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Your new film is called A Foundling. In a few words, what is
Chinese cowgirls and
aliens! Two Chinese girls are crossing the desert and come across a
strange, crashed spaceship. There is a baby alien inside and they decide
to try and take care of it.
You have two Chinese Americans play the leads
in what is basically a Western. Why, and what can you tell us about the
role of Chinese Americans in the American West?
Originally, I wrote
the film for my Korean friend, but she had to go to law school and
couldn’t do it. There weren’t many (any) Koreans in the American Old
West, so I made her character Chinese/Native American. I did a lot of
research on Chinese in the Old West when I was in college – I took a lot
of Ethnic Studies classes at San Francisco State and one of the classes
was Chinese in America so that gave me a lot of background. There
were actually Chinese fighting in the Civil War – a lot of cool stories.
words about your lead actors Cindy Chiu and Tom Chiou, and how did you get
them to act in your film?
had a lot of auditions. Most of the actors we found using IMDB. My husband
found Cindy when he was doing a search for teen movies. She was in Bring
it On All or Nothing and we watched the film and saw that she had a lot of
charisma. So we called her agent and asked her to come to an audition.
also found Tim while searching on IMDB – he was starring in the Ed
Sanchez film Seventh Moon which is a REALLY GOOD movie despite the
low ratings on IMDB. Tim was far and away the best audition for Jim. He
A Foundling is set in
the Mojave Desert. Why there of all places?
thought the desert was really beautiful. And I had always wanted to shoot
a movie in the desert. Now I know better – shooting in the desert is
MISERABLE. The weather keeps changing and everyone gets really grumpy.
Next movie is going to be shot in and around Los Angeles so everyone can
sleep in their own beds at night and not have to deal with crazy
What were your main
inspirations when writing A Foundling?
just started with that first image of two Chinese girls on a horse
crossing the desert and then you start asking yourself questions: Who are
these girls? Where are they going? What do they want? What obstacles are
going to get in their way? And then the characters start talking, and I
A Foundling is both a Western and a science fiction movie. What
particularly inspired you to merge those two genres, and do you harbour a special love
for both of them?
I don’t really have
any special love for either of those genres. In fact, Westerns – I think
– are kind of annoying. But I don’t really think of a genre”when
I write. It usually just starts with an image or a character and then you
let it unfold the way it wants to unfold. The only real sci-fi element in A
Foundling is the alien. I like aliens – I think they are cute. It
could have just as easily been a magic puppy. Which might make a good
film. Why not?
As far as I know, A Foundling
played quite a few festivals over the past year. A few words about the
audience reception, and when and how will it be released to a broad
far everyone who has told me they have seen it have really liked it (they
could just be being polite – who knows?). They like the character-driven
aspect of it – how it is mostly about the relationship between the two
sisters and the alien is really this catalyst that brings out different
sides of their personalities. Everyone loves David C. Smith’s awesome
cinematography and Pierpaolo Tiano’s fantastic score. Nora Jesse also
does a fantastic, nuanced performance as Mattie.
going to release it on indieflix (possibly netflix) and amazon.com
very soon. Check www.afoundling.com
or do a facebook search for A Foundling for more details.
A Foundling is your debut
feature film, but you have directed quite a few successful shorts before
that. What made you go into feature length filmmaking?
I wanted to see if I
could do it. A feature-length film is my Mount Everest.
does making a feature film, including preparations and everything, compare
to making shorts?
One: It’s soooooo expensive to make a feature film. With a short, it
only takes a few days to make, so you can get away with not paying people
or not paying them very much.
a feature, you have to HAVE to pay everyone (I wish I could have paid them
more). This means, sadly, a lot of decisions are made based on money
rather than on creativity.
the shorts, I could spend several hours on just one scene working out
really cool visuals and camera work to tell the story. With the feature,
we had to hustle-hustle to cram as many scenes into an 8 hour day as
possible because we absolutely could not go overtime (because of SAG
rules) and we could not afford to add more days to the shooting schedule.
resulted in a lot of snap decisions to just “cover” a scene without
putting as much time into more interesting camera work. That said, the
film still looked great because of David’s cinematography skill, but in
terms of the direction, it would have been great to spend more time
working on more visual storytelling.
