Monday, November 19, 2018

Myles Yaksich Interview - Poppies

Photo Content from Myles Yaksich

Poppies is Myles Yaksich's directorial debut and entrance to the film industry.

The film is based on his experiences living and working abroad. Through a cultural lens, Poppies explores universal themes of love and life. When a young expat working in Shanghai meets an elderly Chinese woman, he is forced to face his struggles; what has he sacrificed in the pursuit of his dreams?

Born in Canada, he learned at a young age to travel and appreciate art and culture. After completing his degree in Finance and Economics, he pursued investment banking in Singapore and private equity in South East Asia.

His goal is to tell sentimental and emotional stories that blur the line between reality and fantasy. Through film and photography, he explores ideas about culture, nature, relationships and socio-economics.


Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that directing was not just a hobby
In terms of directing as a career, I’ve done a bit of a 360. Towards the end of 2016, I decided to leave my career in corporate finance and move to Los Angeles from South East Asia to pursue film making. This may seem extreme, and in many ways it was, but I have always been interested in film, telling stories and the visual arts (for example, oil painting). When I was a child, I would tinker around with stop-motion animation, building puppets and dinosaurs out of clay and silicon. My family gave me a lot of support and encouragement to explore this creativity, and by the time I was 12 I had written and directed a 30 minute murder mystery. However, as I got older my attention shifted and I probably placed too much pressure on myself to be “professional”, which is how I ended up in Singapore and Vietnam, starting off in Investment Banking and later transitioning into Private Equity and Investment Management / Advisory. During this time, I picked up photography as a hobby and had the opportunity to photograph a few stories for Conde Nast Traveler China. After a few years, I could no longer resist my creative urges and moved to Los Angeles. The rest is the result of a combination of hard work, luck and being in the right place, at the right time with the right people.

What do you hope for people to be thinking when they watch the POPPIES?
I would hope the audience enjoys the journey the film takes them on, and experiences the stories of Auntie Ling’s past with Charles. The film explores different types of love and relationships, which I hope inspires a discussion about the importance of relationships; whether it’s a long-lost love, the affection for a relative, friend or mentor. I would also hope the audience can enjoy the universality of this exchange; we call care about similar things (ie/ love), however the way we care about these things varies from place to place, and person to person. Whether we vary in age, gender, or culture, it is in my experience that exchanges with others have shaped my views and feelings towards different areas of my life, and I hope this film reinforces the idea that we can all learn something from one another; Charles learns from Auntie Ling, and she learns from him.

What was the most memorable experienced that happened during the production? 
As this is my directorial debut, I would say too many things are unforgettable! Our first table read was pretty special, as before that moment, the actors and I were in different locations and we could only work together via FaceTime or independently. We had a very memorable super day of pre-production, which included a table read, costume fitting and rehearsals, and this was the first time the cast, production team and department heads were all together. Filming the emotional climax of the film was also unforgettable; working with Cindera Che and Matthew Knowles on the emotional beats via FaceTime and then in our super-day rehearsal really paid off, and watching the takes from video village, with all the elements of make-up, costume, production design, cinematography and lighting – was moving and emotional; to see my vision brought to life.

What was the most difficult scene in the movie to shoot? 
I’m glad to say that the majority of our production went smoothly and the only difficulties arose because of production issues “on the day”. The beach sequence was a hard day; it was cold, especially for the cast, and windy, which made steadicam operation and control of lighting incredibly difficult. Due to the over-cast skies, the natural light was fading much faster than we anticipated, which meant we were racing against the clock to get all the shots we had planned for. The opening sequence was also difficult to shoot because the steadicam was difficult to navigate in the airplane aisles, so some camera maneuvers were challenging. 

In your new film; POPPIES can you tell my Nerd community a little about it?
“Poppies” is about the chance encounter between two strangers on a long-haul flight from China to America, and how isolated experiences, like talking to a stranger on an airplane, can impact our lives and change our perspective. After noticing the beautiful bouquet of “Poppies” that Charles has brought onboard the flight, Auntie Ling reminisces about the early years of her marriage to Shu Zhen, an opium trader in 1940s Shanghai, and tries to coax Charles out of his solitude. 

Slowly lured into her stories, Charles begins to see the layers beneath Auntie Ling's polished facade. “Poppies” brought Charles and Auntie Ling together, underscoring the fine line between joy and and death.

Are there actors that you’re excited to engage/work with?
Absolutely, depending on the character and story of course! I really enjoy the process of working with actors, and understanding their perspective on the story and role. These preproduction conversations and rehearsals are very important in aligning expectations of the character and performance, which means when we get to set we can really play around with the scene. Creating films is a team effort, so layering in the talent’s natural tendencies and feelings towards the characters just creates more depth and richness. I couldn’t have worked with a better cast for “Poppies”, not only were Cindera Che, Matthew Knowles, Kara Wang and Jonathan Stanton talented in their craft, but they really engaged with the story and characters, and contributed above and beyond throughout the process, trusting me to capture their performances and tell this story. 

In another context, working with Cate Blanchett would be a dream. 

