Thursday, July 17, 2014

Saturday, May 31, 2014

My Grandparents Didn't Make History, But They Made Me

It's been almost a year since my Grandma Louie died. She was my favorite grandparent, and the last of all of them to go. Since they're all gone now, I'd been wanting to write some things down about their lives before I forgot them. They don't have Wikipedia entries or defunct Facebook accounts, and they don't come up in any Google searches. The only signs of themselves that they've left are embedded in their descendants' memories. So I wanted to encode my memories of them in text before they disappeared, and what better time to do it than the last day of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month?

______________________________

THE LOUIES

My paternal grandparents were from Taishan, and had an arranged marriage, as was tradition in rural southern China at the time. My grandma's education ended after the second grade, but my grandpa went to college and law school, practiced law, and eventually became a judge. They were married as teenagers, and the wide educational gap between them, not to mention the arranged marriage, was an issue from time to time. In her 60s, my grandma would often joke about divorcing my grandpa.

Grandparents Louie & me on a trip to San Francisco
Seeking a better life, they immigrated to Hong Kong in the early 1950s with 3 small kids, including my dad. They lived in Sham Shui Po, and my grandpa worked as a teacher--I would discover later that he coincidentally taught my husband's uncle! While in Hong Kong, my grandparents had 2 more kids. There would've been 2 others had one not died in childbirth and another as an infant. In 1967, shortly after U.S. immigration restrictions were relaxed, my grandparents immigrated with all 5 of their children to New York City.

Much of my grandpa's family, including his own father, had immigrated to Toronto a generation before. The first of these settlers opened a laundromat and planted roots in Canada, but my great-grandfather eventually went back to Asia and retired in Hong Kong.

My grandparents came to New York because my grandma's siblings (including a brother-in-law who fought as an American soldier in World War II) had immigrated to Brooklyn and Queens many years prior. My great aunts and uncles lived in Rockaway (one of them ran a laundromat there!), Bay Ridge, and Marine Park, and my grandparents settled in Kensington, Brooklyn, where I spent most of my own childhood and adolescence.

My grandparents joined the Soo Yuen Benevolent Association, a community organization based on family surnames that was founded in 1846 in China, and first established in the U.S. in 1880 in San Francisco. My grandpa would eventually become the longest-serving president of the New York chapter. The language barrier made his legal and teaching experience moot, so through his new friends at Soo Yuen, he got a job selling tickets at a movie theater in Chinatown that played a mix of regular and pornographic Chinese films--I'm still trying to confirm which theater, but I'm pretty sure it was this one, which the Chinese knew as Hua Du (华都) Cinema. My parents would leave me and my sisters there for grandpa to babysit us while they shopped for groceries. I snuck a peek at the screen sometimes, and my grandpa caught me once and yelled at me, but even as a kid, I knew that his anger came from shame. Most of the time, my sisters and I just stayed in the lobby eating popcorn and candy, trying to dodge the rats that scurried about. Grandpa would wear a 3-piece tweed suit and a driving cap to work. He smoked Marlboros and drank Johnny Walker Red (in moderation), and lived till his mid-80s.

Grandma Louie & me
My grandma worked as a seamstress in a sweatshop on East Broadway. She was a member of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU). During the summers when I was little, she'd bring me with her to help cut threads. I remember there were very short lunch and bathroom breaks, and a lot of yelling from the bosses. This was probably where I learned my first lessons about hardship and injustice.

I think part of why Grandma Louie was my favorite was because I was her favorite, but for a completely unfair and patriarchal reason: I was the oldest child of her oldest son, and the Chinese are all about sons! Of the 12 cousins in my generation, counting both my mom's & dad's sides, there is only one boy, and he was the second-to-last to be born. If the stats weren't in our favor, I don't think we girls would've become as strong-willed as we are.

