BLOOD, SWEAT & SUNSHINE: An Interview With Jennifer Linch

I kind of feel last year's Five-A-Day entries for 2016 movies were a bit constrictive; Last minute, for sure, and definitely crowded in a way that left me wondering just what other titles I could have included. Of course my memory would slowly but surely come jogging back and I would ultimately remember a few titles, but my latest interview is slightly more forgiving for me upon research.

It was back in July of last year when I was browsing online for martial arts films that I took note of actress, director and producer Jennifer Linch's recent shortfilm, Flowers Of The Night. Shot on a shoestring budget within four days, the film won the Grand Prize at iCannes earlier that month, and what intrigued me a little more was that it had fight choreographer Fernando Jay Huerto attached to it, which was quite surprising; I had been trying to follow Jay's career for about a decade or more, so I must say his was a pretty serendipitous find.

Low and behold, having screened and reviewed her shortfilm last year, I'm more than pleased to have shared an e-mail chat with Ms. Linch on her plans with her currently growing production banner, Sunshine Pictures. Through this and throughout the course of her life, her taste in film has also led to a career in modeling and a fondness of martial arts which she has adhered to since childhood, as well as a genuine appreciate for film and what it can do.

As such, it all culminates Linch's career vision now with Flowers Of The Night commencing as of late, following her earlier shortfilm efforts like Malevolent and the award-winning 2015 action fantasy comedy, The Dream. With this in mind, I've been keen on observing some of her social posts in the last six months, and she's met some truly remarkable people who could potentially help provide Linch with the support she needs to build and fortify her cinematic and creative apparatus.

Details are light in some areas, but the momentum here is perpetual with the propensity for something purely great to emerge with Linch spearheading her endeavors, and though it undoubtedly keeps her on her toes, it hasn't discouraged her in the least bit. She's beautiful in a multitude of ways if I may say so myself, as well as business-smart, athletic and keen on good prospects with friends and like-minds who value what she has to offer.

For a glimpse into this and more, I now offer you my first interview of 2016 with the matriarch and founder of Sunshine Pictures, Jennifer Linch!