What part of Charles did you enjoy writing the most?
Generally speaking, writing Charles came naturally and was therapeutic because we share a lot of similarities in our life and our emotions. However, there were also some challenges, for example, I had to allow myself to be vulnerable with those emotions and escalate the story to a place that took me out of my comfort zone. Also, working with Matthew Knowles on his interpretation of the character, created some interesting dynamics within the character that I had not expected to see on screen.

  • 1. “Poppies” is a universal story that will take you on a surprising and emotional journey 
  • 2. “Poppies” features mesmerizing performances by Cindera Che (“Fresh Off the Boat”), Matthew Knowles (“Asura”), Kara Wang (“Top Gun: Maverick) and Jonathan Stanton
  • 3. “Poppies” is Myles Yaksich’s award-winning, directorial debut 
  • 4. The cinematography, by Dylan Chapgier, is visually stunning
  • 5. Details are layered into all aspects of the film, including production and costume design
  • 6. There are lush and exotic locations, including a business class trip on “Destined Airways” and a surreal visit to 1940s Shanghai 
  • 7. The music will send shivers down your spine
  • 8. “Poppies” is a conversation starter, exploring cross-cultural and generational issues
  • 9. You’ll leave the film wanting more
  • 10. Multiple award-winning short film, in several categories including Screenplay, Directing, Best Actor and Best Actress, to name a few.
What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
There are two projects in the works right now; (i) a short film about the expectations that develop between two pen-pals in the 1960s, that I’d like to get in production by the end of year or early 2019 and (ii) a feature film adaptation of “Poppies” that will explore what happens to Charles and Auntie Ling after the airplane ride!

If animals could talk, which would be the rudest? 
My first inclination is a peacock, but I think they are arrogant and arrogance is often confused with rudeness. The idea of a pig is probably rude? Although I don’t know any, so I’m speculating. 

If you could live in any period in history, where would it be and why?
[Living in the present is great, because we have the flexibility to explore the past and dream about the future. I draw a lot of inspiration from historic time periods, and would probably enjoy the roaring twenties the most, there is something romantic about that decade; the end of the Gilded Era, which represents the burgeoning freedom in America, and on the precipice of tragedy, with the Great Depression. If we are talking about really historic periods, I’d like to see some dinosaurs. 

What is the last movie that you saw at the cinema?
The last film I caught at the cinema was “First Man” by Damian Chazelle.

When you looked in the mirror first thing this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
“It’s going to be a great day.”

If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
This speaks to one of the central themes of “Poppies”, the concept of fate or serendipity. Everything we do, has a ripple effect, and to change one thing might mean that I wouldn’t be sitting here with you talking about “Poppies”. Hindsight is always 20/20, so now, I would say I shouldn’t have worried so much. However, if I did that, I probably wouldn't have ended up in Asia or writing stories like “Poppies”. 

What did you do for your last birthday?
I had my 30th birthday earlier this year, which I got to spend in my hometown of Hamilton, ON with my family. This is the first birthday I’ve been able to spend with my family in nearly a decade, which was sentimental and special. I had lunch with a University Professor from my undergraduate studies, and dinner with my family. We had a good bottle of wine, ate some cake, and I made a wish.

Which is the best vacation you’ve ever had in your life?
That’s a tough one! I’ve been incredibly lucky with the opportunities for travel I’ve been afforded, however the “best” vacations for me are spent with loved ones or experiencing something completely new. My sister’s wedding was a beautiful week long vacation with close friends and family, which was very special. And traveling in Myanmar in 2009, was an eye opening cultural experience, that I will never forget.

Fate intervenes, when Charles, a young and over-worked American corporate lawyer, finds himself seated beside an elderly Chinese woman with a mysterious past, Auntie Ling on a contemporary flight from Shanghai to New York.

After noticing the beautiful bouquet of Poppies that Charles has brought onboard the flight, Auntie Ling reminisces about the early years of her marriage to Shu Zhen, an opium trader in 1940s Shanghai, and tries to coax Charles out of his solitude.

Slowly lured into her stories, Charles begins to see the layers beneath Auntie Ling's polished facade. Poppies brought Charles and Auntie Ling together, underscoring the fine line between joy and and death.

Influenced by real events, Poppies explores the cross-cultural and cross-generational relationships that develop between strangers in mid-air.

At the root of Poppies are the universal ideas of love, fate and destiny, told through a contemporary lens exploring cultural values, age and gender.

Was Charles destined to sit beside Auntie Ling, the one woman who can save him in his time of need? Or was he lucky – had he not brought the poppies on board the flight, what would happen to him?

Like the character of Charles, I was absorbed in a stressful job that left me dispassionate and questioning my values (individual pursuits vs family), and my ideas on types of love. Also like Charles, I was lucky to have met a figure like Auntie Ling in Singapore, a colleague of mine at my first job in an investment bank.

Poppies is a deeply personal story, based upon my experience of living and working in Asia for 7 years and the impression that Asian (and Chinese) culture has left on my perception and values. The film is not only a personal expression of experience, but also an important story for diversity – strengthening the relationship between Asia and America, and supporting the Asian-American community in the entertainment industry.

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