Filmmaker Cinder Chou Tells How a Smelly Sweater Inspired “What Happened to Susan”

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We live in a very complicated world, but sometimes it’s the little everyday things that can really drive you mad. For writer/director Cinder Chou, a fairly mundane annoyance became the inspiration for her first film, What Happened to Susan, screening on February 20th at 8 p.m. as part of the Winter Film Awards Festival in New York City. In this short, Connie Mae discovers that someone has worn her cardigan and now it reeks of body odor —and Connie Mae suspects that one of her roommates is to blame! This short takes on a who-done-it quality, as Connie Mae sets out to find the culprit who ruined her beloved sweater, which she has named “Susan”. Chou let’s us in on how she came up with the idea for the film, and where her latest projects will take viewers.
By Dwyer Frame

How did you get the idea for this film? Has something similar happened to you personally?
Yes, unfortunately (or fortunately), this film was inspired by a real life event that transpired during my college years. I was on my way to class on the subway and had donned my favorite sweater to prepare me for the day ahead. I noticed a wretched stench, but I just thought it was one of WHTS_Anna_Megan_989those stinky subway cars. It wasn’t until I reached class and took off my coat that I realized it was emanating from me! —The shock! —The horror! My roommates at the time had a habit of borrowing my clothes and would return items to my closet without washing them. I think I figured out who was responsible, but I conveniently don’t remember who it was now. If you’re reading this, former roommates, I hope we can have a laugh about it now. 

What do you find so compelling about the small annoyances of daily life?
I find everyday problems so interesting because people are so different and conflicts arise when you put people together. It’s this friction that’s relatable and I like to highlight the humor rather than the drama. 

It’s clear from the movie that you’re a fan of criminal TV shows. What draws you to these shows, and how did you incorporate this into your short?
I was watching a lot of procedural dramas during the time period of ‘The Sweater Incident.” The cops and agents on the shows are so passionate, heroic, and hell-bent on catching the perp. They solve the crime just in time to save the day. It’s so neat and tidy in a way that real life isn’t. I wanted to give “The Sweater Incident” the proper dramatic treatment it deserved. 

In your personal life, do you name inanimate objects?
Ha! I do name some inanimate objects, like my money tree. I call her Felicia and I say, “Praise Felicia” when she brings me money. Bertrand is also a favorite go-to name for anything, really. 

Can you tell us anything about what you’re working on now?
I’m currently in Post-Production on my second short film, “The Man With The Western Hat.” A young woman discovers that the cowboy from the movie she’s been fantasizing about has come to life and is terrorizing the streets of Brooklyn. 

“AM / FM” is my third film, which I hope to make in the coming year. It takes place during the graveyard shift of a young night doorman who finds a magical vintage radio that seems to have a mind of its own. 

What did you learn from making your first film?
I learned to simplify shots because each setup takes more time than you think, especially when  lighting interiors. One time during the shoot we lost some footage and had to re-shoot previous scenes, which didn’t leave a lot of time for the remaining scenes. I had to cut one scene down to one setup from four or five, which actually ended up working better. 

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