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Q&A with James Schamus | TIFF Stay-at-Home Cinema | TIFF 2020

Oh Canada we stay at home for the hello everybody I'm Cameron Bailey I'm the artistic director and co-head at TIFF and I want to welcome you all to stay at home cinema this is our connection our way to try to connect people all across Canada and around the world if we can watch a movie together share our reactions and before we do that we always check in with a guest from the film so we're going to do that tonight with the film by Angley called Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon this is happening on crave across Canada and if you're not in Canada just find Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon wherever you can shadow its before we begin I want to shout out all indigenous storytellers coast to coast to coast across Canada all the people and organizations who make everything we do possible our lead sponsor Belle our major sponsors are BC L'Oreal Paris and Visa they help keep us going as do all of the donors and members of TIFF that may be you out there and a big shout out tonight across Canada to the government government of Canada the provincial government the government of Toronto the city municipal government here all are working so hard shout it especially to all the government workers who are helping to keep the city going keep the country going and help keep Canadians with some money in their pockets as well so thank you to all of them and I also just want to thank all of you for being here tonight so in a little bit we're gonna have the screenwriter from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon mr.

James Sheamus before that just a little bit about the film you'll remember earlier this year feels like a lifetime ago but earlier this year parasite won the Oscar for Best Picture along with some other Oscars a film from South Korea by bong joon-ho last year the film everybody was talking about one of them was Roma about Alfonso Kuran Mexican film in the Spanish language those are becoming more and more of of a regular thing now in North America but there was a time when North Americans Canadians Americans did not watch a lot of what we call foreign language films films not in the English or French language and and that's changing and one of the reasons it changed is Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon goes back 20 years now but that was at the time the highest grossing foreign language film in North America ever it won a whole lot of Oscars along with many other awards it really broke Chinese cinema into the rest of the world in a bigger way beyond the the sort of the hardcore fans we're familiar with it before and it's all down to director Angley screenwriter James Shamus and the whole team that put that movie together we want to bring James in now so I'm going to see if I can if I can get him on the line let me see all right and I think I we're waiting for him to connect I got some questions here and if you have questions just post them as well if I get can't get to some of them I definitely will we're just waiting to connect right now with James who I believe is in New York or might be in Los Angeles he is still very busy in the film industry he used to run Focus Features one of the top independent film producers and distributors in the u.

s.

produced a lot of angley's films and and a number of them alongside Angley and other screenwriters as well we want to hear what he has to say about the making of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon since right now we're still waiting for him to connect so I hope we will see him soon oh okay I see I see give me a message James hello but I'm not seeing you on the video James can you connect the video let me try it again all right trying to add you now there we go mr.

James Sheamus how you doing I'm good how are you good good welcome to stay at home cinema hello give me one second I'm just gonna I set up a whole system here and I think this should work now all right all right you can see you we can hear you where are we finding you tonight you are finding me in upstate New York in the land of very slow internet okay well let's hope this works but I've got a good signal here I hope people can see and hear you I want to start by asking you just about how Crouching Tiger became the phenomenon that it was premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008 our festival in Toronto and many many others went on to gross over 200 million dollars at the global box office one over a hundred awards including four Oscars when you were working on the screenplay were you writing a blockbuster was that in your mind at the time you always wished but no of course not and first off I just like say hello Canada it was lovely to hear your introduction Cameron I wish we could say the same about our leadership south of 48 but we're very envious and if anybody wants to sponsor me words reopen you're welcome Jason thank you so much but it's real pleasure to join you tonight so no you know look at the time the genre of the chop-socky movie had fallen into somewhat disrepute and disrepair and so there wasn't a lot of circulation even regionally for the more Hongkong style you know fist kind of approach let alone the more shall we say elegance whoosh ah style right the kind that we associate with King who and other great filmmakers the kind of more the floating the leg the the flying all that kind of stuff the wire work and so