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The Girl in the Garage: Delivering fright with production designer Yuntong Peng
A frightening tale in an eerie setting, manifested by Yuntong Peng.

Indie films are bigger than ever; in fact, big studios are trying to design films to have the same tone as successful indie films. They may not be the biggest box office generators of billions but they do something much more important, they set the artistic standard which influences the type of films artists make and viewers come to embrace.

One need only look to last year to see why these types of films are so respected and successful. Brothers James and Dave Franco created and starred in the Oscar nominated film The Disaster Artist, based on (you guessed it) an infamous indie film. This film earned only one million on its opening weekend and grossed twenty-one million. Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water (Bull Productions produced and distributed by Fox Searchlight) won four Oscars but opened with a paltry $166,564, eventually grossing $194,349,972.

Blueprint Pictures Production's, distributed by Fox Searchlight, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri earned more than ten times the production budget and took home two Oscars. The lesson here is that the industry, the big studios, and audiences are becoming enamoured of the creativity and style of indie films. There's a rush to find exciting filmmakers and professionals rooted in the indie scene and bring their approach to the distribution capability of bigger entities like Fox Searchlight and others.

Yuntong Peng is a production designer who has been receiving a great deal of attention for her work in award-winning indie films like Shadowand Anna and Dan. Her versatility in manifesting the worlds in which the action takes place is recognized with acclaim. In the thriller The Girl in the Garage, Peng creates a dark and disturbing world that is a contradiction with its single location that is overrun with unobtrusive detail. The film's host of awards including Best Thriller Short Film at the Five Continents International Film Festival, Best Thriller Short at the Los Angeles Film Awards, Best Fiction at the Feel The Reel International Film Festival, and others verify that audiences and critics delighted in the frightening setting this Production Designer created.

After reading the script and discussing it with the film's director and cinematographer, Yuntong began plotting out the design ideas she wanted for the set. She wanted to give clues to the audience with her work but not be overly obvious. Peng decorated the set with tools and a uniform to lead the audience towards guessing the identity of the mysterious man in the story. To create ambiguity and anxiety, Yuntong left things like a wrench or a baseball bat in plain sight that might also be used as a weapon. The closet was oversized to stand out and peak curiosity. Numerous elements were just odd enough to communicate an unsettling feeling to the viewer. The goal was to create a dark and tense feeling to this killer's garage. Odd wallpaper, an abundance of metal, and an overall sense of disarray contributed to the dark and disturbing vibe of the garage. Details like these are much more difficult to prepare than one might assume. Yuntong concedes, "It's actually very difficult and work intensive to make a set appear messy on camera. You have to get everything into place, then age it, but that's not all. It has to make sense; props can't just be there to be visible. Of course, you have to plan around the camera movements during filming. Finally, it must serve its purpose in the story. Regardless of if I'm putting up wallpaper or setting a prop in place, they must subscribe to these rules."

One of the most remarkable and praised aspects of Peng's design for the film is that the action all takes place in the killer's garage and yet there is never a feeling of redundancy or familiarity. The structure, the lighting, and framing of the scenes all harmonize to convey the panicked emotion of the characters. In the film, Meiqi Liu has gone missing and now her friend Xintong Li is kidnapped by a mysterious man. When she wakes up in handcuffs, Xintong Li tires several attempts at escaping and eventually works her way out of confinement. She finds Meiqi Liu's dead body in the closet and believes Meiqi's boyfriend Michael to be the killer. She tells the police on the phone the she believes Meiqi's boyfriend Michael to be the killer…until she sees Michael's severed head when a mysterious man already opens the door of the garage.

Peng describes, "It was a challenge for me because I needed to create a tension filled atmosphere in a very limited space. I decided to 'rich' the limited space, which means I created information to confuse the audience about what happened and what may happen in the garage. I made sure not to provide too much information and let the audience know who the killer is." The result is a disorientation which is congruent to that experienced by Xintong Li. Yuntong Peng has placed us as the viewer directly into a confined and frightening space. If you're a fan of thrillers, this is exactly where you want to be.

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