Joan Fang: Spider-Man Far From Home VFX Coordinator and International Award-Winning Film Producer from China
Produced by Marvel Studios, Spider-Man: Far From Home has earned $972 million global box office up-to-date, surpassing both Homecoming and Spider-Man 3 to become the highest-grossing Spider-Man movie of all time. It has broken several historical box office records: the largest opening Tuesday and single day Tuesday gross of all time ($39 million) and second biggest Independence Day weekend ($93 million.) As one of the behind-the-scene heroes, Joan Fang explains to us her journey on the postproduction of Far From Home as a VFX coordinator, who managed a large number of VFX personnel to create the both critically and commercially successful film.
Joan Fang (original name Chuyan Fang) is a LA-based film producer and visual effects coordinator from China. She is known for managing visual effects on Spider-Man: Far From Home, The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle, and producing international award-winning films including Li Shan, Sunset Sunrise, and Maddy’s Situation.
“It’s a dream-come-true to work at Marvel,” says Joan, “they’ve gotten the best teams out there in Hollywood, and that’s why every single film they’ve done is successful with no exception. It’s an honor to have been part of the best group of filmmakers.”
Marvel movies are known for the quality of their visual effects work, and at the time Far From Home was the biggest visual effects project in the world. “We had 2000+ VFX shots that required hundreds of CG assets to complete them. This heavy workload within a limited time frame demanded efficient management skills from us. We outsourced the CG work to VFX facilities all around the world, had 11 main VFX vendors with 2 graphics vendors as well as our in-house team.”
As a coordinator, Joan oversaw the whole production process of her VFX vendors to ensure the VFX work is delivered on time and on budget for the release of the movie. Everyday, she reviewed hundreds of shot and asset versions submitted by VFX vendors with her production team, gave creative and technical feedbacks with the VFX Supervisor, and overlooked the execution of all notes. Assigning and monitoring the artists’ work was a major part of her duty. She also organized daily meetings with the vendors on submission discussions. Through using Cinesync for real-time media syncing and FileMaker Pro for advanced database tracking, Joan optimized the turnaround progress and production efficiency.
“I also managed our VFX in-house team,” says Joan, “they’re the same as another vendor but physically worked at the Marvel office with us. With this advantage they could turn around work a lot more quickly for the studio and director. Working with them was a more intimate experience than a remote vendor because I had the opportunity to coordinate each artist and the supervisor in person. I worked closely with the in-house supervisor for artist assignments and it’s always a case-by-case creative problem solving. My team completed more than 300 final shots in the movie. I was really proud.”
Close to the final delivery, Joan said they had very long working hours. “For about one and a half months we worked 14-16 hours a day, 7 days a week non-stop. In general the time left for postproduction keeps shrinking in the industry, and we always keep improving as much as possible until the last minute.” She endured some tough weeks together with her vendors and artists. “They had a lot of pressure in finishing the final battle sequence and a few of the graphics scenes. Luckily our team members worked very well with one another and took cover for each other when needed, and we had great supportive bosses that led us through the finishing line. I’m grateful for my colleagues and my producers. We were like a family.”
Now Joan is very pleased to see her hard work paying off in the movie’s theatrical achievements, as the box office and critical reviews of Spider-Man: Far From Home are both very successful. She is proud that it’s also doing incredibly well in her home country China, breaking $200 million gross recently.
Besides VFX, Joan has also worked as an independent producer on various film projects. Her ultimate goal is to become a producer for universal stories that connect people from different cultures, especially in China and US. “Growing up in big cities like Beijing and LA, I’ve always wanted to create something that make people less isolated from one another. Film, for me, is a great excuse to spend time with loved ones in full engagement. For 2 hours, I hope to make families and friends look up from their cellphones, laugh and cry together, and share a bit of their lives.”
The first short film Joan produced was a comedy adventure called Maddy’s Situation. It’s about a normal girl’s house being broken in by a superhero seeking shelter, making jokes on all the superhero clichés. First timers are always hard but the festival circuit made all the hard work worth it. It got into Semi-Finalist at San Mauro Film Festival and Los Angeles CineFest. MedFilm Festival in Rome, Red Corner Festival in Germany, Nassau Film Festival in Princeton, and SoCal Clips Indie Fest local in LA all officially selected it for screening. “I was multitasking as also the writer director, and took control of all the creative decisions. The superhero movies made a big impact on my childhood and I believe the same for people in my generation. It was very fun to do the research on this project and to write out the superhero cliché gags. The cast embraced their roles and greatly executed all the physical humors. I think the work on this film somehow influenced me to eventually work on superhero movies like Spider-Man.”
After producing a few other projects and gaining enough experience, Joan met the director of Li Shan and signed off on producing this award winning script. It’s a medical drama based on the true historical event of the Chinese doctor who cured SARS in 2003. “It was a lot of pressure to make the movie of a historic hero in my home country, but it was also very exciting,” says Joan. From script development all the way to distribution, she worked on the project for almost one and a half years. It shot in both LA and China, in over 16 locations. The total number of crew and cast she had was over 200 people. “It was a lot of management work for me. Luckily I had a production team of 7 members, from co-producers to associate producers, and they all helped me in different aspects like casting, budget, schedule, locations, paperwork, etc.” Alfred P. Sloan Foundation awarded her $22,500 toward production for the story’s contribution to technology and science. “It meant a lot for an independent film,” says Joan. As a result it successfully screened at the annual Sloan seminar, got into the Hot List at the 43rd Cleveland International Film Festival, and had an Honorable Mention at this year’s Asian in Film. Canada China International Film Festival, DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival, Asian Film Festival of Dallas, and the LA Shorts International Film Festival all selected Li Shan for their official festival screening. “It was very satisfying to hear people’s compliments on how meaningful it is to have this historical event made onto the big screen.”
It led to Joan’s producer role on Sunset Sunrise, an Asian-American drama short about a son’s sexual revelation to his traditional Taiwanese mother. The visual storytelling is very subtle yet powerful in the character’s emotions. “The director himself is from Taiwan and has a very sensitive touch in human relationships. I agreed to the producing deal right away after reading the script, and contributed to the plot myself as well. The production went very smoothly as the key crew all knew each other well and were easy to work with.” Joan had a very limited budget but she managed to make the most out of it with the department heads. The festival circuit loved her final product. The film won the grand Jury Award at this year’s Asian Pacific Film Festival, Finalist at both AFMA Film Festival of Young Cinema in LA and Shanghai Pride Film Festival back in China. It was screened at Asians on Film Festival, Seattle Asian American Film Festival, Chinese American Film Festival, Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival, and Taiwanese American Film Festival.
Joan has worked on very different types of projects, ranging from multi-hundred-million superhero films to low-budget indies. “I think these different experiences made me a better producer and filmmaker in general.” Right now Joan is developing several independent feature projects and will continue working in visual effects management. “I am very lucky to be in this industry and having worked on every project I’ve worked on. I love the feeling of bringing a good story from script to the big screen. The people in this business are all passionate about cinema, and nothing feels better than being one of them and working among them.”