Vicky Zhuang Yi-Yin, is a first generation Pakistani born Chinese immigrant based in Lahore, Pakistan, and she is a multidisciplinary storyteller. She graduated from Lahore School of Economics with a Finance Undergraduate Degree, but she immediately started to pursue more artistic endeavors and teaching. She has been teaching drama in many prestigious schools in Lahore and worked with my partners at OLOMOPOLO Media as the Director of Media and Communications Strategies, while they all come up with lots of fun projects for empowerment of the people's confidence and expression through theater, film, festivals and other activities. Empowerment is something that she is also trying to bring along with her own personal works as a singer and a storyteller.
Hi Vicky, it's so nice to have you here, tell us when hen did you discover this was your career path?
V- I was in my last year of university studying finance, of all subjects, and I became a part of an independent play. That was when I realized that storytelling, something that I have been doing since I was 6 years old was something that I wanted to do forever. One of the fields that I really wanted to go into was films because I watched a lot of films back then and there was something timeless about it, where I thought I would like my stories to be archived this way, rather than just the written form (which I also love).
Which filmmakers inspired you?
V- Hayao Miyazaki, for sure. Zhang Yimou, and oddly, Stephen Chow from China, and then I love the Russo Brothers and what they have done for the Avengers, from Pakistan, Sarmad Khoosat, Kanwal Khoosat, Meenu Guar and Farjad Nabi are people I have worked with and I just love what they are doing in the environment that we have.
Describe Separation, briefly.
V- Separation is a story about a moment in a family's life when they have to face the consequences of the choices that they made that ultimately affected their relationship with each other.
Your short fascinated us, how did you come up with it?
V- That is a funny story actually. I was proctoring an exam one day and the idea just sort of came in my head about what it is like when people are unable to say the things they want to say to a person who is gone. What about their regrets, and what happens when they are the cause of a rift?
This short has an excellent cast and you got to have TV personalities such as Nimra Bucha which is a successful Pakistani actress. How did you get in touch with her?
V- I have worked with Nimra Bucha previously on several projects because of OLOMOPOLO Media. After finishing the script, I just felt like this was a role I had to ask her to take on. She was my first choice.
How was your casting process?
V- I didn't have any audition process for this project to be honest. I knew Nimra Bucha from before, Arslan Khan was a really good friend of mine and I had promised him that I would write a role for him to be a part of my next film, and Separation happened to be the next film. Fawad Jalal was also a friend so it made sense to bring everyone together.
Nimra what would you say about this project and how did you get into your character's emotions and state of mind?
Nimbra Bucha- Separation is a very important story to tell. In fact it us of urgency that we tell these stories that speak of people who can’t live their lives as they truly are. When the director Vicky came to me with the script I couldn’t believe my luck. To represent the suffering of a bereaved parent is not a job one can take lightly, but I was eager to be part of this family that Vicky had created. And then the shoot itself and the bare bones style of storytelling brought us all very close to the pain. I knew this film would be special but I’m so happy that so many others have embraced it too.
We noticed an incredible cinematography, the short's look is impeccable. What was the process behind this beautiful cinematography?
Farman Ali, Director of Photography- Thank you for your kind words about the cinematography in the film. The process behind the cinematography involved a collaborative effort between myself, the director, and the rest of the film's creative team. We worked closely together to create a visual language for the film that supported the story and characters. To begin the process, I read the script several times and discussed it with the director to understand her vision for the film. We talked about the tone, mood, and style that she wanted to convey and I used that as a foundation for the cinematography. From there, I began to develop a shot list and storyboard, which helped us plan out the visual approach for each scene. We considered things like camera angles, lighting, and color grading to create a cohesive look throughout the film. During the shoot, I worked closely with the camera and lighting crews to ensure that each shot was executed as planned. We made adjustments as needed based on the location, weather, or other factors that came up during production. In post-production, we continued to refine the cinematography through color grading and other editing.
What was the biggest challenge for you?
V- Getting to the edit. I had just finished shooting just a week or so before the pandemic started and the editing just got delayed for months. But I guess it turned out alright.
A fun fact about your short.
V- I got to reunite with another close friend of mine, Ibrahim Imdad, who is also behind the amazing, The Gentle Robot music moniker. This was very much a project of passion and friendship for me and I honestly cherish it so much because of that. Apart from that, I traveled to Karachi for this shoot because all three actors were based there. We shot with the most minimal crew and it was just fantastic!
