IN FULL BLOOM
Artful storytelling holds the power to broaden perspectives and drive dialogue. This year, in partnership with Access Ventures, VSCO Voices equipped five creators with funding and mentorship to tell the stories of marginalized communities in the United States through art. Maegan Houang shares a look into her surrealist short film, which explores the aftermath of a loved one's passing.
Watch the trailer for IN FULL BLOOM below.
It was only a few years ago that I learned that my grandmother grew up in Vietnam before eventually settling down in Hong Kong with her family. As I learned more about my grandmother’s upbringing and how she helped her numerous siblings escape Vietnam during the war, I became increasingly fascinated by my family’s history and culture.
IN FULL BLOOM tells the story of Cecile, an elderly Vietnamese hoarder, whose life is upended when worms open a black hole in her house and threaten to take all her stuff. Inspired by my own personal experiences, the film is a surrealistic take on how the death of a partner leads to unresolved trauma and mental illness. The story is also partially inspired by my grandfather’s inability to remember that my grandmother died, frequently asking where she was in the middle of the night.
I wrote the film three years ago and never thought I could raise enough money to make it until I received the VSCO Voices grant. As soon as I found out, we started planning. The effects required for the hole and the worms were quite complex so, largely due to the advice from various visual effects supervisors, I worked with a storyboard artist to plan the most complicated sequences and assembled a team. Film is an inherently collaborative medium and one of the best parts is getting to make something with a group of friends.
Making the main character a Vietnamese immigrant allowed me to both shed light on and learn more about the Vietnamese American experience, but I knew casting would be a challenge. There are very few older Vietnamese-American actresses working today. On my behalf, a few close colleagues reached out to Kieu Chinh (The Joy Luck Club), a legendary Vietnamese actress who has starred in over 100 films. I was lucky enough to have her come on board. She’s absolutely perfect in the role of Cecile.
We shot the film over four and a half very long days, and I’m still blown away by what we ended up making. The film involved extensive practical effects. We had a great team who helped us accomplish all the in-camera pulls. Nothing in the movie is CGI, including the worms, which were stop motion animated by Jason Whetzell. We decided on stop motion and practical effects not only for aesthetic reasons, but also to reduce costs. With practical effects and stop motion animation, we relied heavily on VFX compositing and paint-out, which is still incredibly complex and time consuming, but ultimately more realistic and cheaper than CGI.
Making this film has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, mentally and physically. But it’s also been incredibly rewarding. I’m so grateful that I got to bring this story to life.
In 2017, only eleven percent of the top 250 films were directed by women. As a female director of color, Maegan views IN FULL BLOOM as a chance to showcase her abilities and hopefully book higher profile jobs in the industry. She plans to submit her film to numerous film festivals, after which she would like to see it have a long life online. Eventually, as a thank you to the cast and crew, she intends to hold a screening in Los Angeles so everyone involved can see the fruition of their work on the big screen.