Harrison Xu and Ivan Leung Explore Their Extremely Unique Dynamic

Image courtesy of Heroic Impact

“We should make a movie” is a phrase that has been uttered millions of times between two friends, but rarely does that sentiment amount to a full-fledged film. Harrison Xu and Ivan Leung posed that question and the rest is history. The two actors turned first-time filmmakers are the team behind the upcoming Extremely Unique Dynamic. Ryan (Xu) and Daniel (Leung) are best friends living in L.A. trying desperately to make it as actors. Ryan has decided to call it quits and move to Canada to be with his fiance. The friends have one more week together and spend it making a movie about two friends making a movie about two friends making a movie. If that sounds confusing, you’re not alone. Extremely Unique Dynamic is the meta-movie to end all meta-movies. Xu and Leung sat down with Film Obsessive to talk about their friendship, the high brainstorm that led to this movie, and how the metaverse they created allowed for emotional depth between two stoner bros.

(This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.)

Film Obsessive: My first question is kind of basic. How long have you guys known each other? Where did the idea for this movie come from?

Ivan Leung: Our recollection of how we met is very different. He has his own recollection. I have my own recollection. We met in acting class a really long time ago. From my recollection, I just came up to him and I’m like, shit, an Asian guy, I want to be friends because I don’t have a lot of friends back then. And I said, Hey, I kind of recognize you. I really love your work. The thing that I saw him on was Shameless. It was like his first guest star, and he was having sex behind the bleachers with a Cameron Monaghan. And apparently that freaked him out.

Harrison Xu: We met in acting class. The first words out of Ivan’s mouth was, Hey, I saw you on Shameless and, like, no context or anything. So it was very forward, very like, wow, Nice to meet you. But, yeah, we we’ve known each other for, like, over ten years. We have always just kind of been in the same circles through acting and whatnot. We kind of lost touch after the class and we saw each other and auditioned like five years ago, reconnected. I work in film marketing. So I worked on this movie called Winnie the Pooh Blood and Honey, and I needed help on it. I asked Ivan if he had any interest. Ivan’s super funny and smart and I was like, Ivan would be the perfect person to embody the character of Winnie the Pooh. We had so much fun doing it that we were like, wait, like, are we funny? Can we make a movie? So we were high one day eating Thai food, and we were like, What if we made a movie about people making a podcast, about making a podcast, and we kind of spitball off of that? And then it kind of became the idea it is now. But yeah, like it was also like during the time of the strikes and it was coming off of COVID so things were a little slower. We were like, Well, why not just make the movie? We actually finished our movie two days before the writer’s strike happened.

Leung: Harrison really skipped through a lot of shit. We got reconnected after I got kicked out of my acting class because I was so terrible at acting. It was my first acting class and then he didn’t talk to me for a really long time. And then he kept asking me like, Hey, you want to get lunch? You want to get lunch? And I finally said, Yeah. We just started hanging out right after that. The rest is history. We just got stoned and we decided to make a movie. We’re the type of people that like when, when we say we’re going to do something, we actually do it. No one was backing down. Like, We’re going to do it right? And he was like, Yeah, we’re going to do it.

Xu: If you are committing to this, we’re going to make it. Within a month we had a finished script, and then within three weeks of that we had started shooting the movie. Two months after we had that high brainstorm, we had already finished shooting the movie. So pretty insane.

Daniel, upside down on a piece of exercise equipment in Extremely Unique Dynamic
Image courtesy of Heroic Impact

You shot Extremely Unique Dynamic five days, right? What was the like the pre-production like if you only had a two month timeline between inception and creation, were you guys just working around the clock?

Leung: We’re doing like 6 a.m. till three in the morning. Like we’re just kind of crazy workaholics and we just are very obsessive. At least I’m talking about myself. I don’t want to speak about Harrison because he’s on his call right now too.

Xu: There wasn’t much sleep those was two months. We just kept egging each other on. This movie initially was like, let’s just shoot it with our friend as DP and like, we’ll just finish it over a weekend. It kind of became bigger and bigger and bigger. Then we got like Hudson Yang and then we had the budget increase because we needed more cameras because we cross shot it. We got more crew and it just kind of snowballed into something way bigger than we thought, which is great for the movie sake, terrible for our wallets. But it was it was a lot of fun. We don’t regret anything.

