There is a scene featuring Spring Lake in Santa Rosa. In the weeks leading up to the shoot, we went there to scout out locations and were very shocked to find the lake nearly covered in a scum layer of red brown algae. We needed to shoot at this location in 3 weeks. That day, we prayed on the spot that the lake would be all cleared up by the time of the shot.
When that day came (3/7/2022), we arrived at the shooting location with our cast and crew to find the lake so beautiful, we entirely forgot about the algae bloom that was present a mere 20 days ago, in addition to the prayers that we had made. After we finished this phase of shooting, we returned to Spring Lake to hike and unwind the stress from our bodies. We stopped by the place where we had filmed and were appalled to see that the algae bloom had returned and had become even more severe than before. The once beautiful Spring Lake looked suffocated by the thick algae, there was not even a small space for birds to rest upon the water. It had literally become an algae desert.
Who could have predicted this timing and planned it into our shooting schedule? It must have been our Almighty God who created this window and opened the lake for us to shoot.
Meals were needed to provide for all the cast and crew members during the shoot. We are very grateful for sponsorship from local restaurants. JoJo Sushi, Ippin Udon, Kiraku Sushi, Santa Rosa Asian Eat, all sponsored us by providing delicious meals through the many days of shooting. When we needed to shoot scenes in a restaurant, Kiraku Sushi graciously lent us their location, prepared dishes needed in the shot, and even temporarily turned off the ice box to reduce background noise in audio recordings. These local small businesses were essential partners for our production.
Zoe’s parents already had communication problems; arguments were not uncommon in their marriage. Most recently, they had been arguing about Richard wanting to move to Asia to advance his career. Frustrated with constantly moving, Mandy wanted to stay where they were, close to her sister. One night, their argument escalated to a physical altercation following Mandy’s critique of Richard’s abilities. This altercation culminated in little Zoe waking up in the middle of the night.
For this intense scene, the actors portraying Richard and Mandy needed to spend several moments gathering their emotions in preparation. After several attempts, they were able to act out the scene with great performance. All cast and crew members gave an ovation for the successful emotion they were able to present.
The sound mixer we worked with last year had returned to France. In the small city of Santa Rosa, it was a challenge to find another professional sound technician. In this situation, we could only turn to God and pray that He would send us another experienced technician to join our production team. One day, Charles remembered Samuel Yin, who lives in LA and was a retired sound engineer for a well-known worship music band. He had often provided “sound” advice to us for our previous movies. When we called him and asked for his availability, he said he had just been thinking of us while washing dishes before receiving our call. He gladly accepted our invitation and drove hundreds of miles to Santa Rosa to do the field recording. He even rejected our offer to arrange accommodations for him during the shoot and insisted on paying for his own expenses. We were immensely grateful for his professional experience and his meticulous attention to detail. For one of the scenes shot in a noisy Japanese restaurant, he found a way to hide the microphone in a can of chopsticks to capture high quality audio recordings.
Although Yin was an answer to our prayers, asking him to make that drive each time we needed a field recording would be unsustainable. Then Kate Yang, who works for Lucas Film as an animation sound engineer, stepped in to train Eli as an alternative sound man, providing greater flexibility for our shooting schedule.
Pushing through the discouragement of our loss, we began planning to resume our film. A well-prepared plan is necessary to save time when filming. We also needed to find additional crew members so that we would have greater flexibility when arranging our shooting schedule. These were all major challenges.
In order to capture the different stages of Zoe’s childhood, we needed 8 different school-aged children. Zoe’s mother Mandy has 3 children, Zoe’s auntie Nina has 1 child, Ellen. For Zoe’s preschool scenes, we need 4 kids who are between 3 and 8 years old. For her elementary scenes, we need 4 kids who are between 7 and 12 years old, a total of 8 children. Child actors are already hard to find, let alone 8 of them. We could only pray earnestly for our needs to be met. One day, while our church was celebrating Chinese New Year, we saw the kids from Chinese School that were dancing and singing on the stage. Their captivating performance attracted our attention and we found many promising candidates. Praise the Lord, we were able to fill out most of the roles with these children!
