Sunday, October 21, 2018

Slamdance Screenplay Competition and gearing up for a new short

It's been a really busy month. So I've been submitting my feature length screenplay "The Causeway" to various screenplay competitions for about a year now. It had mostly gotten rejected, but we realized that we were focusing on diversity/Asian centered competitions and we probably would have better luck with ones that focused on more horror/genre themed pieces. We submitted to the Slamdance Screenplay Competition, which is frequently listed in the top 8 of top screenplay competition lists, and one day we got a notice that we made it into the next round. Eventually we got Quarter finalists, to semi finalists, to finalists and finally got announced that we were top 3.

Once we got into the top 3 we got invited to the award ceremony, which took place at the Writers Guild of America building. There were four categories: feature, feature horror, teleplay, and short. We were really excited, because at worst, we would get 3rd in our category and we would be the stars of the event regardless of what happened. It was a modestly sized event and we got to meet a lot of the other writers. The first awards to be announced were the shorts and one of the first people we talked to won 1st place in shorts. Our category was next and it was an interesting feeling to not want to hear your name first, but unfortunately we did. It was still a good time and we got a lot of congratulations from people all around. We get all access passes to Slamdance too and I had been looking for an excuse to go back next year. I felt like a bit of a fraud going to Sundance and not having work to show there. While it's not exactly showing a film, I can't say I have NO work to show there.

The other huge thing to happen this month is Godzilla Party preproduction is in full swing. I was able to succeed in my Kickstarter. More than half of the funds came from the Fighting Game Community so thank god for my time spent playing video games. I raised a little over $5,000, which I thought would cover half the budget. Unfortunately it's looking like the realistic number is more like $15,000. A lot is coming out of pocket. We'll see how it all goes. I'll have to write about it next month! If all goes well maybe I can show the film at next NEXT year's Sundance!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Godzilla Party Kickstarter

Alright, so I've been talking about this short I wanted to make for a really long time. I knew I wanted to make something about a collection of my online dating stories as well as things I've heard from others and I also wanted to do something new and interesting with blending the lines of comedy/drama. It took me almost a year of brainstorming, but with the help my friend Claire Jia and my usual writing/directing partner Travis Ashkenasy we came up with the idea for Godzilla Party.

It's about a bunch of people at a party that slowly devolves into a bit of chaos. With this movie we want to do something that we believe has never really done been done before. We're taking a dramatic script, but using the aesthetic and acting style of a multi-cam comedy to contrast with the material. This is literally the opposite of what we usually do with our movies like Hand Fart where we take a comedic script and treat it very seriously.

In order to have the highest contrast between the dramatic writing and the comedic aesthetics we felt like shooting it like a sitcom similar to Big Bang Theory and Friends was the best route. What we didn't realize that these sets are harder to get than we ever thought. Even when we shot Hand Fart we thought finding a hospital would be tough, but there were actually a lot. Right now, we're finding that the options for getting even a living room set are either extremely expensive or just not the same look. That and I found out that I would be having to spring the bill for the whole budget cause Travis wasn't able to contribute this go round. So I decided to do a kickstarter.

I've always felt uncomfortable with the idea of Kickstarter because I felt like it's best to make things on your own money so I don't have to worry about wasting someone else's money. I have since realized that sometimes there are people that want to help contribute and it also serves as a good marketing tool. We initially had some good momentum with the campaign, but it slowed down significantly at the mid point. Right now I'm sitting here at the 24 hours left mark and we're not even at the 50% point so I have a lot to do.

Not sure whoever reads this, but if anyone could donate, like, share, give suggestions on what to do I would appreciate it. I'm about to start my big push now. Here goes nothing!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

New Short (but not really)

Geez, I was trying to do a schedule of updating at least once a month, but I guess I got carried away. Summer was kind of busy. Went to Louisiana, Florida, New York, Vegas, San Diego, San Francisco  and had 3 friends come over to Los Angeles at different times that I had to entertain. I have some catching up to do, but wanted to do a post on this short that I actually made almost 4 months ago.

It was for channel 101, which was started by Dan Harmon of Community and Rick & Morty. It's a monthly screening where people submit five minute pilots and the audience gets to vote on their top 5 and the top 5 gets to make a second episode and the next month five new pilots get submitted. I had been attending for years and even starred in a few people's shows, but was always nervous about starting my own.

