Tough : An Interview with Director Jennifer Zheng

19th April 2019

Some things can only be understood with maturity. New light is shed on childhood cultural misunderstandings when a Chinese mother and her British born daughter speak as adults for the first time.

We asked young film maker Jennifer Zheng some questions about her short film, Tough. If you’d like to see your film on, then please feel free to make a submission.

turninggif_1000x563px | MadeGood.films

MadeGood – My assumption is that the two voices in the film are you and your mother. The description on your website says, ‘A Chinese mother and her British born daughter speak as adults for the first time”. What exactly do you mean by this? I’m assuming this isn’t actually the first adult conversation with your mother, or maybe it is? Please elaborate.

Jennifer -The voices in the film are indeed myself and my mother: I did a series of interviews with her and recorded the conversations and edited that together to make the voiceover for the film. It sounds a bit daft, but I would say it was actually the first adult conversation I had with my mum. I made the film when I first started questioning my identity (as a British Born Chinese person), and I had just started to see a counsellor which gave me the vocabulary to actually articulate my feelings.

I think that in familial relationships, it can be easy or even comfortable to fall into the same habitual arguments, and roles of villain and hero. Learning how to express my feelings and questions about my identity let me reexamine my relationships with my family a bit better.

Making this film was a real turning point in my mother and I’s relationship: it was the first time I had asked her those sort of questions in an un-confrontational way so we both got a real sense of catharsis from it.

storyboards_1748x1028px_1000 | MadeGood.films

MadeGood – In the film it seems you felt more British as a child, and have come to feel more Chinese as you’ve grown up and become an adult. How has this changed since making the film- what is your relationship with Chinese culture now? Do you live in China/spend time in China/consume Chinese books and media etc?

Jennifer -As a child I really resented, and pushed away the Chinese parts of myself. Now I’m definitely British or western, but I’ve come to terms a bit more with the Chinese elements of myself and I would say I’m more open to embracing other cultures in general. I live in London, I don’t really watch any Chinese media but I do eat a crap ton of asian food.

700x453pxTOUGH-poster_05_453 | MadeGood.films

MadeGood – Your mother left China during a difficult time, and was obviously keen for you to integrate into British culture. Does she feel a need to connect with her roots, or is she happy in the UK now?

Jennifer -She has kept in touch with her roots for sure: she goes back to at least once a year and she’s super involved with the Chinese community in Northern Ireland.

MadeGood – What have you been doing professionally since making this film? Are you concentrating purely on animation, or is the documentary aspect of your work just as important?

Jennifer -I’m a full time commercial director and animator at a studio called Moth ( I’ve directed a couple projects at Moth and it’s been super fun. I’ve been concentrating on animation and directing in general as well as my own skills as an animator and designer. I’ve been making smaller personal projects which I post on my instagram @jennnzheng but no new films since Tough.

MadeGood – What are you working on next?

Jennifer – I want to make another personal film! Hopefully soon :)

MadeGood – Nice one Jennifer, I also hope you do make another one soon! Whenever it’s done, I can’t wait to see it.

roughlines_840x473px | MadeGood.films

Rough animation – Rough animation first drawn in Photoshop.

coloursandcleanlines840x473px | MadeGood.films

Colours and cleanup -Lines are cleaned up, the animation is finalised and then the colours are blocked in using the pen tool.

pencil840x473px_02 | MadeGood.films

Shadows -The animated frames are printed out and the shadows are animated on top of them with pencil on tracing paper.

alltogether840x473px | MadeGood.films

Compositing – The shadow frames are then scanned in and composited on top of the digital animation in After effects.

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