Malaysian director and gimbal operator making waves in US film industry

  • People
  • Monday, 02 Jul 2018

Malaysian-born cinematographer, director and gimbal operator Chia is currently based in LA. Photo: Taylor Blackburn

If you ask Zac Chia what he does for a living, it will not be a straighforward answer. Besides being an award-winning director, he is also a cinematographer and gimbal operator and technician. He has also ventured into the world of online gaming, providing content.

But wait, what’s a gimbal?

Chia (pic) usually works with a three-axis brushless gimbal, which is basically a stabilisation device designed to keep the camera level on all axes as the camera operator moves the camera, taking out unwanted shakes and vibrations.

A gimbal technician is a camera technician who specialises in setting up a gimbal while a gimbal operator is a camera operator who, in addition to operating a camera traditionally, specialises in operating gimbals.

“Gimbals are extremely versatile and can be mounted on cars, jibs, drones, cable cams and so on. An operator or technician can facilitate all that and bring up the production value with a variety of ways to move the camera for a shot or scene,” explained Chia, 23, via e-mail.

Zac Chia
Chia's short film 'Saptapadi', on arranged marriages, was selected for the Seattle Asian American Film Festival 2018. Photo: Carlos Cortes

Born and raised in Malaysia, Chia is currently based in Los Angeles, California. The Catholic High School alumnus graduated from Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, last May with a double Bachelors degree (BA) in Film Production and Screenwriting.

Chia was first drawn to film when he took a mass communication class while doing his American Degree Programme at a private college in Subang Jaya, Selangor.

“The fact that film is one of the few (if not the only) forms of art that can only be executed with collaboration was (and still is) incredibly attractive and fascinating to me. It is also a storytelling medium that blends art and science and technology, an art form that blends the visual and aural mediums, and a business that balances money-making and entertainment. It’s honestly the perfect medium for storytelling, in my opinion,” he said.

So far, Chia’s success as a director is quite impressive. His short film Saptapadi was selected for the recent Seattle Asian American Film Festival 2018 and also won the LA shorts award in November 2017.

Chia was inspired to do the film, which is about arranged marriages, after he met his girlfriend’s ethnic Indian roommates in Chicago who were dating but both had arranged marriages waiting for them back home.

“As a director, Saptapadi is my proudest work to date, as it tells a story with characters and a culture that I’m very passionate about,” said Chia, who also wrote the film.

Operating the gimbal for a video promoting dance company BodyTraffic's 2018 US Dance Tour. Photo: Justin Teng

Does he plan to produce similar work in the future?

“Yeah, definitely! It tells a story not many people are aware of (at least not here in the States), and I want to tell stories that are less represented on the screen, and share the stories with everyone,” he said.

His other film, Where Things May Grow, was chosen for the Bates Film Festival 2018. The film follows Jack and Charlotte, a young married couple who are left with only each other after an apocalyptic event destroys the world. Under the pressure of extreme isolation, their relationship comes apart, until one of them takes drastic measures to save it.

Chia has also had the opportunity to pioneer and kickstart content for Blizzard’s Overwatch League as a segment director, cinematographer and editor. His work has been shown on an international platform, most notably in the United States, China and Europe. (First released in 2016, Overwatch is an online fantasy first-person shooter developed by Blizzard.)

On the set of US indie film 'Wild Boys'. Photo: Vince Valentin

“That (experience) was a new challenge as I’d never pioneered content for a show, or done anything in e-sports, and in that sense, it was an experience out of my comfort zone. “It has taught me to think on my feet very quickly and how to analyse trends and marketability when in comes to content,” he said.

Chia’s portfolio also includes shooting a video promoting dance company Bodytraffic’s 2018 US Dance Tour, being a gimbal technician on Fox and T-Mobile’s The Four Collaboration videos, and gimbal operator for the pilot of Cupid’s Match, a CW Seed show.

He also just completed a Chinese crypto currency commercial with photography director Arden Tse.

Donning various hats in his career, which role challenges him the most?

“This is a hard (question)! Each hat I wear comes with different, unique challenges but the biggest challenge is to be both a director and cinematographer on some of my projects. Being the director and cinematographer means that I have to juggle lighting and camera work on top of directing the actors’ and actresses’ performances, the visual style as a whole, and overseeing the rest of the departments on a set. It is something that I still struggle with, but something I absolutely love to do.”

Zac is currently in pre-production for A Good Thing, a short he will be directing in August in Chicago, written and produced by Terrence Grant.

If he had the chance, Chia said, he would be thrilled to work with Malaysian-born director James Wan. “I’m a huge fan of his work! I’d also love to work with director David Fincher, as he is one of the most meticulous directors out there.”

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