A multicultural upbringing inspires filmmaker Tom Edwards to create powerful stories on screen
Storytelling through film has the power to unite an array of different perspectives. Many creatives understand this concept but only a few can deliver award winning work. Filmmakers like Tom Edwards are among the few.
His understanding of how film impacts society is stems from his consciously aware upbringing and family roots. At a young age Edwards explored his identity and found his voice through the camera lens, photographing friends and family members. The joy he found in piecing these memories into videos with music never left him and has now carried over into a successful career as a filmmaker.
"What sets me apart from everyone else in the industry is my multicultural background. I went to an international school in Shanghai and I had the opportunity to immerse myself in different cultures. I've learnt that making films is about connecting with others."
Edwards takes pride in his culturally diverse background, his father is from England and his mother is from China. Born in St. Albans, England, Tom was raised in Southampton until the age of 10 until his family moved to Shanghai, China. Despite his high school in China not having film studies, Tom involved himself with the closest thing to it, theater and performance. This became an opportunity for Tom to incorporate film into all his theater projects.
"I wrote, cast and directed a thirty-minute absurdist play which incorporated hybrid theatre, which allowed me to expand my creative matrix with film and understand the importance of performance. Gradually as my skills got better, whenever there was an event in my school or if my teachers needed help making a short video for class they knew who to call," Tom said.
Wanting to know more on what it takes to create a real film, Tom eagerly took the next step. He reached out to a local production company called "Available Light Films," where he assisted in every way he could from carrying tripods to editing. This real life hands on experience gave him a perspective on what it takes to tell a story through cinema.
"Even though the role was small, I felt a sense of belonging, I enjoyed being a part of the bigger picture. I began to understand the importance of storytelling and the power of media," Tom said.
This stepping stone solidified Tom's existing understanding of the "power of media," and also gifted him with the experience to create his own work. Film school was the next destination. And with the know-how of what it takes to build a film from the ground up, Tom delved into the directing and producing of his own visionary piece, the film "Ninety - One: A Tainted Page."
"The film "Ninety One: A Tainted Page" is about a school student named Austin who despite being very bright, he can't seem to meet the expectations of his parents of becoming a doctor. In the film, Austin receives back his biology test score and he receives a lower grade than usual, it is the week of his parent interviews. After the mother returns from the interview, his mother loses face and it is up to Austin to make the final decision on what he must do with his life," Tom explains.
Inspired by his good friend, who was never able to spend time with his friends, Tom took it upon himself to direct and produce this story. He saw the importance of shedding light on this strict cultural upbringing. Known as "tiger parenting," this way of life for a child revolves around performing well in school and pleasing the parents.
"Some parents will set unreasonably high expectations for their kids and many can't seem to meet it. My friend went through depression and I thought to myself, what was the point of all of it?" Tom said.
This film shed light on a common issue shared throughout the world in many households. It also gave a voice to children who are suffering from the absence of a social life and not being able to explore their creativity or individuality. Tom's ultimately speaks about mental health and the importance of balance which is why his film received well deserved recognition. It won Best Overall Film, Best Actor, Best IB (International Baccalaureate) film at the Shanghai Student Film Festival in 2013 and was chosen as an Official Selection at the International Youth Film Festival in 2014.
Tom explains, "It takes time and preparation to make cinema and I believe story is pivotal. Story comes before anything else. If you have a good story and a message, the film can go far regardless of the production value."
Overall, Tom proved to himself his ability to execute impactful projects juggling as writer, director and producer in an outstanding way. All it took was an idea and the right tools to create his vision with the help of friends and family members to join in as actors. He explains why it is so important to keep in mind how important every element that goes into the film from lighting to acting.
"When I'm both the director and producer on a project, it's important to find the balance. I need to have a flip switch when I do both. Sometimes there's no other way but to where multiple hats," admits Tom. "Every position is equally important. If you're the director and producer, you have to make the necessary choices. Everybody should believe in the film, be on the same page, and together something special will be made."
With little to no money for his first major film Tom's one-man crew awarded him well deserved recognition driving him into countless projects with big name artists. He has recently shot footage for music videos with the best in the industry, such as Enrique Iglesias, French Montana and Becky G to name a few.
Attending New York Film Academy furthered Tom's knowledge into every function that takes place in film. But his early experiences working with the camera as a young boy is still very familiar to him and just as rewarding. His role working on the Becky G music video for her song "Zooted," was the behind the scenes videographer delving right back into his natural element. The video produced over 30 million views.
Tom says, "When it comes to shooting behind the scenes, it's really about having good intuition, to be on your toes, and being prepared to press record when something exciting happens. As a videographer, you don't have the luxury to do more than one take, you must be confident in every shot you do, especially when you're working with such talent."
From films to music videos where he's worked as a director, producer and videographer, Tom Edwards has truly done it all. Tom recently directed and produced the Shaolin Temple Commercial, created content for brands including Lamborghini, Garrison Bespoke, The Sirius and fashion influencers Edward Zo and Bambi Martinez, as well as for well-known artists Maria Leon and Maite Perroni. The Shaolin Temple project however is one that Tom deemed uniquely special as it led him back to his roots.
"I was doing some research online and I found some places to visit. I was driving through Sherman Oaks and I saw Shaolin Temple Los Angeles. I didn't know much of Shaolin at the time, but have always been fascinated with the monks in China, the philosophy and the ancient traditions. I decided to go inside and ask if the temple needed a promotional video."
Tom was asked by the Abbot of the Temple if he had experience with Shaolin, but at the time he did not. However, Tom felt a deep connection with the temple and decided to join the journey of becoming a disciple. Through meditation, training, and immersing himself in the culture, Tom began to write a concept for how he wanted the commercial to go.
Tom explains, "The commercial itself takes us on a journey, we trail behind a group of Shaolin warriors entering the temple, lighting a candle, meditating, training and finally ending with disciples drinking tea with the master. The commercial has been posted on YouTube and also been posted on my personal Shaolin page on Instagram @ShiHengChuang which has amassed over 50,000 followers and over a million impressions."
The production coordinator for the Shaolin project, Brandyn Williams, worked closely with Tom and trusted his vision. Williams says, "As a person I find him to be very rational and understanding, which also seems to carry over to his work ethic. He's one of the few directors I trust not only for a quality product, but to honor his word and follow through with commitments."
Tom's journey as a filmmaker holds a theme as a visionary creative who goes beyond his bounds in order for stories to come to life. It's no wondering the monks named him, "Everlasting Creativity."
"I had the privilege to become a 35th Generation Shaolin Disciple of Venerable Abbot Shi Yan Fan at the Shaolin Temple Los Angeles. The Abbot gave me the Dharma name Heng Chuang meaning Everlasting Creativity. My name was chosen by the Abbot based on my character. I think it's important to embrace our roots and have a deep understanding of where we come from.
Since the age of 13 Tom's heart was set on telling stories through the lens giving him a voice in his diverse cultural upbringing. And now it has come full circle to new identity as a disciple and artist. His multifaceted background in film no doubt sets him apart, but what makes Edwards stand out is his ability to connect with others through meaningful, powerful on screen storytelling."I've learnt that making films is about connecting with others. I'm dedicated to produce films that connect cultures and help unite the world together, to bring joy, inspire others and shape the future generation."