RENEE Y LIANG, YOLK (2019)
Adam: So, the first question is an easy one. What’s your name? Your film?
Renee: My name is Renee, and my film’s name is Yolk. I guess it’s about an egg, judging by its name. That’s about as clear as I can get with it. When I started off with the idea it was actually more of a story with meaning. So, it’s an egg. Eggs symbolizes potential. It has so many features that it could be - but it becomes a fried egg. And [the egg is] like, “I don’t want this life!” and tries very hard to become otherwise.
But that's not how it turned out. Because I figured I’d die if I do a film that gets boring as I go, so the film just ended up becoming whatever I felt like doing at that moment when I was storyboarding. It just became kind of a trip. That’s about as accurately as I can describe it, I think.
Weeda: I mean, it definitely did become a trip.
Adam: It’s like a wild train of thought. What was the process of writing it?
Renee: I actually storyboarded like a good 10 different versions. And it was just based on other people's feedback. I tried different things, but then I figured whatever was funniest was what I wanted to go with. So there was no solid train of thought. I wanted something that would get a shock reaction.
I’m not sure if you’ve watched Gum [dir. Noam Sussman] - it’s also by another Sheridan alumni. It’s a very cute short film about a lady chewing gum, and then things happen. It’s one of those films that you can’t fully describe. But yeah, I just love the simple “What the fuck is happening?” type of humour.
Weeda: Where do you feel like you've picked up that kind of humor or inspiration from artistically?
Renee: Oh, man. When I started off school...the things I was into was completely different - very wholesome, well thought out Disney type stories. But eventually when you watch so many serious types of shows, you just get bored. It gets predictable. And everything feels the same. I wanted to try something different - something experimental.
Adam: Do you see yourself continuing to make stuff that’s absurd in the way that Yolk is? Or would you like to go back into the wholesome Disney style that you described?
Renee: There's so many different things I want to try. It's just hard finding the motivation to do any of it. But I actually have so many ideas for more of a horror genre. I want to try a lot of things...but getting off my ass and doing it is the problem.
Weeda: The horror genre genre definitely does translate in Yolk. It’s funny in a horrific way.
Renee: I was going for that!
Adam: Even those images in the kitchen are almost as though you’ve designed the character to be a horrific villain.
Renee: He’s gonna kill me when I say this, but it was kind of based off my friend Hareem [Laughing]. I hope he reads this! He was so angry. I guess he had the hair and the highest brows - and then Jeffrey Dahmer glasses because I’m really into horror murder documentaries. So I wanted the character to have an ominous serial killer type of look.
Adam: Jeffrey Dahmer! Totally. I read My Friend Dahmer recently, and I was trying to think of what those glasses [that the character in Yolk had] reminded me of - and now it makes so much sense.
Renee: The glasses are just like...typical serial killer glasses. You look at them and you just feel, “What's wrong with him?”
Weeda: I’m just thinking how funny it is that your friend got mad. I’d be so honoured.
Adam: Yeah, if he heard that it was based off of him, would he be upset?
Renee: Nah! We’re cool. Honestly, it’s more of a vague resemblance than anything else. Just similar vibes that all our friends get from him.
Weeda: [Laughing] Serial killer vibes!
Adam: The movie’s very confrontational in a great way. It starts off with this shot inside of a butt, and every time I see it, it still shocks me and makes me laugh. What was the decision to start the film like that? I don't think I've seen another film start inside of a butt.
Renee: Shock factor! The beginning was the one thing in the film that I never really changed. Except maybe shortened. So originally, originally, I think it was just like, the face of the chicken, and then I wanted to cut it and make people get what’s going on in the most shocking way possible.
Weeda: Are there any other parts of the movie that you envisioned in the beginning and drew - but then changed? Or was most of the film a process of redrawing over and over again?
Renee: It was 90% redone! But mostly it’s the ending that changed - and some of the beginning to make things flow better.
Adam: In what way did Tupac inspire the film?
Renee: Well, you know, when it’s late at night and all you’re listening to is Chinese pop and 70’s R&B to get by, Tupac is a legend. At a certain point I had “Hail Mary” on repeat...just at 3am...trying to live. It’s so upbeat. Real issues! I felt like I was doing more than trying to draw a chicken.
Adam: I can definitely see the Tupac inspiration in those chicken butts, though! What is the reaction usually to the butts at the start of the film, and to the film in general?
Renee: There’s a lot of laughing throughout. Mostly in the beginning, and then people get a breathing chance when the egg’s just flying through the air. “Dishonor” I guess gets a lot of laughs. I’m not too sure why! I’m sure everyone with strict parents understands, but as an asian especially, it’s the “How do I please my parents?” type of feeling. But yeah, it always surprises me when people react to the “dishonor” part, though it’s really nice hearing reactions.
Adam: The ending is awesome. I like that the bird community gets to hatch a human instead, and there’s a reclaiming of hatching.