7-year-old Evie was asked to act in several scenes for the film. Each shot took a few takes, exhausting her and causing her to burst into tears when she spotted her father (who later acted as one of the new neighbors in the scene). Yet each time when the director said “Action”, she quickly composed herself and resumed acting with a big smile. We were so touched by her great attitude toward working at such a young age. Preschool children are usually very shy and dependent upon their mothers so we were unsure whether they could act with many people watching. We needed to be adaptable to work with them successfully. One 3-year-old little girl was so nervous and didn’t understand why so many adults were watching her move, that she began crying suddenly. We went along with it as such moments are common in our everyday life. Another 4-year-old little girl refused to climb up a small kitchen ladder for a shot. We tried persuading her several times, even trying to offer her donuts which she also refused. Finally, Ginny talked to her and found that she was actually just afraid of climbing the ladder. After explaining that she only needed to put her foot on the first step, the little girl cooperated with us. Our camera team began shooting these movements without formally calling out “Action” and was able to complete all the shots required for the scene. Following this, everyone on set was cheering and celebrated with each other.
God really answered our prayers for these actors. He brought all of them to us according to His time.
In November of 2021 we were in the middle of moving our ERS office from Rohnert Park back to Santa Rosa. One day, we arrived at our old office and discovered someone had broken into it the previous night. Chief among the items missing were three sets of cameras, one of which had just been purchased for the Zoe project. Additionally, after considering our circumstances, the home insurance company ultimately responded that they would not cover our loss.
During that time, we were very frustrated wondering “why did this have to happen to us?” and asking God “how can we continue with this project?”. God did not answer our questions immediately; however, many brothers and sisters interceded and prayed for us. An elder from New Jersey even called us, overcome with emotion, to pray over us, comforting and strengthening us — it touched our hearts so much. We also had many people donate to sponsor this production.
Looking back to when we first started filming, we recognized many instances where God’s provision allowed us to overcome extreme difficulties. One of these instances occurred when we were in Taiwan back in April 2021. The region had been in a drought season for some time and the people were longing for water. The day before our scheduled shoot, we received a weather report forecasting that there would be pouring rain all day long. While this was good news for the area, we had scheduled an outdoor shoot at the farmer market on the very same day. We sent out prayer requests and proceeded with shooting the next day. Incredibly, God actually withheld the rain in the morning (when we were shooting outdoors) and it only started pouring in the afternoon when we had already moved to a restaurant for an indoor shoot. After we came back to the USA to film the remaining footage, we were also able to round out our production team with a more professional cast and crew that allowed us to advance our shooting schedule. Recalling all of God’s steadfast provisions in the past, we were able to regain confidence in His guidance and began planning the next phase of our filming campaign.
But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.
The timeline of “Zoe’s Choice” covers 2 decades. It’s been a great challenge for us to find many actors ranging from infants to grandparents, as well as a variety of many locations. We finally came up with the plan to divide the scenes in different shooting phases so that we won’t be too overwhelmed.
In March, 2021, we traveled back to Taiwan to kick start shooting the scenes in Taipei after 21 days of strict quarantine. When we later came back to California on 5/14/21, never could we have imagined that the pandemic situation in Taiwan would become so serious that they escalated the alert level and issued a stay-at-home order starting on 5/15, the day after we left. We are so grateful that we were able to finish our shooting for the scenes in Taiwan. We resumed the next 2 phases of shooting on 7/23 and 9/10 in northern California.
Pouring Oil into Empty Jars
The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the LORD. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.” 2 Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” “Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.” 3 Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. 4 Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.” 5 She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring.6 When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.” But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing. 7 She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.”
