May has become an excellent time to celebrate — May flowers, Mothers, NBA playoffs, allergies… and more recently this month helps us focus on two extremely important things to this Laundroteer — AAPI Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month. For a whole month the nation shines a light on many of the overlooked stories and facts around these topics.

Being from Los Angeles, I have had incredible access to resources on my community’s history and culture, as well as the variety of mental health services offered, but across America ignorance surrounds one subject, while stigma surrounds the other. If you get a chance this May, go ahead and represent! Let the internet know that discussion of these topics doesn’t end in May (I definitely won’t stop being Chinese American on June 1). 😉

So with the excitement of education and awareness in the air, I’d love to update you on what’s going on with The Laundromat.

First, this is me. This is me with my DVD for my VERY FIRST FILM FESTIVAL EVER as a director.


Bluray for 10th Annual Houston Asian Pacific American Film Festival

Yes, the excitement is palpable.

I’ve been invited to screen at the 10th Annual Houston Asian Pacific American Film Festival, which is hosted by OCA-Greater Houston on June 20-22 and 27-28. Their stated purpose is “to entertain and educate Asian American youth and young professionals, to reach out to the community, and to support Asian Pacific Islander artists and filmmakers. Through partnerships with community organizations, the film festival brings attendees together to appreciate the diversity of the Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) community and the commonalities shared by the groups.

Sounds like my kinda fest. But here are the deets for my screening if you’re out there or know anyone who lives out there:

Saturday evening, June 21, 2014between 6pm – 10pm @ Brilliart Films (10905 Bellaire Blvd., Suite C, Houston, TX 77072) –> EVENT IS FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Anyway, go if you can! Talk it up if you can’t.


The SECOND fun update is that The Laundromat has been PODCASTING. With my excellent partner in crime, April, I’ve been able to continue the conversations she and many of my friends have started. Part of my excitement about the podcast is due to our exploration of a wide range of topics and our aim of accessibility. If I could sum up this experience in one sentence, it would be that we are breaking down the stigma of mental health one laugh and one shared experience at a time. The other great part of the pod is having more voices participate in the dialogue – new friends, old friends, and yes, Kristina Wong of Reparations for Yellow Fever all went on mic with us. We’re eternally grateful for their time, because they brought insight and examples for us to chew on… and very soon you can chew along with us!

The podcast has not yet been posted, but when it does go live, you’ll be the first to know. Seriously, April and I can’t wait to share it with you.

But in the meantime, go engage in your favorite Asian Am cultural activity and learn some new facts on mental health. I’m going to kill two birds with one stone and watch Joy Luck Club on repeat everyday until June.

Suyuan: That bad crab, only you tried to take it. Everybody else want best quality. You, your thinking different. Waverly took best-quality crab. You took worst, because you have best-quality heart. You have style no one can teach. Must be born this way… I see you.


**In my next post, I’ll share about the various college groups where I’ve had the privilege to show my movie. Get ready for some deep reflections y’all…

So Laundroteers, we are seven days into the lunar new year and a whole month has gone by in 2014. It is NUTS how quickly time flies by, yet at the same time, not a week has gone by without new developments popping up for The Laundromat.

In the spirit of this brave new year, I’d like to share the good news AND the bad news. And in the spirit of many before, let’s start off with the not-as-great stuff.

Recently I heard back from CAAMfest (what was once the SF Int’l Asian American Film Fest) and I was not chosen to be part of their program. I was hoping this would be my very first Film Fest debut, but it was not to be. Hearing the news was a bit disheartening, because I think every filmmaker dreams of making it to a film fest where they know their film will be enjoyed by large audiences. And let’s be honest, I kinda thought that I’d be a shoo-in with the Asians. (naïveté now dead, no worries)

This whole month I was getting increasingly more anxious as time passed and I didn’t hear back. I started to run myself through the worse-case scenarios and ask, “Well, Vanessa, what will you do if you don’t get in? If they don’t say yes, what’s next?” This kind of mental exercise helped some, but for some reason the least helpful thing I did was tell myself, “Well, even the best got rejected so many times.” Although this is probably statistically true, it still has a ring of falseness, or even condescension to it. On the other hand, the most helpful mental exercise I practiced was telling myself it wasn’t personal, that films are sometimes rejected for reasons you do not expect or understand, that the title of filmmaker is not earned through entry into a film festival. That seemed a little more true, and  for the past three days it’s helped me shake off any crippling doldrums.

