Linh Tran didn’t think it was time.....
The passing of her father felt too close. While a lot of the stories Linh tells are extensions of herself, she wasn’t sure if she was ready to make a narrative about losing a parent.
Yet, when Happy Pictures, a production company based in Canada, contacted Linh to collaborate on a short film, she didn’t know what she wanted to do. After accepting the offer, she set out in search of an idea.
That’s when she finally landed on making a film about the passing of a parent.
“One thing led to another,” Linh remembers, “and by the end of November, I remember texting my mom if she could send the video of my father’s funeral.”
Still from Video Funeral | Prima Materia Pictures
Linh had decided to make a short film as a proof of concept for a feature film about a Vietnamese woman who’d emigrated to the United States and lost her father while away from home. Immediately, Linh shared her new vision with her long-time collaborator Hannah Schierbeek.
“I had a small dinner party at my place and Hannah was there,” Linh recollects. “I told her that I wanted to pitch her this idea and so we formed a team.”
The pair have been part of each other’s filmmaking journeys for a long time. Linh and Hannah have collaborated on projects as director and production designer (respectively) like Hand-washed (2020) and Breakfast (2019). They founded a production company together called Prima Materia Pictures. Yet, first and foremost, they’re best friends.
“We already have that foundation of trust,” Hannah reflects, “which is so important between the producer and director since we’re working with very sensitive topics and a really intimate story.”
That level of trust proved to be invaluable to Linh as a director. She was able to focus solely on directing since she’d had such a close bond with Hannah.
“I felt totally fine to just handle things on my own and leave Linh out of it,” Hannah reasons, “since I knew what Linh wanted to be involved with and what she would prefer not to be.”
George Ellzey Jr. (left), Hannah Schierbeek (middle), and Linh Tran (right) posed for a photograph for the 2022 Community Builders Grant Pitch Session | Camera Ambassador
Casting Video Funeral was initially stressful. The two lead characters, Lam and Phuong, are Vietnamese sisters that spoke a similar dialect. But, at the same time, Linh heavily prioritized the quality of performance.
When Hannah and Linh were casting people, they had the talent do a long slate in Vietnamese, where they were asked about their relationships with their families, what it was like growing up, and what they thought of the script.
There ended up being three rounds of casting and a ton of audition tapes and by April 2021, the cast was chosen. After, the actors were flown in a couple of days before production for rehearsal.
“70% of that time was just us hanging out and going out to eat,” Linh admits. “I like to work with actors and to establish a lot of trust and familiarity. Once you know that they are capable, the only thing you need to make sure of is to create a safe space for them to feel.”
The two lead characters, Phuong (left) and Lam (right), in Video Funeral | Prima Materia Pictures
As part of the 2022 Camera Ambassador Community Builders Grant, both Linh Tran and Hannah Schierbeek pitched Video Funeral for the final round of the competition. In front of a live audience and on an online livestream, the creatives made the case for why their production deserved the funding.
“I always thought that I’ve recovered, but that’s not true,” Linh elaborates. “I wasn’t thinking about my dad’s passing and just brushing past it - in order to heal, you have to face it.”
Out of the three pitches, Video Funeral ended up winning. However, that didn’t mean that Linh’s emotional journey was finished. In fact, Linh was still working on her grief all throughout the filmmaking process.
“I honestly cried so much throughout production,” Linh notes. “When you’re crying, you’re taking your emotions into account instead of just brushing them aside… since the film is inspired by my life, I used my emotions and my experience to inform how I directed.”
Producer Hannah Schierbeek (left) and Director Linh Tran (right) pitching for the final round of the 2022 Community Builders Grant | Camera Ambassador
Linh doesn’t always feel optimistic when thinking about making films. Sometimes, she has a hard time justifying making films in a world where content is so abundant. Nonetheless, the filmmakers are hopeful about the impact of the short film.
“It’ll be nice if people can maybe see a new experience through this film,” says Hannah. “I also think it’d be really special if we can have some sort of screening in Vietnam for Linh’s community there.”
“I went to our coloring session when I was in New York and my best friend happened to be with me at the time,” Linh remembers. “She's Vietnamese and went to college with me, so she knows what it's like to be an international student. And she knew nothing about this film.”
“So, we watched the film through,” Linh continues, “and by the end of the movie, I just heard her crying very quietly and… wow. It was very powerful. So, I hope that whoever watches Video Funeral could be moved - moving people emotionally from tears to laughter and then into action… that’s my entire mission as a filmmaker.”
The cast and crew of Video Funeral | Prima Materia Pictures
Born and raised in Vietnam, LINH TRAN moved to the United States to pursue her higher education in 2013. Starting out in theater acting, she went on to make films, both documentary and fiction. Linh holds an MFA degree in film&TV from DePaul University. Her works are deeply personal, exploring memories of childhood and early adulthood.
HANNAH SCHIERBEEK (b.1997) is a Midwest-based director and producer. Schierbeek’s work examines intimate interpersonal tensions, identity, and socio-ecological dilemmas, often exploring vérité techniques with a surreal cadence. Her directing debut, An Alternative Method (USA, 2020), premiered at the 2021 BFI Future Film Festival. In 2020, she produced Hilum (Philippines, 2020), which premiered at the 2021 Festival du Court Métrage de Clermont-Ferrand, where it won the Student Prize. In 2021, she produced The Headhunter’s Daughter (Philippines, 2021) that premiered and won the Grand Jury Prize for Short Film at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
PRIMA MATERIA PICTURES is an international boutique production company founded in Chicago, IL by filmmakers Linh Tran, Hannah Schierbeek, and Don Josephus Raphael Eblahan. The company works with films that push global boundaries through the cinematic language - connecting stories from diverse cultures and unsung voices and bringing them together to create a body of work that encompasses the complexity of the world around us. Gravitating towards personal, cutting, and stylistically refreshing approaches to the filmmaking, Prima Materia aims to develop and create stories that urge hearts and souls to participate with the culture of cinema and the world around them.