May 20, 2021
FIRST LOOK SPOTLIGHT: Yucong Chen
Yucong Chen, from Qingdao, China, is a 2020 graduate of the MFA program in Film and Television Production. She is the recipient of the First Look Faculty Award in Editing.
What’s your First Look project about and what drew you to the subject?
Unfinished Lives tells a tragedy happened in 2014: 24-year-old USC graduate student, Xinran Ji, was beaten to death by four teens when returning home from a study session. A lawyer, Rose Tsai, took it upon herself to tirelessly advocate on his behalf and represent his parents, as they attempt to understand the senseless tragedy together. In the first place, we were trying to do a documentary about the international student experience. Then I found out about Xinran’s case. I was shocked by the unexpectedly long legal procedure involved and there were a lot of misunderstandings about the case. So, we wanted to bring the untold stories and the understated dedication it carried with it, to the forefront.
What was challenging about making it and what was most enjoyable?
In the case of Unfinished Lives, it was challenging for all of us because the story felt so relatable. We shared the same experience with Xinran, and I was literally living in an apartment that was just one block away from where the crime happened. Instead of remaining objective, we were, in fact, trying our best to stay rational. I don’t think there was anything enjoyable along the way because the story itself carries too much pain and sorrow. But I really appreciate all the trust and support, which made me feel so lucky to have so many supportive people around.
Collaboration is extremely important in filmmaking. Who were your key collaborators on this project and what did you learn from your work together?
All my 6 key crew members are from SCA and we are all international students. One of my producers, Kay Niuyue Zhang, has strong communication skills and research experience, which made her a great candidate for producing this film. The other producer, Shange Zhang, is a talented and experienced filmmaker, who has been supervising the whole procedure and keeping everything on track. My DP, Huanxi Li, started making documentaries in college. We have cooperated on several documentary projects and she always managed to capture the images I looked for. And we would never get this film made without my patient co-editor Mozhu Yan and amazing sound designer Cabba Jiaxuan Cai. Getting them onboard definitely brought more possibilities to this film. It has been 2 years since we started this project, and I feel so blessed to have this perfect team around me during this unforgettable journey.
Why did you choose the School of Cinematic Arts and your division and/or track?
When I got the offer from USC, my parents were so worried because Xinran’s case shook the Chinese community to its core. They never wanted the same thing to happen to me. But I still chose to come here because I always loved having options. I’m passionate about both narratives and documentaries, and here I can pursue both tracks together. That’s the most fascinating part that attracted me and help me make up my mind.
What have you learned about yourself as a creator from being at the School, and how has that prepared you so far for the career you want?
One thing I learned from my experience is that tragedy will be repeated until people really learn from it. People need to care, to remember so that we can bring change to the world. I believe that filmmaking is one of the ways to make that happen, and I hope that I can make more films to bring changes to this world.
What advice do you have for prospective students looking to apply to SCA?
Filmmaking is about finding your own journey and believing in your vision. Listen to people’s advice patiently, but never follow anyone’s footsteps with no destination.