EntertainmentTechnical Breakdown of Instant Noodle 

Technical Breakdown of Instant Noodle 

Instant Noodle is a family drama that follows a young bi-racial woman in Los Angeles who, in the wake of her mother’s death, sets out to find her white father’s favorite brand of Indonesian Instant Noodle, an authentic brand that won’t be found at Ralphs. The story, while not about this, has an implicit motif about Asian-American identity. It builds for us a world that examines the difficulty of satisfying even the most simple desires for Asian people in America. 

More explicitly, the film dissects grief, looking at the aspects of a person that we hold on to after they’re gone. In Instant Noodle, that relationship is between a young Asian-American woman and her Asian mother. That part of the story is where the film’s extraordinary Cinematographer, Vicky Rattanavipapong, found her connection to the material.

Rattanavipapong perceived a more intimate and introspective visual language and proposed a reality bending psychological approach to the film’s cinematography. During a Q&A at the Academy Award-qualifying LA Shorts International Film Festival, she describes, “The transitions in Instant Noodle have a specific narrative purpose. It wasn’t written that way in the script. The flashbacks were written in a more traditional manner, as a second storyline. That’s fine, most movies will do it that way because it is simpler. However, when I read the script, I thought about my relationship with my own mother, how I’d reach out to her when I was stressed, or I would think of her when I felt lonely. Those feelings are woven into everyday life, so I wanted to recreate the feeling of that in the film.”

“The goal was to recreate the feeling of a memory. Rather than just cut to flashbacks, I wanted to blend reality with the emotional memories. I designed shooting plans that incorporated the memory scenes into the scenes of reality. But, in film, memories, or flashbacks, typically have a different look to distinguish them from the central narrative. All of a sudden, the simple transition in the text became a unique technical challenge that involved every department. We had to build a unique look into the shot that corresponded with the shooting plan, that way the audience knew the film was entering a memory. The lighting had to change, but so did the wardrobe, and production design, even the main actress had to do two scenes at once. It made it more complicated to shoot from a technical standpoint, but it was more comprehensive, in regards to the themes of the story.” 

Rattanavipapong’s approach to the cinematography on this film is designed to allow the audience to become immersed in the main character’s feelings in a deeply personal way. This is established early on when Marianna (Bree Mignano Yee) needs to purchase a phone charger but doesn’t have enough cash. A simple shot that begins with a close-up of Marianna pulls out, as her deceased mother (Jenny Januszewski) emerges from out of frame, creating a simple two shot and establishing the conceit of the film. Recalling a time when her mother instilled her with the confidence to bargain for a lower price, the past merges with the present in one shot.

Later, when she finds the noodles she is searching for, the cashier once again presents an impediment to Marianna, and her mother’s advice comes back in a very real and visible manner. Rattanavipapong describes, “When the cashier refuses to let Marianna have the noodles, she turns away from him in frustration. We did a match cut to a flashback where she remembers her mother putting emergency cash into the chest pocket of the jean jacket she’s wearing. She finds the cash in the present and purchases the noodles. We pulled the transition off by match-cutting the blocking with her turning away from the cashier in the present, and we opened the flashback with her turning. I added a camera movement to make the transition more dynamic. The flashback has a small circular steadi-cam movement that tracks with her turning. Because the composition on her was the same, we incorporated differences elsewhere in the frame, like with the lighting, filtration, background, and clothing to merge the past and the present.” 

In the finale, Marianna’s quest for these noodles follows her from her dad’s birthday party into a dream state, a kitchen bathed in golden heavenly light. Her mother is cooking the same noodles, donned with a headwrap which hints to the cancer she is battling. “Initially, we had planned for everything to be done as a oner, in camera, from where Marianna enters the house to the kitchen. We planned for complex lighting changes, choreographed with the blocking and camera movement using Steadicam. Due to a scheduling conflict, we were unable to schedule two actors on the same day, so we stitched two shots together [by transitioning] using a white wall. It’s not the same

as a true oner, but it still works because we’re entering a memory, so feeling a slight change actually makes it feel like the character is entering a memory. And when I do my job right, the audience won’t notice that I’ve done anything at all.” 

In many ways, this film brought Rattanavipapong’s past and present together. She states, “When I first started, I worked in commercials in Thailand. I always tried to add emotion, or some sort of narrative, to my commercial work. On Instant Noodle, I was doing the reverse of that. The film got the copyright to use the IndoMie brand, which is a famous noodle brand in Southeast Asia. I was able to tap into my commercial skills to integrate these product shots into the story of the characters without feeling like forced product placement.” 

Basking in the glow of accolades in the industry, Instant Noodle received Best Female Artists Award from Burbank Film Festival and AT&T InspirASIAN Award from CAAMFest for promising emerging artists. It has been selected at the LA Shorts Film Festival, WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, and USA Film Festival. Rattanavipapong describes, “I was very excited to be in the same room with Tim Burton, when we received an award at Burbank Film Festival. It is like another milestone for a filmmaker to have Tim Burton present at the award show.” Instant Noodle is a distinctive film that takes its audience to the breaking point of heartache yet challenges them to retain the positive after-effects of tragic loss.

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