Han Tang is an actress, scriptwriter, director, producer and currently a student of the Master’s Degree in Cultural Management at UIC Barcelona. She received her BFA in Drama from the Juilliard School’s Drama Division, and also has a MA in Stop Motion Animation. Currently one of her short films, Beyond The Fringe, has been selected to participate in the renowned international festival SXSW (South by Southwest). In this interview, Han tells us about the creation process of this short film and the difficulties faced by an independent filmmaker. She also reflects on the tools that this master’s degree has given her to face the challenges of the cultural industry.
Tell me about the short film, what was the creative process like?
It was a lengthy process. Everything happened because I was working on a different project which fell through because of the pandemic. I was pretty devastated, but I found a school for stop-motion animation and I decided to go back to school. Long story short, for that programme I also had to complete final project which grew into this short film, Beyond the Fringe. We only completed the final draft of the story after a lot of disagreements and arguments. I was working with people who came from different backgrounds, training, and expertise, so it was hard to agree on something, especially when everyone felt like the story was a representation of themselves. The final script was after 15 other versions and after all that we couldn’t agree on the ending until pretty much a day before the actual presentation at the school. After that, the next challenge was post-production because we had sound design and music, and different effects that needed to be cleaned up, one frame at a time. So, it was tonnes of work and it wasn’t actually finished until very recently. Submitting to SXSW was an important strategy; I was looking for big festivals that can give you a lot of exposure, and also save money because we had a very limited budget.
Does this budget come from your own funds?
Yes. I decided that I wanted to have something that represented my work out there. Maybe it was different for my teammates, people just have different priorities. So when it came to finishing the project and putting it out there for festivals, I was on my own.
What was your role in the production of this short film?
Coming from live-action productions, I was used to everyone having their role. So, with our crew I thought we had the perfect team because we had an animator, we had someone who actually went to school for set building, and I was acting and writing. But in the end, everyone did pretty much a little bit of everything. We rotated roles, especially in the assignment of the animation of the scenes; basically, everyone did some animation. It wasn’t how I had imagined, but it was good because I hadn’t realised how much I enjoyed animating and the process of stop motion. In the end you have literally over 600 images and when something doesn’t match it can be very painful, but also very rewarding.
It often happens in school projects that you end up doing a little bit of everything.
Yes, and it was actually great because then you end up learning a lot about all the other jobs. In the real world you have your part, your piece of the puzzle within the larger project, but this experience will make future collaborations easier for me; I have more understanding of the whole picture now, which has been a great education.
What was the selection process for the festival like? Would you say it’s difficult to get your work into these kinds of spaces?
I had another film before this one that got delayed because of the editor. So, the other film finished about two and a half months prior to the stop motion project, and then we started with festival submissions. We got so many rejections that were like a knife to the heart. This one is a live-action film, so there are so many people involved in it and you just feel like you are letting everyone down. I think it taught me how to strategise, because I read so much about how to submit to festivals and then what to hold back.
So, with Beyond the Fringe, when SXSW accepted it was a big shock. Then we also got accepted to other smaller festivals, but the difference is like night and day. The smaller festivals are very personal, you are talking to this one person who tells you what they need. With SXSW there are a lot of different departments. Immediately after we were announced, we got invited to other festivals. You still have to make difficult decisions due to the budget; it’s an investment in your future but at the same time you have to be aware of your limits.
In your opinion, is rejection the most challenging part in the audiovisual sector?
Yes, I think so. I am learning how to deal with it. The first one was really bad. It took me a bag of crisps and a bag of Oreos, and I had already forgotten what show I was watching for the whole weekend.… After that you deal with it a little bit better, but each time hurts. And the more you read, the more you know that it happens to everyone. You just have to trust in the project. For this short film we had five people; for my life-action we had close to 20. It’s a lot of people working really hard on something so there are a lot of dreams and hopes and expectations. So, I can’t say it’s easier, but slightly different to being rejected as an actor. As an actor you go in and you get rejected as yourself. In acting school, they say 95% of your job is to deal with rejection and the 5% is actually acting and doing it again and again. I think that trained me as a filmmaker.
I’m finding my comfort zone within the space of being an independent filmmaker. I want to try to write and produce stories that I really care about, and I really want to tell. The one thing I’m looking forward to learning from going to festivals is meeting other independent filmmakers, hearing how are they doing it and getting inspired. I know the industry is big, it is definitely not just Hollywood. There are many people out there who are working, and nobody recognises it but they are doing good work. I would love to be in that pack.
After completing the Master’s in Stop Motion Animation, what made you want to start this master’s at UIC Barcelona?
Well, first I found out that it was a “university-specific master’s degree”, they call it a “Master propio” here in Spain, and that will not give me access to doing a Ph.D. I didn’t realise that until halfway through. I chose UIC Barcelona because I’m still interested in getting a Ph.D. and doing research on the relationship between politics and the arts. So, this programme caught my eye; firstly, the fact that it’s official so it will allow me to do what I want, and also I was curious about arts and cultural management. Looking back on the things I’ve done, I have actually already completed projects in this field, I just didn’t realise that what I was doing was cultural management.
I started in cultural management because I found that teaching was a sweet spot for artist support. So, I taught a lot of arts and education programmes, really as a way of supporting myself and my friends; we were all performing artists and struggling to make ends meet. I did not realise that I was doing arts and culture education, I was just trying to make a decent living, and get to work with my talented friends. So now I have learned so much from our programme about what culture management really is, and how the arts, culture and education sector is something important that we could actually do. Studying in this programme I’ve been able to really reflect on things that I’ve done, and especially mistakes that I have made. It has shown me a path that I want to continue on and, most importantly, how to grow on it.
You emigrated from China to the USA when you were young and recently moved to Barcelona: do you think that these migrations have influenced your relationship with culture?
When I was young it was a liberating idea to be able to go to another country. To be completely honest, it was freeing in the sense that I didn’t have to deal with academic issues anymore, because the competition in Asia is really intense, not just in China. So, I think when I was young I didn’t realise what kind of impact being an immigrant was going to have on me. But now that I am one, and now that I’m here in Europe, I realise that there are a lot of things that we as humans have in common, in terms of people, who we are, our shared humanity. At the same time, we have developed beautiful things for centuries and that has become our culture, our identity. So, I think they are all really beautiful, and I really do think they all should be protected, also protected in a non-judgmental way. It’s almost like a reflection of this is our past as humans, this is where we’ve been. And it is not until I lived abroad and I was considered an outsider that I started to try to reconnect with my own Chinese culture.
At the same time, I really do think that we need to be more open-minded with each other. We have our issues in the US, but I can also see here that Europe can be very Eurocentric; it’s hard to ignore. I think it’s not only beneficial for people from other parts of the world to learn about European history and culture, but it’s also really beneficial for young Europeans to learn about others and the wisdom of other places in the world have to offer. I became aware of it when I was at my previous school, trying to include parts of my own culture into my stop motion animation short, and was facing the possibility of working alone if I insisted on doing it my way. I don’t think we have that issue in our class. I believe that the greatest strength of our master is the diversity. To be in class with people from so many different countries, with so many different cultural backgrounds, is a gift.
What has been your favourite moment in the Master’s degree of Arts and Cultural management so far?
One of my favourite moments was when we had a potluck lunch in Mohammed Elrazzaz’s class. We had to try to cook a dish or two from our own culture to share with everybody. It was an amazing experience for us as a class and we learned a lot from each other. That has definitely been the highlight of my time here in this master’s.