Phew, now that I’ve ripped off that band-aid, let’s jump into some of the more exciting news:

1. A couple weeks ago I screened at UCLA with a small group of Asian American Pacific Islander Master of Social Work students, first-year film students, and Asian American Studies students. We had a cool discussion after the screening and I received some heartfelt responses to the work. Here’s a photo from that time:

MSW API Caucus Screening

2. I’ve also had a few offers to go to different schools and screen my movie. In the next couple of months I hope to work with the Center for Asian Pacific American Studies at Pitzer College, a psychology class at Azusa Pacific University and an Asian coalition at Fuller Theological Seminary to not only screen the movie, but also to stimulate some discussion.

3. But at the moment, I may be the most excited about this next piece of news…The Laundromat DVD outreach pamphlet is finished and will soon join the swag going out to my Kickstarter supporters!! Below is a picture of the cover and it is flippin’ sweet.

For now I’m going to count these events as 1 step back and 3 steps forward. And as time races forward, TLD is picking up the pace as well. The trick is probably to learn how to enjoy some of it.

TLD Outreach

Welcome to 2014, Laundroteers! For some reason it doesn’t yet feel like a new year for The Laundromat, but with a few cool events on the horizon, 2014 may be the year that changes everything (whoa, huge proclamation, right?).

First up, The Laundromat is holding a screening THIS TUESDAY (1/21), sponsored by UCLA’s School of Social Work’s Asian Pacific Islander Caucus. What has me all giddy about this screening is that I’ll be showing the movie to future clinicians and others who attend UCLA’s Schools for Public Policy & Public Health. In addition to Asian American audiences of all generations, I am really excited to show the movie to those who have made it their business to help families and individuals learn to speak. Who better to dialogue with on the issues of culturally-sensitive, multi-generational counseling and therapy stigma reduction? There are many, many groups whose eyeballs I want watching the film, but MSW students hover near the top of the list.

The second announcement is that we are writing outreach pamphlets to accompany our first distribution of our DVDs. At the moment, we are only distributing DVDs to our Kickstarter supporters. But more importantly, we are also trying out a new idea with them — why not aid the conversation after the film by providing them with discussion questions and other information on the issues? I’m again working with the ever-so-talented Akemi Hong and Frances E. Chang to make this happen, and wowee zowee! Yes, this is the exact phrase I want to use to describe the pamphlet that will neatly fit into each DVD case. Sleek, hopefully thought-provoking and informative, we’re putting the finishing touches on the pamphlet in order to send it out soon.

Third, my co-conspirator in, April Balotro, has been cooking up something sweet for your reading pleasure. She is carving out a desperately needed blogging space on the ATL website to fill a gaping hole in communication. I’ll let her describe her goals in her own words, but the space will be named “Hang Me Out to Dry” and is set to launch at the beginning of this year.

Finally, I am 0 for 2 right now in my film festival submissions. I applied to four great fests so far- Slamdance, Center for Asian American Media fest (formerly SFIAFF), Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Fest, and True/False film fest, and The Laundromat did not find a home at Slamdance or True/False. Currently, I’m cautiously optimistic about the other two festivals and mildly disappointed by the rejection from the first two; at the same time, I know that the future holds other opportunities and unanticipated adventures for The Laundromat.