*The following interview has been edited for context and cohesion

Film Combat Syndicate: Greetings Jennifer and thanks for reaching out to me. How has the past year been for you?
Courtesy of Palaon Photography
Jennifer Linch: Hi Lee! Thank you so much for talking to me. The past year has been a blessing for Sunshine Pictures and its projects. We are grateful to have the international film community supporting Flowers of The Night.
FCSyndicate: Indeed! You and I met online last summer and I've noticed you've kept busy promoting it ever since. I do want to ask a bit more about this project, but I would like to start fresh from the beginning. Tell us about yourself and how you got into a career in film.
JL: My whole life has always been connected deeply to movies.  My parents were very poor so the only fun thing they could afford was to rent pirated movies for us to watch. In Vietnam back then, we didn't have original copies, only pirated copies! [laughs] The films were blurry and I could barely hear sometimes but it didn't matter.  We all had fun and I loved our family time together. 
Sometimes, when it rained for days, my parents couldn't do much for the noodle house, so we just stayed in and watched so many movies and ate really cheap food. The noodle house always did bad when it rained so they could only feed us lots of veggies, rice and boiled eggs with soy sauce but good movies made up for everything.  Most of the time, I didn't care much about dinner but about what we were going to watch. 
My mom was very strict and didn't allow me to go out or anything so I stayed home and read martial arts books and watched as many action/martial arts films as possible after homework and chores. I often daydreamed about my own movies and my own stories when I had to listen to those boring chemistry lessons in school. In fact, The Dream idea was started back then when I was daydreaming in 10th grade; How the siren of The Dream turned around and looked at the main character was thought of back then. What can I say? That class was so boring! [laughs] And The Dream won 2 awards as my very first film ever made. 
On April 4, 2014 , I created Sunshine Pictures Productions (named after my beloved kitty Sunshine) and started production of Malevolence, The Dream , Forbidden Forest and Flowers of The Night with the help of many director friends in the industry in Hollywood. They are all good, honest friends with great passion for art; They all gave me extremely valuable feedback and I just absorbed it like a sponge, which was how I was able to improve the quality of my films so quickly.  
When I first started, I had to handle so many different responsibilities to get the projects off the ground and to prove myself first. So when The Dream came out, talented people saw my potential and came in to help me.  And that was how Flowers of The Night won so many awards internationally in last year and continues to be nominated in 2016.
FCSyndicate: It's funny with what you mentioned about Chemistry because I flunked that subject in high school like a boss! [laughs] I'm actually intrigued about some of your influences - can you name some favorite titles from film, TV or comics that drive your creative direction?
JL: The Return Of The Condor Heroes! The author, Jin Yong is one of my favorite influences for martial arts books and films, and his works are extremely addictive! In film, I would also list any number of Jackie Chan films, as well as The Matrix 1 & 2, Zack Snyder's 300 (2006), Hachi: A Dog's Tale, Iron Will, Inglorious Bastards and Hanibal Rising. 
Specifically with filmmaker, I would say Christopher Nolan for storytelling and character development, J.J. Abrams for rhythm of an action film, guys Quentin Tarantino and James Cameron for the passion, Lee Jung-Beom's for the way he sets up drama in The Man from Nowhere (2010) and No Tears for the Dead (2014), and Gareth Evans for his estudious cinematography and editing of martial arts acton. 
I've also enjoyed Mads Mikkelsen's performance as Hannibal on television, and I don't really read comic books with the exception of Doraemon which I enjoy a lot.
FCSyndicate: I've only ever heard of Doraemon but I can't say I'm familiar with it. I LOVED The Man From Nowhere though and especially love your taste in film with where its gotten you today in developing Flowers Of The Night. Tell us about how you came up with the idea prior to shooting your most recent shortfilm.
JL: Originally the short film was strictly to practice my action camera movement, but when the project started, it grew a soul of its own. I took some B-roll footage from Malevolence and put it together and it became Flowers of The Night. 
The shortfilm itself is actually just one scene culminating concepts for its script as well as its sequel, Petals in The Wind scripts. Beginning with Flowers Of The Night, the film will showcase journey of our lead character, Lily, and her upbringing from childhood to anti-heroine and the ultimate protector of the children and the world the film is set in. Heartbreak, epic drama and story scope, hardcore violence and bloody action - You name it! We have it for you!
FCSyndicate: That sounds promising. And had you undergone any particular training for your performance as Lily? Do you practice martial arts in general?
JL: I practice martial arts with my trainer every week for flexibility and strength. For the feature film, we will have from six-to-eight hours of training in the course of three months prior to principal photography since the fights are complicated and we don't speed up footage or use wires. Plus, Lily's style is different with my Karate and Muay Thai training, and so I will have 3 different coaches to train me on Machete fighting, Jiujitsu, Silat and Muay Thai.
FCSyndicate: I understand you posted something on social media about training "the old way". Can you tell us what that will entail?
JL: Old school way is a reference to how tough the teachers. They don't care if you are hurt but will keep pushing you. I used to have Karate classes in the field where they dried rice. The ground was tough and we were barefoot, and even if it rained a little, we still kept going. 
My brother was a martial teacher. He had a few black belts in different styles, and so whenever I went home with bruises after sparring, he gave me a look of disappointment, and then some Chinese wine medicine before saying something to the effect of: "God, why are you so weak!?!" or "Don't tell people you are my little sister!"  
Old school way comes with a serving of tough love for good measure.
FCSyndicate: That's gotta be rough, without question, but I'm sure he's proud of you though. I have to ask, between training, running your own film company and developing your first feature, how do you balance it all out?
JL: Each minute of my day accounts for every role that I am responsible for. I am on a VERY tight schedule and gave up going out a long time ago. Since approximately on August 8, 2013, all of my personal time is devoted to growing Sunshine Pictures as much and as steadily and fruitfully as possible.
FCSyndicate: That's good to know and I'm glad you're managing!


