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Writer and Director Bizhan Tong: How Writing is like Oxygen

Bizhan Tong was born in Highgate in North London. He has been writing for 2 decades. When he was 12-years old he had written his first feature film. For Tong, writing was his only medium where he could express his perception of the world and inspire others through stories.

Tong has been writing screenplays almost every day since. “Writing is like oxygen to me, and without putting pen to paper the colors of the world seem duller by comparison,” says, Tong.

Bizhan Tong Photoshoot 27 (1)

Every achievement Tong has to date, from becoming the youngest MBA student in the UK at 21 to making the film, “The Escort” can be attributed to both his parents and his solid upbringing. His teachers instilled the value of self-confidence and belief that “No dream is ever too big.”

While The Escort is the film which has opened many doors in his career, he considers “Ticket” to have been his first break. “There was a lot of interest and support making this short film,” says, Tong. “The experience was an educational one, and the connections I made then have stayed with me ever since.” “ In fact, that year was a particularly good one for me as I was also Associate Producer of the Olivia Wilde feature “Fix” and produced another short film, “Cinco de Mayo.”

What do you look for in a cast? “When an Actor is cast in a role the character belongs to him.” “As a Filmmaker, I seek Actors and Actresses, who can inhabit those roles and feel strongly about their parts as we look to bring them to life.” “Filmmaking is a collaborative process and while I am ultimately responsible for what we view on-screen, I firmly believe that by placing trust in our cast and being open to their views we can tell a stronger story.” “At the same time, I believe in possessing the malleability of water in order to adapt to challenges. I want my cast to be receptive to ideas while pursuing the right route in order to give their finest performance.”

Bizhan Tong Photoshoot 19

What challenges arise in independent filmmaking? “In the world of independent film, financial issues tend to pose the biggest challenges, but this can be resolved by taking budget limitations into account when writing the script and use the restrictions as a creative advantage.” “Another is the need to wear multiple hats and take every challenge into consideration from different perspectives to ensure problems are overcome in a manner that is acceptable for all.” “ Linked to this is logistics and how we can work together to achieve a specific shot or film a series of scenes noting the conflicting schedules of the cast.”

Tongs recent film, “The Escort” has received many awards. According to Tong,  “The Escort” tells the story of a young man who has 60 minutes to convince an escort to leave her line of work. The escort is no damsel in distress while the client is no saint, and over the course of their journey, the pair engages in a verbal battle of wits as they fight for their beliefs all the while peeling away the layers of who they really are. The film explores gender perception within society and the skewed power dynamics between men and women, treating the escort industry as a microscopic prism of society in general, to examine the loss of intimacy in the social media age and nature of relationships today.

The film has received various awards since it debuted in August at the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema in New York. Tong won the Best Director award there as well as the Best Screenplay award in New Jersey. “The Escort”  was a passion project of Tongs which he wrote, directed, produced, and funded over the course of 3 years. “My goal has always been to provide a platform for the Escorts who continue to be ignored and allow their voices to be heard.” “It is wonderful to see this realized especially after the Weinstein scandal emerged and the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements were formed while we were in post-production on the film.” “The film has never felt more prescient and I am glad it is touching audiences across the globe.”

Tong also owns, Phoenix Waters Productions a production company which addresses his two biggest loves – telling great stories and enacting positive social change. He formed the company in 2015 for the purpose of developing projects for Film and TV telling high concept stories in various genres dealing with pertinent social themes ranging from racism to consent. With the goal being to entertain audiences first and foremost while subtly shedding light on social issues in order to prompt viewers to act for the betterment of our society.

“The intent is to live and breathe the values we espouse and in addition to the message of our movies Phoenix Waters Productions makes a positive contribution through the filmmaking process whether it be supporting the economy of local communities or in the case of one project, The Sit-Down, we are looking to strictly hire individuals from the BAME community both in front of and behind the camera in order to address the decline of BAME employment in the film production sector and provide opportunities many are denied.”

Giving back is a high-priority for Tong. “The opportunities afforded to me throughout my life have in part been achieved because of the support of others, and I believe wholeheartedly that we have a responsibility to do the same in an effort to improve the world we live in for future generations. This is why Phoenix Waters Productions was formed – to create positive social change – but I am also involved in 2 children’s charities, sitting on the committee of Variety the Children’s Charity which helps disadvantaged children across the UK and on the local advisory board of Career Ready which helps young people find work. Both charities mean a lot to me because I can witness first-hand the positive differences we are making to children’s lives and the impact it has had on their communities, and I hope to do more.”

His next feature in development is “Night Ride,” a road-trip thriller about a hitchhiker who is picked up by a family of serial killers which explores the dark side of the American Dream. It’s an homage to the ‘80s movies that Tong grew up watching from The Hitcher to The Lost Boys. This is a passion project that he wanted to tell the story,  since coming up with the idea in 2006. It will be a co-production between Phoenix Waters Productions and Mercury Pictures (USS Indianapolis). Tong is presently in the process of casting. He is also in the process of developing a TV series, Thieves, about a team of criminals who have 7 days to rob the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Twitter: @TheEscortFilm (https://twitter.com/theescortfilm)

Twitter: @bizhan_tong (https://twitter.com/bizhan_tong)

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/whatisyourprice/

Website: http://www.escortfilm.com/

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