Meet the Makers - Tribeca Edition: Yi Liu and Chieh Yang

Courtney Cilman
April 02, 2016

Current second-year Film students Yi Liu and Chieh Yang have acquired a coveted spot in the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival for their short film Ping Pong Coach, which was made as part of their Columbia coursework. A subtle telling of a complex relationship, the short tells the story of a young ping pong player who develops a crush on her coach, who also happens to be the father of her best friend and ping pong partner.

Yang wrote the script for Ping Pong Coach in her Screenwriting I class; the short screenplay caught Yi’s eye when he was searching for a film to direct over the summer of 2015 as part of the Film Program’s 8–12 assignment, in which each student directs a short film from another student’s script. After deciding to work together, with Yang producing the short film, the two filmmakers went through a long and grueling rewriting process that lasted all the way until a week before filming.

It was a new collaborative experience for both filmmakers, both of whom hail from Taiwan. “I was always the writer, director and producer of my own movies before coming to Columbia,” Yang recalled. “The 8–12 process created a great opportunity to force me to deeply collaborate with classmates. It was a very challenging and meaningful experience.”

Rewriting wasn’t the only mountain the two had to climb to bring their film to fruition. They arrived in Taipei to cast the film only three weeks before shooting was set to begin, and finding the right lead actress proved a challenge: She needed not only to be capable of conveying the nuances of the character’s emotional journey; she also needed to be the about 15 years old and, not insignificantly, she needed to be good at ping pong. After multiple rounds of casting and numerous debates they finally settled on the right actress for the part—but then, right before they were set to shoot, a typhoon blasted through the city and shook up their production schedule. Despite the challenge of having to eliminate a full shooting day, they managed to pull it off and keep their entire cast and crew safe through the storm.

Months later, Liu was floored when the film got into such a major festival. As someone who taught himself how to use a camera through YouTube tutorials, he said he was beyond excited to have his work appreciated: “It wasn’t until the festivals started sending more e-mails and uploading more materials to the website that I started getting more and more excited,” he said. “It is such a surreal feeling when one’s film gets appreciated, and as someone with no filmmaking background, it is a huge confidence boost.”

To find out more about Ping Pong Coach and its Tribeca screening times, click here.