when we went out to try to put the financing for the film together originally it was we were met with some fairly cold shoulders but we were dedicated we had a great team in particular bill Kong our producer in Hong Kong who was fearless and we actually had imagined I don't know people if you don't follow bill Kong's producer remarkable executive working in comfort for decades and was very instrumental here he was and and he's and for being maybe the most successful producer in the world kind of when you think about what he's done his very humble person too is very modest person we ended up finding a billionaire to finance the movie it was it wasn't a huge budget by any means but it was certainly larger than a lot of films that were being produced at that time in the region and he was great except for one thing we started pre-production and he lost our phone number and wasn't picking up his phone number and that started two months of sleeplessness and a scramble for funds for the film that probably ended up becoming the single most complex financing I've ever been a part of we I believe we had a French bank we had a British Virgin Islands obsidian of a Hong Kong company with a California bond in insurer we had a circular finance agreement with I believe six different international distributors not even sure what that means that it sounds very complicated everybody promised that they would pay us they just wouldn't pay us then so we had to take their contracts and Bank them with the bank in Paris but for a discount and then look at folks Sony classic stepped in as well as at Columbia Pictures which was owned by Sony and still is at that time they had just started a division to support Asian cinema and that team came in also and picked up multiple territories so at the end of the day in order to close the financing and about be about six weeks and to do it I think there were over 20 signatures on the final contract 20 donated so at that point I didn't really care it was a blockbuster you know you mentioned Busha before and some people will know that there are some very well some will not but there at the time there was a very hardcore devoted audience across Asia and in many parts of the West as well but it wasn't the popular Hollywood audience for these very elegant martial arts films that were kind of fantasies in a way because the the fighters in them could do things that no human being could do they can almost fly in telling a whoosh aah storage for a global audience what elements of that genre did you want to keep and what did you want to make change or make French well you know my own role in this was to play the kind of holy fool to hang and to the team in China the film is based on one one of five volumes of a series by a wonderful kind of pop Chinese writer from earlier in the 20th century long do and so had never been translated into English so the first thing that had to happen for me to be able to help participate in crafting it was for a synopsis of that volume to be not just condensing of course the synopsis was longer than war and peace I mean and it had elements there were story elements and that we knew we wanted to keep and among them was the kind of nobility of a kind of freelance warrior class we know this by analogy with with westerns for example we knew it by analogy with samurai films but in the Chinese context of course there is a whole other literary and philosophical and political tradition that attaches itself to those figures we also really wanted to mine the revolutionary we felt promised of the fact that this particular volume centered on women and women characters who often are relegated to secondary status both in the tradition as well as in its imaginings it's more contemporary imaginings and so the combination of both the strong tradition as well as this opening to a kind of very modern and new sensibility that test that tradition was really crucial to us as we develop the film you mentioned women being at the center of this film and that's I think one of the most powerful most exciting things about watching film unfold is to see what michelle yeoh and james de deux alongside Chalian found in the other characters the other actors can talk a little bit about casting this movie and the particular qualities that you needed from each one of these stars yeah I mean the casting was pretty obvious in a sense at least retrospectively although at the time Aang was really taking a risk chow yun-fat of course from Hong Kong doesn't speak Mandarin as a native language Michelle yeah the same thing she's the reason she's Malaysian so so they're speaking at times phonetically and Aang truly believed that he it was worth taking the risk with a kind of pan Chinese cast and crew to bring a unit a measure of unity to all these disparate strands both linguistic as well as cultural and historical jaunty it was a whole other process and one the results of in her casting but that process was an enormous dragnet you might say that led aang to consider hundreds if not thousands of folks who were trying out for that part yeah as I understand James II had just done one one django film she wasn't the mega star that she became not at all but she had something that a lot of other folks who were after the part I think we all didn't have and that was a training in classical Chinese dance and the ability to really pick up the martial arts very very quickly she was just as an incredible just such an incredible talent yeah she really is and so you mentioned