Met some interesting people at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, which opened this week.
Oscar winner Ruby Yang, actress Tamlyn Tomita, and producer Karin Chien led a very informal talk and Q&A session about what it’s like to work in the film industry, and especially what it’s like to make APA films.
Karin’s words of wisdom: “Only ½ of 1 percent of independent films make a profit.”
She just won the Independent Spirit Awards’ top prize for producing. She’s been the producer of such great indie films as Michael Kang’s THE MOTEL (love this!), ROBOT STORIES (which also starred Tamlyn Tomita), and the newly released SANTA MESA. She’s now producing films that will be filmed in part in China, Haiti, and the Philippines.
Karin had some amazing stories to tell about what it’s like to work as a producer for independent films. “It’s all compromise. It’s always about improvisation with what the world hands you,” she said when someone asked how much of a director’s “vision” ends up in the final film. As an example she cited ROBOT STORIES, which began filming on September 10, 2001 in New York City. Oh, yeah. The world handed them a surprise on that shoot. But they managed to make their movie.
Another example? She said the motel they were using to film in for the eponymous movie caught on fire the second day of filming. Yet, as everyone who’s seen the film knows, THE MOTEL was made, distributed, and got great reviews! For more on THE MOTEL, click here!
(To me, it also sounded a lot like it’s all about the adrenaline!)
Ruby Yang talked about the difficulties of getting funding, the years of work to get one film made, but the passion that keeps her making her wonderful documentaries. For example, she said that she shot a lot of public health PSA’s in China in order to get permission and funding to film her Oscar-winning documentary, THE BLOOD OF YINGZHOU COUNTY, about an AIDS-ravaged village in central China.
She also worked as a film editor for many years, including for Bill Moyers’ PBS documentary, BECOMING AMERICAN:THE CHINESE EXPERIENCE More info on BECOMING AMERICAN, the PBS series.
She also was the editor for two of actress/director Joan Chen’s movies XIU XIU: THE SENT-DOWN GIRL and AUTUMN IN NEW YORK.
(One of my faves of her films is the documentary CITIZEN HONG KONG (1999), which was broadcast on PBS.)
Tamlyn Tomita was very inspiring and encouraged the audience to help “move the progress forward” and offer solutions so that APA roles and films keep getting better and better.
Tamlyn described how she was studying history at UCLA when she tried out for the role in KARATE KID II and was hired. She later starred in THE JOY LUCK CLUB, PICTURE BRIDE, and an early film about the Japanese American internment COME SEE THE PARADISE, as well as many indie films, TV shows and stage plays.
Bay Area and international filmmakers in attendance included writer/director Gerry Balasta whose film THE MOUNTAIN THIEF is showing at the festival (see The Mountain Thief website or check out this Festival interview with Gerry CAAM Interview with Gerry Balasta;
Documentary filmmaker Yumiko Gamo Romer, who’s making a film about a 96-year-old female judo master who’s still teaching judo!
For more on the Grand Mistress of Judo, Click here for www.flyingcarp.net
and actor/director Paul Wong, whose first feature film starts shooting this August.
This was a really interesting event that allowed me to feel like a fly on the wall and see what the world of filmmaking is really like.
I enjoyed hearing all the anecdotes, and yes, I did ask for autographs at the end!
Now I can hardly wait to see the films!
The talk today and the festival are sponsored by Center for Asian American Media (CAAM)
For the film festival schedule, click here film schedule