We recently caught up with Shanghai-based independent filmmaker Luis Tapia of Daedalum Films, who is currently busy preparing for the May 9 premiere screening of his new documentary short about Shanghai band Hard Queen and the life of indie rock musicians in China. Seats are still available for the screening. Advance tickets can be purchased here.
When and how did you get into filmmaking — what were you doing before?
I’ve been making silly little films since I can remember. My parents had this great Kodak XL33 9mm camera that my little brother and I used to take out and play around with growing up. Later on I did a lot of writing and had dreams of directing, but I didn’t major in film in college, although I took a few courses. I was an East Asian Studies major, and really wanted to come out to China. I first came out on a sort of fellowship, teaching English for a couple of years, then I did generalist strategy consulting with a small firm, but through it all I was writing and dreaming of working in films. Finally at the end of 2005 I made the leap. I quit my job and started working full time on film projects.
We all know there is tons of money in the independent documentary film business — was it the guaranteed wealth and fame that drew you in?
Ha ha. Well I certainly don’t make documentaries for the money. I’d love to be able to sell some of these projects, and as I develop and improve and take on increasingly longer-form projects I am hopeful that I will be able to sell some of them, but in the meantime I’m having a blast running around finding and telling stories that I find interesting. Also, my aspirations go beyond documentaries — I have some feature film scripts as well I’d like to sell, or get funding to direct myself.
For those who don’t know and are too lazy to Google it, what exactly is a “daedalum”? Why that name?
A Daedalum is an early machine that gives the illusion of a moving picture. Some folks may know it as a zoetrope. There’s a good description at here. The name was something my original partner, Arnaud Kamphuis came up with when we were tossing around names a couple years ago, and we both loved it immediately. To me it’s about the awe and joy that a moving picture can inspire, and the simplicity and creativity with which this can be achieved.
How many people work at Daedalum Films and what is your role?
I’m pretty much the only full-time guy, although I’ve got an intern arriving tomorrow and he’s going to be getting a lot of assignments over the next several months. The way Daedalum works is collaboration with other artists. I have a set team I’ve worked with on previous projects, some of which are currently scattered around the world. But that doesn’t stop us from working together — it’s great that nowadays we can shoot scripts and rough cuts of films over the Internet and talk about them on video Skype. And in Shanghai there are plenty of film professionals — camera operators, gaffers, sound guys, composers, makeup people, and of course acting talent — that when a project comes in we can staff up the production properly.
My official title is Managing Director, and that’s probably more corporate-sounding than I would like but we couldn’t think of anything better! We have an office and a company providing video services to clients and I’m responsible for managing all of that.
What are some of your favorite Daedalum Films projects, and why?
Well my biggest pet project is probably Furnaces. This is a script I’ve been kicking around since 2005, although I didn’t have a completed first draft until 2007. I’ve gotten interest from an independent producer in the US, and am now on draft four of the screenplay and praying this is the one I’m finally happy with.
It’s the story of two brothers working an industrial real estate deal in western China that has much larger implications than they expect. Think Chinatown … in China! With some Heart of Darkness thrown in there for good measure. I like to think it bears some resemblance in intent to a Chinese film I very much admire, Blind Shaft, which is one of those rare films that has a great dramatic story, and insightful social commentary without being heavy-handed about it.
As a foreigner, what’s it like being an independent filmmaker in China, and Shanghai in particular? Are there advantages to filming here as opposed to other parts of the world? Obstacles?
Well, it’s certainly a challenge, but I don’t know that it’s any more so than for any other foreigner in any other industry here. The knock on Shanghai is that it’s not Beijing, and in terms of film community and infrastructure for filmmakers Beijing has more, but I’m pretty happy in Shanghai. There is a great and growing community of foreign and Chinese filmmakers here, and it’s very collaborative.
Advantages to filming here … the low cost of living and production is a big help. I am able to accomplish more with less, whereas if I were at home in the US I think I would have more budget concerns.
How did the idea for Up from the Underground come about?
I had been wanting to do something music-related for awhile, and I heard about this band Hard Queen that was getting ready to release their first EP. Basically I wanted to do a little film about what it was like to be an independent band in China, and show them as they prepared for their big release. I got in touch with their manager and they agreed to let me hang out with them and film them for a couple months. I didn’t know anything about them before I started this project, but as I spent time with them I become a fan of their music and really came to admire them for their dedication. It’s not easy being indie in China.
What other projects does Daedalum Films have in the works? Where do you see the company headed?
Next up is a documentary about the Human Flesh Search Engine, which I’ve been working on with my writing partner Mark Schoellkopf since late last year. We are almost finished shooting that one and hope to have it finished in the next couple of months. I’ve also got a short film script I’ve been trying to get around to shooting for a few months now. It’s called Hukou and deals with issues of identity, and at its heart it’s about the relationship between a father and his son. Vague enough for you? Ha ha. The company is headed in the direction of making longer-form films, and ultimately feature-length films and documentaries. Anyone interested in financing these projects please get in touch! Ha ha.
Someone told us you are the person to go to for this, so here you go: What are the five best chocolate cakes in Shanghai?
You know when I first got out to Shanghai seven years ago it was hard to get a good slice of chocolate cake but now there are lots of places. My top five would probably be:
- Awfully Chocolate. It’s the closest to my mom’s I can find here.
- Casa 13. They do one of those molten guys that is great.
- Whisk. Another good one with a soft middle.
- Laris. I only had it once but it was gooood.
- I make a cake of my own creation sometimes when I stumble home in the early hours. I won’t divulge my secret recipe, but I will say the ingredients can be found at any Lawson’s, and it take about 60 seconds to prepare.