Mini MUFF Profile: Heyishi Zhang
Mini MUFF Profile: Heyishi Zhang
Film: Gay Mean Girls
The month at MUFF we are celebrating Canada’s first ever Pride Month with a screening of Jamie Babbit’s But I’m A Cheerleader and our mini MUFF programmers have found the perfect short film pairing: Gay Mean Girls. Both films follow teen girls as they the often confusing, sometimes treacherous waters that is high school: But I’m A Cheerleader with Megan Bloomfield, a popular high school cheerleader (played by Orange Is The New Black’s Natasha Lyonne), being forced into a sexual conversion therapy camp where—instead of being “cured” of her lesbianism—she embraces her sexuality, and Gay Mean Girls with Lucy Kim, president of her high school’s prom committee, seeking to establish ‘Gay Prom Royalty’ in an attempt to charm her out lesbian best friend. See both films in this month’s perfect pride pair this Wednesday—June 15th, 2016—at Carlton Cinema!
Gay Mean Girls only played one festival (Maximum Exposure Film Festival, where it won Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Film) before the team ran out of money for festival submissions. They subsequently released the film online where it went viral and now has over 2,500,000 views. This screening will be the first time that Gay Mean Girls has been seen on a Toronto screen.
Get to know the Toronto-based filmmaker behind Gay Mean Girls: the fantastic writer, director, and co-producer, Heyishi Zhang.
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND HOW YOU GOT INVOLVED WITH FILMMAKING.
Heyishi Zhang: I’m a Chinese Canadian filmmaker whose work is often politically driven. I believe in the power of storytelling, and creating experiences for viewers to identify with. My background is in art, so I love the collaborative, hands on nature of filmmaking. As well, I grew up with, and love, the internet.
I created Gay Mean Girls as a third year student in Ryerson’s Film Studies program. We are expanding the short into a webseries!
TELL US SOMETHING FUN OR INTERESTING ABOUT GAY MEAN GIRLS.
HZ: The story was based on my own experiences coming out at a liberal-minded arts high school (and being subsequently branded as The Lesbian), in addition to my frustrations in activism as the co-founder/president of the Ryerson Alliance of Women Filmmakers. It was something I wish had existed in high school, so I made it for those who are struggling with the same things. [Editor’s Note: You can read Heyishi’s Director’s Statement here.]
The plaid shirt Lucy wore to the GSA meeting was the same plaid shirt I wore to my GSA meetings trying to fit in. In fact, most of the costumes in the film were from my closet, or borrowed from my more stylish friends.
I met Amika Cooper (Anita) in my first year Philosophy (lol) class at Ryerson.
Also, we U-Hauled our equipment to our shooting locations ;)
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT SOME/ALL OF THE OTHER AMAZING WOMEN IN FILM WHO WORKED ON THIS SHORT?
HZ: For the first time as a filmmaker, I chose to work with creative keys that consisted entirely of LGBTQ identified folks, women, and visible minorities. As a result, the team moved together with a mutual understanding and respect for each other and issues discussed in Gay Mean Girls.
The cinematographer, Hayley Wong, and I developed a cinematic approach we call the “lesbian gaze” as a counterpoint to the male gaze that celebrates the way in which queer women view each other and ourselves. Furthermore, Hayley kind of served as the story editor, and was always a great friend to bounce ideas off of.
The production designer, Jaina Town, and I were inspired by The Virgin Suicides to inform the world of story.
The producer, Liza Friedman, and I were able to pull everything together under a $1500 budget and the constraints that film school placed upon us.
Without the above people (as well as our editor, Adin Dell, who rewrote the story in the edit room), Gay Mean Girls could not be at the level it is now.
TELL US ABOUT WHY YOU ARE A FEMINIST AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT TO YOUR FILMMAKING.
HZ: I’m a feminist because I have to be in order to survive in a world that continually shits on women for existing.
As producers of media, we hold much power to influence the values of our viewers. Dominant narratives often erase the labour and contributions made by women, especially those who are queer, people of colour, immigrants, etc. Feminist scholarship and media pays tribute to these groups and as an emerging filmmaker, it is greatly reassuring to know that I am standing on the backs of those before me, whose worldview matches my own and that it is celebrated by the community.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE WOMEN WORKING IN THE FILM INDUSTRY?
HZ: Melina Matsoukas (Beyonce’s Formation), Laura Poitras (Citizenfour), Alice Wu (Saving Face), Min Sook Lee (Migrant Dreams), Zazu Meyers, Hayley Wong (heehee).
As well, all the great women I’ve worked with, including as the entire producing and writing team of Gay Mean Girls: The Web Series (yes, all women).
WHAT'S THE BEST ADVICE ABOUT FILMMAKING YOU'VE EVER RECEIVED? WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO WOMEN THINKING ABOUT PURSUING CAREERS IN FILM?
HZ: The more scared you are to create a project, the more important it is for you to make it. Work with people who can give critical advice, and find those who support and understand you spiritually, philosophically, and emotionally. Without your support system, your vision cannot achieve its full potential.
Trust yourself, listen to your gut.
IF A MOVIE ABOUT YOUR LIFE WAS CAST/CREATED, WHO WOULD STAR AS YOU AND WHAT GENRE WOULD IT BE?
HZ: Maggie Cheung in a tense but slow-paced sci fi.
IF YOU COULD HOLD ANY GUINNESS WORLD RECORD IN THE WORLD, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
HZ: Number of eyerolls accumulated over a lifetime.
WHAT'S YOUR GO-TO JAM?
HZ: Babeo Baggins ft. Drake - These Days
A playlist of music that inspired Gay Mean Girls can be found here.
A playlist of music that inspired the first season of the Gay Mean Girls web series will be coming soon!
WHAT MALE MOVIE/TV CHARACTER ARE YOU DREAMING WOULD GET A GENDER-SWAP?
HZ: I think the obvious choice is Gillian Anderson as James Bond (Lupita Nyong’O as the Bond Girl).
RECOMMEND ONE #MUFFAPPROVED FILM FOR OUR BLOG READERS:
HZ: Ginger Snaps, please. Or Drop Dead Gorgeous.