Your current script for the Flowers Of The Night feature you're developing is full of some intense moments of action and drama. Tell us about how you wrote the fight scenes and you definitely weren't kidding about the level of violence! [laughs]
JL: [laughs] Thanks! The fight scenes are the collection of  memories of years upon years of watching action/martial arts films in conjunction with my own creative drive for a new exciting style - A Jennifer Linch style.
FCSyndicate: Describe that for us.
JL: A Jennifer Linch style is the combination of extreme violence in accordance with brutal and honest fighting movements and techniques from Indonesia, Thailand and South Korea, but peppered with a Hollywood blockbuster-esque fast paced rhythm. The dramatic and emotional setup for the fight scenes are influenced from the style of these directors I mentioned earlier, but will have the extreme sexiness to identify the Jennifer Linch style. Plus, I know martial arts so I can design those fight scenes easily. 
As for dramatic and romantic moments, it will be a touch of eastern drama normalized to match western culture so we can open up to all audience types and different cultures in the world. 
FCSyndicate: So as someone developing her own style of action design, what are some criticisms or opinions you share when it comes to how fight scenes are choreographed and edited? In other words, what would you like to see more of and/or less of? Can you name some examples?
JL: Personally, I HATE shaky-cam! Whoever invented shaky-cam, I want to invite that person to a sparring session in a cage with no rules! [laughs] Action in an action film plays an important component of storytelling. It should be clean and clear so I, as the viewer, can see it. 
That said, for some films or for a certain style it does work; If you want to introduce an element of danger and excitement then a little bit of shakiness will work if it is mindfully applied. But to have the camera so shaky like in Taken 2 and Taken 3, thanks but no thanks, I'd like my money back! [laughs] Again, just reiterating these as per my own personal taste.
FCSyndicate: I actually agree with you here! There's a HUGE difference between "smart-shake" and "wrong shake" which is why I loved the first Taken and only a few other films that apply this methodology properly. Do you have a favorite fight scene from a film? Or a list of your own favorites?
JL: Hands down, my favorite fight scene is the fight between Iko Uwais, Donny Alamsyah and Yayan Ruhian in The Raid.
FCSyndicate: Sweet! I also noticed that Fernando Jay Huerto was the fight choreographer for your shortfilm with your co-star, Tim Neff who plays the character, Mathew - a very layered character in your script.

I've been following Jay for more than decade now and so seeing his name next to you was pretty wicked. What was it like to work with him? And tell us about how you went in casting the role of Mathew. Did you write that role specifically with Neff in mind?
JL: Fernando is a great fight choreographer. He's professional, punctual and carries a great work ethic. 
From L to R: Jennifer Linch, Director Of Photography Michael Foster and Tim Neff (Sunshine Pictures - 2015)
In casting the character, Mathew Thompson, the performer I originally had in mind was actor and martial artist DeVille Van Niekerk who happned to be, and to this day, working in Cape Town on the HBO series, Black Sails. He then referred me to Tim Neff and as I was also reviewing MANY reels for the role, Tim stood out the most because of his determined and strong attitude. When I asked if he was okay with doing his own stunts, he simply answered, "Yeah, whatever you need!". 
Tim showed up extra days to practice the fight and to rehearse the scene even though he didn't have to. The emotional connection was the result of how we connected for the roles.
FCSyndicate: How far into the casting process are you? Are there any specific newcomers and well-knowns you would like to see attached?
JL: Yes. We are halfway done with the casting from the crop of martial artists we handpicked from around the world, as well as  specific Hollywood A-listers, but we are not able to release the names at the moment
FCSyndicate: What's been the most challenging process for you as a film producer thusfar in your own experience?
JL: To produce short films is easy - To produce feature film is to enter a whole different level of challenges. As a producer, you need to put away your director and writer hats and just focus on the business aspect of the industry. The film industry, after all, is still an industry, and the focus is on how to make profits for the investors or studios if you want to sustain as a director. No one is willing to risk their hard earned cash just so you can enjoy making your art. 
It has been seven months since I started the script and the film package to present to our executive producers, and it is not as simple as just receiving the funding and pre-selling the film to a certain territory; What I want for Flowers Of The Night is to work with the right distribution companies for the correct marketing and distributing for the films to audiences worldwide. Frankly, it is not an easy task for a first time feature film director but my team and I are tackling the challenges just fine. 
FCSyndicate: You've been very ambitious with this project from what I can tell and I think people will love the surprises you might have in store.