2 Kings 4:17
When we started to propose Zoe’s Choice with ERS’ limited resources, we foresaw the difficulty of this production, including funding, location, cast and crew. We could not rely on past experiences from our other productions, did not have ample funding to depend on, the only we can depend on is the Holy Spirit (ZEC 4:6). We believe that miracles often happen in difficulty. But how did we get started? Ginny thought of the story of the empty jars and we initiated a prophetic gesture like the poor woman in 2 Kings 4:1-7. She brought out a few empty jars, putting our needs for cast and crew, locations and funding in each jar, and we prayed over these empty jars, asking for God’s wonderful provision to multiply our limited resources and fill these empty jars abundantly for ERS’ needs.
Gradually we saw how God filled these jars:
The cast in Taiwan locations: we found a vendor at one of Taiwan’s traditional markets, Zoe’s grandma, grandpa, and baby Zoe.
California Location: we needed 2 couples for Zoe’s parents, aunty and uncle.
Mandy and Richard Jiang–Zoe’s parents
First, we needed to find Mandy, Zoe’s mother, the strong woman of faith. Her faith will accompany the daughter, Zoe, to walk through the journey of giving birth to a baby born out of wedlock. We needed a Christian woman around 45-years-old, with experience in acting. After several tries, finally we found our actress, Annie Xu. Annie is the perfect match for Mandy in our hearts. It was then that we knew the timing had come for God to start filling the empty jar for the American cast. After Mandy’s role was secured, an actor for the role of Zoe’s father Richard was recommended by one of our actresses. Ken Hwang is an amateur stage actor, yet he studied the personality of Richard, immersing himself in the character, and prepared well before the performance. Although acting is not his main profession, his efforts were no less than that of a professional.
Nina and Ray Wu–Zoe’s aunt and uncle
After the roles for Zoe’s parents were set, the roles of Zoe’s aunt and uncle were next on the list to be filled. As they are a happily married couple in our script, we hoped that they would be a couple in real life. We auditioned many actors and actresses without success. We believed in God’s provision, and thus went ahead and started to shooting the scenes without Nina and Ray. Finally, Charles asked a formal singer-turned-pastor, Rose Wen, and she introduced us to a couple, Debbie and Jason Kung. Debbie was a dance teacher who graduated from an Art School in Taiwan, with much stage experience. Jason has experience from prior performances in the church play. Both of them fit the roles so well for Zoe’s aunt and uncle.
The actresses for Mandy and Nina were found at different times, but their appearance and accents are very similar, our crew all said they really look like sisters.
Many Child Actors
Mandy has 3 children, Nina has 1 child, and through the growth of Zoe, we need different child actors in different stages, including babies. From not being shy in auditions to not being nervous when acting, it is a really high-level challenge for the children since they cannot be forced to perform.
One of our little actresses, Joanne (Zoe’s older sister) was played by Calandra Wang. She is only 4 years old, yet very capable to cooperate with our cast and crew. Through her mother’s gentle guidance, she was able to both sing and act, successfully fulfilling the assignment we gave her. In the next phase of shooting, she had a 2-day shooting, but got the flu just before the shooting day. We had no choice but to cut her shoot to 1 day. The day she came she was still sick but managed to act, playing in the playground. Her mother gave her tissue paper when she needed it and her older sister encouraged her on the side. For a little girl at such a young age, her dedication won over our hearts. We also needed a baby in our set but during the pandemic, parents often hesitated to let their baby be in the shoot. We were so grateful that during our shooting time, our daughter’s good friends happened to take their baby to work in Sonoma County on 3 weekends. After she understood the vision of Zoe’s Choice, she prepared all the protection and supported our shooting. During the shooting, all the worries of the baby crying or fussing were not realized.
During both shooting in Taiwan and California, we are so grateful that God provided us with 4 different babies, one is in Taiwan, three are in America. We believe God will also provide child actors of different ages according to His time.
