AN INTERVIEW WITH Tian He, WRITER & DIRECTOR


As a filmmaker, please introduce yourself and let us know why you became a filmmaker?

Hi, I'm Tian, the director/writer of the short film THE BET. I'm more than a filmmaker now, I do photography projects during these years of filmmaking, too. I've always been obsessed with light and shadow – I love old movies, photography, or visual art. The root for me being a filmmaker is the fact that I have a lot to express from my deeper heart and I believe there's gonna be more space for my films to be on the screen.


Give some more information about the films you have made so far, and about your experience?

I've made 4 short films, including three narratives and one documentary, screened internationally. Besides them, I’ve made around 10 commercials, and I directed a 40-episode documentary episode in LA! Yeah not really films, but I’m grateful that I make a living by motion pictures. Above were mostly my director experiences. I also had a special experience to DP a feature documentary film about rock’n’roll in the city of Wuhan in China. I’ve also worked as production designer and sound designer in some smaller film projects.


How you got started in the film world. What sparked your interest in visual storytelling?

My real film experiences dates back to several years ago when I became a film college student and started to film some student project with small cameras. It's like magic once you put everything together, and put your own script to life. You just have to get all details right. I feel like all the films I made are like my own kids, my babies. That’s a special feeling, a great sense of achievement. I furthered my MFA degree in film in San Francisco, and then moved to LA afterwards.


What are the films or people that had impacts on you and deeply inspired you to become a filmmaker?

I'll say my father has been inspiring me a lot to pursue my dream. He has a special taste on old movies, and art in general.

I won't forget all those DVDs and video tapes he bought that had a huge influence on me.

Talking about filmmakers that inspired me, hmmm, there're so many, like Wong Kar-Wai, Ang Lee, Clint Eastwood, Wes Anderson,

David Lynch, Woody Allen and a lot, and a lot, and those masters really make the history shining, and hook me into the world of cinema.

Why did you decide to tell this specific story "The Bet”?

It's a good question actually. I think every filmmaker has a lot to say about childhood, or family- We are all kids deep inside. Plus I really want to tell a story that I think my mother will love and understand. So this one-location film idea came to me, when I got interested in telling something about a problematic dad and son. Also water is something coming to my mind, and it is a really good visual element for story-telling. And then I started to put all together and build the plot.


When we see your film, it's amazing! We're sure it was quite difficult to reach this level of cinematic short, not only in story and acting but also in directing. Can you share how you started and finished this film, what were some of the challenges you encountered while filming and how did you overcome them?

It all started with looking for the location- the pool! It was a tough process. It's really hard to find that community pool in my mind.

Most pools I went to either rejected me with tough rules, or didn't fit the picture in my mind. It was late spring and early summer,

and most pools were occupied. I'll say my producer Tevin and I scouted almost 90% of the pools in the bay area, spending almost four

months just for this specific pool. Finally when I almost lost hope, I got to know from my PD that a friend of her was lifeguarding

in a swimming school, and there was a pool that may fit my need. Luckily that’s the one! The boss was kind and didn’t charge

a lot for filming there. I never thought finding a proper pool was that hard when I wrote the script.

The other big issue is to film near water, and deal with background actors and actresses. It really slow down the production, the water

could also be dangerous for the production, whether for cameras or for crew's safety. So we did rent an underwater house for the camera,

and some protective grips for shots near water, and we minimized the use of electricity, but take more use of lighting grips to shape

and reflect light . Of course, I did hire a safe guard for production and for kids. It did slow down the process, and I filmed it in almost four days, rather than three days as firstly planed. And my assistant director who did a great job was almost out of mind under that stress.

It all went smooth later, since we saved some money on transportation, so that money were used to book longer time for actors and locations.

Your actors made the story come to life very well! What was your casting process like? 


Did you have any actors in mind while working on the screenplay?

When I wrote the screenplay, I had a general picture, but didn't really have actors in mind. I posted casting calls online on some local websites,

and it took me more than a month to finally decide this pair of dad and son. It was challenging, because unlike my previous casting

experiences that I only need to see how they act and react to the scenes, this time I gotta find two, and they have to at least look like

dad and son standing together. They definitely need some time to build up chemistry. Because of the background cast in the film,

it was an interesting experiences to see so many parents bringing their children to the audition.


Your film "The Bet" was officially selected in the

"American Golden Picture International Film Festival".

Did you have any other burden during filming?

I'm grateful that the film was selected by "American Golden Picture International Film Festival". It's definitely a big push for me. The burden is within the certain budget, and within limited time, it seemed really hard to make the film work well. Perfectionism is a burden too, as a filmmaker or artist. Every coin has two sides. No matter what, I think the film came out great, at least it works much better than expected.


For you what was the biggest lesson you had to learn?

Teamwork first, ego second. Filmmaking is about collaboration, and I've learnt through these years that, without others you're nothing. Voices of the crew, the team are important, too. They’re more than just partners, they are family. Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration!

The most important part is distributing the film. What did you do so far for distributing your film?

I plan to put it in on more online platforms, and of course I’m submitting it to more film festivals, and get to know more

distributors who might be interested.


What are your filmmaking goals?

My big goal is to finally be able to own my film studio, to make more, better works that can be watched by bigger group of audience.


What are you currently working on and what can you tell us about your next project?

I'm currently working on two soft sci-fi scripts. By saying soft I mean I'm not a hard-core sci-fi fan, these two stories have some deep meaning related to our normal life. Hopefully I can submit them to some film grants or and festivals to get some funding. That's my plan.


GOOD LUCK Tian