So this is the first installment of a series of interviews I’m hoping to have on some Asian Canadian directors who will have their work in this year’s festival (Nov. 14-18). First is Howie Shia, who’s film FLUTTER is in the Power Play programme, which is an all-Canadian shorts programme. You should really check out this film, its beautiful. And show up early, cuz FLUTTER plays first.
aram (ME): first off, I’m sure people always comment on this, but anyone ever tell you you sound JUST like James Shigeta
hs_kungfu (HOWIE): umm..
aram: this guy … he was in flower drum song. and kind of an asian male lead when there werent many in the early 60’s. anyway. check him out.
hs_kungfu: oh this dude, yeah…
hs_kungfu: actually, no, nobody’s ever said that but in highschool people used to tell me I sounded like Sulu (sp?) from star trek. I would say “warp speed, captain.” and everyone would clap.
hs_kungfu: And in college one guy said I was the Chinese Dustin Hoffman.
aram: fools! dead ringer for shigeta…
hs_kungfu: what can I say, I grew up in Saskatchewan. Shigeta not a big seller there.
aram: okay. so Flutter. what was the inspiration for project?
hs_kungfu: er… inspiration? Nothing special really. I was in Montreal and had just bought some really nice paper. I started drawing and ended up with this picture of a kid with wings on his feet. I put it away. Then a few months later, Michael Fukushima at the NFB called and asked if I had any ideas I wanted to pitch. I offered a couple, all too complex, then I found this old drawing and thought, there’s probably a story there somewhere. I wrote something up and that’s sort of that. So. It began with some nice paper.
aram: -your animation style is very unique, have you consciously tried to cultivate a personal style in your work?
hs_kungfu: Like every coloured kid in art school (or maybe every kid period) I made a real conscious effort in university to try to work with a mix of eastern and western influences. So there was a lot of experimenting with Chinese ink drawings – especially Loui Shou-kwan, as well as trying to figure out the line work and gestural ideas of guys like Schiele and Picasso and Hockney. Plus comic book guys like Lorenzo Mattotti and Dave Mckean (especially when trying to figure out how to use the computer)…It wasn’t as much a conscious concern when it came time for Flutter but I guess I’d sort of internalized the thinking by then.
aram: What is your background in? if not in animation?
hs_kungfu: I studied drawing and print making and Video art in University. It’s pretty humiliating when talking to real animators now because they have such intense chops and know-how and I’m like, “uh, drawing hurts my hand…”
aram: can you talk about the animation process, from the sounds of it, the process is very labor intensive, how long does it take and what was your everyday like?
hs_kungfu: My animation process or the process in general?
aram: both, animation process and process in general
hs_kungfu: Well, animators are generally horrified when I explain how I work to them. I do almost everything in Photoshop – which is really not designed for animating at all – but I like it because it gives me a lot of control over the drawing. Also I’m very stupid and incapable of learning new software. Also, I don’t really storyboard with any commitment. I roughly map out what I’m doing or where I’m going and make everything up as I go.
aram: kind of an improv approach then right?
hs_kungfu: Improv with a preconceived goal, I guess. I should be clear, I’m not proud of the way I work. It’s just easier and more relaxed when you’re working on your own to do it this way – for me anyway. I’m working with Lillian Chan right now on a couple of things and it’s forced me to step up and do things more traditionally because well, it would be infuriating to the other party if I showed and was like “oh I’m just going to wing it and see what happens.”
aram: You also seem to have a lot of Shias working on your films. How is it working with your brothers. (who are musicians yes?)
hs_kungfu: Tim’s a session drummer and the leader “The Worst Pop Band Ever” and Leo’s (LEO37) is a rapper/producer/DJ.
aram: that’s great to have family members you can really collaborate with. Did your parents kind of guide you guys towards “the arts” and are you gonna open a “Shia Brothers” studio like the 1970’s kung fu studio?
hs_kungfu: We were lucky in that our parents were really adamant about making sure we had a constant diet of arts and culture. Maths and sciences were important too, but it was very important to them that we were well rounded.
