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'Offsprung' Finds Film Festival Success

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“Offsprung” director Rain Zheng and producer Shiyi Gu. Photo courtesy of Shiyi Gu.

One precursor to consider when diving into art is to “not take anything too personal.” But for Shiyi Gu, graduate student from the School of Motion Pictures & Television at the Academy of Art University and producer of Offsprung, hearing mixed reviews about it almost prevented her from submitting the project into film festivals. And if she let that get the best of her, it would have never won the Best Student Film award from the Women’s Independent Film Festival in Los Angeles this spring, or been awarded the Silver Medal from the WorldFest-Houston International Film & Video Festival.  

“We didn’t want to give up,” she said. “Patricia Pawlak (former film distribution, marketing and film festival participation instructor) supported me very well and gave us good advice, which encouraged me to send it to the different film festivals just to give it a shot. Many of the crew and actors worked very hard for it so I tried for them.”

In Offsprung, viewers are taken down the rabbit-hole into a future where government and media officials groom each other, the upper-echelon fluffs their ego at the expense of the lower class and immaculate conceptions are a tale worthy of television. 

“When [Shiyi] told me we won, my initial reaction was ‘Is this us? What is happening?’” said Rain Zheng, director and M.F.A. student in the School of Motion Pictures & Television at the Academy of Art University. “My brain couldn’t process that information at first. At that point, I picked up writing for another project so it was like I was in different universes that suddenly collided.” 

The story’s protagonist, Gina May Allegory, is a young woman who is gives birth to a litter of bunnies. Despite the interspecies phenom, her maternal instincts kick in and she immediately takes to her furry children, affectionately giving them human names such as Theodore, Sasha and Amelia.

But here’s the caveat: When it was discovered Gina May was pregnant, her parents wed her off to a corrupt, manipulative politician who plans on exploiting his wife and offspring. He “sells” them to the local TV network where Gina May and the rabbits become instant celebrities—that is, until one of the bunnies turns the situation hairy and the infatuation turns into animosity. Gina May has to fight back in hopes of finding a peaceful life for herself and her children. 

Zheng and the film’s producer Shiyi Gu (a fellow MPTV graduate student) were initially drawn into screenwriter Nick Lutz’s script off of the surface “woman gives birth to bunnies” plot, but both agreed that it was the other storylines woven in that gave the movie its depth. 

“I think the theme and topics really reflect the phenomenon of today’s society,” Gu explained. “The way the reporter and politician exploit Gina May, how the audience perceives them at first and how quickly that changes, reflects how easily people [can become] obsessed with one topic and then soon move on to another.”

As the producer, Gu was responsible for the logistics: Finding locations, handling schedules (including managing over 20 speaking roles and more than 80 extras), working with production designers to give the sets the futuristic feel it needed, figuring out how to shoot underwater and most importantly, finding real bunnies to film. 

According to Zheng, Gu was “very ambitious in doing everything she can to make your demands possible.” 

“As a creative person, we all need that creative partner to give you the greenlight to allow ourselves to go wild, to fully explore the possibilities of the material,” she went on to explain. “After reading the script, I thought the story was going to be something very cool, very special, that had a lot of potential that I wouldn’t have been able to achieve outside of the school.”

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“Offsprung” crew at the Women’s Independent Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Shiyi Gu.

Both Zheng and Gu worked closely with instructors Jack Perez, James Egan and the late Curran Engel on this film, providing advice, guidance and rounding out any issues with the script and production. For many MPTV students, a thesis film is the culmination of their Academy education into a single project and is structured to replicate a real-world industry experience. 

“I think [the Academy] has a good atmosphere and the teachers encourage students to do their projects independently,” said Gu. “[They] let us try to figure out the challenges and difficulties by ourselves, including when it comes to collaborating with other departments.” 

Based off of “Offsprung’s” success, Gu said she would like to continue to submit the film into other festivals, but she is still conducting research on where she thinks it would be a good fit. Both Gu and Zheng graduated this past semester and are currently working on new projects and seeking fresh opportunities.