that just the Busha and the the training that's necessary to be able to even be able to do some of those stunt scenes I want to ask you about un low-paying whoo I think a lot of people in the West first heard about when he was the martial arts coordinator on the matrix and this came right after the matrix of them if I'm not mistaken but he had already a long career in Hong Kong can you talk a little bit but what he brought to just that beautiful bow let accent's of battle in Crouching Tiger well honestly he's the master so and yet the the master especially in the role of fight choreographer in the cinema that he would help found the sets has a very specific role on those sets which is not the role that Angley envisioned for him now saying most of the films that are directed by director a but have when lo King doing the stunts in the fight choreography he just does those and just lost them in the movie mm-hmm his domain so the first few weeks of that relationship I have to say was pretty epic as two masters in a sense and III think it's not tales out of school there were genuine there was genuine conflict there was genuine stress and then it developed into one of the most beautiful love stories ever I've ever seen unfold on set um partnership as I've never seen unless you really see with a director and an actor for example and but it was it was really interesting to see that clash of culture and vision and then see how the two of them worked it out and it in particular because when when Payne was working in a kind of hybrid form the Hong Kong form and Eng was really wanting to go back to not back but also beyond the to a new approach to especially the wirework we were working at a time this is 20 years ago when digital post-production was not really a thing yet it was just starting to be something where you could use a digital on what we now say as a digital intermediate but me we're only using it really for the wire removal so that allowed us to do things that King who and others hadn't been able to do because they would have to try to optically remove the wires or shoot in such a way that the wires were not visible and so we ended up with the thick around 600 shots that were we were we were painting out the wires and that created an enormous opportunity for new kinds of stunts and choreography I should say but the question about van Gogh painting came from one of our members a tiff member forgot to mention this I'm fun non Fennell Oh Malloy on Twitter asked that question I want to ask about all of the work you did with Angley many many films this producer and screenwriter including each ranked man woman Sense and Sensibility the ice storm Crouching Tiger Hulk the underrated Hulk I will say Brokeback Mountain and unless caution such a wide variety of films and that's what angrily known for and you were with him along the way in all of those movies what was it first of all how did you two first connect and what was it that kept you connected over all those films well I think the one thing that kept us connected is the thing that still keeps us connected as friends and that's where kind of just life is film school we love to learn new things new cultures new ideas and also new challenges and I think that rather than rehash a kind of skill set that we developed over time and pretend that we're the pros we like to be the amateurs we'd like to be the newcomers a nice thing so this day that animates Aang's work and I think that's what keeps it so much fun I got to meet right in the early days of the New York Independent Film scene when I was a partner with a guy named Ted Hope in a little company we founded called good machine I might now big company called Amazon yeah making lists that was his favorite thing he made a list of the 10 filmmakers who made great short films at film school and got their MFA degrees but had not yet made features and on that list was a guy named Angley who'd gone to NYU and made a lovely film called fine line which I watched on a VHS videotape yeah but that had been six years prior to Teton to me getting together and we actually called Aang's agent at the time it was actually a wonderful person and said hey we're really interested in this guy Angley and she said well that's great but you guys have this little tiny company that you you you know you say you do no budget films he's got a development deal Universal he's working on a film with Giancarlo Giannini he's you know he's the I this is not we said that's okay we just you know if he's ever in whatever and honestly two weeks later and called us out of the blue said I've just won a Screenplay award in Taiwan from central motion picture it comes with a few hundred thousand dollars by few I mean very few and people say that you guys can make movies you know money which you might talking to me and and he had no idea we had called his agent it was completely serendipitous we got to sit with Aang throughout 45 minutes almost an hour he came to our office which was next to the World Trade Center on Warren Street above a strip joint and and he pitched what became his first film pushing hands and by pitch I mean for 45 minutes he droned on explaining everything I honestly and I'm not making this up I actually saw Ted start to nod off 35 is the beginning of a beautiful relationship it was and it was because afterwards but Ted and I said you know he's angling is obviously the worst world's worst picture he's not a used car salesman but we both realized that he described the movie that in