aram: math sux
aram: well, my math…
hs_kungfu: As for the Shia Brothers – we have our own studio PPF House which does commercial and independent stuff and someday all dream of producing the world’s greatest kungfu movie ever – I’m hoping to get bruce lee to star in it.
hs_kungfu: Actually, to be topical for a moment, don’t you find that math is a real sensitive spot for Asians?
aram: yes, I do. its the language of the universe. if you’re good at it, that means you have a mind that can think that way you know? which probably allows you to be a architect, engineer, whatever.
hs_kungfu: It’s a bigger deal than rice with them.
hs_kungfu: oh crap. I’ve outed myself. This is actually howie’s Jewish assistant writing.
hs_kungfu: Wait, are there Asian jews? There must be. Tonnes, actually.
aram: i have a friend who is japanese/jewish.
hs_kungfu: Yeah? well, I have a friend who is Moses.
hs_kungfu: wait, we’re not competing are we.
hs_kungfu: anywhoooo…. I love math. Math rocks.
aram: -The NFB seems to support/produce a lot of great animation. Can you talk a little bit about your experience w/ the NFB? Will Michael Fukushima kill you if you say anything bad?
hs_kungfu: has signed out
hs_kungfu: has signed back in
aram: you alright there?
hs_kungfu: hey dude, sorry,
hs_kungfu: computer crashed.
aram: if you dont wanna talk about NFB that’s fine
hs_kungfu: Ha! I bet it was them spying on me.
aram: you were talkin shit about fukushima
hs_kungfu: I knew he was good, but not this good…
hs_kungfu: We’re lucky to have the Board and the various granting bodies here in Canada. Shorts are so hard to get off the ground that to have an institution that actually has a mandate to produce such work is pretty incredible. Michael has been amazingly supportive of me throughout all of my hackneyed attempts at making cartoons and a great critic and advisor. Sadly, funding keeps dropping for these groups despite the increasing success of our work – which is silly.
aram: might be a little different for animation but : on the DVD special features, what would be a “deleted scene” from your film? (eg. something that you maybe really liked but it didn’t quite work and is not in the final film)
hs_kungfu: There are actually a couple of deleted scenes on the website (www.ppfhouse.com/flutter%29. The whole buffalo sequence was actually supposed to be much longer and more violent but I had to cut it for time which I’m a little sad about.
aram: what is your next project/what are you working on now?
hs_kungfu: I’m working on a bunch of stuff actually. Lillian and I are working on some animation for a documentary called Women In Warzones, which is a about sexual violence in the Congo. As well, I’m developing a couple of TV series – and action/adventure cartoon with Lillian again and an architect/animator friend of mine, Kelly Sommerfeld, and a comedy show with Jonathon Ng and my writing partner Dave Wolfe. I’m also working on an animated short/play with the NFB and the Belltower Theatre company and working on some music with LEO37 and Magnolius and some other PPF cohorts.
hs_kungfu: In my spare time, I’m practicing my drop kick.
hs_kungfu: I can take down 2 people with one strike right now, but I’m working on 25, 000. That’s right, Lloydminster, I’m coming for YOU!
aram: oh, my bad. I dont know what a drop kick is.
hs_kungfu: And you call yourself Asian.
aram: I thought you were talkin’ futbol. so I have your headshot, which i will post, are you being tickled?
hs_kungfu: ha!… oh dear god, they gave you that photo? That thing took like 20 min to get. It was the only one where I didn’t look angry or constipated.
aram: is that from the NFB?
hs_kungfu: it’s also 5 years old.
hs_kungfu: I still have the shirt though. And the hair.
hs_kungfu: The smile is gone though.
hs_kungfu: Ever since they took veronica mars off the air…
aram: well, we’re done!
hs_kungfu: okay. ciao!
aram: ok, we’ll talk soon.
hs_kungfu: ciao? i’ve never written that before in my life.
If you see Howie at the festival, say what’s up, he’s the one with “the voice”.