After our initial screening/world premiere of SUNSET STORIES at SXSW, the nerves had gone away and I was able to enjoy the following screenings and Q&A’s. I was glad to see that the audiences were understanding and enjoying the film at both the narrative level and the larger concepts we were playing with – especially in terms of the diversity in casting. People were not really used to these images and representations and found the experience unique.
This past week, the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival also took place. There were many great films there but two in particular, I AM A GHOST by H.P. Mendoza and YES, WE’RE OPEN by Richard Wong, are great examples of amazing micro-budget filmmaking. Both are true Asian American films, but take it a step further with their use of genre and content. I AM A GHOST is a horror film while YES, WE’RE OPEN is a daring romantic comedy with two AA leads! As I’ve blogged before, these are the ways micro-budget must be used to help elevate Asian American films to the foreground. And again, this is the case of AA filmmakers taking matters into their own hands and telling their own stories without compromise.
It really does make me happy to see such a proliferation of micro-budget films that keep pushing the boundaries and redefining Asian American cinema and I hope it inspires more filmmakers to do the same. And if you haven’t already seen these films, do so. Seek them out at festivals and other distribution channels. Tell your friends and spread the word. If there’s a strong enough demand and support, more and more films can be made!
I sent a H.P. and Rich a few questions about their experiences with micro-budget filmmaking and here’s what they had to say:
H.P. MENDOZA (I AM A GHOST)
Likes: I love having no one telling me what I can’t do.
Dislikes: I hate not being able to do everything I want.
Why do you keep doing it?: I’d rather make cheap movies that are true to my intention than sell my script to someone who doesn’t get it.
Where do you see Asian American films heading? Where would you like to see it go?: I think with programs like Comcast’s Cinema Asian American, we’ll finally see Asian-American film get its own shelf at Blockbuster video. Where I would like it to GO is to a place where we don’t even need Asian-American film festivals anymore. The stories will be such a part of mainstream culture and craved by all cinema lovers that we’ll just see a LOT more Asian-American films at “non-denominational” festivals like Sundance.
Care to share any of the best/funniest/ or most challenging moment from your production?: The entire film was shot in a bed and breakfast in seven days and we had to deal with hiding gore, violence and nudity from the patrons and the staff. L.A. Renigen drove up from Los Angeles to line produce on those days, and for those scenes, she would cover Rick Burkhardt’s naked body with a hotel robe whenever a guest would be passing by. They were often European tourists who were marveling at the sight of women in Victorian garb, running around the hotel. This always made for a good laugh, but we were racing the sun and the management team of the hotel who gave us a specific time window with which to work.
RICHARD WONG (YES, WE’RE OPEN)
Dislikes: People who ALWAYS talk about cameras. Tied with: people who ask what camera you shot on in Q and A’s. The cameraman shoots the movie, not the camera! Why not ask, “When the camera decided to put that light there, did you agree?”
Why do you keep doing it: Honestly, it’s so damn fun! I mean, the work is getting the work, but the actual work is the funnest thing I can think of doing!
Where do you see Asian American films heading? Where would you like to see it go?: I think the discussion of AA gets too complicated, unnecessarily. I think the primary goal for everyone, Asian or not, is to make good movies and tell compelling stories. Telling stories with Asian faces is important, sure, as to help with general awareness, but in the end: Is the movie good? Is the story interesting? Are the characters relevant? I believe that’s the key to breaking into the mainstream, if that in fact is the goal. Maybe the goal is overall acceptance? I see it happening, slowly, like all progress. Sure, still very few Asian stories in the mainstream, but then again a bunch of Chinese studios are setting up shop in America right now. I think it’s important to keep perspective, and even a little progress is still progress. When progress ceases and starts to go backwards, lets hit the panic button then. I don’t think at this point it’s a good idea to force the Asian experience in just because. I think by the very nature of my growing up Asian American, no matter what I do will be Asian American, simply because it’s informed by my experience.
Care to share any of the best/funniest/ or most challenging moment from your production?: Coolest thing about YES, WE’RE OPEN was that HP had written it for me a few years ago, and I had been holding on to it waiting for the right time/right people/money. I passed it off to my agents and numerous producers. No one wanted to make it. (It’s hard to get a movie made, so, no surprise). Then, I had just finished working on SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN and was about to go right into a new movie. That movie got delayed a couple of months, so I suddenly found myself with two months off. Theresa Navarro, who would go on to produce YWO and whom I showed the script to a year prior, said, “Hey! Let’s make YES, WE’RE OPEN!” I was like, “….Okay.” So, with some money I had made from SNOW FLOWER, 20 days of preproduction, 16 days of shooting and tons and tons of help from friends and professionals alike, we had a movie!