Delving into Voodoo Macbeth with Xiaoyuan Xiao
Film is often about communication. Those involved relate a story that informs and enlightens the viewer about the experience and motivations of its characters. When done with talent and great skill, both artist and audience move in synergy towards a catharsis. The interaction involved in creating these films can be just as challenging; in the case of producer Xiaoyuan “Ivy” Xiao on the film Voodoo Macbeth, even more so. The artistic and social importance of the subject matter is heightened by the fact that ten directors were involved in creating the film. The story is riveting in communicating a period when the racial dynamics of the United States was evolving and relates a much overlooked tale of how the arts contributed to this progression. The invisible hub of Voodoo Macbeth is Ivy’s mastery of enabling so many different directors to collaborate with such a cohesive result.
The legend of Orson Welles has been the subject of numerous tales but Voodoo Macbeth is perhaps the most overlooked, and one of the most fascinating. Not solely focused on the famed actor/writer/director/producer, Voodoo Macbeth depicts the story of his time directing the first all-black cast to perform “Macbeth” in Harlem during the mid 1930’s. Full of brash arrogance, a young Welles suffers an inexperienced cast, congressmen determined to shut down the production, a chaotic marriage, and personal demons. The drama which surrounds this “Macbeth” production is nearly equal to that of Shakespeare’s tragedy itself. With Jewell Wilson Bridges as Orson Welles, the cast includes such notables as award-winning actress Inger Tudor (of the Golden Globe Winning Amazon series Goliath, starring Billy Bob Thornton) as Rose McClendon, June Scheiner (known for thrice Primetime Emmy Nominated CBS series NCIS) as Virginia Welles, and Jeremy Tardy (of HBO’s four-time Primetime Emmy Nominated Ballers, Netflix Image Awards nominated series Dear White People, and the upcoming Marvel series New Warriors) as Maurice.
Producer Xiao concedes that the most precarious part of creating the film was in the very beginning stages. Ten directors essentially amounts to ten different opinions about what the film should look like and communicate. Ivy tells, “The first thing we had to do was get everyone in the same room and have them come up with a unified vision of the film including camera movement style, reference films, color palette, etc. We took the time to make it feel like a team instead of individual directors making ten completely different stories using the same main character of Orson Wells. Following the all-important test shoots for every director, I rearranged the shooting schedule based on directors’ set ups.” The final version of the film defies the notion that there are so many perspectives on the story. The adept and precise puzzle assembly of producer and filmmaking crew is astonishing; providing a complex palate while never hinting at feeling incongruent.
One of the strongest indicators of Ivy Xiao’s masterful producing on this film is the fact that it appears to have a multimillion dollar production budget when it was in fact a mere fraction of this. In addition to shooting on the Warner Brothers backlot, a number of locations were painstakingly acquired to authentically match the early twentieth century architecture and décor. Similar to the great extent that Clint Eastwood took in creating Bird, Ivy and her team acquired an elevator at the Castle Green in Pasadena as it was the only historically accurate elevator in all of LA for this era. It’s this type of extreme commitment to authenticity that seeps into every aspect of this film and no doubt was integral to its excellence.
Recalling her time on the film, Ivy confesses, “Producing Voodoo Macbeth was a mission impossible at times. Still, the whole process amazed and touched me. Seeing ten directors with different backgrounds, cultures, and knowledge giving everything they had to work as a team to bring the story alive; it reminds one what the purpose of being an artist is all about. Warner Brothers recently purchased the First-Look deal of the film, which puts a cherry on top of the experience for me.”