Interview with Tin Pang: Smallville, Flying Bark and his new project Mother. Child.
Tin Pang is a writer/director with a passion for short films. We caught up with Tin to learn about his experience on CW’s Smallville and to find out how he convinced Lawrence Leung (Offspring, Maximum Choppage) and Gabrielle Chan (The Home Song Stories) to star in his new project, Mother. Child - a short film about an older mother and adult son, reacquainted after an unexpected stroke forces them to live together.
How did you get started in the screen industry?
I grew up on the Gold Coast and studied Screen Media at QCA in Brisbane, but I actually started out in the industry in Los Angeles. I was fortunate enough to be accepted into USC/Universal’s Producing and Directing Intensive Program. That gave me a foot in the door, which led to development internships at Dreamworks and Vendome Pictures, with a focus on story and pitching. However, I much preferred being on set, so managed to get myself work on Smallville and Fringe after travelling to Vancouver. It was all invaluable experience, particularly with Hollywood, as it is so very different to our industry. In 2010 I returned to Australia and made the move to Sydney, starting out in post-production, followed by a stint in animation, before transitioning back into live-action production.
Can you tell us about your experience working on CW's Smallville in Vancouver?
Maybe I shouldn’t be saying this, but I actually think Production Assistants are spoilt in Australia! They’re generally not averaging 16 hour plus night shoots, at minimum wage, standing in pouring rain and sub-zero degree temperatures - just to guard an entry gate that no one would ever use on location! Don’t get me wrong, Smallville involved some of the best memories I have working on set. I learnt so much, particularly as PA’s in Vancouver are trained to be quite utilitarian. It felt like I was part of a family, especially as I had joined production from Season 8. The studios themselves were fascinating, a series of old factory warehouses and maintenance depots that had been retrofitted into soundstages. There was even a backlot complete with a Metropolis Main Street set. An average day could see you controlling traffic around busy intersections, to 3rd AD’ing, to pushing out water, mud or some smelly, dreaded infestation from waterlogged sets or corridors. I earned my stripes on Smallville and I miss it fondly.
More recently, you’ve worked in animation development for television at Flying Bark Productions in Sydney, can you tell us what you have done while there and how that has benefited your career?
I worked at Flying Bark Productions for over two years, initially as a script coordinator on their animated children's TV series Tashi, before moving to development. I worked closely with our script editor Fin Edquist to develop episode pitches, and contribute to writer’s room brainstorms and punch ups. We had a group of incredibly talented writers on Tashi and it was such a thrill working with them to create a unique and hilarious series. Later on, I transitioned into development, where I worked to build concepts, pitches and treatments for future projects. I also unexpectedly fell into the wonderful world of voice acting, landing roles on both Tashi and Blinky Bill The Movie. The moral to this story is always sneak in a few unsolicited vocal theatrics during weekly script reads!
What are you working on now?
I’m currently in preproduction on a short film titled Mother. Child. I was actually developing a sitcom web series early last year, but everything changed after my mother suffered a stroke in August 2015. She is a single mum, and with me being an only child, I dropped everything in Sydney and moved back to the Gold Coast to care for her during rehab. We didn’t have any family support, so it was just the two of us.
As she began her long journey to recovery, I started to realise that, as we get older, our parents seem to get younger. Not necessarily in a physical sense, but certainly from a psychological one. Our parents become more vulnerable, sometimes more child-like thanks to a lack of inhibition, and more reliant on us. Having the role of carer unassumingly thrust on to me, I was fascinated about this unexpected reversal of roles. At the same time, we were both living in self-perceived prisons. I couldn’t even imagine the frustration, confusion and fear that she must have been going through, adjusting to a body now afflicted by an acquired disability. Then there was me, still processing the fact that I had nearly lost my mum, scared that the stroke had taken away her independence, and despite me wanting to be there to care for her, foolishly resentful of that the role of carer would have an ongoing impact on my life and career.
I started to write a script based on my experiences, which provided me with a form of therapy and a way to debrief myself. What I soon discovered was that I wanted to tell a story about stroke recovery and awareness, something that is not nearly represented enough in screen arts. I wanted to explore the complex relationship between a stroke survivor, who happens to be a single mother, and a carer, who happens to be her adult son. It was important to acknowledge the challenges and sacrifice that brave survivors and carers endure on a daily basis across Australia. It’s a project that my amazing crew and I are incredibly passionate about and we’re currently in preproduction for a shoot this December, with an aim to release in early 2017.
The project has resonated with talented Australian cast and crew, including actors Lawrence Leung (Offspring, Maximum Choppage) and Gabrielle Chan (Home Song Stories). How did you get them onboard with the project?
