For his festival debut, the Toronto-based filmmaker and music-video director Ray Wong chose to tell a 11-minute-long sci-fi tale of a mysterious phenomenon in the backyard of a perfectly ordinary couple. When Sally and Jack realize they have a patch of burnt ground which is capable of replicating organic matter, their lives spiral out of control, as they quickly enough realize the opportunities of the newly-found backyard miracle. Budgetary restrictions, it seems, forced Ray Wong to bring his intriguing idea to life in a constrained manner, avoiding the use of mind-blowing special effects and instead concentrating on the story, the characters and, above all, the interesting idea that lies at the gist of it all. If Sally and Jack look just like our very own neighbors or even like us, if their backyard and dog could easily be ours, why couldn’t this amazing thing happen to us? And if it did, what would we do with this discovery and the power it puts in our hands?
Story and character are paramount to me in any situation, regardless of your budget. What I think our financial limitations provided was an exercise in minimalism. What are the least amount of effects we need to get the idea across, what are the least amount of shots we need to execute this scene. We often only had time to stage a scene in one or two shots and get each shot in one or two takes. This way of telling the story definitely had a huge impact on its tone and style which evolved further in the editing room where we could strip it down further. Slightly different from the original vision. But it’s always interesting to see how a project evolves based on the “limitations” and how you make them work for you. —Ray Wong, Director/Writer
Our honest opinion is that special effects, as useful as they often are as a means of telling a story in a visually more efficient way, often cloud the judgment of filmmakers and make them forget that the ideas and stories are what attracts the eyes of most people to the screen. The lack of effects here doesn’t hurt Burnt Grass at all—you don’t even get the feeling that money was an issue here. Burnt Grass is so well-conceived, nicely acted and a pleasure to behold that you find yourself absorbed in the story, battling with your own inner questions and ideas. And this is a quality we usually find in the greatest of examples of sci-fi movies. Ray Wong managed to pique our interest in as little as 11 minutes.
I think there is a tendency for a special effects driven film to lose track of the reason why you decided to make the film in the first place. There is so much to focus on and keep track of that everything is potentially a distraction from the heart of your story. With special effects, most of the times you’re farming this stuff out to other companies where a whole other team is working on it, and coupled with budgetary constraints, it’s a challenge to get things exactly how you want them, and it’s the compounding compromises that end up killing the vision. Also when special effects become the priority, you start to get films that look and feel the same as the other films that visual effects company worked on. It’s important to understand the scope of your story and approach the special effects in a way that still allows you to organically work them seamlessly into your unique vision. They are a support to your characters and story. You’re not making a show reel for how great such-and-such VFX program is. —Ray Wong, Director/Writer
The plot is unexpected, the acting is really solid, and a special tribute should go to the filmmaker for making the concept work with the financial limitations he had on his hands. No, people, those weren’t twins you’ve been watching on the screen.
Films like Alien, Blade Runner and the Terminator movies are what made me fall in love with the sci-fi genre. On this film, I was influenced by Charlie Kauffman’s take on sci-fi, with films like Eternal Sunshine and Being John Malkovich. I’d love to see the Coen Brothers do sci-fi. I will always be a huge fan of Spielberg and Nolan sci-fi. I loved Interstellar, because it was mostly about a father trying to get back to his daughter. —Ray Wong, Director/Writer
It’s early to judge the man’s career, but Burnt Grass somehow makes us think there’s a bright future for Mr. Wong on the road ahead.
Director: Ray Wong
Executive Producer: Ray Wong, Sabena Kapil
Producer: Sabena Kapil
Production Company: Rice and Beans Media
Principal Cast: Alex Paxton-Beesley, Christopher Jacot
Screenplay: Ray Wong
Cinematographer: Kris Belchevski
Editor: Ray Wong, Jonathan Wong
Sound: Art Pisanski, Bruce Fleming
Production Designer: Reid Brennan
TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
RAINDANCE FILM FESTIVAL
Ray Wong is an award winning filmmaker and commercial director who has worked with talent such as Katy Perry, Shailene Woodley and Carly Rae Jepsen; and on campaigns for Samsung, Bud Light, Subway Restaurants, Blackberry, Doritos, Adidas, and Mastercard. Ray Wong has been recognized as an emerging filmmaker by the Reel World Film Festval, nominated for Atlanta Film Festival’s “Filmmaker to Watch” Award and his music video for Anjulie’s hit song You and I was also nominated for Best Dance Video at the MMVAs ‘13. His short film Burnt Grass had its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festval ’14. It is currently garnering international atteenton, including becoming a Vimeo Staff Pick (reaching over 100,000 Vimeo views in a week and a half), Short of the Week, and being featured on Gizmodo and it’s various affiliated blogs.
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