Vivian Ip talks producing critically-acclaimed film Caramel


Growing up in Singapore, Vivian Ip was always fascinated by storytelling. Her parents inspired this passion, perhaps unintentionally she says, as they never predicted that it would materialize into a lifelong pursuit.


“They had emigrated from Hong Kong to Singapore for a fresh start but never lost touch with their way of life. They taught me to always remember where we came from, and what we represented. Their stories through sharing books, films and their own experiences shaped my formative years and informed me of my cultural roots and background,” said Ip.


Now, Ip is an award-winning filmmaker, known for her skills in producing, writing, and directing. Taking on these many roles, she is pivotal to the success of every project she takes on, such as her film Headlock, where she took home the Faculty Award for Outstanding Producing at First Look, USA, and her recent success An Island’s Drift, which was sponsored by ARRI and premiered at Urbanworld Film Festival, one of the largest internationally competitive film festivals.


“While I have been blessed to have made films that were accepted into festivals, the real highlight is when someone reaches out on a personal level after watching one. Whether it is to talk about the story, characters, or anything about the film, or to share personal details and how they connected to it in some way, those interactions are most vivid in my memory. When it feels like I have made a direct impact on the life of someone I do not know, it puts my work into perspective, that someone could depend on me and my ability to deliver,” she said.


This was just the case with Ip’s film Caramel, which she produced in 2020. Audiences all over the world embraced its genre-blending quality from a mildly raunchy comedy to a drama about a mother-son relationship.


Caramel is a coming-of-age story about a teenager, Eric, who inadvertently discovers his mother’s immoral past — that she was a 90s adult film star — on the day before his grandfather’s funeral. Shocked and embarrassed, he does not know how to process the news, both internally with his own feelings, and externally as he deals with his schoolmates who crash the funeral. More importantly, his relationship with his mom seems forever changed — will he embrace her past and stand up for her?


“The creative vision for the project is a drama with moments of comedy and levity, about a dysfunctional family coming to terms with a hard truth. This drew me in personally as there was a time in my younger years where my relationship with my parents held more tension. Their hopes and fears for me were intricately linked to their past and personal life experiences. Ultimately, what it took for us to come together, and stay connected, was communication and understanding,” said Ip.


Ip was approached by Director Shange Zhang to come on board to produce the film. Zhang had heard of her talents from others in the industry and knew she was the right producer to help bring his film to life.


“My friends and I often say that if Vivian is in a production, it must be very reliable, and that is a very important reason for us to decide whether to join. She is a very good team leader, well-planned, strong execution, and good at cooperation. During the process of shooting, we can be very confident to execute every stage of the work according to her schedule, and achieve the desired results. Whenever we encounter difficulties, she is also the first to stand up to protect and support the whole team, boost morale and come up with specific and effective measures to ensure that the team works together through difficulties,” said Zhang.


As producer, Ip began her work early on, from the moment she received the script. She started with breaking the story down in terms of casting, crew, locations, budget and scheduling in pre production, to the physical production stage with the director and leading by example on set, to the post-production stage of taking the film through editing, sound and color and eventually submitting to festivals. She was the guiding force for the project and pivotal to its success.


Caramel went on to have an outstanding festival run. It was on the Hot List at the 2020 Cleveland International Film Festival, Best Comedy Nominee at USC First Look, an Honorable Mention at the Meihodo International Youth Visual Media Festival, a Best Short Film Nominee at the Adirondack Film Festival, Filmzeitkaufbeuren, and Linz International Short Film Festival, and an Official Selection at New Horizons International Film Festival, Amarcort Film Festival, Alternating Currents Film Festival, Twin Tiers Film Festival, Lanett Film Festival, Visioni Corte International Film Festival, Sierra International Film Festival, and the Beloit International Film Festival. Ip is proud to have put her creative touch on the film that went on to impress worldwide audiences.


“The film tackles such growing pains of life. Sometimes we may not have the answer to a problem, but at least we can face it together. Even though mother and son cannot change anything that happened in the past, they have found a way to reconcile with each other; the resolution is more of an empathetic understanding and with a real way forward,” she concluded.