Athena Han and Christian Lai are a filmmaking duo who live and work in Vancouver, BC. Often collaborating, the two have forged a creative alliance to produce meaningful work by releasing a number of short films on the film festival circuit and working on the same sets for productions in their home city.
In this first edition of Audiosocket Spotlight, we sit down to learn more about these young filmmakers and discuss their latest work—a music video for the song Revolve by the band Sibling. Working from their interpretation of the song’s meaning, Athena scripted and directed the video while Christian exacted Athena’s vision as the project’s Director of Photography (DOP).
As a director, Athena has created two short films: Home and Bunny Man. Her first, Home, was screened at a number of film festivals such as Whistler Film Festival, LA Asian Film Festival and the Golden Harvest Award Screening. It also received A&E’s Short Filmmaker Award for Best Film, and Shaw Media’s Fearless Female Director Award. With her latest, Bunny Man, Athena tackles issues of identity and prejudice by drawing from her own personal experience immigrating from Taiwan to Canada. It will also be screened at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose which takes place from March 5-March 17.
Christian is a professional camera operator in the film industry. Between his time working as a camera operator, Christian’s passion has been working as a Director of Photography on music videos and other short films. As a DOP, he looks forward to working on more short-form videos like commercials and music videos, seeing both as platform to experiment with interesting camera work.
Audiosocket (AS): Athena, Christian, thanks for chatting with me. Could you guys give me a quick background on you and your work? What brought you to where you are in film?
Athena (A): Well, I went to film school here in Vancouver and now work in a visual effects studio. I directed my first short film, Home, as a final school project but it was also screened at film festivals and won a few short film awards. Last year, I submitted a pitch for a short film competition hosted by the Vancouver Asian Film Festival, and won to have it produced. We had three weeks to make it. It was tough but a fun process and now we’re applying to more festivals. In general though, I chose film as a career because it is a passion.
Christian (C): For me, I started making a lot of videos when I was in high school. In my final year of I was able to get on the set of a TV series called Sanctuary, shadowing people in different departments. It was really cool, like the first day we blew up a car and I was sold. I noticed though that a lot of the crew would switch between shows. Like a new director would come in, but the DOP would stay the same. The DOP seemed like he ran the set, and looked like the person in charge. Maybe that appealed to me. I asked the DOP on the Sanctuary set where he went to school, I took his advice and out of that experience, following that path, I am where I am today working on sets.
AS: And as for the Revolve video, what inspired it?
A: We knew we wanted to shoot a music video so we were actively were looking for songs that inspired us. We talked to bands locally but we don’t know that many musicians and we weren’t completely inspired by what we heard at first. So, starting looking for a song on Soundcloud, listening to find something that inspired us. Revolve came on and that was where it started, it had a mood that we thought we could create in film.
I read the lyrics to figure out what it meant and, for me, it was about someone trying to live up to other people’s standard…a person who is very sensitive that thinks everything that happens revolves around them. They may think they’re anti-social but aren’t really listening to themselves, like something is holding them back. It made me think of someone who is moving in circles, who can’t see the bigger picture and and can’t get out of it.
Once I had that thought, I knew I wanted to express it with dance. I wrote a treatment and worked with Tony, the dancer in the video, to express that emotion.
AS: Very cool. And Christian, once a concept was in place, what was your role as the DOP?
C: It was really about getting references for the mood Athena wanted and coming up with a way to make that happen. Also, location scouting and thinking through how we were going to create the video. As the director, Athena is focused on the theme and how that is conveyed by the actors or shots that we are filming. As the DP, I’m focused on more of the technical parts of the shot to capture what the director wants. Part of that too is coming up with a shot list for the day of the shoot and looking at that shot list against the script to make sure we got everything.
A: Also we made the video as a passion project because we loved the song, so Christian and I had a lot of conversations around what was manageable on our small budget. Thankfully a lot of people came on to help, taking this on as their own passion project. But because of the limitations with budget and resources we wanted to make this as manageable as possible so that required us talking a lot about “how” we could achieve the video with the resources available to us.
AS: The video features a number of amazing dance scene sequences. Can you talk to us about how that came together?
A: Well Tony—the choreographer—and I had rehearsals working from the treatment. In those rehearsals, Tony just like translated my interpretation of the song’s emotion into dance to express what the character might be going through. We talked about the different sections, what we were conveying and it was really interesting because a lot of it ended up different than I thought it would. I’m not even a dance person so my work with Tony was really to collaborate on how to express the character’s internal struggle with dance by choosing what I liked of Tony’s dance moves. You’ll see those moments of him reaching out and then some force pulling him back. The song is called Revolve so we also captured a lot of circular movements. I think we did 4 rehearsals, locked down what we liked, did some final adjustments and went with with that.
AS: Awesome, thank you for taking the time to chat with us. The video looks amazing, congratulations. Are there any honorable mentions or thanks like to make to the other people involved?
A: For sure. Christian and I are really grateful to the group of people that got involved with the project. Like I said it was a passion project for us and one that that couldn’t have happened with everyone involved. So yes, a BIG thank you goes out to everyone involved. BIG thanks to Tony as well! He’s one hard working and dedicated dancer/choreographer/actor. As soon as he heard he will be topless for parts of the video, he went on a diet—no carbs for a week—just so that he can have better muscle outlines. Here are the credits:
Performed & Choreographed by: Tony Giroux
Director: Athena Han
AD: Natasha Wehn & Josh Mao
Director of Photography: Christian Lai
Camera Operator: Titouan Fournier
1st Camera Assistant: Silas Egan
2nd Camera Assistant: Alexander Andy
Key Grip: Slatie Chu
Gaffer: Gareth Jones
Make-up Artist: Kaeko Fujiyama
Make-up Artist: Madoka Baumann
Colorist: Sam Gilling