ECHOES AHEAD: A Word With ‘Echo 8’ Scribe Elizabeth H. Vu
Actress and filmmaker Maria Tran’s bolstering independent film career is making headway in the festival circuit with the new psychological action drama, Echo 8. Filming took a few years with the film ending up in post-production with trailer footage finally making its debut late last summer, followed by a series of screenings already underway since ramping up local screening efforts last Fall. (My review can be found here.)
In the film, Tran plays the member of a clandestine organization of assassins, whose latest mission now finds her brought face to face with someone connected to her past. The film was written by Elizabeth H. Vu who is more well-learned in the horror arena, which makes Echo 8 her inaugural dip in the action arena, and with suspense now hanging in lieu of the film’s upcoming trilogy slate which now includes Echo 8: Beyond and Echo 8: Five By Five.
Vu and Tran have been real busy in recent weeks with the latter still wrangling a loaded shooting schedule of her own, but I did take interest in talking to the former about her career, her thoughts on the genre, and what her plans and hopes are going forward. Enjoy our discussion below, and follow the film’s updates through the official website!
Thanks for joining me for an interview Elizabeth. How has 2023 treated you so far?
2023 has been slower-paced than last year. I’m still in holiday mode. But I feel things will be gearing up in the coming months.
I’m intrigued by that last part given the recent announcement for the next two Echo 8 sequels and especially with the first film doing well for itself at festivals. Was it always the plan to make it a trilogy?
At the time of writing Echo 8, I had written very rough outlines for a prequel and sequel. It wasn’t a plan that was set in stone. Honestly, I didn’t think it was going to happen at all. But after the incredible reception from the two screenings we held last year, I realized Echo 8 was the epitome of community-based collaboration and if we didn’t do anything, there probably wasn’t going to be a movie like it in Australia ever again. So, with that, I was able to convince Maria and Takashi to move forward with the next two installments.
I want to talk a little more about the sequels after this. Right now, though, I’d like to dive a bit deeper into you and your beginnings in screenwriting, and how it all started for you leading up to now. Tell us, what inspired you to take this particular career path?
When I was 14, I wanted to be a novelist after watching a J.K. Rowling interview on TV. She was talking about how she came up with the idea for Harry Potter and how a world created from her imagination brought so much joy to others.
After two years of trying and failing to write a book, I watched a terribly-depressing movie called Bridge to Terabithia and wanted to write something that made people cry as much as I did in that movie. Maria, who at the time was an aspiring actress who spent her weekends shooting action scenes in the park, casually suggested screenwriting to me. I didn’t know what screenwriting was, but as I read more and more about it on the internet, the more I grew obsessed. The very concept of creating a new world and the characters in it from what started as a page blank was mindblowing to me. It was pure magic.
Very soon after, my mum gifted me my first and only screenwriting book, Screenwriting for Dummies, and I started working on my first feature script. Mind you, I was unaware of screenwriting software at the time, so I wrote in Word and had to use “tab” a lot, which annoyingly had to be realigned every time I wrote something.
I’ve actually never seen Terabithia, but…I have seen Ratatouille which is a tear-jerker for me! Speaking of past moviegoing, talk about some of your own influences going into Echo 8 and working with Maria Tran on how to manifest your ideas together.
Maria approached me in February 2019 and wanted me to write her a short action script to shoot later that year. I wrote her an action sc-fi comedy called Flushback that was about a time traveling toilet. Maria came back to me in September, ready to start pre-production when I suggested diving straight into making a feature. My dad was going on holiday very soon and his house was going to be empty for three months, so we already had our main location. I was given free rein to write whatever I wanted. The only request Maria made was to include a female assassin that was going to be played by her and a fair amount of action scenes.
For Echo 8, I was strongly influenced by Maleficent and its theme of maternal love. The story was inspired by many female assassin movies that came before it, like Kill Bill, The Long Kiss Goodnight and Atomic Blonde.
Did you write the script with certain actors in mind, or was casting the next phase of it?
We kind of did it at the same time. As I was working on the script, I would send Maria bits and pieces of the story and she would then go off and contact various people she thought would fit the part. A lot of the actors were new to acting and we didn’t know if they could pull it off, but it all worked out in the end. We were also very fortunate to have the super-talented Gabrielle Chan and Mike Leeder come on board.
