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Leila Min Dai: Discovering A Talented Future Hollywood Filmmaking Star

Updated on April 21, 2015

Introducing....Leila Min Dai

There are many aspiring filmmakers throughout the world just eager for the opportunity to become the next Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese in Hollywood. It takes the willing passion and ambition to make those dreams come true. Now enter DIrector and Editor Leila Min Dai, a young passionate and ambitious filmmaker who just five years ago came to New York to study at the prestigeous, New York Film Academy and now on the road to bigger things with her acclaimed short film, Meeting Gary, produced by acclaimed actor/director Bill Duke's foundation. Leila is an extremely talented newcomer that will no doubt make her mark in the City Of The Angels soon enough.

For this very special interview with the aspiring filmmaker, she candidly shares her thoughts on her film, remember her New York days, aspirations as a filmmaker, and advice to her younger fellow peers who dreaming big as Leila is. So sit back and enjoy our very special interview.

Profile of Editor & Director Leila Min Dai of the acclaimed short film, Meeting Gary
Profile of Editor & Director Leila Min Dai of the acclaimed short film, Meeting Gary | Source

The Interview!

Hi Leila, It’s truly an honor to meet you both and I admire your work. I hope everything is well you both today. Before we begin talking about your film, can you please tell the readers about what inspired you to become a director.

LMD: Hi Danny, thanks so much for having me today. I feel thrilled to be here. It’s funny I’ve been searching the answer to this question and can’t seem find a specific moment where I went “That’s it, I’m going to become a director.” Perhaps, being an only child in China for the first 17 years of my life gave me plenty of time to explore the world on my own. I have always had my love for Arts and Literature since I was young and it was not until I was in middle school that I developed my passion for film. I think it all comes down to the way we communicate. For me I feel much comfortable showing my emotions and my honesty through images.

Let’s talk about the film you Directed that was released as an Official Selection of Texas Black Film Festival 2014 and a nominee for Best Short Film, Meeting Gary”. What inspired you to want to make this film?

LMD: Yes. This film is actually quiet important to me and close to my heart because it was based on a dear friend of mine whom I share many great memories with since 2008. Him and I shared very similar Childhood that we both went through certain degrees of domestic child abuse. So for me it was a film dedicated to both of our childhood and all the lonely children out there in the world that needed encouragement and support.

As shooting went along during the film, did that give you more and more confidence to make the film you wanted to make was going to be something special?

LMD: In the movie, it involves a teenage boy going through an emotional turmoil, in a scene where he unleashes himself and shows us a moving dance in the sunset toward the end of the film. When I wrote the script I had imagined beautiful things for this scene but couldn’t help tobe nervous of what might actually end up on the screen. Luckily my lead actor Sonari Jo has over ten years of dancing experience and helped me choreographed a beautiful dance. When we saw him actually doing it on set the first time I think I cried a little bit. It was just magical to me.

The film was produced by film veteran Bill Duke who many know from films with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando and Predator, Carl Weathers in Action Jackson and Richard Gere in American Gigolo. Can you tell us what it was like work with a great talent such as him to support your work?

LMD: I was very lucky to have the film be produced by Duke Foundation (Bill Duke) and casted the co-founder of the Duke Foundation, Mr. Carl Gilliard to be the lead actor Gary in Meeting Gary. It was a great fortune to have worked with such a professional in the industry like Mr.Gilliard. Mr. Gilliard has appeared in over 75 film and television titles including Inception, 24 and Coach Carter. I was truly touched by how much he was willing to support a young filmmaker with her graduating project. I met him through the same cast actress Ayanna Flemings, who played the mother in Meeting Gary. I introduced myself and sent the script to Mr.Gilliard and soon found out he had just been invited to be the guest speaker at the New York Film Academy days ago. Mr. Gilliard was down to earth and showed his kindness from the get go. He showed great interest in my script and was happy to be acting in it. Working with Carl was like working with a father. He was extremely patient and respectful during rehearsal and on set. He was just an absolute joy to work with.

Was there a scene or a piece of footage that just made you go “Wow, I directed that”?

LMD: I think when I had the chance to look through the final footage I couldn’t be happier. It was truly an outcome of a great team effort. I had an amazing Director of Photography Alice Millar who captured incredible moments for the film. She had to do mostly handheld for the film and took it like a champ. Not to mention the cast and the rest of the crew who were so dedicated and professional that they made my job so effortless on the set. I am truly lucky to be the director on this film and to be able to have worked with so many talents.

Let’s talk about the editing process for the film. Was it as difficult to put together the seemingly endless amount of material that you had to work with?

LMD: We had an incredibly amount of footage thanks to our amazing DP Alice Millar. In my opinion it’s always better to have too much than too little. During shooting there are some moments where we decided to shoot multiple scenarios for the same scene so we won’t run short in the editing room.

What was your favorite part of the editing process?