A few months ago, I started attending a writers group and one thing led to another and I decided to collaborate with a writer/producer/actor there named Alex Nishino to make something. We wrote the script in one night and started scrambling to get all the elements together to make something. My goal was to make something fun and try things out that I'd never done before. More specifically I wanted to mess with fight choreography, vfx, and camera tricks to make practical effects. We wrote a script that had all of that and more. The idea being that we would write the most ridiculous short possible and then force ourselves to figure out how to film it without cheapening it at all.

The fight choreography I'm really proud of actually. I got my friend Tiger Sheu to help out on that end. He's a professional actor/stunt person and he was pro at walking us through a fight scene that we could pull off with no experience. I learned a lot because it's a lot harder than it looks and he went out of his way to design a scene where he did a lot of the work to make us look good. Believe me, there were times where it looks pretty rough, but I think with the editing it turned pretty good.

So we shot it over the course of two days and I worked my ass off figuring out VFX and doing other post shit. I had some help with some of the VFX by my friend Philip Bastian and my cousin Aaron Quan did some of the sound mixing/designing. We basically crammed a lot of work over the course of a week to turn it in and... we didn't even get accepted to screen it. I was told they felt like it lacked potential to be a whole series and they didn't like our original title "A Day in the Life".

It did play at the final We Own The 8th meeting, which was a bittersweet experience. I had been attending those meetings over the past four years and they said they were really happy that they could screen one of my shorts for their final night. About a minute into the screening the projector screen rolled up though and they just let it project on a brick wall, which wasn't great. But again, good night overall.

Anyways, here's the link below. We made it cheap and fast, but I'd like to think it was good too which is rare.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Booking commercials

So I recently had a couple of bookings that were exciting. First, I got a small role in a big movie that I can't really say anything more about. Second, I got a commercial. Which is great, because I haven't been in a commercial since I got cut out of the Apple one I booked when I first got out to Los Angeles. I don't know what it is, but something about my demeanor or look does not sell products. I had heard stories about how most actors make their living from booking commercials and a good one can carry you through the year. Booking an Apple commercial, I felt like I was pretty set. I forgot exactly how the news broke, but I remember pulling up the commercial on youtube and realizing that my whole segment was just cut out. That was almost four years ago and I had gotten close, but hadn't booked anything since then.

Cut to a few years later and I got an audition for a 7-Eleven commercial. The first audition I had to pretend to be a store clerk and be confused by someone else going crazy. Commercial auditions are generally really vague and they call in like a hundred people for the first round so I just did what I think they wanted and left and forgot about it. That's usually the best policy.

I was lucky enough to get a callback, which is when they narrow it down to about 8-10 people and when I went in they completely changed what the concept was. Now it was going to be a Deadpool tie in and I was watching as another co-worker played Jenga with a tower of chimichangas. Everyone there for the callback was freaking out and trying to desperately research the connection of chimichangas to 7-Eleven. I had enough sense to actually think about the connection to Deadpool and chimichangas. I'm fairly familiar with comic books and remembered that the character's favorite food is chimichangas and also knowing that Deadpool himself is very meta I decided to use that in my audition.

The director just wanted us to generally improvise and when the cameras rolled, the first thing I said was "So 7-Eleven is selling Chimichangas for Deadpool huh? Good on them for cashing in on that movie tie-in." and the director busted out laughing. He then said he couldn't have me say that in the commercial and told me to improvise something else and I just said some generic stuff about chimichangas. But I felt like I took an interesting risk and it seemed like it paid off. Sure enough, I found I got an avail which means you're in the final 2-3 and they want to make sure your schedule is clear for the shoot. I had gotten this a few times and it's my least favorite part of the process. I'd honestly rather just not know at all. Every year I get 3-4 avails only to be released and it doesn't feel any better to know that you were so close. After a few days my agent called and I was prepped for the bad news, but she actually said I booked it. I was ecstatic.

The shoot was a series of vignettes and I was kind of worried because that was what the Apple commercial was like and they just took my whole segment out. But I was in this segment where me and another guy stand on opposite sides of a giant chimichanga tower while we said some lines.  I felt like my place was pretty secure because they spent a lot of time making the tower and it was the most visually interesting thing in the commercial. I asked the props person and they said they actually made over 500 chimichangas and stacked them up (they were held together by skewers). Here's a pic of it below.