______________________________

THE SAHS

Like my father, my mother was also born in southern China, but in a different part (Zhongshan), and to parents who actually married for love. They only ended up having 2 kids, a boy and a girl, as 2 others died in childbirth. When Grandma Sah was pregnant with my mom in the late 1940s, my grandpa went overseas to try to make his fortune, as Chinese men at that time were wont to do. He landed in the Dominican Republic, where he worked odd jobs, mostly in restaurants, and sent some money home to China. He ended up staying there for 18 years, and apparently fathered a half-Dominican daughter. So I have an aunt out there somewhere in the world that I've never met (Auntie, if you're reading this, please contact me!).

Chinese plantation workers in Hawaii
My great-grandfather had also done a stint overseas, working in the watercress fields in Hawaii alongside many other immigrants, Chinese and otherwise. He returned to China with enough money to build a big house for his extended family, including my mom. But eventually, the Communists took over this house and made it a regional office, confining my mom's whole family--her grandparents, mother, older brother, and several aunts and uncles--to live in the kitchen.

She Saihua with her dragon head cane


When my mom was 4, her mother was hit by a bus and killed while riding her bicycle home from a women's association meeting. She represented her village in the association, which fought for women's rights in China. Growing up, my mom and her relatives would always talk about how we were descended from a powerful woman general during the Song Dynasty named She Saihua (佘賽花) a.k.a. She Taijun. According to Wikipedia, "Trusting her loyalty and judgment, Emperor Taizong made her the commander-in-chief and awarded her a Dragon Head Cane, a symbol of the emperor, for absolute control of the male-dominated army."

When my mom was 6, her aunt carried her on a boat to Hong Kong while another aunt swam there (!) to escape Communist China. My mom didn't meet her own father until she was 18, when they both immigrated to Hawaii in 1966.

It was in Hawaii that my parents first met. My dad opted to enroll at the University of Hawaii at Manoa rather than be drafted to fight in Vietnam. To put himself through school, he worked New York hours (5-6 hours ahead of Hawaii) as a teletypist sending buy & sell orders to stock exchange floors, first for Walston & Co., then Dean Witter, then Bishop Trust. My mom also went to UH Manoa, majoring in studio art, while earning her tuition by packing pineapples on an assembly line at the Dole Cannery. My parents met while dancing at their college's ballroom dance club.

I attribute my love of dancing to them, and my passion for social justice for women, immigrants, people of color, the working class, and the otherwise disenfranchised to all of my ancestors.

Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

This Intermission Was Brought to You by Breast Cancer

If you emailed or called me in the second half of March, you got an auto-reply that said I was "off the grid" and wouldn't be reading email or checking voicemail. A few of you contacted the folks to whom I directed you and expressed confusion and frustration over this: "I don't understand. What does she mean by 'off the grid'?" "She's gotta be checking email occasionally, right?" Others wished me a nice vacation and asked me where I was going. I knew my absence would be inconvenient for some, and I wanted to tell them the real reason for it, but I didn't think it was their business. Well, now that the worst of my ordeal is over and dishonesty is really not my style, I figured I'd come clean: I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer (DCIS), had a double mastectomy, and took some time off to recover from it. Though I'm not operating at 100% yet and still have to take it easy for a few months, I am back on the grid, and thankfully, cancer-free. 

A whopping 1 in 8 women in the U.S. (over 12%) get invasive breast cancer--that's a greater proportion than women who direct movies (only 6%)! WTF?!! In spite of recent studies and stats spurring controversy over early detection, I personally feel really lucky to have caught my DCIS early, before it had a chance to become invasive. How did I catch it? Practically by happenstance. I was at a routine check-up when my doctor asked, "Do you want a mammogram? You don't have to have one since you're not 40 yet." I shrugged and said, "Sure, why not?" So, in December, on my very first mammogram, something suspicious turned up. 

It was exasperating and exhausting to deal with this over the holidays, not to mention in the midst of prepping to release COLD COMES THE NIGHT, hauling ass to finish LAND HO! for Sundance, running Gamechanger, and switching health insurance plans (thanks Obamacare!). I got a biopsy on January 9, the day before CCTN's release, and received the bad news on January 17, the day before Gamechanger's first investor gathering at Sundance, and two days before LAND HO!'s world premiere. I cried for about 30 seconds after I hung up with my doctor, then got out of bed to start my full day at Sundance. I got through the whole festival without telling anyone but my husband. Getting the news at Sundance was actually a great thing because I really had no time to wallow.