So, here’s to 2014 and all it holds! Keep your eye open for Hang Me Out to Dry and if you’re a Kickstarter supporter, I hope to bring you more great news (and an item of swag or two) soon. 😀

Oakland dandelion

This post has been a month coming. It’s not a particularly epic post, but now that the dust has settled, I can freely inform everyone that I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IS NEXT. That phrase is fraught with the same magnitude of excitement and anticipation that I was feeling a month ago, but what has changed is that I know more. Yup, more answers have only resulted in more questions… still, the questions have solidified into a series of semi-concrete options and are not the fuzzy, nagging doubts that were obscuring the path ahead.

Back then two events loomed on the horizon: my first solo screening of The Laundromat and transitioning into a new job. Naturally, the whats, hows, whos and whys rolled in like so much marine layer in the otherwise beautiful beach day of my movie being done. What did I need to do to pull off the Kickstarter screening and any accompanying swag? Who would come? How would the audience receive it??? What would this new job entail? How would I be able to gracefully exit from my old one? Was this the right decision at this time in my life? Round and round the questions swirled until time lifted the fog.

The screening itself was an amazing event that made me feel loved and supported beyond what I could imagine. Friends, family, and new friends showed up to watch, listen, and oh yes, DISCUSS. Not to mention the fact that many of my friends and family helped out in every aspect of the screening – food, setup, hosting, documenting even (my dad took pictures of the whole thing as only Asian dads can). Though I cannot measure the impact of the event on others, I know that the outpouring of support for the movie and for me on that night cannot be replicated. So thank you to all who participated, including those who could not make it, Akemi Hong for designing the swag, any Kickstarter supporters who couldn’t make it out, and anyone who was part of the film. Wish I could have shared that with you, but I know there will be more opportunities.


Now comes the part of figuring out what is next for the movie — film fests, direct outreach, enhancing the website, sending out the remaining swag, mining the footage for more treasure, expanding the community, and hopefully more conversations about the issues within the film. I can’t lie and say that I have a step-by-step plan to take over the nation with this film, but I am working on it.


Which brings me to my new job… With the goals of concentrating more time on my movie, getting more sleep, and bringing some balance back into my life well on their way, I think my fears about this choice are slowly being quelled. I haven’t worked out the kinks of this new life yet, but I have cooked more, spent quality time with people, and stayed up late as a choice and not as a requirement of the job. It is freeing.

With no idea what is next, I’m excited and tense, beginning to strategize the next steps for TLD. Hopefully, in my next update I’ll be able to tell you what’s on the horizon. For now enjoy my excited face with the sexy TLD designed DVD, and further down, Asian dad pictures!!


DSC00061 DSC00074

TLD is DONE. Wow, I said it.

I want to officially proclaim this puppy to be a full-fledged dog. In fact, it feels like I’m about to send my child out into the world, letting it take its first steps into preschool, then 1st grade, and then COLLEGE (this child is apparently doogie howser to the nth degree). I have no idea what kind of mix of pride and fear and excitement and anxiety, must run through a parents’ heart, but I’m experiencing at least a taste of this intoxicating cocktail. I mean, feedback from classmates is great, working with other artists to see your vision through epic, but allowing others to see your film, interact with it, judge it (judge you) and ultimately take a peek inside your everloving soul…wow. Same as sending your kid to her 1st day of school, right? Meh…

I think the rational part of me knows that that is way too dramatic. And… the other bits of me are waving nervously at a small kid with a too-big backpack, walking toward a building that seems so vast and impersonal. But I have been assured that the festival route is important, eye-opening, and dare I believe it, rewarding. Also, having been a doc pre-screener at a well-known fest, I realized that everyone has to start somewhere, the big SEND. For most people the byzantine rules and sheer number of film fests is already daunting, but I’ve already psyched myself out without having submitted a minute of footage.

