In 2017, actor, writer and director Derek Ting, producer Eric Mark and their team released the entertaining indie sci-fi thriller AGENT I: INTELLIGENCE. With a story that taps into the concepts of alien invasion, the building of the pyramids, Area 51 and other classic sci-fi tropes with a twist, AGENT has gained a loyal audience. And that has paved the way for a sequel, AGENT II: REVELATION, which releases in January 2021.
The AGENT series tells the story of Jim Yung (played by Ting), who gains superpowers when he is exposed to an ancient dust of extra-terrestrial origin. Jim is taken to an underground base where he’s trained to be an operative to take on an imminent alien threat and learn why aliens have returned to Earth.
“Aliens fascinate me,” says Ting of the story’s concept. “There’s so much conspiracy out there to draw from.”
In making the AGENT films, Derek Ting has drawn on his love for films like ALIENS, PREDATOR, THE TERMINATOR and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, as well as characters like Batman and Superman. “I grew up reading comic books. I could draw Superman and Batman at age 4,” says Ting.
Ting’s appreciation for classic sci-fi and comics is matched with another source of inspiration—his awareness of differences and the benefits of diversity. The main character of the AGENT films, Jim Yung, for example, is a superhero of East Asian background, a concept Ting is willing to explore in his storytelling.
“Jim was inspired by my friend, who was adopted at the age of 8 and then had a rough childhood in the United States,” says Ting. “I love playing a character with a different perspective, as I grew up with very supportive parents. I’m not sure if the world is ready for an East Asian looking Superman or Batman, but maybe I’m here to create new heroes for the time being.”
Directing and acting in a film at the same time isn’t always easy, but Ting enjoyed the process. “With anything, if you prepare, it’s doable,” he says. “Is it exhausting? Yes, of course! I’m the point guard, leading the team up the court, and then back down the court. I have to be consistent. and the number of decisions are endless. For more dramatic scenes, I take my time to prepare emotionally, but the most important thing in acting is listening and reading signals. I think it’s made me a better actor.”
As with any independent film, there are growth curves and challenges to tackle. The original AGENT was made as a test, says Ting, “to see if I could direct action as well as work with weapons.” What he and producer Eric Mark learned on that first film made it possible to add even more action sequences into their sequel.
The visual effects aspect also presented unique challenges, which is typical for just about every indie sci-fi film that’s made. Having some experience helped, says Ting, but he and his team also had to get creative in post-production.
“I knew somewhat how to film visual effects and what was possible during the filming,” explains Ting. “The most important thing is to light the characters properly, so I had to tell our gaffer where, for example, the force field was going to shut off, which required lighting gags.
“However, I didn’t realize in post-production that I had over 500 effects in the film. So I had to go to my investors for more funding as well as find a good production house. After 6 months of editing, my investor saw in the film in its most raw form (no sound mix or FX) and fortunately greenlit the funding. I still then had to find an FX company I could trust. A good friend of mine was the creative partner and VFX Supervisor for Julian Sarmiento (PACIFIC RIM) at Digital Domain in LA, and he found me Chad Finnerty and Jaimie Finnerty in LA, doing shows like THE FLASH, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, TRON: LEGACY and GREYHOUND.
“I gave them references and ideas of what I wanted and took it from there. We met every week to look at the latest shots, which took about a year to produce.”
With the pandemic disrupting in-theater premieres, AGENT: REVELATION is instead planning a premium video on demand release on January 22, 2021. “I much prefer everyone stay at home and not risk their life,” says Ting. “That being said, if things get better later on, and the movie does so well that they want to release it in theaters, I will not complain. The film is finished in 4K and looks awesome and is really fun to watch!”
AGENT: REVELATION also features actors Michael Dorn (Star Trek: First Contact), Kayla Ewell (Vampire Diaries, Roswell), Eve Mauro (The Oath), Teo Briones (Ratched), Chris Sean Reid (The Matrix 4, Power Rangers), and Matthew Ryan Burnett. And plans are already in the works to create a follow-up.
“I’m writing AGENT 3 right now,” says Ting. “The treatment is done, and the script will be finished in February. I’m so excited about it. If you like the story, VFX, and action in AGENT: REVELATION, you’ll see that I’m just getting started.”