It's been very difficult having to juggle cancer with regular life. I know an indie producer's workload is perpetually ridiculous, but it's been excessive the past few months, especially with first-quarter tax crap thrown into the mix. I was jamming to tie up loose ends before surgery and to prepare my colleagues (bless them!) to pinch-hit, while trying to do as much research as possible on my condition. Though I was incredibly fortunate that I only had DCIS, the fact that it's early-stage means that there are many more treatment options than with later-stage cancers: 19 different possible treatment permutations, in my case. On top of that, I tested negative for BRCA gene mutations, which made it even tougher to decide what to do. The choices were overwhelming--I kept changing my mind, and I was constantly questioning whether I was making the right choice. Thankfully, there were many wonderful women who gave me comfort by generously sharing their cancer experiences with me; I am so grateful to them.

I guess there's no such thing as an opportune time for cancer, but boy, was this an inopportune time! I couldn't put off my surgery for too long, but my doctor did let me schedule it for after SXSW. I'd never been to the fest before, and was looking forward to speaking on some panels and seeing what all the hubbub was about. So I went for a few days, had a great time, and got my mastectomy on March 14. Though it hurt like hell (and still does), I've been resting and recovering well, thanks mostly to my dear husband Lucius, who's been doing everything for me since my docs forbade me from moving my arms for two weeks.

I guess I'm telling you all this because enough of you were puzzled about why I was "off the grid" to make me puzzled about why it's such a puzzling concept. In our modern daily grind, and especially in a relentless occupation like film producing, it's really easy to forget that we need time for ourselves, if not to heal from an illness, then to spend time with family, or to simply nurture our own well being. Being brutally forced to unplug taught me that I need to unplug more often, that it's OK--necessary, actually--to be "off the grid" sometimes. As they say, life is a marathon, not a sprint, and I, for one, need to work on my endurance and pacing. The healthier we are, the longer we'll live, and the more we'll accomplish. This should be painfully obvious, but sadly, it isn't. Let's snap out of it! Here's to your health and mine.


UPDATE, 4/8/14: I'm floored by the vast number of women in film who, after reading this post, have confided in me about their own cancer experiences or recent diagnoses. I feel for those who have suffered in silence, fearful of the stigma. (Un)fortunately, you are not alone! My thoughts today are especially with a filmmaker who will be having a double mastectomy tomorrow. Stay strong, keep a sense of humor, and see you very soon on the other side! By the way, recovery is an excellent guilt-free excuse to binge-watch Netflix! :)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Because the Email Never Stops

It just keeps coming and coming and coming...

At the risk of sounding jerky, I'm jotting down this list of frequently asked questions that I get over email (oh, horrific, relentless, vast oceans of email!). I do it (a) for my own sanity, (b) so my directors, investors, and collaborators don't get pissed at me for replying to your emails instead of working on our films, and (c) to provide you with a timely response. 

1. Will you produce my project?
I'm currently not looking for any new projects to produce due to my full-time commitment with Gamechanger Films. But thank you--I'm flattered that you asked! If you have a woman-directed or co-directed narrative feature project that you'd like Gamechanger to consider financing, check out the FAQ page.

2. Can you recommend a producer for my project?
Please look at the following sources: Sundance Creative Producing Lab fellows, Independent Spirit Producers Award nominees, Film Independent Producer Lab fellows, Rotterdam Lab fellows, producers of recent films you like that are in your budget range, and graduate producing programs at Columbia, NYU, USC, AFI, etc.

3. Can you recommend a DP/editor/production designer/line producer/1st AD/etc. for my microbudget film?
I don't produce 5 films a year (whoever does is either not human, not actually "producing," or lying!), and even if I did, great crew members graduate to higher budgets quickly. Instead, please look at my IMDb to see whom I've worked with, and if you like their work, ask how I liked working with them. Also, call below-the-line agents. Lastly, watch a lot of movies!

4. I'm looking for work. Do you know of anything?
I might, but I'm not an agent, manager, headhunter, or job board. And if I've never worked with you before, I'm less inclined to recommend you. If I do know of something, I usually post it on my Twitter and Facebook.

