Cao Yiwen is the writer and producer of Chubby Café, a comedy-suspense feature film that recently won three awards at the New York Film Awards, including Best Director, Best Original Story and Best First Time Screenwriter. She also plays the role of Chubby, the boss of Chubby Café.
We asked Cao to join us for an interview, and met a hard working, passionate artist who get things done faster than most people. How long did it take her to write the screenplay? Keep reading, you'll be surprised.
Tell us about your background. Did you always know you want to be a filmmaker?
When I was a kid, I joined several children programs on TV, like Da Fengche, Qi Seguang, and Duo Bao Duiduidui. All of them were very successful and popular in China, especially in Beijing. And on the Children’s day of 2000, I was received by the former vice-premier of China Ms.Wu Yi in CCTV, which is the most important TV station in China.
After leaving CCTV, I never stopped writing original stories and organizing related activities in school. I trained myself by writing award-winning speeches and participating in writing contests, organizing singing competitions and creating school plays. I was awarded the “Outstanding Actress in Beijing” award when I was 14. But at that time, I didn’t think about it as things related to filmmaking and storytelling. I just did what I liked. Maybe writing and acting was hidden at the bottom of my heart a long time ago.
What made you decide to go into film as a profession? You do so many things in the field! What’s your favorite role on set?
I love films! And I want more people to watch my films. In fact, I am the kind of person who likes to interact with the audience. So I write many plot twists and open endings to let my audience think more about my films. My main goal is to introduce people to my creative stories. I hope that the audience has some realizations after watching my films and that they make them think about their own lives. Since I want people to know about my imagination, I have to do a lot of work like writing and acting. And next, I will be a director. I really enjoy directing and writing, because I can convey and share my original thoughts and humor with my audience.
Do you have a filmmaking role model? Who is your biggest influence?
I like to write suspense and comedy. I pay a lot of attention to the question - what is the most important relationship for people? Love, friendship, or family? In my films, I often do some cruel things like forcing the main character to choose one and show her what will happen if she abandons the other two relationships, and my audience also thinks about their own lives. I hope my films can give people some inspiration.
You wrote, produced, and acted in Chubby Café, a fantastic feature film that won several awards in our festival earlier this year. What was your favorite part in the process of making this film? What inspired you to write it?
I enjoy both writing and acting because I learn many new things from being in those different positions. I want to show my values and interact with the audience, and that is the most important factor for me, that encourages me to make films. I believe good stories should have depth. It’s great if the audience thinks about their own lives after watching films. I like to pay attention to human nature. Love, family, and friendship are definitely significant factors in any person’s life. Lack of any of them - life will be incomplete. But which one is the most important? Everyone has a different answer. And you should face the outcome after making the choice.
As Chubby in Chubby Café
What were some of the challenges you had to face in making Chubby Café? Were there any moments in which you thought it might not happen?
I think a big challenge is that we had to work at night constantly, due to a limited budget. When I first heard that we had to work at night, I felt excited because I never did it before. But some other actresses didn’t have good experiences. On the first shooting day, the weather in Beijing suddenly turned cold and the actress who played Illusion got high fever. In the next few days, several other actresses also got too cold and some crew members ran away. So we had to keep recruiting more crew and taking care of our actresses. Since I am not only an actress and screenwriter of this film, but also a producer, these things distracted me. Luckily, the other producer Wang Weiqing helped me a lot. We encouraged each other and got over the difficulties. Next time I will not take that risk again. Actors’ performances are very influenced by lack of enough rest.
What did you learn from that experience?
Money, money, money! Get enough budget and never let your employees suffer unnecessary negative influence again.
What would you like your viewers to take from Chubby Café?
Have some common sense with the main role. And rethink your life. And if you don’t want to spend too much energy thinking about films - that’s fine, just enjoy the funny jokes and plot-twists.
Do you have a favorite genre to work in? Why is it your favorite?
I like suspense and comedy. The audience becomes detectives when watching this kind of movies. For myself, I believe the most worthy moment of light is when it’s in darkness. But what is the darkest moment in life for most of the people? Or what is their scariest for them? Maybe it’s when they face death. Thus, I’d like to show my audience what the main character does when facing death. And I give the main character many unrealistic chances. Because people like miracles. Common sense may tell us that the main character is dead, but there is still a chance. The result you believe indicates your inner thoughts. To be a realistic or romantic person? You always have a choice. Most of the people hate feeling bored or scared. So I also put funny fables and jokes in my films.
What keeps me motivated?
The will to spread my values. The dream of making a good film. I’m always on the way.
Can you give a word of advice to aspiring filmmakers, actors, and producers around the world?
Find the money, show your idea. If some people like you, stick to it!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
My next film and TV series will be much more exciting! I already wrote the screenplay and I want to show you a smart and courageous but unlucky young lady’s revenge.
What’s your all-time favorite movie?
Forrest Gump. A little person’s legend with a big historic background always inspires me a lot.
If you could work with anyone in the world, who would that person be?
I want to know and study from Ang Lee. He is a great and wise director. And I’m not sure whether you know Crystal Liu. She is the main actress of the new upcoming Disney film Mulan. She is gorgeous and modest. I hope I can write and direct a great film for her. That would be my ideal job.
Chubby Café - Trailer
Tell us something most people don't know about you.
I put on 30 pounds to act as Chubby in Chubby Cafe. And I wrote the screenplay in 3 days. If I can join a good film program, I absolutely will put 1000% efforts. I hate to make people disappointed.
If you could work with anyone in the world, who would that person be?
In the film making industry, I am just a beginner. Thus, I’d like to cooperate with any outstanding people in the world. But if I can choose one, I want Ang Lee to be my teacher. Because we have a similar cultural background and we pay attention to both Chinese and international markets.
Facebook: evencaoyiwen (Yiwen Cao)