LMD: I think assemble the film is definitely my favorite part of the editing process. It gets really fun when you can be creative with the footage. I work a lot as an editor also, so for me it comes in very natural to want to handle the footage myself. I definitely won’t hesitate to cut something out that doesn’t work with the story. When I feel like it needs to go away, I just let it go. No tears allowed.

How long did it take to get the film ready to be previewed?

LMD: The film took about three months to make it to its first public screening at the Warner Bros. Then about another three months before it hits the festivals.

When you finally saw the finished film, what was your reaction after you finally saw your creation on screen in front of a large audience?

LMD: I was very nervous for the first five minutes. My mother was sitting right next to me; I was squeezing her hand like a little girl. But I think after awhile I started to feel proud of my own film because it’s my own baby and I watched it grow.

If you each had to choose a very favorite moment from the film, which one would you choose and why?

LMD: I would have to choose the dancing moments of the film. I feel like we created something very personal and original.

In looking back at your work so far, what would be the biggest goal that you both would love to accomplish in your future films?

LMD: It might sound like a vague plan but I’m always concerned about if I’ve created something that belongs to me. I think to me, to maintain my own style is very important, despite the circumstances given sometimes gives you little room to do so but I will always try my hardest to create something original.

You’ve both also done a lot of other short films. Have these experiences given you the inspiration to want to make a full length movie in the future?

LMD: Definitely. Having done these short films, I have come to a real understanding about the process of making a film. I’ve learned things about myself and realized who I am in the process of making these movies. Having had these experiences, it gives me confidence of wanting to try something bigger and more complicated.

Of all of the short films you’ve directed so far, which one is your personal favorite and why?

LMD: I want to say it is Meeting Gary, because it is personal to me and it is one of the films that took the longest and spent most effort in making. Although I’ve also done a little film called Eat A Hot Dumpling Slowly in 2010 that will also make it to my favorite list. It is a dark comedy about a Chinese illegal immigrant kidnaps the person who’s trying to blackmail her for a marriage license.

Do you look back at your work after you’ve finished with it. I know for most including actors and directors, it’s a very difficult thing or they just simply don’t want to look back and move forward onto the next project. Does it give you inspiration to take what you’ve learned right or wrong to use that to make a better film the next time around?

LMD: I don’t necessarily always like to go back to my past projects to look for things I can improve in the future. I think it’s only natural for all of us to want to look at the better projects more often in oppose to the bad ones. But I will always keep notes on what part of the process I feel confident about and will try to repeat, or what other partsthat went wrong and that can be done differently in order to make batter choices in the future. You can always learn from the past experiences, either good or bad.

You also worked as the host of a Jazz radio show for a radio station. Can you please share with us your experiences about working in radio.

LMD: Wow, it feels like so long ago that I worked in a radio station. It was a small local radio station ran by the 1st college I went to called Marrietta College in Marietta, Ohio. The show I hosted was called The Shades of Jazz, where I learned how to play a record and worked on my American accent hard.

Is working in radio and film all that different?

LMD: I think on the obvious side, they are very different. One pleases the ear where the other captures the eye. But there are also similarities. Both film and radio require you to presenting yourself to a group of audience, when in radio you have an immediate audience to yourself, film present yourself in a project to appeal to future audience. Both Film and Radio will create topics, opinions and conflicts for the audience to digest and absorb. They are both essential mediums to the society.

Has working in radio added something to you as a filmmaker in terms of both experience and the behind the scenes work that goes on?

LMD: Absolutely. It trained my ears to understand the importance of having a good piece of music can be a big plus for a movie.

Is music important to your films as much as the actors or less important?

LMD: Music is very important to films in terms of storytelling. Good film scores compliment the story and the acting and it enhance the connection and understanding between the audience and the scenarios. It is like inviting a personality into your film to help characterize it and distinguish it from others. I think it is on the same importance level of having the actors.

Name a film music composer or composers you would love to have score on of your films in the future and why?

LMD: I would be thrilled to have Joe Hisaishi to be the composer of my films in the future. I have been a big fan of his film scores since I was a kid. I fell in love with all his works in many of Hayao Miyazaki’s animation films. His scoring has such characters that you will not forget and also can’t help to be mesmerized and moved with. He is truly a legend.

Was it tough for you to make an adjustment going there coming from China or didn’t quite bother you as much?

LMD: When I first attended film school in New York Film Academy, I started at the New York Campus. I was very excited to be in the same section as classmates from all over the world. It didn’t bother me much as when I first arrived the U.S. for college since it’s the second time around. Throughout the courses our classmates became very close friends with each other and many of us remain contact and have work relations with one another.

How long were you in New York and do you miss it?

LMD: I was in New York for one year in 2010 and miss it every second. The city is always changing so it never feels old to me. I’d love to go visit any chance I get.

Would you want to direct a film in New York after having gone to school here and are familiar with all the nuances and the great atmosphere and character that the city provides?

