workers, colleagues, which is great. So I learned filmmaking and directing by doing it. I directed music videos, short films, and I wrote feature-length screenplays. And I worked with the most talented filmmakers who were Oscar-nominated director, Golden Berlin Bear winner director, and so on. I presented my idea, my story, my treatment, storyboard to them and we worked on that together. Those experience helped me grow as a writer-director. And at the same time, I watched a lot of films, especially classic European films. I like Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini. Their films spoke to me. Gradually, I started to have my style. I would like to dig into humanity, create dramatic stories, and film them in a poetic way.

Recently, I finished my short film “Hold On.” I shot it in LA. It is a story about the conflict between the desire of the body and the desire of the soul. It’s about a devout Catholic mother discovers that her disabled son is gay and has sexual needs. Religious beliefs prevent her from meeting her son’s needs. But when she saw her son endure the pain of his body and mind, she finally puts down her faith, assumes responsibility as a mother, and tries to find a suitable sexual partner for her son.

I originally had this thought when I watched a TV show. Some people mentioned they heard of an organization that provided sexual services for disabled people. At that time, it was recorded in my mind that there was such a thing. Later, I learned about it online and read some posts and watched some documentaries. Such a character was slowly emerging in my mind. This process was very long and it took about a year. Later, I had the opportunity to go to the Cannes Film Festival. By the way, I went to Paris and visited some churches. There was a church just in the mass, the whole church was crowded with people, I saw their devout faces, plus the atmosphere of the whole ceremonial feeling gave me a big shock. Therefore, the image of such a devout Catholic mother was also breeding in my mind. After more than a year, these images were slowly becoming complete in my mind. The opportunity that made me start writing this story was to return to China in the summer of 2017. At that time, the film school course was over halfway, and I began to think about how to develop my career in the future, but I had no idea at all. I was writing feature scripts and wanted to make my feature film, but it’s really hard to make it happen. No one could point me to a path, and there was no effective path that will allow me to follow. Therefore, I deeply understand the feeling of powerlessness. It is this sense of powerlessness that reminds me of people who can’t grab anything. So with this sense of powerlessness, I started to write this story and also led me to finish this short film.

In the pre-production, I spent nearly half a year on finding good actors. To find a more suitable actor, I did not limit my searching within Los Angeles, so I got many applications from San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Florida, and even actors from Toronto, Stockholm, and Rome.

When I met an actor I felt right, I would spend time talking to them, not just auditioning, but also taking the time to understand their thoughts about the story. I care about what’s in their minds as well as what they could show on the screen. Because of this, in the process of communicating with the actors, I heard a lot of their stories and their thinking and confusion. Some of the actors who contacted me even experienced a similar psychological journey as the characters in the story. This is one of the reasons why I like to make movies. I felt more emotions and had more experiences in this process. If it is not because of the opportunity to shoot this film, I will not think about these problems, hear these life stories, and get these experiences.

In the end, I worked with an actress from Rome, Italy as the heroine of my film. She had acted in over 50 films including some won in Venice Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival. She loved and believed in the story and my vision as a director. So she flew halfway around the world to star in the short.

In the process of making “Hold On”, I was reading Jung and Dostoevsky’s “Karamazov Brothers”, which have subtly influenced my creation. Especially Dostoevsky, in the process of writing the script, I always read his novels from time to time. Also, the films of Ingmar Bergman and Fellini have great impacts on me. In the days when I shot “Hold On,” when I returned home after shooting every day, I watched Bergman’s “Fanny and Alexander” to relax on the one hand and the other input more images into my subconscious. I often face problems during the shooting and need to quickly offer solutions. Sometimes I relied on the subconscious to help me make decisions. I didn’t presume an artistic style for my film. Instead, I accepted these effects, discovered and solved the problems encountered in scriptwriting and filming. In the whole process, I naturally formed a style.

Right now, I’m developing a feature screenplay with XS Media production company. It’s a fun thought-provoking body-swap feature. And I’m also working on a feature film “Falling Days”, a Chinese-American homosexual’s love and life tragedy in this ever-changing world. And I’m also working on to turn “Hold On” into a feature-length film. I think now I have more confidence and skills to make it as strong as it can be.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The road is never smooth. It’s full of challenges, possibilities, risks, and also fun.

I worked in advertising agencies for more than six years, and I worked very well. It only took me four years to become a creative group head from a junior copywriter, normally people would take seven or more years. It’s pretty fast. And I worked for many well-known global brands. So it looked my career was very good. However, I always wanted to become a filmmaker. So my struggle was if I made up my mind to give up what I had and started from all beginning as a filmmaker. And here I am, I have to prove to myself that I made the right decision.

Self-doubt is another struggle. Making films are business, but for an artist, it’s also very personal. I put all my heart, my life experience, my thinking into each project. I explore my feeling, artistic style. I want to create something different, something new. But because it’s different, it’s new, I’m not sure about that. I could fail. And sometimes, I ask myself that is this what I really want? Especially when other people don’t agree with me, or don’t understand. How to stick to me? Are there enough reasons to stick to me? What if I’m wrong? Those fears and struggles always bother me.

Another thing is that Hollywood is a place to say No to people. In this business, people always say no. I have two struggles, one is how to take “No” not too personal and emotional. And another is how to say “No” to others. As a director, I have to learn to say no to people. I hate to say that, especially to people who have passion and dreams. But I have to. I’m still learning that.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I am a writer-director. I specialize in storytelling. I believe thought-provoking and touching story art has the energy to influence the world. From fireside folk tales to racy comedies to cinematic dramas, I believe in narratives are essential to human beings. I want to use my storytelling skills to sculpt in time and space, explore humanity, present human life, and find solace in faith. All packaged in delicate, compelling visual art.

I am bi-culture, original from China and now live in LA. I could see things in a different angle, point of views. It also helps me make films for people around the globe. My advertising background also helps me dig into the insight of the audience and grasp the essence of stuff. Be creative and take risks. That’s also important to a filmmaker, to an artist.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
If I can make the films I want to make, that’s a success for me. I want to make the story thought-provoking, and I can explore cinema art in my film, that’s a big success for me. And If there are many audiences from all over the world by any chance like my film and I could entertain them and at the same time, let them think. Then that’s a huge success for me. I wish my work could last longer than my life and to make a change in this world now and years later. That’s will be a super success.

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