The empty jar of the production team needs to be filled by God, too. We needed anointed and experienced videographers and sound/boom operators to join “Zoe’s Choice”. Jon Sun is a professional and experienced videographer, Zach Tracy had produced a documentary before, with a multitude of filming skills. Sound operator Renaud Ducom is from France. They were all recommended by different Christians to join the film crew. We also used part of the crew from “One More Game”, thus forming a film crew for Zoe’s Choice.
The needs for locations are not just many but also in different countries including Taiwan and California.
We needed a vendor in a Taiwanese traditional market and a Taiwanese restaurant. For the vegetable vendor, he took the risk that he might lose some revenue to let us shoot in his market stall. The restaurant we shot in was run by a drug-rehab Christian ministry to provide job opportunities for recovered addicts. On the day we shot, it was their day off. We didn’t need to worry it would affect their business, yet hope that when the film comes out, it can promote their ministry.
After returning to California, 3 ladies provided their houses for the sets of Mandy and Nina’s home. One lady’s house is only a walking distance to the playground that we needed in another scene. It eliminated the trouble of parking and transportation for the film crew.
In one scene, we needed a computer company as Zoe’s father’s office. We had been interested in one office building in our area, but had to give up because they not only asked for a very high price but also limited the shooting time. We kept praying and Ginny thought of her cousin David’s computer company in Sacramento. Though David had already retired and sold his company, maybe he had other connections to borrow an office location for us? After contacting him, he was able to borrow his old company for us to come shoot the company scenes on a Sunday afternoon to evening. We have now finished shooting scenes 1-32 for our first cut, and will continue to further schedule the phase of our shoot. Following the next phase of shooting there will be more locations to seek out, we will keep putting these needs in the location jar for God to fill.
Protection Over Cast and Crew
We always pray for the safety of our team during the pandemic, placing our trust in the LORD of hosts that He will guard everyone’s health in the face of this virus. One production member got sick between the period of 2 phases of shooting, yet he quickly recovered and rejoined our shooting.
During our shooting, God provided the resource according to our needs, filling the jars of funding. Now we need to raise the funding for the next phase of shooting. We believe if we produce the film according to His will, He will continue to provide the funding we need until we finish “Zoe’s Choice”. ■
During the transition of moving, on November 17th, 2021 when we returned to the old office at noon from moving some stuff to the new office, we were shocked to find our office had been broken into. After carefully checking, we lost 4 cameras and 1 label printer, 2 nice cameras and lens were donated by a professional photographer, one of them is a 6K camera that we had just purchased for our movie. After it was stolen, it was hard for us to resume our shooting in a short time. It added more difficulties to the difficulty we already had. We at once sent out our prayer request.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
This accident really saddened us and made our hearts so heavy. Will God let us begin to work and then withdraw His presence? We found out that brothers and sisters prayed for us more earnestly, some even donated money for the equipment since the insurance company refused to reimburse us. God never rests, we believe that God allowed the equipment to be stolen even though we don’t fully understand at this moment. We kept praying that all the equipment would be returned one day. Charles asked God if He wants us to continue finishing this movie? God didn’t answer him directly, yet raised up more intercessors and supporters. Recalling all the wonderful provisions in the beginning of production, it marked His blessing over this movie. We decided to pause a little bit and will resume our journey as we take rest before the Lord to seek His guidance.
Every morning when we have devotion time together, the Lord revives us through His words. We really feel His wisdom that sustains and strengthens us for our next step.
Due to the past years of PG&E shutting off electricity in Santa Rosa in wildfire prevention, in 2019 we had moved to a housing area in Rohnert Park, where it provided us with the solar power without worrying about a power outage. It also became a haven for us during the wildfire and the lock down in the pandemic. Through this private space, we were able to continue to work on our project.
Now the place has other uses, so we found a very nice office space just across from Santa Rosa High School, with other executive offices as our neighbors, also with a tight security system, which we later found out is very important. We officially moved to the new office in December 2021.
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!