5. I'd love to get your feedback on my script/production plan/rough cut. Can I send it?
Unless I've specifically solicited it from you or your rep for Gamechanger to consider, sorry, but no

6. I'd love to chat with you about some things I'm working on.
Really? What? Don't be vague. I like details. And I hate talking on the phone! Why? Time it takes me to read your spiel = 15-30 seconds; time it takes me to hear your spiel = 15-30 minutes + time spent scheduling the call. Do the math!

7. Can we meet for coffee?
If you'd like to have a general, speculative, or advisory meeting, I'm afraid I won't have time to meet. You see, in addition to being a "manager," I'm also a "maker," and the schedules for these two types of people are at odds with each other, so I basically work around the clock. What the hell am I talking about? See here. If you are seeking producing advice, please read this blog, which contains links to interviews I've done and articles I've written about producing. You should also read Ted Hope's blog, Filmmaker Magazine, books about filmmaking, and the trades. You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook too--if you do, I thank you!

Thanks for understanding my effort to control the flood of emails. In order for me to be an effective producer and human being, I must protect my time to focus on my own projects, investors, directors, creative cultivation, and life. I hope that you understand. Best of luck with your projects!

Friday, February 14, 2014

"Land Ho!" At Sundance Was Quite The Trip!

Colby D Crossland / Getty Images for Sundance Film Festival
Last month, the latest feature I produced, "Land Ho!" premiered at Sundance. This was my third feature to premiere there (after "Children of Invention" and "California Solo"), and it has been a different but always rewarding experience each time. 

This time, I felt sort of like I was in bizarro world because I was part of one of those storied, infamous "all-night" negotiations that you always hear about but can't actually imagine being real. I put "all-night" in quotes, but it actually was all night--from 6pm Tuesday till 4:30am Wednesday. At the end of that night, or morning really, Sony Pictures Classics had acquired the film. It was a dream come true for all of use since we've always wanted to work with them.

But even more important than the deal was the audience and critical reaction to the film. I can't remember the last time I went to a movie and the audience laughed that much (and also cry!). It made me so proud to have been a part of making this film, along with writer-directors Martha Stephens & Aaron Katz, producers Sara Murphy & Christina Jennings, and our wild and crazy boys Paul Eenhoorn & Earl Lynn Nelson. I was extra proud that this was the first film financed by Gamechanger Films, the women directors film fund that I run.

We cannot wait to share "Land Ho!" with everyone this year! Until then, check out some of these great articles about the film and our Sundance experience. For more, see our Facebook page.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

"Cold Comes the Night" Premieres Today!


The new film I produced, "Cold Comes the Night," opens in theaters and on VOD this Friday, January 10th!

It's a crime thriller starring Alice Eve (Star Trek Into Darkness)Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus), and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)--and they are all FANTASTIC in it!

We are an independent film with a limited release, so our opening weekend is extremely critical in getting theaters to extend our run. We'd be so grateful if you came to see it with your friends!

TONIGHT, Fri 1/10, in Los Angeles: Director Tze Chun and co-writers Osgood Perkins & Nick Simon will be doing Q&As after these screenings:
Laemmle NoHo at 7:50
AMC Burbank at 8:15

TOMORROW, Sat 1/11, in New York: Director Tze Chun and I will be doing Q&As after these screenings:
Quad: 5:207:30
AMC: 7:45
Check out the trailer & film stills, and BUY TICKETS! For the full list of ways to see the film, go here.

CLICK TO TWEET the premiere!

Thanks in advance for helping to spread the word, and we hope to see you this weekend!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My Top Films of 2013 & New Year Resolutions

Four of my top ten films of 2013 happen to be directed by women: Lake Bell's In A World,
Eliza Hittman's It Felt Like Love, Shannon Plumb's Towheads, and Hannah Fidell's A Teacher

Indiewire asked me to list my top ten films of the year, and talk about what I'm looking forward to in 2014. To my delight, nine of the ten films are "true indies," four were directed by women (see photo above), and all of them are narrative features. (Sadly, I don't have much bandwidth to watch documentaries, though I'm eager to see so many of them.) Check out my complete list and resolutions here.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Follow me, says Indiewire

According to Indiewire, I'm one of the "100 Filmmakers to Follow on Twitter." Aw shucks. Thanks, Indiewire. Woot!

