Recently named a 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree, Hao Zheng is an award-winning director transitioned from being a professional actor in popular Chinese films and TV shows. Graduated from AFI (Directing) and Emerson College (Film Production), he has made short films with international recognition including the Student Academy Award, European Independent Film Festival, AT&T Film Award, Show Me Shorts New Zealand (Best International Film Award) among more than 100 film festivals. After participating at the 2019 First International Film Festival Directing Lab, he is now selected as a 2020 Disney Launchpad Director and a 2020 HBOAccess Directing Fellow, where he continues to explore multi-genre stories on the theme of searching for identity and belonging.
Q & A
If the world you created in your film became a reality, is that a world you would want to live in? Is there a Sci-Fi world you’d buy a one-way ticket to?
Definitely not. I hope our world can be a much better place if our technology has advanced to the level in the film. I hope I can still get delicious handmade Chinese food. But that said, I do hope I have humanoid friends.
Name a Sci-Fi character you relate to on a spiritual level? Who is your Sci-Fi spirit animal/spirit alien?
I would say Mad Max Rockatansky. Especially for him being an outsider in a chaotic world and a warrior who always wanders, looking for a place he belongs. My Sci-Fi spirit animal is probably Ryuk from Death Note. He has a scary and creepy figure but inside is just a child who only wants apples.
Friend or Foe: humanoid robots with advanced artificial intelligence? What if robots start making their own Sci-Fi films? Will you support them in their endeavors?
Friend! I would love to see robots making their own Sci-Fi films (hopefully they’re not good at targeting human audiences so that I can still have my job). I will try my best to help them develop their unique taste of Sci-Fi films.
In 1996, Bugs Bunny recruited Michael Jordan and Bill Murray to form the greatest basketball squad of all-time, the Tune Squad; you’re Bugs, who’s on your Sci-Fi Tune Squad?
Mad Max Rockatansky and WALL-E
You’ve gotta go through some bad ideas to get to the good ones. Tell us one of your bad ideas. How do you get past the bad ones to find your spark?
We were gonna finish The Chef with a happy ending where chef Pu rescues William from a body part factory. But I thought that’s just too ideal. Going back to the characters, the world and the tone of the film, I thought its much more truthful if we end the story with Pu feeling powerless and loss in a bigger system.
Do you consider yourself part of a sci-fi community? Or when your brain is in the future and your body’s in the present, is that isolating?
For some reason, I always felt my brain and my body are separate. It felt like somebody else is controlling my brain to jump between the future and the past. It’s like a timeless tunnel. Most of the time it does feel isolating, but occasionally, from books and films, I would discover others with similar thoughts. That synchronicity makes me very happy. It’s like I’ve found soulmates in the universe.
Do you consider yourself more of an analog or digital person? What kind of balance do strike between the two? Is there a disconnect between the technology you make films about and the technology that you make films with?
I’m kind of stuck in between analog and digital. For example, when I prep for a film, I would shotlist, draw overheads and do everything on my computer. But when I get on set, I would print them out because I’m insecure about technology. You never know when your digital devices will suddenly not function.
When you’re creating the props and sets that make a new world, where do you look for inspiration? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
I usually like to observe the present to see what I can add on and start from the functionality of the props and sets. But most importantly, they have to work emotionally with the characters. Sometimes we will believe in things not because they’re real, but because they’re truthful to our feelings.
Lightning round: Star Wars or Star Trek? Philip K. Dick or William S. Burroughs? Practical or CGI? Dystopia or Utopia? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
Star Wars, Philip K. Dick, Practical, Dystopia, Post Apocalypse