On Your Radar is a weekly Grad Film News Segment that features a student picked at Random.
Tsung-Yen Lin is a Grad Film Thesis Student. We asked him a few questions and this is what he said.
Where do you consider home and what is it like there?
Taipei, Taiwan. Taiwan is a young country, a small island, located in South-East Asia, which has been mainly influenced by Chinese, Japanese, Korean and American cultures, besides its own aboriginal cultures. Taiwan is still defining itself, slow but steadily, just like myself.
It’s a place with 24-hour convenience stores where I can go if I get hungry at 2 AM. It’s the first country to legalize same-sex marriage in Asia. It’s a place where the young generation cares about politics and the future of the country (at least in my opinion). It’s a place, like any other country, which has had sad chapters (the February 28th Massacre and White Terror period, etc.), and there are many people still fighting for transitional equities. It’s a place that has many earthquakes and typhoons. It's a hot and humid (average 95F in summer) place. It’s also a place with breathtaking mountains and landscapes (Martin Scorsese’s Silence).
I realized that the longer I stayed in the US, the more I missed this place. The colorful, messy but naturally-organized streets, the low clouds in the sky, the green mountains, the street food and many, many things… It seems there is an untouchable, invisible, deep, and slow wave of calling from this place. I want to live on this island. It’s a place where I feel I belong.
What is currently inspiring you as a filmmaker?
I found myself feeling satisfied and fulfilled if the relationships between the actors, crew, and myself improved after we wrapped. I found myself not liking the films I made, sometimes hating myself, if I was not being honest with myself and treating my crew badly. At this point, filmmaking is more like… creating memories and beliefs from real lives, both the final products and the process of making them.
And I think that’s why I’ve also been inspired by my classmates and their works. I see them in their films. How they see the world, the perspectives I’ve never thought of. I admire how much work they have been putting into making their stories come to life.
What has been your most rewarding experience at NYU?
Besides the constructive program design which took me – who had no filmmaking background – from zero to one, there are some moments I won’t forget for the rest of my life. Here I will share a few of them:
On September 6th, 2018, in the first Michael Burke’s Directing Class, he gave us a sheet titled “Storytelling Goals”. On this sheet, there were seven prompts to which he asked us to write responses: 1. Two peculiarities of my life that have made me see with special eyes. 2. Two major conflicts I have experienced in my life. 3. Two story topics to which I am presently attracted. 4. Two themes with which I’d like to work. 5. Two types of people with whom I have always empathized. 6. Two changes I’d like to make in my audience’s consciousness. 7. Two other important goals I have in mind as a storyteller.
I put this sheet on the wall in my bedroom. And this sheet shows what this program is focusing on and the direction in which it leads its students. It also implies that a good film needs its maker’s honesty (which I truly believe. And I now realize that sometimes being honest with oneself may be the hardest thing). At that moment I knew I was in the right place.
Carol Dysinger is a professor who also has had a huge influence on me. At the end of February 2020, we were all editing our 2nd year films which we had just shot. It was my turn to show my cut in her editing class.
I didn’t want to show the cut because I didn’t think it was ready and I didn’t want to embarrass myself. It was the first film I had shot in Taiwan and a story I cared about so much. I was super anxious and stressed… What if the film was not working and I just made a bad film? What if it was a bad film and there was no way to fix it? What if this bad cut would affect how my classmates saw me? So I made a bad decision and decided not to go.
The next day I went to her office and apologized. I explained to her the stress and the frustration. She just said: you’re brave. And she asked me to come next time. At that moment I felt ashamed but somehow encouraged.
Her editing class was kind of a therapy section. She led me to see the possibilities in my film (and in everyone’s film) and gave me hope. ‘It’s not working…YET,’ she always said. Her insightful comments and feedback convinced me there was always a way to fix it. The hope she gave me was everything. We had a few more one-on-one meetings working on the film. It was important to me that there was a person who cared about the film and worked on it with me.
I was fortunate to have a one-on-one independent study with Professor Gail Segal. We talked about films and how to be an artist. In the first meeting, we were watching ‘Three Times’ by Hou Hsiao-Hsien, the legendary Taiwanese film director. In the first scene, there were characters playing with billiard balls in an old building. We were amazed by how this director composed the frame, used color (the green table, window, and red balls), and moved the camera (both what it was following and how the movement was motivated). I was moved and even wanted to cry. It was pure pleasure and happiness watching a film. So simple but strong.
I shared my struggle making films with Gail. I felt the pure pleasure of watching and making films. I wanted to make something with no ‘purpose’, but simply just to have fun. But at the same time, I thought, as a film director, there was a social responsibility to keep in mind. Filmmaking costs lots of money, time, and energy – there had to be a purpose greater than just the films themselves. These two ideas conflicted all the time.
She listened and slowly said, ‘It’s hard, isn’t it?’ I said, yes, it’s really hard (then I cried). She reminded me that… happiness is an essential human need. Not only for the audience but also for filmmakers. She also encouraged me to make decisions by using my own instincts and to keep exploring. I always feel free when I talk to her.
(Gail published an amazing book ‘Dramatic Effects with a Movie Camera’, which is one of the most helpful books I’ve ever read. It uses approachable and clear language to explain abstract ideas and emotions with good examples.)
My classmates have shown me that memories are makeable. And they are worth making. The parties, the production periods, dinners, the movie nights, classes and the talks. Then I realized that maybe… maybe at the end of our lives, it’s all about memories. And that’s one of the reasons we make films: to create and preserve memories. Thank you my friends for the memories you’ve given to me.
Last, I remembered that on the first day of orientation in September 2018, after I introduced myself, I said, ‘I hope I can become a better version of myself during my time in this program.’ Now, I’m writing this On Your Radar in Taipei and feeling grateful to be in this program, in this community. It helps me to think and reflect. It allows me to do anything I want to do and it supports me. It inspires me. I do think I’ve become a little better version of myself.
Thank you, my dear friends, professors/educators, and NYU Grad Film.