You come from Pakistan but you are First Generation Pakistani-born-Chinese which is so interesting. How is the filmmaking environment in your country and what would you bring to it? V- The filmmaking scene in Pakistan is a very difficult terrain to traverse at the moment. Commercial films are still very regressive and it is in the hands of a few storytellers that continue to use those narratives to bring, primarily, entertainment but brings little to make people think in the cinema. Anything that is different will face extra scrutiny, and while things are slightly getting better, there's still a lot of work to do. Many filmmakers are now creating works that aren't just entertainment fluff, but in pockets, and less commercial. Hopefully, with enough work out there, people will soon realize how important film is as a tool to further celebrate culture and an intellectual and emotional exercise, rather than a tool for flashy dance numbers and cheap jokes.
How did your roots influence your work? V- I think that this project allowed me to give tribute to the place that has taken me in, and allowed me to call it home. Admittedly, I used to be scared of Urdu because I was terrible at it in school. This is the first Urdu language story that I ever worked on. Additionally, I think I also wanted to honor the lessons my parents taught me about being honest. I tried to be honest with this film, and in doing so, instead of writing the dialogues in English, I wrote it in Urdu to make it as honest for a family in Pakistan as possible.
We read that you are the curator of Women of the World Pakistan's (WOWPK) virtual festival, and you wrote an article for Dawn News, "Compassion Corona" which talks about the potential increase in racism against Asians, can you tell us something about it? That's impressive!
V- I was part of the team that curated the Women of the World Festival in Pakistan since 2019. The festival celebrates women's and girls' achievements and highlights issues faced by women and other gender minorities. I have had the privilege to be a part of a program to meet talented women, girls and other minorities in the country. I wrote Compassion Corona back in 2020 about the experience of racism in a country that has adopted me. I say adopted because I knew from a very early start that I am different from many people. I speak a totally different language from a totally different country, my home culture was different than my school culture, or the culture of my friends. But despite that, this was my home, and I noticed racism doubling down during the pandemic because of the origin of the virus. I wrote what I felt was important, and that was for people to show compassion. Compassion Corona is also a play on the Urdu word "karona", as Corona is a homonym of the aforementioned Urdu word meaning, to do, so essentially the title is also meant to show compassion. And at the end of the day, that's supposed to be a part of the global universal culture.
Your short is also a great representation of the LGBTQ+ community, what's the message you want to send to the queer community and why is it so important for you? V- My message? You are not alone. For me, the film reflects something that I very strongly believe in, and that is compassion, and letting people be themselves. I don't think we were born to harm people, mentally and physically, and we weren't created so we can control each other. My happiness is my happiness, your happiness is your happiness. My definition of it can be completely different compared to any other person, so that's why this film was important for me to reflect on that. And that support is what people need in this world, not disconnect, or isolation.
What's the best part of your job, what's your favorite step in the process? V- The best part about my job? Every day is a different day.
What would you say to someone that wants to start this path as you did? V-Do it for the love of it, not the fame, not the glory.
What do you regret and what would you have wanted to know earlier? V-That I should have applied for a film school earlier.
What's your dream project? V- It has to be a post-apocalyptic, fantasy story that I have been working on for a while, I don't know what direction it will take, but it's something I am considering for the big leagues. Fingers crossed maybe in a few years, I will finally get to work on it, but for now, it's in development.
Who would you suggest this short to, and why? (Who's your target audience? Who do you think would appreciate your work?) V- I don't really think about the audience when I made the film, but I feel that this is something that will interest parents, as it gives them an outlet to question whether their understanding of the happiness that they project on their children is conducive to their children's growth and wellbeing or not? For me, that's a big part of growing up and thinking, if I think happiness is ABC, does the other person think the same way? Do I want my child (I don't have one, but I imagine), who will be living a completely different life than me to have my definition of happiness or theirs?
What do you expect from the future? What do you hope it will bring you on a professional level?
V- I try not to think about the future, but if I have to expect something, it's for me to continue telling stories. I would like to start making more short films, and eventually branch out to webseries or a feature film, but for now I want to continuing honing what I know.
Your short won different awards with us, we truly enjoyed this work, how is it going with festivals so far? V- It's going well so far. Separation has been selected in many festivals, and including yours it has won over 50 awards now and I am truly grateful for this experience.
Thank you for your time, we wish you the best for your career and your future projects and we can't wait to see what's next for you!
V- Thank you so much for having me, I better stop procrastinating and start working on my new scripts now! This has given me the confidence to take another step forward.
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