Tell us, what's your biggest takeaway thusfar since starting your path in film? What lessons do you have to offer for other aspiring filmmakers and producers like yourself?
JL: You have to be an irreplaceable force, but also able to put your pride aside and gather better cast and crew than yourself so you can bring your vision to life. Also, treat each cast and crew member with respect. 
Moreover, while understanding and attaining the business side of film industry - a must if you want to continue to be a filmmaker, you still you need to retain your true passion and desire. You have to fight for your vision and make the movie you, yourself are willing to pay a full-price to see... A movie that you truly want to watch because no one else is making it yet. 
My motus opperande for Sunshine Pictures is to make the best action/martial arts films as I possible can. So maybe I might be able to compel a poor little girl watching pirated movies somewhere in the world and inspire her to be a director someday. That said, everyone else, please pay full price! [laughs] 
I am very fortunate to have surrounded myself with better talent than me in both cast and crew to help me bring my vision for Flowers of The Night to life. This project is tremendous for us this year amid development and global distrubution deals, and especially regarding the martial arts talent we've been scouting from all over the world as some have already signed on to be attached to the project. It will be an international martial arts film that everyone will enjoy.
FCSyndicate: Looking ahead, what else can you tell us on the future of Sunshine.
JL: First and foremost, Sunshine Pictures is scheduled for production of Flowers of The Night in 2016, before Petals in The Wind (the second script of Flowers of The Night) in 2017. 
In addition, there are three fantasy action comedies in development for 2018 , 2019 and 2020, and one of them is called Take Down The Dragon. For actual release dates, we will have the announcement later. It will depend on the marketing team and the negotiation with distributors. 
2021 is especially slated for my passion project called 1975. It will not be a martial arts movie, but a hybrid action film encircling elements of love and romance, ghosts and spirits, and war. It's a mix of different things for the young generation of moviegoers today, and with particular emphasis on love and relationships and how it is so superficially treated these days where marriage lasts either a week or as long as a television season! [laughs] This is a movie I hope will give them a different outlook on what is most important at the end of the day: Your loved ones, and your family. 
The script for "1975" is very extensive so we have to save it for 2021 and I don't have to fight in this film but I do take on a different challenge, and I am definitely looking forward to this as an Oscar-caliber game-changer for Sunshine. 
As for all else, I will gladly accept the People's Choice Awards for Best Action Films and Best Fight Scenes! [laughs]
FCSyndicate: Any chance we'll see your brother performing in any of these?
JL: No, it's payback time so NO! [laughs] But he will be on set for medic duty. He is good at fixing bones and dislocated joint and martial arts advice and consultation.
FCSyndicate: That first part of your statement was just hilarious! 
JL: If my brother begs me now, maybe I will let him wear a blood squib and play one of the guys who gets shot! [laughs]
FCSyndicate: Tough love! Right? [laughs] Just a few more questions here - I know you're a very busy woman and so keeping time for yourself is a must, but the 2016 movie calendar is looking really great. What titles are you hoping to catch this year?
JL: Kung Fu Panda 3, and also Deadpool - I like Ryan Reynolds. I also want to see Suicide Squad, London Has Fallen, X-Men: Apocalypse, and last and far from least, Crimson Peak, when it comes out on DVD - I loved in theateds, I wanna watch it again and support Guillermo del Toro. I love his work!
FCSyndicate: I'm with you on all those titles, especially Deadpool!

Lastly, being that you're from Vietnam, I always ask people from different countries what their favorite dishes are so I can try different cuisines. What are some favorite dishes you would recommend.
JL: Bún Bò Huế and Hủ Tiếu My Tho. I can never eat them again since I'm vegan now but mannnnn....ugh! So good!!!
I looked up both dishes online after this interview, and needless to say, I look forward to trying these.

Thank you Jennifer Linch for taking time out of your schedule to share your story with Film Combat Syndicate. Stay tuned for more details on Flowers Of The Night and Petals Of The Wind.

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