Olivia Hang Zhou discusses Apart, Together

Director Olivia Hang Zhou picked up a Gold Screen in the Film School (up to 6 mins) category for her short film, Apart, Together at this year’s YDA. Here, she discusses her deeply personal story, her filmmaking origins and her future aspirations.


How did you get into directing?

I made my first short film when I was 19. That film was only made out for 70 dollars, but it still remains one of the things I’m most proud of. Despite the poor production value, the distinctive vision and emotions I created and became one of the signatures in my films later.


What was the inspiration behind Apart, Together?

Growing up knowing that I have a passed-away sister is hard. As it’s a hole that can never be filled for the whole family, as I know I wouldn’t be born if she’s still alive under the One-child-policy. As she’s this weird intimate stranger figure for me, and no matter how much I tried to be a good daughter, I can never compete with the guilt that my parents had towards her. Although I feel sorry for her, deeply I know, if there’s only one person who has the right to live in the world, that would be me not her, and I guess that’s the choice that everybody will do.

This particular story intends to portray deep consciousness on the loss of innocence, and more importantly, true humanity. What I want to deliver is, selfishness is part of the complexity of humanity, sometimes it comes out of love.



How long was the shoot and what was the most challenging aspect of the project?

It was a 4 days shooting and we had very limited budget (around 30k dollars). During our post production, the pandemic happened and everything got shut down. We had to figure out a way to finish editing, doing sound/color remotely.

For me, the most challenging part is finding the right cast. I was choosing between Shavvon who in the end played Yiru and another girl who was more boyish like. They have totally different acting style as Shavvon is more introverted and another girl is naturally rebellious (which is what I wrote about Yiru in the first place). I was leaning towards the other one as I also want to reflect the gender identity issue as “Yiru” was born in the hope of being a boy. And Shavvon is just too beautiful and feminine. But then through a conversation with my friend I realised that I should go with Shavvon because I have been a “good daughter” for my whole life, trying to cover my insecurity and pretend everything’s fine. And I find the character could be more interesting and full of nuances  if she seems helpful but gathers different emotions internally when the search intensifies.


What have you learned during the process of making the film?

To trust your instinct. Don’t let outside noises cover your own inner voice.


What does it mean to you to win a YDA and what can we expect to see from you in future?

Defiantly an encouragement. I also have commercial producers reached out after winning YDA award. I’m planning to try different commercials/fashion films/music videos afterwards. Meanwhile I’m developing several feature projects and hopefully I can bring my feature film  out in 2 years.


Do you plan to work in the advertising industry and if so, what most excites you about that prospect?

Yes I’m excited to work in the advertising industry and currently I have worked with fashion platforms like NOWNESS. I would define myself as visual person. And it’s always exciting to try interesting visuals and concepts that you may not able to experience in narrative storytelling.

Interview by Daniel Huntley shots

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