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  • December 29, 2023
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Romeo and Benvolio | Interview of Anna Ma

INTERVIEWS FILM
Cult Critic Romeo and Benvolio | Interview of Anna Ma

Cult Critic : The relationship between Romeo and Benvolio seems to diverge from conventional storytelling norms. Could you share the deeper complexities and motivations driving their connection beyond the surface depiction of friendship?

Anna: Unlike the conventional romantic love triangle, the relationship between the main film characters, Sophia and Charlie, remains rooted in genuine friendship. This deviation is crucial as Sophia perceives Charlie for who he is in her life, and Charlie undergoes a transformative journey in exploring the facets of love.

The motivation behind diverging from traditional storytelling is to delve into the profound mental development of each film character rather than succumbing to superficial social drama. The narrative of Romeo and Benvolio becomes a conduit for Charlie's exploration of love, enabling a poignant reflection on the progression of time. Simultaneously, Sophia discovers the inadequacy of her understanding of her parents and their marital relationship.

The story intricately weaves the movie characters' journeys, with Amanda confronting the harsh reality of her parents' love crisis. This revelation prompts her to transcend the blurred boundaries between drama and real life, fostering a broader understanding of love and the challenges inherent in romantic relationships. Thus, the narrative purposefully steers away from conventional tropes, charting a course to delve into the film characters' emotional landscapes and the intricacies of love.

 

Cult Critic: The authenticity in performances is striking. Can you outline specific methods used to help the film actors tap into the emotional depth required to portray such multifaceted film characters?

Anna: Thank you for your kind words! Achieving authenticity in performances is, indeed, a multi-faceted process. Firstly, I believe the foundation for compelling performances lies in a well-crafted script that authentically captures the essence of the characters. In our case, the success of our casting process was pivotal, as I managed to cast film actors of the same age as the characters in the film script, ensuring a natural alignment between the performers and their roles. Additionally, the theatrical background of Soren and Anya proved invaluable, particularly in scenes set within the theater.

Despite the fundamentals in place, a unique challenge surfaced due to the lack of prior film acting experience among my cast. To address this, I meticulously planned blocking and positions to ensure the effective portrayal of emotional dynamics on screen, emphasizing subtlety and naturalness. Collaborating closely with my cinematographer, Sebastian, I introduced the concept of "candid cam" during rehearsal scenes in the theater. This unconventional approach involved capturing unscripted moments as the film actors engaged with each other, resulting in spontaneous and humorous improvisations that added depth to the scenes.

Furthermore, my storyboards were carefully designed to align with the characters' emotional dynamics. For instance, in the climactic playground scene where Sophia discloses the end of her friendship with Amanda to Charlie, I deliberately chose a steady two-person shot without intercutting medium shots. While it required numerous takes, the outcome was gratifying, as the extended interaction between the movie characters felt authentic. The strategic positioning of Charlie in a lower stance during this scene subtly conveyed the complexities of their emotional relationship, accentuating Charlie's vulnerability as he confessed his past feelings for Sophia.

Despite "Romeo and Benvolio" being their film debut, I must say they possess an innate talent for acting. While some of them have a background in theater, transitioning to film requires a different skill set. As a film director, I emphasize the importance of subtlety and naturalness in their performances, steering clear of theatrical exaggerations. Fortunately, this approach paid off, leading to both of my main actors securing the Best Actor/Actress awards at the Crown Point International Film Festival

In essence, a combination of meticulous planning, collaborative experimentation, and a focus on capturing genuine moments contributed to the authenticity and emotional depth of the performances in our film.

 

Cult Critic: Your film skillfully blends romance and humor. How did you navigate this balance to ensure the humor complements the emotional resonance of the romantic elements without overshadowing them?

Anna: Your question touches upon a crucial aspect of our film's composition. The blend of romance and humor, particularly about bringing up Romeo and Juliet as a reference point, serves to elicit heartfelt smiles from the film audience. This choice not only highlights the stark contrast between tragedy and comedy but also emphasizes the temporal and cultural disparities between the two narratives. This deliberate comparison prompts viewers to engage in thoughtful reflections on the narrative’s diverse perspectives on love.

As the scriptwriter, my foremost consideration is to ensure that the storyline remains focused on the three main film characters' exploration of various facets of love. Every dramatic point and climax in the narrative aligns with the central theme of their romantic encounters. The humor introduced in the theatrical scenes operates in a complementary fashion, adding layers to the story’s complexity by fostering associative thinking. This involves drawing parallels between reality and drama, past and present, and the intricate interplay of love and betrayal.

The humor, interwoven with these associations, functions as a cohesive backdrop that enriches the main storyline. It operates much like the background colors in a painting, meticulously prepared by an experienced artist before applying the focal subjects. In this way, the humor and associations not only complement but also enhance the depth and richness of our love story, creating a nuanced and layered cinematic experience for the film audience.

