With assassins, martial art action, and a cast and crew of dedicated independent filmmakers, Echo 8 has all the prerequisites to become a successful martial arts-action film. The lead actors and filmmakers, husband and wife duo Takashi Hara and Maria Tran, have worked tirelessly on the project since 2019. They have dealt with a myriad of obstacles, such as tight budgets and strict Covid lockdowns, as well as a major life change when they wed in 2020. Through it all, they kept true to their vision and created something unique, as Tran points out, “Echo 8 is Australia’s first, independent, female-led action movie.”
The origin of Echo 8 began at the urging of Tran’s sister, and accomplished screenwriter, Elizabeth H. Vu. After making shorter projects, she urged Tran to make a full-length film, and Tran agreed.“I said to her, okay, let’s make a feature, but, you know, I don’t have a big budget. So, how do you write it where there’s three, four characters, in one location…non-stop fight scenes, right? And she ended up writing it in about a week or something: Echo 8.”
The legendary Billy Jack (1971), an independent martial arts-action classic, is proof that you don’t need to have a big budget to have a great cinematic achievement, however, to sell the action, it’s best to have some actors that know what the heck they are doing. Lucky for Echo 8, they do. Both Maria Tran and Takashi Hara have martial art skills and abilities that have served them well in their film careers as actors, stunt performers, and filmmakers, and in creating the action for the film. Hara’s martial art studies include Kendo, Kenjutsu, Xing Yi Quan, and Wushu with a specialization in the nine-section whip, and spear. Tae Kwon Do, Hapkido, and Shaolin Kung Fu are the main martial arts Tran draws from. With the proper kicking and punching box checked, they could move on to the other challenge: making the movie.
All the push-ups, bag work, and sparring in the world won’t add more money to the budget though, and money is the lifeblood of an independent film like Echo 8. To say the budget was low, would be an understatement, as Hara states, “Zero funding. We started from zero funding.” The film was ultimately made for approximately, $7,000. (That’s American dollars, and the reader may want to read the previous sentence again.) The team incorporated every cost-saving method possible to see their work completed, such as taking on cast and production positions, but always maintaining the integrity of the project, and trusting each other to do the best they could at all times, as Tran explains, “A lot of the stuff we do, is the fact that we double up on roles. For me, not only doing the choreography but directing. And if I’m in front of the camera, I expect Takashi (Hara) to know, exactly, similar skill sets that I have as well so that we make the shoot efficient, we go for one or two takes.”
Tran and Hara didn’t learn their craft, or tricks of the trade, at a film school, but rather from experience. Some of Tran’s experiences included being immersed in the high-speed world of Asian filmmaking. She had to be efficient, and master how to put a scene together quickly. “I learned that skill in Asia when I was working in China, when I was working in Vietnam, which is very fast and furious. I’d just get thrown in the deep end. I remember the director’s like, ‘OK, Maria, you’re going to do second unit in this scene, I’m just going to go off, you better get me the shots by this time…’ I was like, oh, my gosh, what do I do?” Although stressful, for Tran, it was a great learning experience, “So, given opportunities like that to either thrive or die, really. And really having to deliver.”With strict budgets, choices have to be made, but Tran keeps her eyes on the prize, “I always have to balance it out, but always making sure that it’s all for the greater good of the project.” For Echo 8, the filmmakers had to get creative with every aspect of production, including where they actually filmed the movie. As Hara tells, the answer was right under their nose, “Okay, we have no budget? We’ll just shoot it in our home.” Tran and Hara have proven that filmmaking is like martial arts training: it's not what you have, it's what you do with it.
The Philosophy of Filmmaking
A film has to be more than just flashy scenes put together. For Tran and Hara, it has to resonate on a deeper level than just excitement, as Tran describes, “It’s important if you’re doing an action film, that there is that story, there’s the heart because we don’t want to make another action film. We want to make a film that has a message, and a message that connects people to themselves as well. It’s a bit more philosophical, but that’s what we’re trying to aim for.” Their philosophy carries over into how they build the action as well. “Making a scene is not just about how to punch. No, it’s more about how to build a story,” Hara said.
The Art of Opportunity
Although both Tran and Hara are film veterans, they are eager to provide opportunities to those that have never been in a film or even thought about working in entertainment. Tran elaborates on their unusual casting choices for Echo 8, “Most of these people who are in our film, they’ve never acted before, a lot of them haven’t. And for them, to see themselves on the big screen... I think it will do so much more for them.” Tran hopes the opportunity will enable people that may not have thought of an entertainment career, to consider broader horizons and bigger dreams. “You know how when you are just doing 9 to 5, and you’re thinking, yeah, this is my life, this is how it’s got to be? But when you’re able to be part of a project, and then you can start to see, what if? Look at this. I’ve done this small little role, but now it’s in the cinemas. It’s on the big screen. It gives them so much back, and it helps the community.”
Though the indie film world is a place that requires time, energy, intention, and an indefatigable spirit, Tran and Hara are seeking not only to open doors for themselves but to create projects with meaning and opportunity for others as well. Tran spells out their mission, “We’re trying to de-mystify it, we’re trying to make it more accessible. And we’re trying to put normal people, like everyday people, as stars in front of the camera, that’s what we want to do. And we want to put a call out to other independent filmmakers, or creators, or producers, who want to be able to collaborate with us on that. Whether it’s our project, or whether it’s their project. We want to be able to have that exchange of creating safe spaces, and a good efficient practice where people are heard, and people are making good films, regardless of genre.”
In addition to seeing Takashi Hara and Maria Tran in Echo 8, you can see Maria Tran in the upcoming series The Last King of the Cross.
Echo 8 is preparing for release in 2023.
Echo 8 trailer: https://youtu.be/-nNrc6BmkuU
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