Symphoria won Best Feature Film - Jury Award Award in the 10th Season of MP Film Award Catherine Dao Director & Writer of the Film Symphoria agree to interview with us.
Catherine Dao: As a Chinese-American immigrant making her way into the film business, it was only natural for Catherine to take a little detour to earn a Doctorate in Chemistry from USC, with full scholarship, of course. Little did her parents realize, was that what she learned as a scientist would serve to fuel her pursuit of a passion in filmmaking. Very early on in her career, numerous experiences in films and theatres have won her many positive responses in the press. The results of her dedication to working with women directors had been recognized in Visual Communications’ In Focus for “Cloud and Moon” with Cheng-Sim Lim, and in the American Film magazine for “Kalito” with Mary Jane Eisenberg. In addition, she has performed in “A Community of Caring,” which won the L. A. Emmy, directed by sit-com director Mary Lou Belli, and in “Birds of a Feather,” which won the Houston Worldfest Bronze Award AND the Crystal Award of Excellence, directed by Lisa Dalton.
As a veteran actor of the theatre, Catherine's portrayal of a young Hiroshima survivor of the atomic bomb in "A-Bomb Beauties" was noted by The Hollywood Reporter, calling it "outstanding.., Dao captures the anguish of a woman torn from her culture." Some of her other film and television credits also include LA LAW, MOESHA, UNSOLVED MYSTERIES, GENERAL HOSPITAL, THE DIVISION, BET’s FIRE AND ICE, THE TONIGHT SHOW, UNFABULOUS, THE SHIELD, GREY’S ANATOMY, CYBER BANDITS, the Jimmie Award-winning film CHINA CRY, and starred in the feature KILLER BABE FOR THE CIA with James Hong, which became a cult film and The Hollywood Reporter singled her out for an honorable mention. Also, she is the only principal female controller in Bob Zemeckis’ CONTACT. And, she had the luxury of working with the Oscar-winning Asian-American director Jessica Yu on the film “PING PONG PLAYA.”
Catherine’s interest in directing began after her actor friends would repeatedly ask her to direct their monologues and scenes for auditions. This interest evolved into a desire to write her own material. Utilizing her chemistry knowledge and expertise, she wrote the thriller “Symphoria,” her fifth feature screenplay, but the first one to secure funds for production. Stay tuned. Now that she’s hooked, Catherine plots to further her directing career.
About The Film: Synopsis: Symphoria Film Synopsis:
At 29, Shawn Wittig is the epitome of the spoiled rich kid living on the largesse of an indulgent single playboy father. The years of coddling by Dad, including avoiding prosecutions for a DUI to manslaughter charges, continue to fuel Shawn's addictions to drugs and alcohol. When the law finally catches up with him, Shawn is released into a teaching/rehabilitation program at the local university run by JT Dalton, a brilliant but mysterious chemist. At first, JT’s and Shawn’s relationship is antagonistic, but after a late night in the chemistry lab, it becomes something deeper. Soon JT and Shawn are involved in an illicit and highly sexualized affair that begins to consume both their lives. When the University catches wind of the affair, JT is promptly suspended and Shawn’s father forces the young man to give up his romance with his older professor…
What was your drive behind making this film?
Catherine Dao: Most writers are white men in the US, which is fine. I wanted to act in a colorful yet universal role, in an unique story that comes off authentic and from a perspective of an immigrated Chinese female American citizen. That was how it began.
How do you feel when you are awarded with the MP FILM AWARD Award?
Catherine Dao: I was so soso very grateful for your amazing Best Feature Film Award – Jury Award! Such great blessings humbles me. Not everyone will love every film, but your recognition also helps me to know that I will have an audience. Honestly, that is priceless. Which filmmaker doesn’t want to have an audience for their film! At the risk of repetition, I’m so very very grateful for your Motion Picture Film Award!!!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!
Can you tell us about the greatest moment during shooting this film?
Catherine Dao: Well, not sure about the “greatest,” that’s like picking you favorite child, but working with seasoned award-winning A Martinez and Eileen Davidson were super meaningful, both as the director and acting partners, a quite humbling yet joyful experiences!!
How rigorously did you stick to the script while shooting?
Catherine Dao: From the original script, it has changed A LOT! Mostly, we took out a lot of chemistry I originally put in, because as a PhD of Chemistry from USC, I have a strong desire to always “edutain” (educate and entertain at the same time). In the end, my very amazing Executive Producer is right, we ended up with the right balance of edutainment.