From the moment I wrote the script, I knew that my two lead characters had to have Asian heritage. My mother emigrated from Hong Kong and I’m half Chinese, half Australian. At the same time, I had this unique opportunity to tell a story that deals with stroke recovery and acquired disability through the eyes of CALD characters. It was these themes, along with the concept of us eventually becoming parents to our own parents that strongly resonated with Lawrence and Gabrielle. I think our approach of shooting the whole short film as one scene, and in one take only, also attracted them to the project. To me, it’s like a fusion of film and live theatre, and combined with the emotional arcs that both characters achieve over the course of the short, the project provides a unique challenge for Lawrence and Gabrielle. Many of the crew have also been affected or touched by stroke, whether it be through family or loved ones, and our aim to raise stroke awareness through the film has been a inspiring factor in them coming on board the project.
What are your plans to fund the film?
We’ve just launched our crowdfunding campaign via the Australian Cultural Fund and they’ve been fantastic with their support of the project. It’s a brilliant platform with some amazing projects featured, and unique in that all donations above $2 are tax deductible. We’ll be running crowdfunding until the end of November, backed by a social media campaign. Our priority is to promote the film with an aim to raise stroke awareness, and this has involved us being integrated with Stroke Week 2016, as well as reaching out to stroke survivors, carers and their loved ones from across the country. We’ve been fortunate enough to gain the support of many non-for-profit stroke and acquired brain injury organisations including the National Stroke Foundation, Stroke Recovery Association NSW, Stroke Association of Victoria, Synapse and Brain Injury Australia. They’ve been incredible in helping us galvanise support and get word out to the community. For us, it’s quite noticeable that strokes are never acknowledged in the same way that cancer or diabetes is on a national level, yet it can just as deadly. Ultimately, the project is a labour of love and we will be relying on much needed donations via crowdfunding and, at the end of the day, self-funding.
You mentioned that the defining attribute of this script is that it’s one scene and one scene only. Can you tell us about that?
With the script being semi-autobiographical, it seemed only natural to me that the approach needed to be immediate, raw and observational both visually and emotionally. It’s like you’re right there, standing with the characters at that very moment. Live theatre gives me that feeling, so I wanted to translate that approach to film by developing a short that was one scene only, especially as the script is at its core a character piece. Even from a writing perspective, I only ever set out to write one scene, and a realistic, conversational one at that. It’s super hard to fit in a year’s worth of moments, conflict, motives and emotional arcs into a short film, especially when you’re dealing with complex issues like recovery and psychological adjustment post-stroke. In fact, I find it hard to will myself to write at the best of times! But, you write what you know, right?
I would be lying if I said that mum and I didn’t argue after she came home from hospital. In fact, I think the weeks and months after she came home from hospital were the hardest. One argument that her and I had, that finally brought many of our underlying tensions head on, constantly stuck with me and what you read in the script is very much based on this moment. I see it as the moment her and I turned the corner as a survivor/carer team, the point where we finally acknowledged each other as adults, not just mother and child, or ‘unassuming parent’ and his mother. I think the icing on the cake for me is to shoot the scene as one continuous take, not just because it’s becoming a more ubiquitous trend with directors, but because it’s a device that lends itself well to the script, the characters, the situation and their emotional arc. It’ll be a solid challenge for the cast and crew come December, but we’re very excited about it. Just for the record, I should add that Mum and I don’t argue anymore! She’s made a remarkable recovery so far, and although she still has difficult days and physical setbacks, she’s by far the bravest and most inspiring person I know.
What do you hope this short film can achieve?
Better stroke awareness. When you think about the stats: one in six will experience a stroke in their lifetime, it kills more people than breast cancer or prostate cancer, someone will suffer a stroke in the next ten minutes… It is sobering isn’t it?
Better support for stroke survivors and carers. And I don’t just mean better medical resources and services, but the simple act of human connection. Stroke survivors and carers need to share their stories with others, to not only realise that they’re not alone, but for everyone to understand that it’s not an easy journey. Learning about other stories of triumph, struggle and everything in between definitely beats some cookie-cutter counselling babble fed to you from a textbook. I only just wish that there were more films and shows that dealt with these issues before I became a carer. That’s why I want to make this film and that’s what I truly hope it can achieve - to give audiences a glimpse of what life might be life for survivors and loved ones post stroke. I also hope Mother. Child. inspires further Aussie shorts, features and television to explore disability and feature disabled cast and crews. That and more screen diversity in our country!
And where do we get to see your film? How will you distribute it?
We’re hoping to coordinate with our project supporters to screen the film for stroke survivors and carers across Australia in 2017. The Stroke Recovery Association NSW celebrates their 40th anniversary next year, and we’re hoping to feature the film in conjunction with this. We’d also like to see a traditional festival run for Mother. Child., with a plan to screen at festivals that celebrate disability and diversity in cinema. It’d be really interesting to see domestic exhibitors get on board a project like this and screen the film in front of features, providing a unique and wide-reaching way to raise stroke awareness and support Aussie short films.
More on Tin's new film, Mother.Child.