From Engineering to Directing: In Conversation with Xupeng Feng
Xupeng Feng is a young New York-based filmmaker with a Master’s degree in Directing from the School of Visual Arts as well as a Master’s degree in Material Formation and Control Engineering. Xupeng loves to see his knowledge of engineering married with his passion for cinema and believes that filmmaking is the only way to visualize the dreams in his head and the stories in his drawer
Xupeng’s multiple works including ” The Birth” (Award Winner of Falcon International Film Festival), “The Somnambulism” (Award Winner of New York Neorealism Film Festival), “ASUKA” (Award Winner of Europe Independent Movie Festival), “HOT” (Award Winner of Experimental Film Festival Barcelona) and more were honored at several global film festival awards.
Tell us about yourself. What was it like growing up and living in Beijing, China? How important was your upbringing in making you the filmmaker you are today?
My name is Xupeng Feng, I grew up in the tiny alleys called “Hutong” in the old districts of Beijing, China. It reigns peace in the midst of the noisy bustle, there. It is a world of its own on earth. I love my home, neighborhood, and the summer cicadas, making me a quiet writer and daydreamer.
From my humble beginning, I have written lots of stories since I was a child. Eventually, after working as an engineer, I realized that day-by-day work would bury the dreams and stories I had for a long time. I decided to quit my job and bring those crazy ideas to a screen instead of letting them rot in a drawer.
You studied Material Formation and Control Engineering in university, and then you switched to Directing. Those are so many distinct transitions. What’s something that you’ve learned about yourself that you maybe weren’t aware that you had before?
Yes, it is a big jump. Or we can say, dangerous. I learned a lot from the new career, most of them are shortcomings that I didn’t realize in the past. When I was working or studying as an engineering student, I could sit on the lab chair for the entire day, and not a single word came out of my mouth. But when it comes to filmmaking, my throat is burning until the production ends.
On the other hand, my engineering background makes me more likely to stay logical, which is a double-edged sword. Sometimes, I can be more efficient than others, yet potentially lose some weird creative thoughts.
Your work “The Birth” was honored at several global film festival awards, congratulations. Could you introduce this film to us?
My previous film “The Birth” is about the life of an Alzheimer’s elderly lady. She lost her memories, and the volunteer played with her only child to give her a lovely time before she was gone.
It is a short film based on my own experience, and I insert some personal thoughts and expressions; For I grew up with my grandma, and we haven’t met each other for five years, and now I have no chance to talk to her again.
Like “The Birth”, are most of your work inspired by real-life moments that you would be willing to share?
Yes, I believe that art comes from life, and there is no art, or films, that come out of life or reality; Even if the most fantastic movies such as 2000:a space odyssey or blade runner, etc. After all, they are all made by human beings, and as a being, we live our lives on this planet, and we all have real life besides the creating parts.
Having a good eye on our daily life will undoubtedly impact the art, such as ideas, role dialogue, or even some color palette that you want to apply. For example, I grew up with my grandma and created many moments and stories to make a movie about an Alzheimer’s woman; I listened to classmates’ conversations and found there was so much fun; eventually, I wrote it into my scripts and made them more accurate than I thought; And I helped my schoolmate take photos and found the color combinations fascinating, and then I had a talk with my art designer on another project, and we created the room color settings based on the color I found in the photos.
You are currently based in New York City, how does the city form your artistic side?
NYC is an ugly but cute place for filmmakers. As a tiny peninsula hugged by the water, everyone in the city is squeezing and struggling seems to me; Meanwhile, the ones are thriving, feeling, and finally creating unique life circles in their way. I enjoy life here even if it makes me unhappy most of the time; However, sadness or melancholy makes me stay sharp, and I feel the world around me better.
For most emerging artists, this stage in one’s career is full of pressure. Do you feel it also helps you to create opportunities to learn?
Pressure only strengthens me. To be honest, if I were 18 years old, I wouldn’t stay here stepping into filmmaking, cause I don’t have the guts. But now, the pressure makes me think fast, which is a great thing. It is painful and beautiful. Like my previous career, filmmaking is also full of pressure and sometimes even more intense; Since time is always limited, you have to make decisions in less than one second.
What’s more, laying a small load on ourselves might help me move forward too. If you are enjoying the journey, the pressure would be the catalyst to accelerate your pace.
What is the biggest creative hurdle that you have had to overcome?
I would say learning the terms and communicating with the crew is not only an on set “manner” but also a lifetime learning process if you want to continue filmmaking. As I said, communication is the key, and sometimes I have to teach Chinese to some crew members from other countries.
Do you have any plans for the future?
I would love to write more stories and put my old ones in the script format. Then I want to develop my sci-fi film Icarus into a Tv-series or a feature film. Also, I will start with finding grants and funding, and at the same time, I am working on a new story about cosplaying. The overall plan ought to be to make a film that touches me and presents it to the world and never stops.
Website and Social Media:
Instagram: @franklordia @xupengfilmo