Interview: Scottish-Chinese Filmmaker Sophia Shek

Born in Scotland Sophia Shek, 38, graduated from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, in Dundee. For the last decade, Sophia has shown versatility in her myriad production roles. She has produced music videos, short films, reality TV series, documentaries, corporate videos, and numerous photo shoots with top photographers from around the world.

Her practical style and eye for detail has seen Sophia develop sharp skills in film production. Along with her familiarities with Hong Kong’s diversity of cultures and landscapes, she makes an excellent, savvy addition to many independent projects. It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, directed by Emily Ting starring Jamie Chung and Bryan Greenberg, was filmed entirely on location and premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival, Edinburgh International Film Festivals as well as New York Asian Film Festival. The film was well received and continues to be selected for film festivals around the world. Love Stalk another independent film funded by Indiegogo, raised the most money ever in Hong Kong at the time and is now close to completion. Both independent films are currently looking for distribution. Sophia is a very passionate Indie Producer and she never stops looking for exciting projects to attach herself to.

At what age did you get into filmmaking?

I’ve been in love with the moving image from maybe about 5 or 6 years old. I was a TV addict and my mum took me to the movies from a very young age. I remember watching E.T. and thinking it was just magical. I used to make my own little movies; using my Chinese friends and family as actors and performing simple edits using two VHS players. My inspiration came from Hong Kong movies like God of Gamblers, Kung Fu films and Jacky Chan classics. I was never much of an academic but I loved the arts and was good at it. I attended art school and graduated with a degree in design in animation and electronic media. I thought I was going to make the next Toy Story! As my graduation gift, my parents bought me a ticket to Hong Kong and I applied to a lot of Production Companies. I started as a Production Assistant at Salon Films, one of the first production houses in Hong Kong to provide film services for Hollywood Films with the likes of Miss Suzie Wong, and I learnt from the bottom up. I think it’s the best way to learn, and I feel more grounded because of this. I briefly worked as animator at Centro Digital Pictures Ltd, which made movies like “Shaolin Soccer” and “Kung Fu Hustle” but for me, it was never as exciting as being on a film set. After a decade in the industry and with a bit of luck and a lot of help from my friends, I started producing music videos and short films before moving onto feature films. I still freelance on the side and you can still find me working usually in the Assistant Directing Department. Indie film making is very rewarding but tough to live on so a good pay cheque here and there always helps.

Your film was recently featured at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, what did you think of that experience?

To bring something I made back to Scotland, my home country, is a dream come true. My family and friends are very proud of me and I feel so lucky they made it to the screening. EIFF has a very diverse programme and some of the audience members came up to my director and I and told us how much they enjoyed the film and it made them want to experience Hong Kong. There was even a Caucasian who was born in Hong Kong and came to Scotland to work who said he loved the film, it captured his Hong Kong so perfectly that it made him want to go back. That made me feel really good, as Hong Kong has now become very much a second home to me and a big part of who I am today.

What do you think of the creative scene in Scotland?

Edinburgh International Film Festival had a huge programme this year many were Scottish Filmmakers or featured Scottish actors/actresses. From what I can see Scotland has filmmakers, talent, and locations for example Outlander and Harry Potter. This means Scotland has the crew and the facilities to accommodate such productions. The resources are there, it just needs the right projects funded. Scotland also has an abundance of talented musicians and four of the best Art Schools in this country. We are definitely a bunch of creative people, we just need more access to funding and the opportunities .

What challenges did you face in making your recent film It’s Already Tomorrow?

We had a small budget and the style of the film required us to shoot these 10 mins shots of 2 people talking in the busy streets of Soho at night. We didn’t have the budget to close off the entire street so we had to work around the drunken expats everywhere and some were very considerate but it was still very hard to keep them quiet. It was rather frustrating at times and I promised them free drinks if they stayed quiet!

What was the budget and how did you fund it?

Emily Ting the director of “It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong” self funded the project along with private equity funds. She had a story she really wanted to tell and instead of waiting around for the right budget, she found me and we made her budget work. The budget was less than US$1 Million. Emily is pretty amazing and has produced numerous films indie films with minimum budget. On our first meeting, we met we spent the day together looking at the budget. Afterwards we had dinner then we set a date. In May 2014 we shot the movie and I was very fortunate to have managed to enlist a lot of my friends willing to work on an indie budget in Hong Kong. I guess they believed in me and therefore they believed in the project.

Where are you based in Scotland and do you enjoy it?

I grew up in a wee town called Forfar within the Angus Region. It’s about an hours drive from Aberdeen and half an hour from Dundee. My family had a Chinese take-away in Forfar which me and siblings all worked in during our years in school. I try to come back here every year as some of my family are still here and I have cousins and friends who live nearby. Most of my friends have families now or they have moved away from Forfar but they always fit in a trip back to Forfar, and I can play with the kids and catch up so I don’t miss them growing up. It’s my annual summer holiday, and I always leave knowing I will always be loved regardless. I can walk down the street here and people will know I am the Chinese Kid whose dad owned the take away on the High Street. It’s a small community and everyone knows everyone and nothing much has changed, and I have so many memories here. I love this town because of it. It’ll always be home.

What do you do to relax?

People who know me know I play a lot of tennis. I wouldn’t call it a relaxing sport but it’s a sport I’m passionate about. In my spare time that’s all I do! I love the sport and it keeps me focused and sane in between projects. I also like to go to the cinema on my own. I just love films and it relaxes me and also inspires me.

What advice would you give to any British Chinese who wants to start making films

You can’t sit around and think what if. Sometimes you just have to go out there and just try and make things happen. Leave your comfort zone and don’t be shy to ask. British Chinese are only just making a mark in the entertainment industry here in the UK; we have stories to tell, and there’s plenty of talent in the UK for it to materialize. Although I made my career in Hong Kong, my next step is to make movies back in Scotland.

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