But all gnawing reasonable and unreasonable fears aside, I am still trying to move forward. Am I convinced that this film needs to be out there in the world? I think every filmmaker has to ask him/herself that question. And for so long I’ve held the belief that this film needs to be made, not just for myself but for the many stories that are simmering and brimming over from the status quo of silence and shame. To consider not putting the film out there would go directly against the reason of its inception. Yet now I am at the point where the film is not just my own creative and personal endeavor. It could have its own life beyond what I could imagine for it, if only I’d allow it to leave home one day at a time.

(Is that what it feels like to be a parent???)

Anyway, I can’t wait to show the film to my Kickstarter supporters, to my friends and colleagues, and I guess to a wider world. Thanks for sticking around and moving into the next phase with me.


Ready for my 1st day and I couldn't be more ridiculously matching. d

Ready for my 1st day and I couldn’t be more ridiculously matching. d



Someone recently asked me, “Vanessa, what are you going to do once your movie is done??”

I responded in half-jest, “I’ll probably have an identity crisis.” …Oh, irony, you certainly have my number.

Yet the truth of the matter is, what will I do with my evenings if I’m not rushing off to a meeting or an edit? What could I possibly fill my weekends with if not this long-due project/child/monster? Probably a MILLION other things. But after you have lived with something for so long, it’s hard to imagine your life without it.

At the same time, I am not kidding myself. The work is never over, and in some ways, the hard part begins now. I understand the process of writing, shooting, editing, sound mixing, coloring, but the thought of showing this film to the world is a teeny bit terrifying. Every artist needs to take that risk, yet how can I be strategic about my approach AND strong in my conviction that this film needs to be seen? What are my next set of goals and when do I get to take a break? All these questions creep on me as the post purgatory comes to an end and the hell of festival submission and exhibition begins.

Still, I’ll try not to cheat myself of the satisfaction of completing something, of taking this idea that was so vitally important to me and bringing it to life. I’ll also try not to stop being grateful for those who have helped me along the way. This includes my newest collaborators: Lucas Mireles, my amazing post supervisor; Different by Design, my online facility; Battiste Fenwick, my post sound supervisor; Mike Simpson, my re-recording mixer; and Jason Knutzen, my colorist. Without the patience and talent of these folk, I would not be mere centimeters away from having a finished film. (If it sounds like I’m preparing for my Oscar speech…I promise that was NOT intentional.)

Either way, The Laundromat may be coming to your faces so soon. If you have any ideas on how to do one big Thank You screening, I’d love to hear them. For now I want to leave with you some magnificent imagery that Ms. Akemi and I have been working on for the the film.


Oh yeah, bumper sticker fun!

Hey again, Laundroteers! A week after my keynote speech and moderating gig with Active Minds’ UCLA chapter, I wanted to update and thank you for your different encouragements.
As some of you may know, I was completely nervous, because I can’t remember the last time I had to give a SPEECH to people. Oh yes, I am charming and witty in Q&As (not really, but I’d like to advertise myself as such), but giving me 10min to freestyle on my movie and the API community and mental health sounds like a confusing train wreck of ideas. Kudos to Active Minds for their courage in asking!

Well, hopefully, my keynote bolstered by clips from the movie was more Union Station than an actual wreck, but it was a great opportunity to learn how to focus my ideas and tailor the VAST array of themes that are involved to a specific audience. What ended up out there in the atmosphere was a description of my own undergraduate experiences, a comparison of my journey with one of the interviewees in the film, and the idea of choice — what does it mean to choose to speak up or out? Oh yes, and for those still reading, I threw some Robert Frost and AP English Language references out there to seal the deal. Arcadia nerddom never dies.

But the MOST surprising and AMAZING part about this whole evening? The panel. I got to bear witness to some very brave college students discuss some of their history with taboo topics. Not only was I reminded of how many heart-breaking and empowering stories exist for every Asian Am/Pacific Islander, but with each word, I saw a laundromat get built. With each story and question, the panelists were able to create a safe space for themselves and those in the room. I couldn’t help but cheer and fist pump (on the inside so as not to cause alarm), because this is why I created The Laundromat – open dialogue, frank conversations. I’m not sure if I can measure the impact of my speech and film, but I know that much of the magic of that evening happened because a bunch of college students decided to be brave and honest with some of their peers.