Leung: Well, I don’t regret anything now that we got into the festival.

So the title pokes fun about your dynamic and it’s nice to see that your dynamic is very fun outside of the movie as well. What excites you guys about working together in terms of collaboration?

Leung: Well, the exciting thing is we’re our own bosses, so like being able to fully express ourselves and do what we actually want to do without feeling insecure. Like the thing that I really, really, really gravitate towards is that we can really go all the way. We can actually fall on our face and the only people that can we can blame is us. So we were able to take bigger risks. We were able to express feelings. And if it was too much, it was on me or on us.

Xu: I feel like in this industry there’s a lot of people that have a lot of ideas and want to do things but never follow through. With Ivan, we were like, we’re actually going to do this. So like everything that we do, we hold ourselves accountable. We make a really good team in that way. We’re also very different people, as you probably saw in the movie. I’m very type A. I work also in film marketing and I love Excel spreadsheets.

Leung: Well, I think I am also type-A, but just a different type-A than you. I’ve never used Excel before, so that was really frustrating for Harrison. I’ve never had a corporate job before and that apparently there is a way to talk to people corporately. Both of us are working actors, we’ve been working for a really long time. Just being able to just make our own opportunity and story without waiting for someone else. It just it was super appealing.

Ryan and Daniel lay side by side in Extremely Unique Dynamic
Image courtesy of Heroic Impact

Was any of it improvised? Because it felt very natural, but also you only had five days, so improvising on a five day shoot feels like insanity.

Xu: We had a script in place where we didn’t have a full-fledged, typical script. We had every beat of the scene laid out. Where we wanted to start and end. Within those lines, we basically improvised the majority of the dialog. So how we’re able to do that was we cross shot everything on two cameras, so we were able to edit it better and easier. Our editor hated us because you know…

Leung: Our editor did not hate us. He loves us.

Xu: He loves us and hates us at the same time. He loves us now, but we would do eight minute takes of certain scenes and we would do it maybe four or five times. If you gave it to three different editors, you probably have three different cuts. We could probably cut this movie like ten different ways and you’d have a different experience each time, which to probably be like a fun project in the future. After we had seen all of the footage, we were able to then use what we had to craft the story and then go back and see if that tape didn’t work then there’s more takes of different dialog. To answer original question, the majority of it was improvised, but with structure. We did kind of wing it, but we also didn’t wing in a way.

Leung: There was extreme structure, Harrison, extreme structure. And correction, our editor never hated us. He’s loved us this whole entire time. Correction. Maybe he just loved me. I can’t speak about Harrison.

The film has, I don’t even know how many layers, maybe four or five different layers in terms of characters and meta plots. It’s all very fun and tongue in cheek. Was there ever a more restrained version of the story of two friends saying goodbye to each other? And, if you had an unlimited budget, was there a wilder version that you would have like to do?

Xu: I always knew the levels of meta that we wanted to do, but throughout the shoot and still to this day, Ivan doesn’t understand what we did.

Leung: I hate meta.

Xu: The whole whiteboard seems like pretty accurate with Ivan’s understanding of what was going on. But then, I feel like the more we got into it, the more confused I was getting. And I feel like the madness of the movie, the more you think about it, the more confused you actually get it. So, I think it made sense, but also, I second guess it every time. Hopefully to the viewer and hopefully to you, it kind of made sense.

Leung: Tina, let me tell you, we had a cut of Harrison actually explaining the meta, like the whole entire meta thing. And, at the end of it, our editor said, huh? So he decided to make a montage of just me being like, huh? And that was what the final scene was.

Ryan tries to explain screenwriting to Daniel
Image courtesy of Heroic Impact

Meta to me, especially with how it’s kind of proliferated in pop culture now it can be too much and overwhelming. So I kind of did like that this was overwhelming, but in a way that kind of poked fun at how overwhelming it was. I wouldn’t say that I could tell you every single character’s name now, but I enjoyed the ride.

