Stevie Wong

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Stevie Wong

Stevie Wong is a big personality. Over the last 15 years he has become an established stalwart of his industry, reporting for an array of international broadcasters (STAR TV Asia, Sky Movies, BBC) as well as some of the biggest studios in Hollywood, acting as their in-house interviewer and liaison for film festivals, red carpets and on set shoots. He is an impeccably dressed, quick-witted man who was awarded the International Media Award for Journalist of the Year in 2011. Here he shares his most recent observations on the film industry, from the roles of different creative disciplines in cinema to how technology is being harnessed to aid story telling.

THE RISE OF BRAND FILM MAKING ...

We’re seeing a lot of cinema being geared towards brand film making nowadays, like comic book adaptations or reboots to successful properties like a Ghostbusters. You also realize that besides the films, these releases also extend into extensive licensing deals. For example, Star Wars was licensed everywhere when the movie came out, from clothing to food, whether you were interested or not, we were all aware when THIS huge movie was coming out. It’s smart, but it wasn’t like that back when I was a child. I think it makes the whole cinema experience a little less magical, less of an adventure. Films are now relying on the power of the brand to sell tickets. 

Even in the indie market, though there are amazing stories being told, a film like Carol couldn’t have been made without Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara attached because they guarantee a certain audience for such a prestige film. In general these mid-tier budgeted movies are always pre-packaged with a big name attached in order for them to be made.

Carol starring Cate Blanchett & Rooney Mara

THE CREATIVE INDUSTRIES IN FILM ...

Most films are so commercial that the concept of the arts and creative disciplines coming together to create cinema doesn’t really play out as much. It’s really rare that you get a creative team that appreciates all the aspects of film making these days, but they still exist. 

A film like Ex Machina, (written and directed by Alex Garland) which found its audience through word of mouth, is really a miracle release because it’s a three-character piece with very minimal action. Garland really understands his audience and uses thought out minimal design to help tell the story, it’s really refreshing and for that reason a totally memorable experience.

'We’ve got real creative artisans popping up everywhere who are turning into individual brand names themselves. I know more names in costume and camera work now than ever before'

This summer also saw the release of Swiss Army Man (written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), which is basically a journey between two men, one who also happens to be a corpse played by Daniel Radcliffe. It’s the most surreal setup, but in the end you realise you’re watching a bromance that is both hilarious and touching. I can’t believe a movie like that was even greenlit, but I’m sure having Harry Potter has something to do with it. 

Ex Machina by Alex Garland

Last years The Assassin directed by the Taiwanese auteur Hou Hsiao Hsien, was such visual inspiration. Every shot is like a painting and I felt like I was floating in the clouds, especially since the director likes to keep his shots long and wide. It really was the most beautiful film I saw last year. The people who funded this film were doing it out of love, if it makes the money back then great, but if it doesn’t it won’t be an issue because the film was made to showcase the artistry.

These are rare examples because I feel like Hollywood still goes under the more is more approach which can sometimes turn into very busy and loud images on screen. 

Shu Qi in The Assasin

ARTISANS IN FILM ...

At the same time as the rise of big brand film making, we’ve got real creative artisans popping up everywhere who are turning into individual brand names themselves. I know more names in costume and camera work now than ever before. Emmanuel Lubezki the cinematographer on the Revenant (as well as Birdman and Gravity) is doing really beautiful work. I’m also a huge fan of Roger Deakins who’s shot everything from Fargo to Skyfall, but I’m absolutely looking forward to what he’s going to do for the upcoming Blade Runner sequel! 

Kate Hawley, the costume designer for the just released Suicide Squad, recently made the gothic horror film Crimson Peak (directed by Guillermo Del Toro) and her work totally tells a story. The cut of the costumes for Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain) transforms from very tight and restricted to very unbound and free, following the narrative arc of her character. Whether you have the sound on or not, you can see the story progress through the clothing and that’s a wonderful thing for a director to collaborate so intensely with the art departments. 

More and more people are becoming aware of these creative individuals because filmmakers are recognising the importance of allowing them to do these really beautiful, unique things, which then adds value to the work they are doing.

(Left to right) Gravity, Birdman & Fargo

TECHNOLOGY AND THE ART OF STORY-TELLING IN FILM ...

Nowadays the magic of story telling in cinema is often technology-based and if you’re part of that creative field and curious about it, it’s a great time to be in film. 

A spectacular film like Gravity literally had to build the camera in a bespoke way, creating the technology to be able to achieve the shots they wanted to get. This is cutting edge cinema at its finest. James Cameron has a think-tank of people developing technology for him for years. For The Abyss, they had to create the underwater machinery to shoot it. This is very rare but an amazing position to be in, for all involved.

There’s a lot of talk of VR and augmented reality these days, where for now, are used as accompany pieces that you can download as apps on your phone. But I really think we are very close to watching a 360 film in the coming year. 

I’m not always a fan of extensive CGI in films. Sometimes when I watch a superhero film, I feel like I’m watching a cartoon. Maybe this appeals to the game playing 13 year old, but to an older generation, I always breathe a sigh of relief when I see more practical effects used.

THE BEST STORY TELLERS ...

Independent and international cinema is still telling the best stories. Maybe because of budgetary concerns, but a lot of filmmakers have to use creative or back-to-basics ways of telling a story. I respect that cause making a movie is so hard, let alone a good one. 

There was a micro budget film called Tangerine that came out last year, directed by Sean Baker. The whole film was shot entirely on an iPhone and told the story from the perspective of two ethnic minority transsexual prostitutes on a particular day in their lives. It received quite a lot of support, but the fact that it was shot in such an original way is so brilliant and I’m really really keen to see what he does next.

On the set of Tangerine & E.T

Documentaries are also really interesting to me, because they are telling really dynamic stories like Amy or Tickled, that are sometimes more affecting especially since they are true life ones.  

When it comes to the big Hollywood movies, Steven Spielberg is still the best storyteller. He is a master in how he molds the story without letting his ego get in the way, which is a really rare thing when you’re at his level. Plus I feel like every movie he puts out, he’s still discovering new things about filmmaking, which makes it just as exciting for the moviegoer. He can do so much, and I’m really appreciative of that, and that’s why I love him.

STEVIE'S TOP 5 FILMS ...

Brazil - Even after 30 years, Terry Gilliam's dystopian political comedy continues to ring true and surprise us visually. I keep seeing new things whenever I revisit this classic sci-fi gem.

Days of Being Wild - Many discovered Wong Kar Wai in his subsequent films, but it's this nostalgic star studded drama that first showcased the vision and distinct tone of an auteur in the making.

AfterlifeHirokazu Koreeda's simple film about individuals sent to a week long camp to decide on the one memory to take with them to the afterlife is something so beautiful and magnificent that it will break your heart yet offer you some respite in it's celebration of all lives well lived.

Singing in the RainClassic MGM musical which I simply can't find fault in any frame of the film. Hilarious, lush and just plain fun, this is the only way musicals should be made.

Terms of Endearment - There are so many great dramas in the history of film, but this one about a dysfunctional mother/daughter relationship straddles the line between humor and pathos so perfectly that I keep on coming back to it. Have tissues ready!

soda-s
  • Stevie was Interviewed by Samuel John Weeks & Tim Duncan
  • Photographed by Samuel John Weeks
  • Edited by Alex Mills
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