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Peiqi "Peggy" Duan dishes on Shallow Grave: a Tale of Bad Decisions with Good Intentions

Peggy Duan

The film Shallow Grave explores the idea of how a good person becomes intertwined with evil deeds. Winner of Best Narrative Short at the Independent Shorts Awards and recipient of multiple nominations, including one from the Motion Picture Sound Editors USA for Peiqi Duan, this simple beauty of its presentation belies the complexity of the motives of the characters in the story. A scenario so horrific and simultaneously so believable is delivered in a manner that separates fiction and a high probability of truth. Mortal sins are sometimes the unexpected outcomes of well-intended actions.

Nefarious forces seek to take advantage of our weaknesses. Kalani (played by Tim D. Walker) is a man who owns a remote piece of land and is also father to a very sick young boy. In order to pay for his son’s exorbitant hospital bills, he agrees to allow the mafia to bury their victims on his land. In order to provide for his own son, Kalani overlooks this evil but when the gangsters murder a young boy who reminds him of his own, the landowner takes a stand. This is the moral crux of Shallow Grave, will we sacrifice our own morality for the well-being of those nearest and dearest to ourselves?

Peiqi (known professionally as Peggy) gives insight into how her unusual background resulted in a unique approach and award nominations for her work on this film. She reveals, “As a citizen of China, I almost never had a chance to see an actual gun in real life. That’s a drastically different experience than most American filmmakers. Sometimes when you are so used to a sound, you can overlook certain complexities. When the director and I discussed guns in the film and how they are used, I researched this with a fresh set of ears. Because most of the action of this film takes place in the wilderness, it was important that peripheral sounds are present to amplify the reality of these scenes. In addition to augmenting and boosting certain frequencies of the gunshots as well as adding thunder underneath it to boost the LFE, I added the sounds of birds flapping their wings and wolves barking. There’s a subtle layering of even the simplest sounds in a film that enables the audience to ‘buy into’ the reality that is being presented. It should not be taken for granted. Our director thought a dog would make audience think of residential area rather than on a hill without people around. Initially, my idea was to use a coyote. The funny thing is, when coyotes bark it sounds like a dog; when it howls it sounds like a wolf! We decided to use a howling sound instead of barking to lessen any confusion.” Further evidence of her attention to detail in the sound design of this film are evident during Kalani’s dream sequence as the rain sounds differentiate when hitting the window panes and the ground.

While brief in length, Shallow Grave is deep with message and talent. From Director Jingyu Liu crafting of the story to the acting performance of Brady Bond (of FX’s Golden Globe nominated series Better Things) and the sonic world conveyed in Peggy Duan’s work; this film delivers a powerful conundrum for viewer’s to contemplate…and to enjoy while doing so.

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