his head already he knew he was so prepared already and we had a blast making that first film then went right into making the wedding banquet right amazing I've got a question here from another tip member Ben white who wants to know as a producer what's the biggest challenge you've faced and how did you overcome it the biggest challenge I've ever faced as a producer is actually a film that we completed this past year and will be this Mike I get to plug will be available on DVD and screaming in a couple of weeks it's called the assistant stars the amazing Julia Garner directed by a brilliant young woman named kitty green it's a film that takes place in one day in a the office of a motion picture company that may remind some people I don't know why the office of a guy yet by the name of Harvey Weinstein we started to put the film together I think it's a masterpiece and but at the time as we put the film together and try to get the financing it we realized that pretty much the entire business not just Harvey Weinstein and his friends but everybody in the business did not want to see this movie and see it made and so we had our financing blown up we had people threatening us it was it was mind-boggling honestly and you reel is that the problem was not hard Weinstein the problem was us it was all of us it's the whole business it's the industry from festivals to production companies to distributors there wasn't any place that was ready to step up we finished the film we took it to Telluride we ended up going to Sundance obviously it's a it's an amazing movie it's got tickets 90% Rotten Tomatoes but even then we realized that there were there was a chatter among the business that was saying don't buy this movie we finally found a distributor who was apparently not rapey and wonderfully supportive in Bleecker Street is my old partner from Focus Features as a matter of fact and they were brave enough to put the film out there brave enough to stand out from some of the threats and phone calls from lawyers and things like that and get the film out there so we're very proud of it but from beginning to end I would say but there was there was there were wins against us every step of the home it's good that after all of these decades of making movies James that you're still taking chances still finding talented young filmmakers to work with it's really hard I want to wrap it up by asking you but Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon the context of right now this was a movie made by Chinese and American artists and craftspeople from many different countries from New York Hong Kong Malaysia Beijing Taiwan and beyond when you think of a movie I think of this movie in today's context of a virus it's reminded us of how interconnected we all are does it have new resonance for you it really does and I'll tell you and by the way I'm probably won't be able to join you for the live tweeting in the movie I'm still recovering myself and kovetz so but I'm on the other side are you feeling all right yeah I really am a little worse for wear though I don't wish I had a very mild case but I wouldn't even wish mild on people but I'm very blessed super blessed but it does make me realize that the residue of our activity that assay our activity moves us all over the globe and we're Restless people in this business as you well know at if because the world comes to you but you have you have to do a lot to bring them and welcome them but then we leave a trace and that is our movies and that tres is the friendships we make across boundaries and borders and languages and cultures and it's such a privilege we really are blessed to be able to both have those experiences but also leave a material trace that is a work of art or or even just a work of entertainment it doesn't matter what you call it and something that can remain circulating and continue to have its relevance even virtually digitally however we'll get through this I'm sure we're all you know I as I told my kids I actually remember in my American history textbook the paragraph that was relegated in that book to an account of the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic and I realize when I say one paragraph 15 people died unbelievable yeah and I and we are now living one paragraph in a history book right now and our brothers and sisters in places like Palestine or in Soweto or elsewhere who are really you know where there's really the forces and powers that are using this crisis against them to consolidate their power is we we should be mindful there's going to be enormous pain amongst us all we're also going to share that too but there are those out there who are gonna have even their a larger share of that pain and it's going to be our responsibility when the this fog lifts to continue to fight to get their voices heard and to and and to reach out to them and make sure that the traces of those relationships also find their way as they will I know the Tiff's and elsewhere thank you James Amos thank you so much for taking the time to join us to introduce coach and Tiger Hidden Dragon we're gonna start it at 7:30 eastern time 4:30 on the west coast in Canada across the country on crane but if you're not in Canada find it wherever you can it's a terrific movie I'm gonna sit down and watch it with my family James thanks again so much thank you so much for having me and for sharing the film it's a pleasure thank you all right take care bye bye everybody.

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