Anyway, Laundroteers, this is hopefully the beginning of something amazing. I’ll keep you updated on where The Laundromat goes next.

the ol' wash & fold in berkeley

Hey Laundroteers, I apologize for the couple months of silence. My life up till now has been a flurry of hurry up and wait, with each step of the journey bringing me achingly closer to the film being finished– yet not being finished will never feel close enough.

BUT before I get wrapped up in mournful generalities, let’s backtrack a little and get some details. I currently work as a post-production coordinator for two Spike reality television shows. It’s a job that involves me helping others to meet deadlines, stay within budget, and constantly stay in communication with the different parts of the sausage factory. (Yes, making TV is a sausage factory.) All of this is ironic, considering that producing my own movie often involves me doing the same exact things for myself.

For the past couple of months The Laundromat went through the process of peer screening and picture locking (the moment you stop editing your film). Was the film on schedule and on budget? Yes, and it was able to happen with the help of my amazing creative team. But whose schedule was I going off of? I set goals for myself and I’d say about half the time we were able to cheerily meet them. The other half of the time, I slowly and frustratingly realized that the indie feature must feel “done” to one person – me. Not a network or a showrunner or a set-in-stone air date, at least, I didn’t have those things breathing down my neck. On one of my most frustrated nights a clear-headed friend said, “You need to sleep on it. You can’t just lock it, because today is the day you decided to be done.” I could have if I had really wanted to, that was up to me. But my film would have been a sculpture without eyes (and a trogdor without chiaroscuro inverted V’s). So I waited. And slept. And prayed. Stalled some. Got impatient with myself again. And then grappled with it. And then I picture locked. And boy, did I experience glorious relief!

And now? Now is my glorious return to the grindstone. After you decide to stop fiddling with the story of the movie, now begins the 2 parts technical, 3 parts creative part. The list is as follows: Work with a composer to score my film, get all of the video files to be a similar aspect ratio and format, put some color correction onto my film, have someone make sure all the sound levels are right, and… more. There is still at least a month’s worth of work. I have entered Post Purgatory and yet I couldn’t be happier (and more scared). I am closer than ever to being finished and putting this film out into the world. So here is to the hurry up and wait, the frustration, and every step forward. I’m going to try and enjoy my time in limbo. Feel free to hold me to that!

And here are some things that happened or are about to happen:

Daily Bruin article written about my peer screening

link to my composer’s work

– Will be part of an upcoming panel in May at UCLA discussing AAPI mental health well-being; here’s a link to the organization running it

almost there

I recently realized that one thing I don’t discuss as much on this blog is the academic side of my documentary. Though I wish I meant the statistics and research into these issues, what I selfishly am referring to is how I’m also trying to obtain my MFA at the same time as making this feature documentary.

Starting and finishing any film is difficult, but trying to complete a documentary is even harder because of how much the story is formed in the editing. Does it become pedantic or personal? How specific? How universal? Whose voice ends up being part of the conversation? Add to these questions, other course work and the restrictions of the academic year, and the task of finishing a doc at school seems impossible. In looking at the docs begun at UCLA, I’d say it takes students an average of two years to complete one with a running time longer than a half hour.

So why do it? Why do students choose projects that may not be finished within the boundaries of the school year or even the duration of their MFA career?

I can’t speak for everyone, but I have learned so much from taking a feature from start to finish. Knowing that I have the endurance to stick with a feature film is a bit of a relief (embarrassing but true). And more importantly, I did it, because I believe in this story and in this art form.