Xu: I mean, if we had an unlimited budget, I feel like it’d be really fun if you just went deeper and deeper and deeper and just got even more meta and it just got more ridiculous each time. At the very end, we pull out and then you have the old men and you pull out again and they’re someone else. I feel like you could just go completely bananas with it,

Leung: This was completely self-funded, so this was basically a nice big down payment on a nice house in Ohio or Pittsburgh. In my head I can’t even fathom more of a budget because I just don’t know how much more I could afford. But if it was, I would be would it be adding a ton more shit?

Xu: Actually, we have the funny story about the celebrity cameo. Because it’s our first time making a movie, we’re like, You know what, we cause the first time filmmaker card. Like, why not? We were emailing people like Seth Rogen, Brad Pitt, like we had Dick Van Dyke.

Leung: Oh yeah, I emailed Dick Van Dyke and said we saw you on Masked Singer. Dick Van Dyke’s manager just came back and said, Sorry, I don’t think Dick is interested.

Xu: I feel like we could’ve went pretty crazy with different celebrity cameos showing up at the door, but we obviously didn’t have the budget for that.

Leung: We’re extremely happy of who we have. Hudson [Yang]’s great!

Cartoon imagery that announces Celebrity Cameo of Hudson Yang
Image courtesy of Heroic Impact

It’s still kind of rare to see a movie about two guys talking about their feelings. So what do you think it is about like the meta stoner bro genre that kind of gave you an inroad as far as the more emotional parts of the story?

Leung: I think guys don’t usually like talking about their feelings, but because we have it in a lens of we’re filming a movie, we’re supposed to talk about it, it’s just a safer way to say what was what was hidden. Like inside of us or inside our characters.

Xu: Dudes can sometimes be a little passive aggressive and petty. When they want to tell someone something they go through a friend. It’s like playing telephone through a friend. But it’s like our way of doing that through characters. I’m not saying it, it’s like my character’s saying it and if it didn’t feel good or I felt uncomfortable, I didn’t mean that it was my character. So it’s like an easy cop out and it doesn’t feel as vulnerable. I feel like if we had more time and more budget, we could have even taken that one step further into our characters’ characters talking about certain things. We could have had so many discussions about so many different things that guys don’t talk about. I think what we did talk about are things that guys are pretty uncomfortable with specifically Asian-American guys. It’s just kind of cool.

Your world premiere is coming up in a couple of weeks. What do you most excited about in terms of seeing it with a real live audience?

Xu: I mean, I think for me, comedies are always way more fun in a theater because laughter’s contagious. And I feel like as filmmakers, you think you know what’s funny and then there’s always certain things people laugh at. You’re like, I didn’t know that would be what would hit with audiences. So I think that’s what’s exciting for me.

Leung: I just can’t wait to see the audience reactions because I am excited but extremely terrified of what they think. This is, personally, my first thing that I’ve ever made. So just putting myself out there and not as an outstanding actor type of way, but a filmmaker is just really, really, really scary. I’m also looking forward for all the food at Sonoma.

Ryan, in character, holds up a handwritten sign that says, "Extremely Unique Dynamic"
Image courtesy of Heroic Impact

My last question, as somebody who also left L.A., Harrison, I have to ask, what do you miss the most from the city?

Xu: Easy. Mexican food. Okay, so I went to this restaurant called [redacted]. Hopefully this doesn’t ever come out and [redacted] is like, how dare he say that about our food?

(Laughs) I’ll redact it.

Xu: My friends are this is the best Mexican food. It’s so great. And I went like two days ago and I was like, this is not Mexican food. I want Mexican food that’s like from a stand , cash only. I want my stomach hurt a little bit next day.

Leung: I’m from San Diego, so I don’t feel the same sentiment. San Diego Mexican food is just outstanding. I mean, L.A. is pretty good too. Well, actually, maybe redact that, too. I love just Mexican food in general.

Extremely Unique Dynamic, will have its world premiere as the Gay-la Spotlight Film at the 2024 Sonoma International Film Festival on Thursday, March 21.

Written by Tina Kakadelis

News Editor for Film Obsessive. Movie and pop culture writer. Seen a lot of movies, got a lot of opinions. Let's get Carey Mulligan her Oscar.

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