 

Cult Critic: The film's stylistic choices appear purposeful. Could you discuss specific instances where cinematography or music was employed to enhance the narrative's thematic depth?

Anna: Certainly, the film's stylistic choices are indeed purposeful, contributing to the theme of Romeo and Benvolio. One notable instance is the opening sequence, where deliberate choices in the visual and sound design are employed. The film begins with the red curtain backdrop and Shakespearian dialogues in voiceovers, setting an immediate tone of theatricality. However, this conventional expectation is swiftly disrupted as the scene opens to an unexpected scenario: two individuals engaged in a Taekwondo battle within a classroom.

This intentional contradiction between the film audience's anticipated acoustic and visual perceptions and the actual reality serves as a narrative device that resonates throughout the storyline. Each film character, in turn, grapples with their misconceptions of the world, revealing the inherent challenges of growing up. This thematic exploration is even evident in an elderly character like Coco, the grandmother, whose understanding of her granddaughter's growth is portrayed as lagging, emphasizing the insufficiency of perspectives in life. The delivery of the final theatrical scene of Romeo and Juliet through Coco's perception serves as a poignant echo of the thematic style choices of this film.

To convey the theme of time, I crafted two scenes marked by abrupt shifts in mood that unfold within a brief temporal span, all within a single setting. The first unfolds in Amanda's bedroom, while the second transpires during the emotionally charged breakup between Charlie and Amanda at the playground.

For instance, as Charlie glances at Amanda swinging joyfully by his side, a harmonious melody ensues, echoing Charlie's initial elation. This serene ambiance, however, is swiftly disrupted by a conversation that spirals into a tumultuous breakup. This juxtaposition of contrasting emotions within a single scene, compressed into mere seconds, serves to evoke a heightened awareness of time's unyielding passage, leaving an indelible impact on both the movie audience and the film characters immersed in the film narrative.

This filmmaking technique is replicated in the scene set in Amanda's bedroom, where the initially cheerful duet sung by Charlie and Amanda takes a melancholic turn as Amanda returns, tears staining her once-joyful countenance.

The film editing and musical accompaniment synergistically contribute to this overarching thematic objective. Notably, the deliberate choice of a lively rock 'n' roll soundtrack in the Taekwondo class scene, immediately following the solemn Romeo and Juliet performance which possibly signals a farewell between Charlie and Amanda, serves as a poignant illustration. This sequence employs a drastic shift in mood and tempo between scenes, vividly accentuating the relentless ticking of time. Thus, close to the end of this film, when Charlie says, "The world is moving," it is a sincere statement from his heart, which parallels the idea grasped by the film audience from the expressive style of this narrative.

On the film editing front, we extend our sincere gratitude to Professor Weiyan Wang, our masterful film editor, whose exceptional skills in sound mixing and color correction have played a pivotal role in refining our movie editing process. Beyond technical excellence, Professor Wang has devoted considerable time to capturing the thematic essence of our film. Her professionalism and keen aesthetic insight have not only elevated the project but have also left an indelible mark on its artistic merit.

 

Cult Critic: Romeo and Benvolio's relationship feels profound. Can you shed light on the psychological nuances or underlying themes shaping their dynamic beyond the traditional portrayal of companionship?

Anna: I am delighted to hear that the profound relationship between Romeo and Benvolio (Charlie and Sophia) is sensed.  In the story, Charlie and Sophia have been childhood playmates for a long time. The familiarity between them is so enduring that Sophia perceives Charlie more as a brother than a friend.  Their interactions, marked by playful banter, joint participation in computer games, and shared involvement in drama class, underscore the remarkable compatibility they share on both physical and intellectual levels. This seamless friendship makes the transition from friends to potential romantic partners a challenging endeavor for both film characters. The dynamics they exhibit often mirror those of siblings rather than mere friends.

A revealing moment occurs during the initial theatre scene, where Sophia, despite her seemingly harsh demeanor, casts a reproachful glance at Charlie following a teacher's critique of his performance. This subtle nuance underscores the depth of their connection, portraying a relationship that extends beyond friendship to a familial bond resembling that of brother and sister. Sophia's teasing recitation of Shakespearean lines upon discovering Charlie's involvement with Amanda further accentuates the unique nature of their connection.

The climactic revelation scene at the playground, where Charlie confesses his long-standing feelings to Sophia, does not introduce any new drama but unveils the inner truths of both film characters.  This film narrative choice reinforces the overarching theme of mental growth, diverting from the cliches of melodramatic love or hatred.  Ultimately, Charlie and Sophia maintain their status as best friends, but psychologically, they are much closer than before because of their deeper understanding of each other’s thoughts. They could be life-long friends! From the perspective of this narrative, their friendship could be one of the most precious things in their lives, especially if cross-thinking about another thematic subject of this narrative— Time, under its flow, things are ephemeral.

