Due to the pandemic in America, it was very hard for us to start the production of the film “Zoe’s Choice.” The length of our Taiwan scenes only accounted for 10% of the overall film, so we planned to travel to Taiwan to start this part first. The Taiwanese government required 14 days of quarantine and 7 days of self-isolation, with no public meetings and transportation, before we could actually start working. It added a lot of uncertainty to our trip. After praying through all kinds of scenarios, we decided to book our airline tickets for 3/5/2 1and set our shooting schedule for 4/9/21.
Amazing Shooting Location
One of the Taiwan film locations was at a traditional market. We loved Taipei Bin Jiang Fruit and Vegetable Market. Its busy scenery was a great reflection of people’s life in this competitive city. We needed a vegetable vendor for the action. But we were worried that it would be hard to find a vendor who would be willing to sacrifice their business for a day and let us borrow their stand for filming. I thought of Yuming Chang who was the main character in our prior short film “Homesick.”
Yuming works for the Reformed House of Prison Fellowship, and is in charge of buying food for the ministry and the youth who live there. His supplier for daily vegetables is Ms. Yang, who happened to be in the same market, Bin Jiang. Mrs. Yang is a wholesaler in the market, and her busiest hours happened to be from 5am-7am, so she was able to lend us her place without losing her business for the day! We were amazed that God answers our prayers through our connection with Prison Fellowship, for whom we produced a short film 3 years ago!
Another shooting location was at a family-style restaurant. We chose the restaurant “Adullam Kitchen” in Xizhi, New Taipei City. The restaurant was started by members of the association of Adullam Home. “Adullam Home” was named after a biblical story in 1 Samuel 22, “David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there. All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him.” And later they all became David’s mighty warriors. Adullam Home is a ministry to those struggling with alcohol or substance abuse, whose families had essentially given up on them. Yet, by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, they were set free from their bondage.
Adullam Kitchen was started with the mindset of helping these reformed brothers reintegrate into society. With the supervision of the counselors from Adullam Home and their church, the Kitchen now is able to supply a thousand orders to local schools and Sunday banquets for nearby churches. We wanted to encourage their service, and thus chose their place for shooting. We even asked some of them to pose as extras in our film, and they are now waiting with anticipation for the release of this movie.
The Search for our Cast
We are looking for the characters of Zoe’s grandma, grandpa, baby Zoe, and a vendor for the Taiwanese market.
A Grandma just right for us
Zoe’s grandma is about 60 years old, and a restaurant owner. From conversations with the vendor in the market, one can see her sharpness while doing her shopping. Because the character of Zoe’s grandma required scenes both in Taiwan and the US, this was a difficult character to find. People who live in US don’t like the idea of traveling to Taiwan during a pandemic, and especially having to observe mandated quarantine. People who live in Taiwan were hesitant to go to US as at that time the cases of Covid-19 in the US were very high. We started praying to find an actress who lives in US, and just so happened to be traveling back to Taiwan for vacation at the time we scheduled to travel to Taiwan as well, so she could fulfill the requirement we needed.
Before we traveled back to Taiwan, we were in a training class, Introduction to Art Therapy, and we got to know a lady who was from the Huayi Performing Arts Center in San Francisco. Through her introduction, we knew Mrs. Angel Deng. She is both a professional theatrical actress, a Christian who loves the Lord, and lives in San Francisco. It was so amazing that we traveled to Taiwan on March 5th 2021, and she happened to return to Taiwan to visit her family on March 3rd 2021, the same week as us. The day before she got on the plane, we used the Zoom to do an online audition with her. Her vivid and natural acting skills and the way she interpreted the character of the grandma convinced us right away that she was perfect for the role of Zoe’s grandma. She stayed in Taiwan until mid-May, and returned to the United States afterwards. She will be able to continue her part after we resume our shooting in the US. She fulfilled all the needs of our prayers.
Zoe’s Grandpa Did Not Take the Train
Mr. Jingya Li, who plays Zoe’s grandpa, is a well-known commercial actor in Taiwan. He once was a channeling medium and now is an enthusiastic Christian and evangelist. He was willing to accept the invitation of acting, despite how much we were able to offer him for pay, as he learned that this is a gospel movie.
We spent some time arranging the schedule for rehearsal since the several of the cast members had a schedule conflict with one another. After several time changes, the final rehearsal date was set for 4/3 at Taipei Gongguan Presbyterian Church. April 2nd-4th is traditionally a holiday for people to return to their hometown and pay their respects to their deceased family. Brother Li intended to take his wife back to Hualien and go to her family cemetery on 4/2 early morning, and return at the same day. Due to “Zoe’s Choice” rehearsal being scheduled for the next day, he decided to cancel the family trip. Later, on the morning of 4/2, the train heading toward Hualien derailed and resulted in a serious train wreck. 49 people died and 247 people were injured. Li’s family had intended to board that very same train. Li said, if not for our rehearsal scheduled for the next day, his family might well have been in that train wreck.
Baby Zoe Never Cried
We needed to film a one-month-old baby while we were at the market. Due to the pandemic, we knew that it was highly unlikely that parents would want to let their baby be exposed in a busy market. How we would be able to find a baby actor for the scene? We also brought this difficulty to God in our prayers. Later, our “vendor” Zhang, Luoming told us Pastor Liu, Anze from the Northern Taiwan University Presbyterian Church, his wife just had their 3rd baby who will be one month old when our shooting takes place. The couple was so excited that their baby could become a star actor for God, while only being one month old! On the day of filming, they came to the market very early with their baby and their other child. The baby slept in the arms of the “grandpa” throughout the whole morning, and finished his part without being woken up by the noise of cars and loud shouts of the market. May God bless this little baby that he may glorify God and grow up strong and healthy!
Don’t Call “Cut!”
The Taiwan scenes of this film were coordinated by Song Wei and his team, who had worked with us on the short film “Homesick.” He is a great videographer, very proficient in lighting, and excellent with his high-standard Sony HD camera. We had two photographers working on two cameras, and a professional sound engineer. Instead of cumbersome monitors, the entire film and director used mobile phones and Bluetooth monitors. The actors were so professional that halfway into the story, the videographer declared, “I really don’t want to cut the acting!” His comment became such an encouragement to the entire cast.
God Held the Rain
All of 2021, the whole island of Taiwan was suffering from a drought, and everyone was praying for rain. At long last, one day we heard the weather reporter predict that there would be 80% chance of heavy rain the next day. Everyone was very happy except for us, because this news came the day before we were scheduled to film. A director friend called Charles to suggest cancelling the next day’s shooting so the team would not work in vain. Hearing what he said, we suddenly became very depressed. To postpone things, there would be many things to reschedule, it would be very complicated. We decided to proceed with the original plan, despite the forecast of rain.
Ginny sent out many prayer requests that God would pause the rainfall just from 7am to 10 am, when we were shooting outdoors. Early morning on 4/9, while it was still pitch dark outside, we heard heavy raindrops while we were sleeping. Charles began to worry, thinking even if we could shoot in the rain, how could we let the baby actor get wet in the rain? We got up and knelt down to pray. “God, your children are going to be shooting scenes for our film in the morning, we ask you to pause the rain from 7 to 10 am in the name of Jesus.
When we went to the market, the rain literally paused. It did resumed raining again until around noon when we had moved on to shooting indoor scenes. In the afternoon before we transitioned to a restaurant, we wanted to rest in a coffee shop to get ready. When we were walking towards the coffee shop, it started to rain heavily. We had to use umbrellas to avoid getting soaked. We were so grateful to our God who controlled the rain! With God’s protection and guidance, we successfully finished all the Taiwan scenes we needed to shoot in one day!