I remember years ago seeing a BTS segment on TV for The Wrestler where screenwriter Robert Siegel once talked of having to write the wrestling scenes for the film, and that sort of brings me to this question in terms of the process of writing action into a story because I’ve seen screenplays where the choreography is written in. Was that process similar for you and Maria any before filming?
Maria and I always knew she was going to devise the fight choreography herself, so I didn’t have to write anything spectacular or complicated when it came to the action in the script. Our process worked great because I knew nothing about fighting. I still don’t know anything about fighting!
That’s fair, and totally plausible as you’re pretty versatile in your field for as long as you’ve been at it. Have you been able to screen Echo 8 since the last few months? And what do you think of the reception its been getting?
We’ve only screened it twice last year, and what really surprised me was how much people loved the movie. I think what everyone was impressed by was what we were able to pull off with such a small budget. Our next screening is in April, so I look forward to seeing whether we get more of the same reception.
What do you like most about your partnership and working with Maria and Phoenix Eye?
Maria is not big on storytelling, so I like that she sits back and lets me do my thing when it comes to writing. She has a tremendous amount of trust in me and I appreciate that. Working with Phoenix Eye also lets me explore writing different genres such as action and comedy, which I usually wouldn’t write if left to my own devices.
You were also tapped to write the upcoming horror thriller Wake with Fivel Stewart, which definitely sits more along the lines of some of your other credits in terms of drama and supernatural thrillers. Would you say these are more your preferred genres?
I’ve been writing horror and supernatural thrillers for a long time and it’s what I feel most comfortable writing. I’m a diehard horror fan and I watch everything from psychological to slashers, so it definitely helps to love the genre you’re writing.
Wake was a spec script, so I spent many months on my own writing it and during that time I really fell in love with the story. I think if it was an action, that wouldn’t have happened. Horror captivates me like no other genre. It’s something I tried to weave into Echo 8, but unfortunately, it didn’t translate to the screen very well and a lot of the horror-esque scenes were left on the cutting room floor.
In my view after watching the film, in terms of finding your ground in the Echo 8 universe as an action IP, there are things to latch onto when it comes to the more psychological, more cerebral, more concentrated and dark aspects in the first film. They’re not too obvious in the first film, but they’re there in a way. I think. And so, going into Beyond and Five By Five, how different can fans of the first film expect the sequels to be, tonally speaking?
Although I can’t disclose anything about the plot, I can say that Five by Five is going to be much, much darker whereas Beyond is going to be light-hearted and fun. I can assure you that fans of the first film will find something to love in the next two installments.
Are there any other aspects of filmmaking you see yourself expanding into, like directing?
Maria directed a lot of shorts before doing Echo 8 and I respect her ability to get projects across the line, so I would definitely love to get into directing one day. I think it would give me more creative control over my work.
Are there any movies you’re looking forward to watching in 2023? What recommendations do you have for our readers, if any? I know Echo 8 is one!
I’m a huge cinephile, so there are always movies I’m looking forward to! In particular, I’m excited to watch Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Evil Dead Rise this year. My past movie recommendations include The Witch, Hereditary and X. All horror and all worth watching! And if you haven’t already seen it, M3GAN is a surprisingly fun movie I recently caught at the cinemas.
Do you have any words of advice for any current and aspiring screenwriters who might be reading this interview?
My biggest piece of advice is to finish what you start. No matter how big or small you think the project you’re working on is, finish it because every time you see something through to completion, you’re actively working on your craft and improving.
That kind of brings me to my last question which dates back to something Maria pointed out in previous posts about Echo 8, as it was billed as the first production of its kind, Asian-Australian and with a cast and crew comprised of mostly women. In your view, going forward and given its festival reception so far, what does this mean for the local film community and today’s generation of local film talents in Oz?
In our efforts to create the first Asian-Australian trilogy of films on a tiny budget, we hope that Echo 8 will inspire the current and future generations of independent filmmakers in Australia. The main message we want the local film community to take away from the reception our film is getting is that you don’t have to be in Hollywood to make something, you don’t have to have an enormous budget to make a film and most importantly, you don’t need permission to create.
Personally, I would love to see the local film talents find their own passion, hone their individual crafts and collaborate to create something of value.
Elizabeth, you’re an absolute gem, and I thank you for sharing a piece of your story with us. And best of luck on completing the Echo trilogy!
Thank you, Lee!
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.
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