So...please follow me? @mynette

And while you're at it, check out my Facebook too. Lots of heated debates about film, race, and gender, with a bunch of snark on the side.

Gracias!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sorry boys, but it's time to change the game!

Me, Mary Jane Skalski, Julie Parker Benello, and Dan Cogan on a Brooklyn rooftop
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles TimesSeptember 20, 2013)
I'm very excited to announce my new gig as President of Gamechanger Films, the first for-profit film fund dedicated exclusively to financing narrative features directed by women!

Check out the Los Angeles Times piece about the company: 
“New movie fund Gamechanger Films is formed to back women directors”

Here's to more diversity in film!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Me Me Me


I recently did a very long 6-part interview with The Black List's Go Into the Story blog. Check it out if you can. Perhaps you will find something useful, or at least amusing, in it. If not, I am sorry.

Part 1: “I’ve probably known since 7th grade that I wanted to produce films. Growing up in New York and seeing movie sets in the street all the time, I was always fascinated by how that whole circus of crew, cast, lights, and trucks got assembled.”

Part 2: “Put yourself in other people’s shoes to figure out how to negotiate with them. Poverty breeds creativity. Try not to let them see you sweat. Feed your crew well. Don’t produce and AD at the same time. Guard the truck!”

Part 3: “I only take on projects that I’d be willing to lose sleep and nutrition for, and that I’d be proud to put my name on.”

Part 4: “So it behooves you to not put all your eggs in one basket, to make films back-to-back or even simultaneously. It’s an insane way to live. No indie film producers actually sleep.”

Part 5: “The next person who sends me an immigrant drama or microbudget Mumblecore comedy will get it chucked back in their face! (Unless, of course, it happens to be brilliant.)”

Part 6: “As a producer, I look for characters that great actors would want to play because the vast majority of indie films are still financed by way of cast attachments.”

Saturday, September 21, 2013

"Cold Comes the Night" Premieres in the UK!


The crime thriller I produced, Tze Chun's "Cold Comes the Night" starring Alice Eve, Logan Marshall-Green, and Bryan Cranston, made its world premiere across UK theaters yesterday! 

Check out the reviews, the trailer, and our Twitter and Facebook page. And if you live in the UK, buy tickets!

We'll also be doing some sneak previews at regional film festivals ahead of the film's US premiere--stay tuned for more info.

We're all very proud of this film, and would be grateful if you helped spread the word about it. Thanks!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Hey Filmmakers, Just Quit!

Ha! Just found this interview I did last year with National Film Society at IFP's Filmmaker Conference, wherein I tell all filmmakers to quit. 

By the way, registration for Independent Film Week 2013 is now open (if you haven't quit film already).


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Notable Asians in American Indie Film

Asian American mumblecore: Wayne Wang's "Chan is Missing" (1982)

In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, I've put together a list of notable industry movers and shakers who traffic in the American narrative independent film world and also happen to be Asian. This list is not meant to ghettoize the people on it, but merely to call attention to their good work. They all belong on general "notable film people" lists too!

This list is totally off the top of my head, so it is far from comprehensive (apologies in advance to the many I've missed). Emphasis is on "American," "narrative," and "indie," so it's thin on international, documentary, and studio folks. I also haven't included many people from the Asian American film festival community because there are too many to name, but check out the list of festivals here. And I have not included crew, actors, or directors for that same reason, but I would like to point out one editor, one DP, and one director whom you should especially keep your eye on. ;)

All of these folks should be on your radar--Google them!