So now that I booked a commercial and filmed it I still had to worry about if they wouldn't air the commercial or if I got cut out. One day my friend posted a link to the commercial and said "I'm assuming you are in a different one?" I immediately clicked it and watched through and saw my scene. The chimichanga tower was in there, but instead of having the shot be the tower in the middle and me and another guy standing to the side of it, they just zoomed in on the other guy. My scene hadn't been cut out, but I had literally been.... cut out. I then emailed my agent to ask what was going on and they said they were holding out to see if I was in alternate cuts or anything. But sure enough, after a few days, I got a letter saying that I had been released from all iterations of that commercial.

So I'm 0 for 2 on commercials. People tell me I shouldn't complain and that I'll have to just settle with being a "movie star". But anyways.... I was close. I'm literally on the other side of that chimichanga tower, but I've yet to really book a commercial.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Doing Standup

     Whoa, I try to update my blog at least once a month. It's been slow at the top of this year though, but barely made it in time for April. So I wanted to share this video of me doing standup. People have always told me that they could see me doing standup because I have a very particular opinion and a voice to tell it. For the longest time I was intrigued by the idea of doing standup, but never actually worked up the courage to do it. About two years ago, I went to my friend Johnny Pemberton's show, who I had worked with on the Jump Street movies, and I realized the power of doing standup. For a few minutes, you put yourself on stage and really give people a very intimate portrait of who you are and I felt like that was really cool and valuable. So me and my friend Dante vowed that we would do a standup set within a 3 month period.

     We regularly went to open mics a few times a week to see what it was like and I built up a lot of confidence from it and started working on what my first standup set would be. After maybe a month or two I finally decided that it was time for me to put my name into the open mic lottery. I went to multiple shows though and didn't get called and finally on the 4th or 5th open mic where I was ready and willing to go up I got called and did my three minutes and realized... it wasn't for me. It was fun, but it was such a struggle to just get one set done and I had heard from people that in order to really get into standup I had to be doing multiple sets a night. I decided that I may as well not take on another struggle so I hung up my standup aspirations.

     Cut to a few months ago... I went to a show down the street from my apartment on a whim that my friend Teresa Lee was hosting. It was a show that was build around the idea of artists doing something on stage for the first time. It was an interesting concept. After the show, I went up and talked to her and she said if I ever wanted to go up to just let her know. I was kind of afraid to take up the mantle again, but I decided to just go for it. I performed this in January and I'm only just now posting it. My roommate Phil recorded it, but I only got the recording a few weeks ago and I only just now viewed it for the first time and uploaded it. I was kind of afraid to watch it. I always thought I wouldn't really get stage fright, but I remember it not going so smoothly and I think it kind of shows here. I really stumble through even my planned bits at the end. But, I think it's worth seeing and hopefully you'll get a laugh out of it.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Podcast with Southern Fried Asian and Counterpart

Hmmm, I thought I made a post for being on this podcast, but apparently I forgot as well as just generally updating this blog at all (whoops).

So I was introduced to Keith Chow by Jes Vu, a producer I regularly work with. He runs a podcast that focuses on Asians who are from the South. Since it was the first podcast I've been on that wasn't focused on the entertainment industry I got to talk about the other big part of my life. Specifically food. Being a Southern Asian is one of the things that is a big part of who I am and helps me stand out. I thought it was a great interview, so go to the link below and check it out. It's a good one.

I also wanted to come back to talk about the most recent TV role that I filmed. It was for the Starz show Counterpart. It recently started airing even though I shot it around this time last year. It was supposed to be a big show and is apparently getting good reviews. I knew I was in episode four, but didn't think much of it. It wasn't until today that I even thought to check. I went on my IMDB however, and realized that it had been taken off of my page. That's never happened before so I went to watch the episode and sure enough I found that my whole scene was cut exactly at the point where I leave the room.

It wasn't a huge part by any means, but this does mark the first time that I've just been completely cut out of something. Pretty much every other role that I've done has been reduced by a moderate to significant amount, but at least I got to see myself and I got the credit. Not this time. Honestly, it's not a big deal. I thought this part would stay in because my character says a lot of information that I thought was necessary. But as an editor, if something isn't necessary it gets cut out. In case that was me.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Interview and shorts on Chopso as well as another Zine

Forgot to make a November update. I was caught up being back in my hometown. The year is starting to wrap up. It was a bit slow in the latter half. I did get asked to put a few of my shorts on Chopso, which is a Netflix like service for Asian American content. They interviewed me as well and I was pretty happy with out it came out. Here is an excerpt below, but if you want to check the rest of it out click this link.

