UI student and team awarded $50,000 for screenplay

UI graduate student Hao Zhou’s film, Happy to Have You, will show a story of a Chinese immigrant living in Iowa. Zhou’s film is made possible from the state funded Greenlight Grant, which awarded Zhou and his team $50,000 for fiscal 2022.

University+of+Iowa+graduate+student+and+filmmaker+Hao+Zhou+stands+outside+of+the+Visual+Arts+Building+on+Thursday%2C+July+22.

Daniel McGregor-Huyer

University of Iowa graduate student and filmmaker Hao Zhou stands outside of the Visual Arts Building on Thursday, July 22.

Bruce Bartlam, Jr., News Reporter


Hao Zhou’s film, “Happy to Have You,” recently won the federal Greenlight Grant. Zhou, a University of Iowa film graduate student, grew up in a rural area of Southwest China, and describes his sensibilities as a filmmaker as “grounded.”

“Moving here to Iowa didn’t feel unfamiliar to me. I’m a rural person from a small, rural town,” he said. “I didn’t grow up privileged. That definitely influenced me as a filmmaker.”

Zhou and the film’s co-writer, Tyler Hill submitted their screenplay for the Greenlight Grant and were awarded $50,000 through state funding to complete the film in Iowa with talent predominantly from within the state.

In the program’s third year, the Iowa Arts Council gave $164,870 of state funding for fiscal year 2022 to five Greenlight Grants recipients for media productions to be produced in Iowa, the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs website said.

Though Zhou kept most of the details of the plot private, viewers can expect a “fish out of water” story about a Chinese immigrant living in Iowa.

Hill, producer and co-writer of “Happy to Have You” and a graduate of the University of Illinois, said the Greenlight Grant is one of the best grant programs for filmmakers in the country.

“Other state and federal grants may only support historical and scientific documentaries and that’s part of their agenda, but this grant will support a narrative feature,” Hill said.

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Zhou and Hill both have extensive lists of inspirations, but both mentioned on multiple occasions the influence of Chloé Zhao – the Chinese American filmmaker that recently won an Academy Award for her film, “Nomadland”.

“It’s a nice model for independent filmmaking, especially in rural areas. She uses a very small crew and often uses real people mixed with actors,” Hill said. “That’s something we would like to do.”

The UI has also been important in supporting Zhou’s work, he said.

“I knew about the University of Iowa because of the Writer’s Workshop,” he said. “I knew someone that had attended the International residency here, so I looked into the funding. I got into other programs, but the funding wasn’t as good.”

Zhou said the UI Department of Cinematic Arts provides equipment and support for students to work on their projects to completion.

“The funding and grants to support us through graduate school, but also the success program that helps us prepare applications for external funding,” Zhou said.

Zhou said the UI Department of Cinematic Arts provides equipment and support for students to work on their projects to completion.

“There are a lot of resources that I didn’t expect before coming here. The funding and grants to support us through graduate school, but al- so the success program that helps us prepare applications for external funding,” Zhou said.

Rachel Cox, the program head of photography within the UI’s School of Art, said Zhou is not a one-note artist.

“It wasn’t common when he’d show us his work, whether it’d be a short, long-form, or experimental, that it would be the same,” Cox said. “That’s something exciting to see… he’s pulling what he’s learned from photography classes and photo history and applying that to the moving image.”

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