Renee: From the beginning I was really set on having the guy become pregnant and for the egg to end up back into the frying pan. So, in the very first draft the guy loses everything somehow and then the egg’s just like “Oh, I feel bad for him now so I’ll just crawl back into the pan and offer myself up.”
I got a lot of questions and feedback about why I made him pregnant, which was really weird because the rest of the film is already so absurd. Then I figured I can’t do it all half-assed, so I just had to make the guy fly into the sky!
Adam: I didn’t even clock it as pregnancy, ‘cause the film is already so absurd up until that point. I thought the egg just ballooned inside of him.
Renee: The whole thing is just egg themed! The whole set-up is kind of like an easter egg road. I wanted them all to be living on eggs, all their utensils are chicken feet.
Weeda: What brought about this obsession with eggs? This egg world?
Renee: I always thought of eggs as like, different potentials. And they're so cool because they’re little round things that are also delicious, and then they just hatch! It was more symbolism to start with, but in the end it was just like, “Let’s see, what can I do with it?”
Adam: Do you like eggs?
Renee: They’re delicious! I think I’ve ruined them for my classmates, though.
Adam: What's your favorite way to prepare eggs?
Renee: It depends on my mood.
Adam: That’s a cop out answer!
Renee: It is! Probably just the classic fried egg. Just...you know...as a student? The fried egg on rice is classic with soy sauce.
Adam: And some chilli flakes.
Renee: Yeah! Your meal for the whole year...and then you never want to eat it again [laughing].
Adam: One time I was traveling with my friend and we ate so much chicken every day, and then one day I ordered a big chicken, but I didn’t really want it. My friend was trying to order something, but accidentally ordered a fried egg on rice. And the chicken looked a lot better, I guess, but I traded with him because I just wanted that egg. Sometimes there’s something really comforting about a fried egg.
Renee: So good and so smart! Have you watched any of Gordon Ramsay's videos? He's always like,”Don't forget the egg!”
Adam: I'd love to hear about any films from Insomniac that have inspired you in the past or anything that you were particularly struck by.
Renee: Yeah, absolutely! The View From Here [dir. Sofia Bohdanowicz]! Ever since I saw it at Insomniac two years ago, I’ve just been telling my friends that they have to see it, but I couldn’t find it anywhere no matter where I searched. It inspired me a lot, and it felt like something so simple can still be a film - and still be really entertaining, too. It was absolute nonsensical comedy. Right up my alley.
Adam: I can see that inspiration in your film for sure! Even The View From Here starts off as a really simple nugget, and then just follows a wild train of thought. And it always ends up making sense every step of the way...but it’s just about following the feeling that the filmmaker wanted, rather than worrying about whether it was working or not. It felt free in that way. We can see that in your film as well.
Renee: I was trying...so hard to get that effect.
Adam: What are you looking forward to at the festival this year?
Renee: Hoping to find more films that make a lasting impact. I really like experimental films, and the ones that don’t make sense - like nonsensical without being pretentious. That’s important. Just hoping to find more hidden gems.
Weeda: This is just a random question, but...I guess animation is basically drawing and writing coming together, right? When you went into Sheridan, were you thinking of specifically writing and drawing, or rather becoming an illustrator/animator for other people’s stories?
Renee: Animation is more of a pipeline process. So, you have a lot of people working on just one section of the film at a time.
Weeda: Oh, really?
Renee: Yeah! So, in the bigger scale productions, you don’t really have a lot of say in anything. But it is nice being able to create these small films on my own.
Weeda: Do you find that working by yourself on this film was a collaborative process? Or was it lonely? Did you reach out to anyone for help for anything?
Renee: Well, you do get feedback from your peers. We were in little groups of five or maybe seven people. And then we just had feedback every week. It became a process of learning what kind of feedback to take, because you know, everyone has vastly different opinions. My prof for instance is the classic old school cartoon Looney Tunes type of guy. So...you can imagine how much he liked my film…[Everyone laughs]. At a certain point, you have to just be like, “Okay, this is the part I like, I don't need this.”
Adam: Anyone you want to shout out? Anything you want to plug?
Renee: I think I should...apologize to Hareem now. [Sheepish laughter]. Oh, my musician!
Adam: The music was so good!
Renee: Yeah, I agree! The best person to work with! Honestly, he's like, the only other person that did like a big amount on my film. It was a solo film project, right, so everyone else basically only gave feedback or helped me figure out After Effects. He was so great. He’d send me updates while I was sending updates because we were working at the same time - and it took me so long to get the timing right...so it delayed him, too. But he was still so good about it.
Weeda: That's cool. So it did end up being kind of collaborative in the end.
Adam: Well, thank you so much. We really appreciate you talking to us, and we're very excited to see your film at the festival. Excited for other people to see it. Excited to see what you think of other people’s reactions.
Renee: Excited to see other people’s films, too! Reactions are nice.
Weeda: Maybe people will laugh louder at Insomniac!
Renee: Yeah, I hope so!
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