LMD: Yes. By far New York is my favorite city to film with its diversity and energy. There’s just so much going on that you almost want to document every corner of the city. When we filmed Eat A Hot Dumpling Slowly, we filmed in east village and Chinatown. The image we captured was irreplaceable.

When you’re working on a film, is casting very important to you and why?

LMD: I think it is very important to me because I think finding the right character needs time. You have to know what you really want from the actors and then all you have to do is to be patient. You will always know when the right person walks in because you will feel the excitement growing from your feet to the back of your head. It is truly exciting.

What has been the most difficult experience you’ve had so far directing?

LMD: I think communication. At school, the teachers will teach you all the right techniques to direct but when you are really on set you try to do the “right” thing and forget how to be yourself.

Is there a film that you’ve directed and said, “I would love to go back and change this or that” now that you’re growing as a director?

LMD: Yes. Actually I say that about all the films I’ve done. I’m sure most of filmmakers will agree. There are no perfect films.

What film or films are your personal favorites that make you go, I want to direct something like that?

LMD: I like psychological thrillers.Joon-ho Bong’s Motheris one of my all-time favorites. I’d like to make a movie like that some day.

Name an actor or actress you would love to direct in your own film?

LMD: Tilda Swinton

If there’s something you would love to write or direct at this moment, what would it be and why?

LMD: I am in the process of writing a feature thriller/Sci-fi with my writing partner Wilson Becton. The Story is going to be set in China, at a high-end technology factory where a series of mystery is happening concerning the quality of the products as well as the workers’ health. I want to do this movie because I feel strongly about the global images that China has made become concerning the misconception economically and humanly on the “Made in China” products. I want to tell the story from China’s point of view.

There many aspiring directors in this world and I’m still personally growing as one, what advice would you give to those trying to succeed?

LMD: I don’t know if I am qualified to give advice to the fellow filmmakers out there, but I will just share with you something I find to be helpful. I am lucky to have met great professors that would point out my weaknesses mercilessly and I realized that it is more important to work on your weaknesses rather than hiding under your strength. But more importantly, it doesn’t matter if you went to/ going to film school or not, always try to do things that you will eventually fall in love and you are actually willing to show people about. Stay passionate.

Let’s talk about your future projects that we have to look forward to.

LMD: So far I am collaborating with Mano a Mano Productions on their next short film, Wounds in the Mirror and feature film A Cool Strange. Please stay tuned.

What do we expect from Leila Min Dai, the Director in the future?

LMD: Movies, hopefully! (Big Smiles)

Very special thanks go to Leila Min Dai for being very gracious with her time and being candid about her passions. Special thanks go to Zach Tow for his invaluable assistance.

Profile of Editor & Director Leila Min Dai of the acclaimed short film, Meeting Gary
Profile of Editor & Director Leila Min Dai of the acclaimed short film, Meeting Gary | Source

About Meeting Gary

"Meeting Gary"

- Official Selection of Texas Black Film Festival 2014: Nominee of "Best Short Film" and "Best Actor Award".

- Official Selection of the 16th San Francisco Black Film Festival 2014: Nominee of “ Best Short Film”

- Official Selection of the 23rd Arizona International Film Festival 2014.

- Official Selection of Langston Hughes African American Film Festival 2014.

- Official Selection of Action On Film International Festival 2014

- Official Selection of the 9th Sunscreen International Film Festival of Florida 2014.

- Official Selection of New York Los Angeles International Film Festival 2014.

- Official Selection of Juneteenth Art & Film Festival Teen 2014

- Official Selection of IndieNight Award at the Hollywood Chinese Theatre.

Profile of Editor & Director Leila Min Dai of the acclaimed short film, Meeting Gary
Profile of Editor & Director Leila Min Dai of the acclaimed short film, Meeting Gary | Source

Leila Min Dai Biography

Min Dai (Aka. Leila Min Dai), Director/ Editor

"Chinese Director/ Editor Min Dai has established herself as a filmmaker of extraordinary achievement through her outstanding work in film, television and commercials. A respected, creative and versatile talent, Min Dai has demonstrated uncommon mastery of visual arts as a result of her extensive experience and professional training. Her interests in image art appeared early since she follows her Mentor Zhang Zhe, the deputy director of the International Department of China Central Television (CCTV )’s footsteps learning filmmaking knowledge and introduced her to the film community in Beijing.

Throughout eight years of editing career, Ms. Dai showcased outstanding filmmaking ability that has placed her atop her field. She has edited major television series Mission for Peace produced by national A list producer Ma Runsheng from China Central Television (CCTV), multiple commercials for major clients including Hydron Eyewear and Sonoko Cosmetics. In September 2011, She was invited by China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television Training Institute to teach special program "Editing and Film Psychology". She then allowed her to extend her craft into the U.S. from 2010 to 2014, the beneficiary edited feature documentary for Washington County Home 2009 Campaign material, award winning short film Eggman, directed by Victor Martin from Mano a Mano Production."



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