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Xiao’ou Olivia Zhang Creates the Unseen Character in Quail Lake

Quail Lake is the latest offering from director Roman Wyden, known for his work on Max, Hollywood Dreams (optioned by Paramount International Television), and the Eleanor Roosevelt award-winning documentary. Currently on the 2019 festival circuit (HRIFF, Arizona International Film Festival, Maryland International Film Festival), Quail Lake centers on a prominent topic in today’s world; cohabitating with someone you don’t want like. With a tiny cast and the singular setting of a cabin in the woods, the creators of this film enlisted sound designer Xiao’ou Olivia Zhang (nominated for the Golden Reel Award for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing) to manifest a third main character for the film. Zhang’s personification of the forest in this film reflects the inner development of the main characters in the story. Her contributions are deeply impactful in complementing the emotional states of the two main characters and the changes they experience throughout the film.

Two perfect strangers arrive at what they believe to be the cabin they rented in a peaceful forest location. Brittany (played by Chloe Leal of General Hospital, NCIS, Kingdom) is a young woman who is guarded about her reasons for coming to the location. Laurent (played by Christian Leal of AMC’s three-time Golden Globe Nominated Better Call Saul, and soon to appear in the 2020 film The Last Thing He Wanted, starring Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, and Willem DaFoe) is equally mysterious in regards to why he is so adamant about staying at the cabin. The two bicker but Brittany is unrelenting. What begins as a test of wills evolves into two strangers being completely honest about themselves and their tragic life circumstances. The film offers an opportunity for an intimate encounter between two people who wouldn’t normally cross path in real life. Charles Fathy (of six-time Oscar winner Mad Max: Fury Road and Golden Globe nominated The Hundred Foot Journey starring Helen Mirren) also appears as Mehdi.

The brilliance of Olivia Zhang’s sound design is its correlation to the two main characters. She hints, “The forest offers Brittany a final solution to life but she also appears to be deeply troubled by it. The forest she hears is peaceful but contains a dotted rhythm through unknown insects and creatures. When leaves rustle in the gentle breeze, there is anxiety provoking beats underneath it. Most of her alone time is in the cabin, where she watches the forest from the inside. Sound design contributed tones and air with removed high and mid-high frequencies to make the cabin feel suffocating, thus mirroring Brittany’s internal world.” The snapping of twigs and high frequency wind help communicate as sense of Laurent and his tumultuous path of tragedy and revenge. As he walks about breaking and damaging things, these noises reflect his anger and frustration; the sound design sonic presence of his emotional state wreaking havoc in the normally peaceful setting of nature. The sounds that accentuate these two characters subside and become calm when the two communicate. Olivia stipulates, “Silence is always a delicate thing for sound design. The easy approach is just to leave such moments in the film plainly silent, void of additional sound but this would feel still and dead instead of silent. There is actually a lot design involved to make things ‘sound’ silent in film. It’s more accurate to display that the louder things in life have subsided so that the ‘quiet’ aspects are more pronounced.”

There’s poetry in the style of Zhang’s sound design. Through the sounds of nature in this film she subtly communicates that there are elements in our world that have existed much longer than recorded history. As with her view on silence in film, there’s a reserved humility to considering our lives against the backdrop of what has existed long before our daily concerns and will be there long after we cease to be. Quail Lake has already received glowing responses at the Arizona Internal Film Festival, Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival, Maryland International Festival, and others. Without question the unseen but strongly felt third main character which Xiao’ou “Olivia” Zhang created for this heartfelt tale is deserving of an ample portion of the praise.

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