Let's go back to the beginnings of
As far as I know you studied film at San Francisco
State. What got you interested in making movies in the first place, and
what can you tell us about your college years?
went to San Francisco State for undergrad, and Chapman University for grad
school and I continue to take classes at other schools.
always been interested in all types of art, theater, writing, filmmaking
etc… So when I was in High School and deciding what I wanted to major
in, it was really between art, film or theater. I figured film would be
the most challenging and it would give me the opportunity to learn all the
equipment and software in addition to skills I could apply to art and
theater. It’s a medium that includes so many other art forms and it’s
the most influential medium.
San Francisco State I spent more time in the theater department than the
film department even though I majored in Cinema. They had a great drama
program but their cinema school was lacking (hopefully that has changed).
We made films on actual FILM and cut the footage with razor blades and
splicers and edited them on flatbed Moviolas and Steenbecks. Pretty old
Chapman, I still shot on film – 16mm and 35mm but got to learn to edit
with Avid. The Chapman program is great and I would recommend it to anyone
going to film school. They have a lot of great equipment. I hope they
switch to Final Cut Pro, though.
words about your shorts you have made since then:
love this film. It’s about awkward silences and uncomfortable
situations. I was obsessed with minimalism and this started my trend of
is kind of a “part 2” of this minimalist trilogy. It's an agonizingly
long, uncomfortable moment between two people who like each other but are
afraid to acknowledge each other. It’s pretty much my life, right there.
If you want to know what I’m like, just watch Hardwood Floors and
I made a 3rd film dealing with awkwardness called Red
Bench. It was shot on 35 but I never got a chance to edit it because I
got so wrapped up in making a feature-length film.
Harwood Floors, and Class, this was shot by David C. Smith who is awesome.
It was my most ambitious film of the time and had lots of sets and extras
and horses. It’s set in a fairytale world where everything is
“Mediocre” and everyone aspires to “Mediocrity”. Prince Charming
feels like an outcast and he is shunned for being “above average”.
Then, he accidentally wakes up a Princess with a kiss, and she secretly
loves him but she is afraid of being “above average” too. I’m really
proud of this film and hope more people see it. It’s on IMDB free to
other films of yours (not necessarily directed by you) I've forgotten you want to talk about, any future projects?
working on a post-apocalyptic novel right now. It is super long, like The
Stand, and I think it will be the best thing I’ve ever done. I’m quite
proud of how it’s coming out.
also really proud of the work I’ve done bringing awareness to the puppy
mill issue. You can check out a lot of my current videos on my youtube
These are just made with me and a tiny camera – no crew. But they can
give you an idea of what we are working on – I’m with a group that is
fighting to end puppy stores in Los Angeles and hopefully end the puppy
mill industry entirely.
are also an animal rights activist. You want to talk about that facet of
you for a little bit?
rights is a huge part of my life. I’m part of a group that spends our
weekends protesting pet stores that sell puppies from puppy mills.
They’ve successfully closed down countless stores and have passed
legislation banning the sale of puppies in stores. Our goal is to
encourage people to adopt their pets from animal shelters and not “Breed
or Buy While Shelter Pets Die”. With 10 million homeless dogs and cats
being killed every year in our nation’s shelters it’s a really
also involved with animal rescue – fostering and transporting shelter
animals to new homes.
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Directors who inspire you?
changes all the time. Right now Chris Nolan is hugely inspirational. Wes
Anderson of course…
Your favourite movies?
now I am so in love with Inception and also Scott Pilgrim vs the World and
Fantastic Mr. Fox. What else? Babe (the pig movie), The Sixth
Back to the Future-series (of course), Shawshank, Pulp
The Shining, Moulin Rouge, Good Will Hunting, all of Chaplin’s films,
and all of Miyazaki’s films – Spirited
of course, films you have really deplored?
Hmmm…. I hate The Aviator with a passion. And although I loved the
first 2 movies in the Twilight series,
Eclipse was so bad I had to walk
out of it. I don’t “get” The Godfather but I don’t know if I
Facebook, whatever else?
Just do a search for A Foundling and I’m the only one there.