Girl, Interpreted (AUS) is a bilingual comedy about Lillian, a nervous Mandarin interpreter who stutters and stumbles her way through hectic cultural misunderstanding. Inspired by writer/ director Grace Feng Fang Juan’s professional experience as an interpreter, the series shines a light on the crucial – but oft awkward – role of facilitating communication for the day-to-day of migrant communities in contemporary Australia.

We talked to Grace Feng Fang about her series, looking at the inspiration of her own experiences and the process it took to create a multi-lingual comedy series that has such a large focus on language.

Why choose the web format?

The bite-size format (5×5 minutes) seems to be the perfect match for our series. Each interpreting assignment that our protagonist Lillian encounters is one stand alone episode, succinct and punchy. Also, online content can engage with the mass audience in a way that traditional format fails to do.

Girl, Interpreted trailer

What inspired your series?

I worked as a Mandarin & Cantonese interpreter after graduating from film school for a few years where I witnessed some memorable larger than life moments. I’ve also worked in almost all the settings depicted in Girl, Interpreted. But it did take me a while to realise, “Wow, I am living in a comedy!” Obviously, working in real life is less dramatic, and I would have been fired if I acted like Lillian, breaching codes of conducts and etc. As a creative, a writer though, I do want to tell stories that resonates with me and people who are like me on a cultural level, to see more authenticity and diversity on screen.

What is your favourite part of the series?

Every part of it! The series is a character-driven one. And we are trying to bring out a different side of Lillian in each episode – how she reacts to silence, misunderstanding or confrontations according to different scenarios or people she communicates with. The mess-up between a Chinese literature classic and a reality TV show in Imperial Order, has been a satisfying brain tickle during the scripting process. Also very glad that we have introduced the concept of bi-dong (you will know what it means after watching the Straight Man Cancer episode) too. I guess it’s all those little parts that made you smile when looking back. But every part is so interconnected with one another. Girl, Interpreted has been an integrated experience for me , and it is one thing, and the whole package.

What is the most interesting element of your series for the audience?

The constant switch between languages. The nature of interpreting presents an organic space for bilingualism (there is more if you check out the urologist episode). Speaking Mandarin here, has become part of the main act and the story engine, instead of being used as something for decoration purpose only.

What is the scriptwriting process like when writing a script where different languages are a large focus of the series?

I wrote it in English first, that’s how I communicated with our producer Nikki and later on our script editors. Once the English copy is locked, I then translated the Mandarin speaking part from English into Chinese. Chinese is a language that evolves very quickly, especially in the online space. For our project, we actually got some help from script supervisor Selina Zhang, who is also from China. Selina did a bit of language touch-up for Chinese part, especially in Mukbang episode. For the urologist episode, we also went through a bit of improv and revision during the rehearsal stage, as the language is Teochew for some characters, so it took the native speaker to sing out the parts that worked for them verbally.

Finally, it is quite a process to find scriptwriting software that is compatible with Chinese writing too. WriterDuet is my answer.

What was your greatest challenge creating the series?

I’ve been having the idea of making a show about interpreters for a long time and have started writing for a really long time as well. But I was always on my own where there wasn’t much peer or network support. The project really started to take off after I met our producer Nikki Tran and our executive producer Stuart Menzies. I think I was very lucky to find the right people who could give me the right guidance at the right time. So finding the right team was the hardest part for me.

Your series has a spotlight on Australian and Chinese culture and their differences, is this aspect of the series inspired by your own experiences?

Definitely. I am part of the community and experience the “caught in-between” moments frequently. And interpreting, the rendering process serves as the analogy of this cultural struggle between Australianness and Chineseness. Is it about choosing one side over the other? Is it conscious decision or out of convenience? And is there a spot in the middle at all? I guess those are the areas the series would like to explore.

What is the future for your series?

It is a secret for now!