C: Why did you decide to become a filmmaker?
I was originally a computer engineering major. My freshman year of college was at Louisiana State University in 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina. School was cancelled for two weeks, a tree landed on my car, and I had some time for self-reflection. I had just had a terrible first semester and I remember sitting in my Physics 101 class and wanting to just gouge my eyes out, thinking about hanging out with the same people from high school, playing more World of Warcraft, and taking 3.5 more years of classes I didn’t enjoy. It was that moment when I realized that I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I didn’t have a childhood dream of making movies, but I knew I enjoyed storytelling, so I decided to switch my major to film and attend University of New Orleans, the only film school in the state. My parents weren’t super happy with it.

I was also asked to submit another article on the story time zine. This issue focused on self discovery so I wrote about my thoughts on how people perceived the roles that I had gotten since getting into the acting biz. Here it is below.

Walking Stereotype

      I was at the Q&A for the Asian American International Film Festival in New York for my feature film Steve Chong finds out that Suicide is a Bad Idea. I was one of the leads in the movie and had written the story with some friends from film school. It was a sold out screening and the audience reception was amazing. I was riding high, answering questions and getting praise from the audience. Then one Asian guy raised his hand and said, “you know, throughout this week I’ve seen movies with a broad range of Asian characters that defy stereotypes. Do you find it problematic that you played the awkward, shy Asian nerd who never gets laid, which is basically reinforcing a negative stereotype?” I was caught by surprise. Here I was thinking that I was taking a positive step forward by making a movie with an Asian character as a lead, only to be told that I was bringing us back a few steps. I hadn’t even thought of my character in that context. This was the first time I learned about the torch I had to bear as an Asian person working in the film industry.

     I would say that with almost every major role that I’ve played I’ve had someone say, either to me or about me online, that they felt that by me taking the role I was doing “our people” some kind of injustice. For 21 Jump Street I played a character named Roman, who was part of a group of nerds who liked science and technology and were kind of dorky. I’m good at science and technology and am kind of dorky so I didn’t think much of it when I was cast for the role. It turned out that the role was originally even written for a black guy, and I was the only Asian who went in for the callback audition. I had a lot of fun on that set and the experience was the launching point for my acting career. After the movie came out,some people called my character a walking stereotype. One of my cousins approached me at a wedding to tell me that I should be more cognizant of the roles that I take on in the future. On the other hand, I remember talking to one of the directors of the movie and he told me that he cast me because I was the only one who came into the audition who played a “nerdy” character with confidence. Everyone else played it like a stereotypically meek version. It’s still a role I’m proud of.

     For The Big Short, I play a character from China who acts like he doesn’t know English, but then breaks the fourth wall to let the audience know, in a perfect American accent, that not knowing English is a facade to make his math skills more credible. To me, the rolet was interesting and kind of ironic because I personally don’t even know how to speak any form of Chinese language fluently, so it was cool to kind of play into the stereotype, but then turn it on its head. Recently, someone on Twitter told me that they stopped watching the movie right after seeing my part. Another person I talked to at a film festival party told me that seeing that portion of the film made them uncomfortable. That I was the butt of a racist joke and that people were meant to laugh at me than with me.

     It’s a unique perspective I am forced to confront every time I audition for a role. Apparently the characters that I’m most right for are the ones that people consider negative stereotypes. It’s not that I’m blind to the fact that there are problematic aspects to the way I’m being portrayed in mainstream media, but I feel like I’m able to improve on those written roles by making them more real. I have had to accept the fact that there will be people who will still only concentrate on the negative.

     Going back to the Q&A for Steve Chong, I responded to the question by saying, “we didn’t make this movie with race in mind at all. I was literally just playing myself on screen. So if what you saw was a negative stereotype, then I guess I’m a negative stereotype.” He sat back down seemingly dissatisfied with the answer. After the screening, he came up apologized and said that he now felt like it was problematic that he even asked the question in the first place. If the character of Steve Chong needed to be a shy, awkward dude who doesn’t get laid because Stanley is also a shy, awkward dude who doesn’t get laid then that’s cool. I figure if that guy can accept for me who I am, then I sure as hell should too. But ultimately, I hope that it doesn’t ever have to be asked in the first place.