It seems strange to celebrated Film Producer and VFX Production Manager Ming Qiu that she once was pursuing a career that was not filmmaking. There was a time when Qiu was studying artificial intelligence, set on being an engineer. However, she was not happy. She knew she needed a change, desperate to try something new. Always having a passion for storytelling, she decided to try out producing. She saw its parallels to engineering, having to make sense of a complex production and ensure everything runs smoothly as its leader.
That decision turned out to be a fateful one for Qiu, who knew right away she was doing what she was always meant to be doing. With her extraordinary computer skills, she found her way into the world of visual effects and mastering both VFX and producing has been one of the greatest joys of her life. She has also begun working with Tau Films on their projects like The Yinyang Master and Skyfire, as well as teaching VFX Production Management.
“As a producer, making a movie is almost never about me. It’s about the story and the team. Give me a good story and a group of good friends and I’m happy,” says Qiu. “I used to criticize myself all the time, thinking everything was going to fall apart. It was inevitable, after all I was at the very beginning of my career. It took me a long while to see the joy in the process again, and the importance of holding on to that joy.”
Outside of the realm of visual effects, Qiu has found great success as well, exemplified by her work on the award-winning films Swimming and Spiral Farm, the last of which is Qiu’s most successful feature film to date. Directed by Alec Tibaldi, starring Piper De Palma and Amanda Plummer, Spiral Farm is about two outsiders who arrive in an isolated intentional community when seventeen-year-old Anahita begins to question her role at home, and what a future out in the world-at-large could be.
“Everybody has, at some point in their teenage years, firmly believed that the ‘outside world’ would be way better than the home they grew up in, and that all their problems would be gone once they went ‘out there’. Then this belief is shattered when the adult world shows its teeth for the first time. That moment is as painful as crumbling a glass with bare hands, but it’s the only way we see our true selves and how much home means to us. I personally really like this theme, and it’s more relevant now than ever in an age of globalization and information overload. COVID may make it hard to physically travel but the desire to ‘just get out’ only grows bigger for young people. In that sense Spiral Farm is everybody’s story,” says Qiu.
Qiu was co-producer on the movie and played a very large role in making the film the success it became. She came on board when the project was already halfway into pre-production. At the time, they just lost their original producer. Coming in later than normal, Qiu had to work even harder to get up to speed and create a plan of action, but the moment she read the script of this beautiful coming-of-age story she knew she had to be a part of it.
The physical production took place all over Los Angeles and Santa Clarita over the course of just three weeks, and then came the long post-production that lasted nearly two years. Qiu was intensively involved in spearheading the pre-production and the shoot. It was very hands-on, with Qiu working on set every day lending a hand wherever she could, keeping their modest budget intact while creating a masterpiece.
“We were a fun group. We knew it was work but it was also our passion and our dream. Alec, my fellow producers Michael and Nikhil, 1st AD Harry, and everyone else on the team were always ready for songs and jokes. Any day on the set it would look like we were just hanging out and having an enormously good time in 110 degrees,” Qiu describes.
Spiral Farm premiered at the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival where it was also nominated for the Best Narrative Feature. It then won Best First Film at the 2019 Taormina International Film Festival and Director’s Choice for Emerging Feature Filmmaker at the 2019 Woods Hole Film Festival. It was also selected by the Queens World Film Festival in 2020. Also in 2019, the film was released theatrically in the United States. Now, the film is available for purchase or rent on Amazon Prime Video.
“This is the project where I re-discovered the fun in filmmaking. It was like I was blind for two years and suddenly could see again, all thanks to my fellow filmmakers,” says Qiu.
Be sure to check out Spiral Farm on Prime Video.