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 Kings 4:17
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.”
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”. ■