Where there any onset problems During the filming of the film & how did you deal with it?
Catherine Dao: YES. I hired the wrong DP. That’s on me. So, I hired a new DP. Also, post production took longer than I wanted, but it was because I had to take time out to battle an aggressive breast cancer, which I won. Then, I was blessed with diagnosis Cancer-Free!
Do you have any advice for young filmmakers out there? Or like yourself?
Catherine Dao: Sure, most importantly, NEVER GIVE UP. Then there are other things like, getting to know people of different positions and levels, collaborate, partner up, put away your pride, be a team player. Also, find out who is wise, and listen to them. ALWAYS try to be kind to everyone, even if you have to fire them. I’m not saying this is me all the time. This is always my goal, so I do make more mistakes than I want, but pick up and restart, be willing to apologize. Be proactive.
Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?
Catherine Dao: I do not believe so. If you do go, that’s fine, it won’t hurt most of the time. But I have more filmmaker friends who did not go to be formally educated than the ones who did go. Among my friends, the not-formally-educated ones seem to have more time for their family and friends, and still make bank. I preferthat options. But, I’m definitely not saying which one is better. That’s very personal. I do know both types CAN make engaging films that will sell and has an audience.
Which film has inspired you the most?
Catherine Dao: Tough to pick one film. It changes. My most recent favorite is on Netflix, “The Old Guard,” Starring Charlize Theron. This film has all the elements I enjoy. Engaging story, little surprises through out to enrich the experience, opposite of what might appear, and a very spiritual experience in the end. Oh, yeah, it’s also a kick-butt action film with old-fashion weapons along with modern ones plus fascinating characters.
Which particular filmmaker has influenced you the most?
Catherine Dao: Being a super fan of films and now some series, hundreds of filmmakers have had an influence on me. From Ron Howard to Jodie Foster to name my top favorites pending specific films. I’m drawn to filmmakers who add something extra for the kind hearted, even if it’s action film, there’s always the heart, the beauty of humans.
Which book would you love to make a film out of one day?
Catherine Dao: Easy, “Anarchy” by Nancy Isaak. It’s on Amazon.com! Amazing story. It’s gonna be bigger than “Hunger Games”!Anyone can read it! If you beat me to it, it’s all yours. I don’t believe in hogging a story I believe in. Let it shine. I also love all her books I’ve read on Amazon. Still trying to find time to squeeze the rest in.
If you got the opportunity to go back in time & change something in any particular movie of yours, then which movie & what changes will you opt for?
Catherine Dao: No changes. I believe that everything is always what it’s supposed to be, good or bad. All experiences have lessons, a point, a purpose. It is up to each of us to learn, take action forward and be thankful for our lives. If you don’t, I find repeated events will occur until you learn. Often, they get worse and more painful.
If you were to shoot the film again, what would you do differently?
Catherine Dao: So, assuming I had a crystal ball, I would remove the stress that I allowed my body to house. Took more time and not be so much of a rush to get the film to the finishing line. And, definitely hire an experienced editor with the shooting crew, maybe even before that during preproduction. I gave a lot of first-timer opportunities. Some worked out fabulously. Some not so much. That said, in reality, I stick to my last answer, all things happen for a reason, and even with my life tragedies, I wouldn’t change it, but with one Kryptonite. If you watched Symphoria, you’d know what that IS! Wink, wink!
What is your greatest achievement till date?
Catherine Dao: Being a mother in real life. I’m hoping that my greatest career achievement will come when I can continuously make life-inspiring films that will change lives for the better, more kind, more spiritual, more love all leading to more healing for earth and its inhabitants! I’ll get off my soap box now.
How do you pick yourself up after a failed film?
Catherine Dao: Well, as a filmmaker, I’ve not coined any of my films as a failed film yet. I would hope, as my career blossom, that might happen someday. I know the answer for myself would be. “NEXT!” We live and learn and do it again. Honestly, even the greats have had failures. Dwelling in those is NOT helpful. Take the lessons and avoid them in the future.
Where our viewers can catch you (share your social media)?
• Instagram: https://instagram.com/symphoriathemoviecat
• Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/symphoriathemovie/
• Twitter: https://twitter.com/symphoriamovie
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