Making Movies that Make a Difference: Bofan Zhang
Bofan Zhang carries immense responsibility on her shoulders; that’s partly due to her vocation as a film producer but it’s also a product of her commitment to creating stories that need to be told. Don’t mistake this for some feeling of self-importance by association, Bofan finds that the seemingly mundane experiences of everyday people can hold great wisdom for all of us when presented with the proper context and emotive architecture. Her works spans that of feature films to indie shorts, documentaries, and so much more. The common thread found within all these productions that benefit from Ms. Zhang’s skill is that they are imbued with a sincerity and skill that are equally impressive. From Director/Writer Min Kyu Kang’s Postmanto the Chinese big budget feature Your Gift, Bofan has steered countless films to achieve their greatest potential. Confirming that she is recognized as such a consummate professional by the film industry, Bofan Zhang was seleceted as one of the BAFTA Newcomers in 2021.
The film Postman succinctly and profoundly displays that the greatness of a story is rooted in the storyteller’s talent and vantage. Bofan agreed to take on the producer mantle for this film precisely because it was so unique, experimental, and artsy. While the plot could be stated as simply as “a postman goes about his route and discovers a person who seems to have died”, Bofan and her collaborators have crafted a film which instills in the audience the notion that we can choose to coast through life or neglect to notice the extraordinary things and moments all around us. It’s almost impossible to convey the sense of this film without personally viewing it. It is experiential, suspenseful, and possesses a gratifying (and unexpected) twist at the end. Far from sad, the true message of the film is to embrace each small moment and the wonderful visions all around us. Locations and visuals are such a strong facet of Postman; a dilapidated electronic store with some birds singing at the entrance, an antique shop with many interesting cool-looking objects and designs, a street bookstore with a train passing on the top, a painter’s apartment decorated with colorful pigment, all of these were painstakingly structured and serve as subtle hints to notice the world. Bofan describes the importance of her favorite setting in the film. She relates, “This movie required a very extreme and rare location: an apartment with a train passing by right next to its window in a high speed. The director Minkyu and I searched for weeks and weeks to find a suitable location. Reflecting to this experience, I still feel like we were looking for a needle in a haystack. We visited Brooklyn, Chinatown and upper Manhattan but failed to find an ideal place, which was a huge disappointment in the preproduction. When we only had one week before the shoot, and after much trial and error, we finally locked an area around Myrtle Av Station in Brooklyn and visited all possible buildings and apartments with a train directly passing next to the windows. We finalized two apartments in the end and made the agreement with a studio located on the second floor of a building. It also turned out to be a space for painter artists with interiors full of paintings, beautiful clues of pigments.” Postman had its world premiere at the prestigious San Diego International Film Festival and will have a showcase at the Brooklyn Museum in May of this year.
Ms. Zhang is open about her preference for choosing to work on films that supersede the notion of simply being entertaining in aspirations of creating social change with their message. This is not limited to productions that are geared towards American audiences, as evidenced with the Chinese film Your Gift. The films presents the struggle of a female cardiac surgeon who has learned that her recently deceased daughter’s frozen her eggs presents the opportunity to continue her daughter’s life in some way. Working with the script’s original writer Mo Lv, Bofan successfully sold the copyright to Quku Pictures Ltd., the film company who has produced such acclaimed Chinese feature films and online series as The Looming Storm (shortlisted into the main competition of the 30th Tokyo International Film Festival and winner of the Best Actor Award and the Best Artistic Contribution Award), the Tencent Video web series Double Tap (2020), and others. When a production gains the interest of larger entities, the producer’s role can shift as Bofan explains, “As we sold the copyright, bigger investments came in, it was the time that we need to be responsible for the return on investment of this film. This project was later on designed to carry a much larger amount of investment than our original budget, which was a piece of good news, as well as, a heavier responsibility to us. We rearranged the targeted audience and market needs of the project. Since a story with a mid-aged female protagonist potentially contributes less to the office box and market rate, we needed to make the protagonist more profound and dimensional, equipping the story with more diverse supporting roles and a standard genre structure. Meanwhile, this movie was designed to be a theatrical movie, which means it’d face a significantly larger amount of audience; therefore, in the development stage, we had to learn how to discuss this sensitive topic that potentially lies in the grey area, leading it to positive values and right ethical compass.”
The pleasantly cumbersome part of being such an in-demand producer like Bofan Zhang means that working on so many upcoming productions (Children of Light, Edward, Let My Grandpa Into Heaven, Raps) leaves little personal time outside of her career. She notes that it’s a small price to pay for the chance to work with those whom she respects. Regarding a recent experience, Bofan states, “In the most recent short film that I produced, entitled Edward, we had the honor to have Bill Sage to play the role of the protagonist. Bill Sage has credits that include American Psycho, We Are What We Are, Every Secret Thing, and Wrong Turn. I am humbled when I reflect on the fact that I get to work with such talented people as Bill on a daily basis.”