In a ceremony that culminated June 26 in Hollywood, Campus MovieFest announced the winners of its worldwide contest to find the best student filmmakers. More than 75,000 students participated in the festival’s 10th annual competition. The award for Best Picture went out to Ien Chi of Emory University for his short film, “Tick Tock.” The short attempts to answer the question, “What would you do if you only had five minutes to live?” Script sat down with Chi to see how he took his idea from page to screen in the film that has almost a million views on YouTube.
SCRIPT: What is your film about?
IEN CHI: The premise is based on the question, “What would you do if you had five minutes to live?” Essentially, it’s about getting rid of all the unimportant things in life. So, if you watch the film, there are moments when these words pop up like “indifference” or “apathy” or “greed.” I want to say that those are the unimportant things that the main character gets rid of in his life. What I tried to do is match each action with each unimportant thing that he gets rid of. When he starts running, it’s laziness. When he throws his wallet, that’s greed.
SCRIPT: Can you describe the writing process?
IEN CHI: More than a year ago, I saw this film from Emory win Best Drama at CMF. It was called “The Gerstein Report.” That blew me out of the water, so I wanted to make something for myself. Then, I got the idea, “What if an entire CMF film was done in one take?” So, I started thinking about storylines that would fit in a five minute timeline, and then I remember this one quote Steve Jobs said in his Stanford commencement speech: “In the face of death, fear of failure, all these things disappear so you can live fearlessly.” I’ve seen films where characters have a few weeks or months to live, but I thought it would be interesting to see that condensed into a shorter time period. Over Thanksgiving break last year, I decided to write the first draft. I did it in one night. And, I showed it to a bunch of my friends, and they said, “That would be an interesting film.” During the writing process, it became so much better because I had time to think about it. Our shooting week was in February. So, I had four months to develop the story.
SCRIPT: Describe the event.
IEN CHI: In the whole event, there were about 75,000 students. They are all college students, various countries. After the film is done, first you compete at your school and then your school has a finale. Because I’m at Emory, we have a finale where they choose the top 16. If you get an award for Best Comedy, Best Drama, Best Picture, you get to go to Hollywood to compete at the national level. “Tick Tock” ended up getting Best Director and Best Picture. I didn’t expect it to go that far.
SCRIPT: What was it like to win?
IEN CHI: I was telling Diane, the media relations person at Campus MovieFest, right before the award was announced I was calm. I had accepted the outcome whether “Tick Tock” won or not. It had a million views online, and I was getting e-mails from all over the world. The award was really the cherry on top. And, I got to hug Elizabeth Banks. That, and I got to go up there and say what was on my mind. It was amazing.
SCRIPT: What’s next for you?
IEN CHI: I’m actually in San Francisco to work on a short film. It’s untitled. We still don’t have a solid script. But I’m collaborating with the Best Picture winner from Georgia Tech. We said, “We should make a movie together.” And there’s a friend from high school who I always made movies with who lives here. In the future, I would like to write and direct my own films. What I like best is shooting. It’s the most fun part, that’s when you can look around and realize what you had in your head is actually happening. That’s very surreal and awesome and fun. The overall process from writing to finish is very exhilarating. It’s an incredible journey to see this story in your head on paper, and then on film, and then on the big screen for people to see. It’s amazing to witness it.
SCRIPT: What’s your advice to other student filmmakers who want to make a great short?
IEN CHI: It’s most important to be yourself. A lot of people try to make films that are just to try to get the most views, or just to get an award, instead of actually making the story for the story. I think it’s important to reflect and experience your own things, then you’ll have stories of your own that you’ll want to tell. Otherwise, you’re just trying to be someone else. It’s impossible to make good films or art itself if you’re trying to be someone else. Also, you have to not be afraid of doing what it takes. Ultimately, if you make something you truly like, then automatically other people will be interested in it. We are all part of humanity, and we want to have that human connection. Work really hard. You’ve got to love it, because you could literally work days on a segment that is only five seconds in the final film. But if you love it, isn’t not really labor. I heard one guy say, “People who have real passion aren’t workaholics they are worka-frolics.” And I think that’s really true.