Featured Filmmaker ~ Ted Chung
Written by Shirley Baugher
“Ted Chung captures simple moments and turns them into transformative ones. Digital cameras and mysterious briefcases become mirrors revealing hidden truths that provide the impetus to his stories. His melancholy characters are faced with a dilemma: to pursue love or to simply let it pass. What happens next is inconsequential. Ted makes beautifully understated and confidently created shorts that are filled with more soul than most feature length films.” – Director/Producer Gary Nadeau
Ted Chung is a talented film director who grew up in the Chicago suburbs and went on to UCLA Film School, where he received the UCLA Directors Spotlight Award.
He was also selected for the Berlinale Talent Campus, where he directed On Time, a magical realism tale that premiered at the 58th Berlin Film Festival.
He is currently at work on his newest film, the sci-fi thriller I D.
Ted does extraordinary things—with a camera, with music, with light and shade, and with a well-constructed visual story. In fewer than five minutes, Ted Chung makes us think, and feel, and understand the true feelings and emotions embodied in his characters and in his stories; and he thrusts these into our consciousness with a powerful energy. “Ted Chung is one of my top five filmmakers on the web because he understands how to tell stories with or without words. The picture quality is irrelevant to his work. He uses screen direction and movement only when it is necessary to tell his story. He shows emotion and feeling in his characters, in his direction, and in the wonderful actors he casts. Most of the situations in his previous film involved lost chances and that’s some thing we all can intensely relate to. It is the moment that you are afraid, but you find the courage to take either the chance or not. Ted understands storytelling and that makes him a real filmmaker- Hollywood style,” says Director Steve Weiss.
How does he do this? To know this, we must understand something about the man and about his artistic vision.
The Filmmaker and His Art
Q. A Thousand Words and Mike’s are essentially visual stories. Why did you choose to make dialogue an important element of On Time?
A: There was no preset agenda – the amount of dialogue in each film and how they’re shot reflects what I felt was the best way to tell these stories.
Filmmaker Nuno Rocha says, “Ted Chung is a great filmmaker. He knows how to lead a story. His strong characters are allied to a simple, but effective, narrative.”
Music is an important element of Chung’s films, and many viewers have commented on how perfectly his musical selection underscores the story. This is because he recognizes the power of music to penetrate the subconscious.
Q: How do you view the relationship between music and storytelling, and how do you select the music for your films?
A: Music has a direct line to the subconscious, to emotion. Even a baby who doesn’t fully understand language yet can be emotionally influenced by a piece of music. It’s a very powerful tool in conveying feelings and ideas, but I think it’s important to have some restraint in how you deploy music. It’s often stronger to be more suggestive and give the audience space to fill with their own feelings. I’m lucky to work with the phenomenal composer Chanda Dancy, who understands that delicate balance.
Q: You have shot your films [Mike’s and A Thousand Words] in black and white—which is powerful. Are you influenced by the works of earlier filmmakers in your choice? If so, which ones? Some significant ones that come to my mind are Eric von Stroheim’s Greed and Sunset Boulevard, and Sergei Eisenstein’s Potemkin, and Carol Reed’s The Third Man.
A: B&W is an immediate way of creating a style – especially when you’re shooting without many resources and can’t control the color scheme as much as you’d like. After shooting Mike’s and A Thousand Words in B&W, it was great being able to do On Time where everything was built or carefully sourced to align with an established color palette. In terms of other B&W films, the more modern B&W films Schindler’s List and The Man Who Wasn’t There have probably been more of an influence. Especially in how they leveraged the pictorial simplicity of black and white – choices in framing and camera movement can often feel more striking when you take away the variable of color.
Reflections on The Films of Ted Chung
Director Philip Bloom says, “Ted Chung’s work stands up there with the very best of the Internet filmmakers. A new Chung movie online is an event like a new Spielberg movie. I am in awe of him”
In Ted’s films A Thousand Words [over 330,000 views on Vimeo and over 8,000 likes], Mike’s, and On Time, the protagonist is seeking a connection with someone or something to add meaning to his life. All three encounter obstacles, either real or imagined, that inhibit the connection; and all three attempt to find a means of overcoming the obstacles. Whether or not they succeed is often left to the viewer’s imagination. Mike’s tells the story of a recluse who shuts out human contact. A chance incident, caught on camera, changes his perspective on both himself and others and offers the possibility of a better future. In A Thousand Words, a bicyclist has an opportunity to connect with a fellow passenger on a train. He takes the opportunity, but misses the connection—or does he? On Time offers a meditation on the nature of time. A dejected young man is given a surreal look into the future and advised to “seize the moment” and take advantage of what he sees. But, in doing so he moves on too quickly and leaves behind the possibilities inherent in the past and present.
Ted Chung’s films are odysseys. Watching them is like taking a journey. We are not quite sure where the journey will end, but we know that we must see it through. We look forward to the upcoming I D and to all the other stops along the way of Ted’s filmmaking journey. We will be richer for having traveled with him.
Ted Chung & Steve Weiss at CineGear Expo 2011
Check Out Some of Ted Chung’s Work Below!