The Folly of Fangs

QUENTIN

Quentin Lee would like to think he’s a part-time drag queen and and full-time hustler moonlighting as a filmmaker. He went to UCLA Film School with fellow Offender Justin whom he co-directed his first feature SHOPPING FOR FANGS with. Subsequently, he made DRIFT, ETHAN MAO and the upcoming THE PEOPLE I’VE SLEPT WITH. He also blogs as Film Hustler.

We made Shopping for Fangs in the summer of ‘96. And like everyone else, we had the dream of getting into the Sundance Film Festival. I was lucky enough to get a grant of 35K from the Canada Council for the Arts, and I scraped together another 50K from friends and relatives to complete the film. Justin and I canned Fangs under 40K on 35mm, which I thought was a pretty amazing feat.

Then because of our budget, we could only afford the lowest end Avid for 4 weeks. So Sean Yeo, Justin and I split a 24-hour shift, 8 hours each, to complete the editing in 4 weeks. We were placed in the reception area of a shared post-production office in Hollywood where people would constantly come in and out.

We were the kids, right? So anything went.

We had to rush because screening at Sundance almost felt like the only way to expose our film, and the deadline was coming up. October rolled around. I listened to some experienced producers who said you should only screen the movie on print to festival programmers. So I called Sundance and scheduled a screening on 35mm and on double system.

To screen double system means you’re screening a print of your movie where the picture and sound are separate. For example, you’ll have a reel of 35mm film and a reel of magnetic tape that run simultaneously at projection. It’s a very archaic system, but that was how you would do it if you had to screen a work-in-progress on print in 1996.

Or we could have just sent in Avid output on VHS tape. But because we felt we had spent so much our of sweat and blood to make the film on 35mm, it would truly not do the film justice to screen it on a low-resolution Avid output on VHS tape.

As filmmakers, we picked the tough route to screen double system because we wanted the Sundance programmers to see the film its best form-on 35mm.

We had to transfer the rough mix to 35mm mag. And then we scrambled to find a 35mm flatbed that we could sync up a version of the silent answer print to the rough mix. I found this company in Hollywood who literally let us use a 35mm flatbed for free to make the submission. So for a couple days, Justin and I camped out by the flatbed to sync up this monster. We checked it again and again until the day of the screening and I drove the Fangs print to Sundance’s then Santa Monica office.

An hour later, I got a page from Sundance. It was the projectionist who said we couldn’t screen both prints because one print was out-of-sync and the other one had no cores.

What!? I drove immediately to Santa Monica from Koreatown. The Fangs print was apparently out-of-sync.

Geoff Gilmore walked into the projection room and said, “You got to be prepared for a screening.”

“I’m sorry. Let’s schedule another screening,” I said with a sheepish grin.

“Bring the screening print tomorrow,” said Geoff.

Immediately I called Justin and begged the Hollywood company to let us use the flatbed again. We sat for another day to check the sync and redo our sync marks. It was in sync and we had no idea why it wasn’t. Honestly!

The next day I drove the print back and showed the projectionist the sync marks on the print and the mag. A few hours later, I got a call and the projectionist said it was out of sync again. I didn’t know what to say anymore. I drove to Santa Monica and picked up the print that felt like a corpse now. They told me to send in a tape, and I turned in an avid output on tape in the next few days.

No, we didn’t get into Sundance.

A few years later, I organized the first Asian American Independent Feature Workshop for Visual Communications. John Cooper, a programmer (and now head programmer) attended. He recognized Justin and me and said, “Hey, you’re the out of sync guys.”

Since then we’ve heard rumors of how we might’ve made it if it hadn’t been for the botched up screenings. Perhaps we should have simply sent in the VHS tape which might have been the surer and safer bet. Whether it’s true or not it doesn’t matter because the fact is we didn’t get in and we’ll never know.

A hard lesson learned for young filmmakers.

Quentin’s previous GUEST OFFENDER blog:
Part Time Drag Queen

18 thoughts on “The Folly of Fangs

  1. Not to be too glib, Quentin, but at least you got a killer nickname out of the whole ordeal: “the out-of-synch guys.”

    And it’s only because I’ve my heart trampled on plenty in this racket that I feel I can be glib about your disappointment.

    Maybe you and I can hang out sometime and jab knitting needles in our eyes, y’know, just to keep up our form.

  2. You’re not being glib at all, Alfredo. Fangs set us up for a lot of things. But it was truly our first film where we made every mistake from submitting to festivals to selling the film.

    What I wanted to add was that without Sundance I decided take the film to the European Film Market at Berlin. It was just the worst idea to premiere a film at a market screening. A critic from Variety showed up. He was also not the right critic to review the film because he didn’t have the context for Asian American films.

    We could have gotten a much better and encouraging Variety review at SFIAFF but the Berlin critic filed before the SF critic. So even though we got a lot of buzz from SFIAFF in the March of 2007, it didn’t really help.

    Distributors started asking for the film and I started showing the film. Another mistake. We got a few passes.

    Then June came around and we found out we got into Toronto. We got all excited, but by then because some distributors had already seen it it significantly killed the buzz for the film in terms of acquisition.

    At Toronto, Roger Ebert showed up at the screening. And then Justin saw him went to the bathroom in the middle of the screening and didn’t return.

    Now looking back we could all laugh about it. Comedy is tragedy plus time, right, according to Woody Allen.

  3. Sorry you guys had to go through that but you can at least take solace in the fact that the experience provided you with a great blog topic 13 years later, right? Uh, right?

  4. i can’t imagine how stressful that was!! but toronto is a pretty kick butt festival too..

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