This is exemplified with her work on films such as It’s Not Just About a Film and Sixteen. Both movies tell intricate and moving stories and gained Yang worldwide recognition for her work. This year, she is looking to once again show audiences what she is capable of with her upcoming projects Summer Orange and Kayla. However, Yang’s first true taste of great success came from her work on the film Witness.
“There is so much tension in Witness, and I got the chance to show that through editing. This is a story about making tough choices. I believe that most people would feel a little bit heavy after watching it, and that is always fun to work on,” said Yang.
Witness follows Hao, a Chinese illegal immigrant working at a restaurant, who witnesses someone dumping a dead body on his way to work. Between pursuing his American dream by keeping silent, and risking being deported by calling the police to settle his guilty conscience, Hao has to make a decision.
After working on the film, Witness has since been making its way to several film festivals, including being an Official Selection at the Seattle Asian American Film Festival, 2018 where it screened again this year. It is expected to continue to many more film festivals this year.
“The director and I have put lots of effort into this film. Since it’s a bit of a painful story, and not that kind of film that can make people laugh, I am so happy it resonates with people. Now the film goes to festivals and screens everywhere, I’m glad that more and more people can see this piece of work,” said Yang.
When Director Chen Xu was looking for an editor, a mutual friend of his and Yang’s, who is also a filmmaker, referred Yang to Chen. At that time, Chen was still working on the script. He sent Yang a draft and asked about her thoughts on it. He knew instantly she was the person for the job. They set up a meeting to discuss the story and how best to tell it, and that was when their partnership began. They both agreed that because it was a down to earth story, shooting by hand held would be the best way to interpret it. Yang was also excited to tell such a complicated and important story. The script of Witness is adapted from a story of a Mexican illegal immigrant. Chen, who also wrote the film, based as much as possible on the original story, but changed the main character to Chinese. He put more details into the script, which made the story more delicate and subtle.
“Xiaodan and I have worked together several times, but the first time we teamed up was on Witness. I knew right away she was in the perfect career path. She is really talented and good at telling a story in a creative way. As an editor, she can sense the rhythm and pace of the film precisely. More importantly, she cares about the characters a lot. That’s what makes her an excellent editor,” said Chen Xu, Director, Writer, and Sound Designer. “Her professional skills are not limited to editing. She is also capable of doing some basic sound design, color correction and after effects, which means she can effectively communicate with our camera and sound departments, and knowing these things makes her an even better editor. As a director, I enjoy working closely with Xiaodan.”
Working on Witness was a very creative process for Yang. Besides editing in post, she was also on set being script supervisor during shooting because she was brought on so early. She was very familiar with the script in pre-production, and the director therefore asked her to take care of all the dialogue and continuity issues while shooting. Being on set during production helped greatly during editing. She was able to communicate with the director and director of photography from time to time, making sure that she had every type of shot she would later need. She also made notes while watching the monitor and made sure to let the director chose his favorite takes. Because of this, when shooting completed, she already had the exact idea of how to tell the story in her mind, allowing for an extremely efficient post-production.
In order to highlight the leading character’s struggling inside, Yang experimented with various methods while editing. When the character was struggling alone, she used slow motion at certain moments to build up the emotions. In a dream sequence, she chose to cut it in a realistic way, to confuse the audience on purpose. When people thought it was real, the character suddenly woke up, which made the dream more powerful. These subtle decisions brought the film to even greater success.
“My favorite part of working on Witness was that every crew member on the team had a strong connection with each other. We all had the same goal, and that was to make a great movie. Everyone was committed to the story, and that makes for something special,” Yang concluded.
By Laura Lee