In our narrative scheme, the exploration of time as a thematic element accentuates the ephemeral nature of life's experiences. Against the ceaseless backdrop of time, the story prompts reflection on the most precious aspects of life. Romeo and Benvolio, through the lens of its movie characters, provides a simple answer — love. This sentiment, enduring amidst the relentless flow of time, is positioned as the most precious and lasting element in our lives. The film narrative's unconventional portrayal of friendship and love invites viewers to appreciate the depth of relationships and the enduring value of love in the face of life's temporal nature. In extending this invitation, we sincerely encourage you to immerse yourself in the unique and compelling story of Romeo and Benvolio.

       

Cult Critic: Have you received feedback from the film audience noting the distinctive nature of the Romeo and Benvolio dynamic compared to conventional young love stories? While undoubtedly relishing the romantic narrative, it appears that the film's overall tone or stylistic approach communicates a deeper layer of significance.

Anna: Yes, I've received favorable feedback, with many viewers describing the storyline as having an open-ended, non-traditional, or modern feel. It brings me great joy to see that my film's form has resonated with the audience. My stylistic approach involves initiating the narrative with a slice-of-life storytelling technique. However, as the story unfolds, the dramatic tempo intensifies, culminating amid “movements.” This intentional design serves as a vehicle to explore the theme of "time." The entire cinematic piece is orchestrated like a musical composition, allowing the movie audience to grasp the concept of time in our daily lives. While we often overlook its presence, the film prompts us to recognize that time has always been omnipresent and will persistently march forward.

On the contrasting spectrum, the visual composition of the red setting, emblematic of the theatrical space, juxtaposed with the green backdrop representing the rural playground, prompts contemplation on the dichotomy between dramatic artifice and authentic reality. Much like the enchantment that the world of drama casts upon Amanda in the narrative, these two distinct environments become intertwined in our cognitive realm. It beckons us to ponder: does drama confine itself to the structured confines of the stage, or does our everyday existence resonate with the theatrics played out in the dramatic realm?

In the context of Romeo and Benvolio, deliberate mise-en-scène choices unfold within the film characters' domestic spheres, compelling the audience to reflect upon the intriguing entanglement of both the theatrical and quotidian aspects of life in our conceptualization. This intentional interplay sparks a thought-provoking examination of the blurred boundaries between the theatrical stage and the stage of daily life, inviting us to reconsider the permeability of these realms and the nuanced interweaving of drama into our everyday existence.

 

Cult Critic: The performances in your film appear exceptionally authentic. Are your film actors professionally trained?

Anna: Impressive, isn't it? Despite "Romeo and Benvolio" being their film debut, I must say they possess an innate talent for acting. While some of them have a background in theater, transitioning to film requires a different skill set. As a film director, I emphasize the importance of subtlety and naturalness in their performances, steering clear of theatrical exaggerations. I meticulously planned the blocking and positions, ensuring their emotional dynamics were well-represented on screen. Fortunately, this approach paid off, leading to both of my main actors securing the Best Actor/Actress awards at the Crown Point International Film Festival.

 

Cult Critic: Let’s delve into the realm of Romeo and Benvolio. Is this categorized as a romantic comedy film? It seems to possess a distinctive quality, deviating somewhat from the conventional rom-com. Can you shed light on that?

Anna: Absolutely, it falls within the romantic comedy film genre, but its uniqueness lies in the distinct and limited perspectives of each character, creating blind spots that contribute to the humor. The film audience gains insight into the movie characters' flaws, leading to heartfelt laughter as they observe these characters navigating their lives. The portrayal of moments in error, closely mirroring real-life experiences on the screen, prompts reflections in the audience's minds about their humorous life moments. The inclusion of a bonus interview with the real grandma Coco adds another layer, encouraging contemplation on the comedy embedded in our daily lives. After a private screening, one audience member shared that she felt inspired to call her grandchildren more frequently. As a filmmaker crafting fiction, witnessing such genuine reactions to my film truly makes my day.

On the flip side, the reenactment of Romeo and Juliet within the film brings a delightful twist for the audience. The characters find themselves unintentionally performing a comedy while attempting to decipher the world of Romeo and Juliet, a tragedy. This introduces multiple layers of deviation: the characters in Romeo and Benvolio are grappling with understanding how the characters in Romeo and Juliet think, while the film audience of Romeo and Benvolio observes the comical moments of these movie characters reinterpreting the dramatic world. The awareness of both "watching" and "experiencing" simultaneously serves as the foundation for the comedic essence of this narrative.

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