PRODUCERS
(for the sake of simplicity, I'm only listing one company or film)
Joan Huang & Jimmy Tsai - Cherry Sky Films
Karin Chien - dGenerate Films, 2010 Independent Spirit Producers Award Winner
James Choi - Joint Body
Soojin Chung - Escape From Tomorrow
Gina Kwon - The Future, 2005 Independent Spirit Producers Award Winner
In-Ah Lee - Au revoir Taipei, Independent Spirit Producers Award Nominee
Melissa Lee - Bends
Reuben Lim - Saving Lincoln
Sophia Lin - Take Shelter, 2012 Independent Spirit Producers Award Winner
Amy Lo - Battle of the Year
Geoffrey Quan - Detonator
Shrihari Sathe - It Felt Like Love
Anish Savjani - Blue Ruin, 2011 Independent Spirit Producers Award Winner
Emily Ting - The Kitchen
Derrick Tseng - Prince Avalanche, Independent Spirit Producers Award Nominee
Peter Phok - Beneath
Brian Yang - Linsanity
Nina Yang Bongiovi - Fruitvale Station

SALES
Abby Davis - Preferred Content
Jason Ishikawa - Film Sales Company
Kevin Iwashina - Preferred Content
Winnie Lau - Fortissimo
David Koh - Submarine
Peter Trinh - ICM Partners

DISTRIBUTION
Angel An - Samuel Goldwyn Films
Marcus Hu - Strand Releasing
Christine Kim - YouTube
Laura Kim - Inside Job
Mona Kwan - Jaguar
* Josie Liang - FilmDistrict
Lejo Pet - Exclusive Media
Chan Phung - Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions
Ellie Wen - CBS Films
Ryan Werner - Consultant, formerly IFC Films

EXHIBITION / FESTIVALS
Rose Kuo - Film Society of Lincoln Center
Anderson Le - Hawaii International Film Festival
Dennis Lim - Film Society of Lincoln Center (see also: Press)
Konrad Ng - Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program
David Ninh - Publicist, Film Society of Lincoln Center
Rajendra Roy - Museum of Modern Art
Sean Uyehara - San Francisco Film Society
Rosie Wong - Sundance Industry Office
Kim Yutani - Sundance Film Festival

PRESS / CRITICS / PUBLICITY
Chris Chang - Film Comment
Justin Chang - Variety
Irene Cho - The Daily Buzz with Eugene Hernandez
* Ryan Koo - No Film School
Michelle Kung - Speakeasy, Wall Street Journal
Kevin B. Lee - Fandor
Nathan Lee - Film Comment
Dennis Lim - NY Times, LA Times (see also: Exhibition)
David Magdael - David Magdael & Associates
Tim Wu - Slate
* Jada Yuan - New York Magazine

FILMMAKER SUPPORT
Stefanie Huie - Outreach Consultant, A3 Foundation Fellowship at Sundance Institute
Jane Hwang - Film Independent
Anne Lai - Sundance Creative Producing Initiatives Director
Thuy Tran - Consultant, formerly USA Artists


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Better Film Panels Now


In the year and a half since Brian Newman wrote his very apt and memorable post, “Killing the Film Fest Panel,” panels haven’t improved much. In that time, I’ve spoken on or moderated over a dozen panels, and it seems that panel organizers haven’t really taken Brian’s suggestions to heart. The majority of film panels remain as excruciatingly boring and useless as ever.

So, let’s try a different tack: I propose that we panelists and moderators step up our game and give the (sometimes paying) audiences a better panel. Here’s how...

[Read More]

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Make It a Triple Feature!


Marshall Lewy's CALIFORNIA SOLO, which premiered at Sundance and hit theaters at the end of last year, is finally out on Video-On-Demand and DVD!  Get it now on cable VOD, Amazon, iTunes, Netflix, Google Play, Vudu + many more outlets!

And when you are done with that, surf on over to Olivia Silver's ARCADIA starring John Hawkes. It won the Crystal Bear at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival and is available on cable VOD till March 13 only, so hurry!


Finally, check out an oldie but goodie, Tze Chun's debut feature CHILDREN OF INVENTION on Google Play. We've just lowered the price on this Sundance film to $1.99 for a 48-hour rental, and we--the filmmakers--get the majority of the rental price!  You'll wanna watch it in advance of our new film COLD COMES THE NIGHT, which is gonna be great.

Enjoy the show(s) and thanks so much for watching!