If it sounds like I’m trying to sum up my feelings about my time at UCLA, it’s because this chapter of my life is slowly but surely coming to a close. Today I received the last signature on my MFA paperwork and this coming week, I will file and officially ask for that piece of paper from the University of California regents. I wanted to mention it here, because it’s one of the stepping stones between me and the next stage of my film as well.

Stay tuned, this end is the start of something new.

IMG_4390big thank you to marina goldovskaya, gyula gazdag, nancy richardson and becky smith

One year ago I started shooting my thesis, The Laundromat Documentary.

Two years before that I teamed up with the endlessly talented Judy P to shoot what would be the initial seedlings of The Laundromat feature. In May 2011 Sun K agreed amidst her busy schedule to be my Story Consultant (aka Story Crisis Counselor). Then in August 2011 I teamed up with Akemi H, Chris D, and April B to create; and with their powers combined, they helped me make a beautiful, streamlined, eloquent little community site. Frances C joined the party in January 2012 powered almost exclusively on passion to help me seek grants and audiences. By March I had recruited Esther S to be my editor because of her experience and sensitivity to my film.

And now a year after I launched the Kickstarter, my movie is about to be picture locked. This means I am that much closer to being able to proudly show off what many have supported through verbal affirmation, financial resources, and/or their time and skills. I’m so grateful for everyone’s support whether we met only a year ago or if they’ve been supporting me my whole life (THANKS MOM & DAD!). I’m also thankful for the patience everyone’s shown in watching the film evolve.

Please expect more updates more often. We’ve come a long way and I can’t wait to share more of this journey with all of you out there.

Thanks, everyone!!!!!!!

So…I almost didn’t write this entry. I almost censored this from my public account about the making of the doc. But there seems to be something awfully lopsided if this blog only reflects all my triumphs. Every journey encounters obstacles and disappointments. Now at the end of summer, I feel slightly beset by those little beasts.
The first incident to punch me in the face was a form-rejection from the Princess Grace committee to tell me that I was not selected for the Princess Grace/JUSTFilms Documentary award. Perhaps this one event is not something so earth-shattering, but the grant-writing route for my documentary has been one filled with a lot of work and not a lot of reward. Anyone will tell you that this is a common experience. I have heard that you have to try at least three times for any application will reap rewards. So far I think I’m 0 for 10.

The next event to rock my small documentary world was that I was a victim of theft. Last week I went to work on my movie at school, and as I went to pick up my external hard drives, I discovered that they had completely disappeared. I called everyone I knew that could have possibly have any inkling about their whereabouts, but it was a practice in futility. Filing a report with the police has also produced no promising results. But almost as soon as I saw my empty bag, I had already assumed the worst. I am baffled that it could have happened. I am angry that someone has my friends’ personal stories in their possession. And I wish so much that those drives would come back intact.
Yet the impulse to keep moving forward is irresistible. Throughout both disappointments I had friends and family who still supported my project (and my emotional well-being). When I interviewed one of the experts for my doc, the first thing she asked me was, “Do you have good social supports?” As another artist she knew from experience the strife involved in this kind of undertaking.

So here I am, using many of my nights transferring the backups I made of my movie to a new drive. And I’m looking for alternative routes to funding or finding more economical ways to get things done. Meanwhile I am venting to my friends, talking them through my process, and trying to stay afloat as the waves of the unexpected batter at my hulls.

If I emerge at the other end of this process alive and with a movie, it will not be because my ambition and determination made me impervious. It will be because my social supports gave me the ability to get back up and get moving again. Thanks peeps.

Saving the world, one jump kick at a time

Forgive my absence, laundroteers! It’s been a little nutso here since June, and it’s taken a couple of months for the dust to settle. But basically, now that I have sorta graduated, I spent a majority of June and the beginning of July working with my editor. It was pretty amazing to watch a cut come together. Perhaps one of the coolest (and still slightly exciting) moments in the process has been realizing how many choices I have. There is a wealth of information and beautiful images to choose from, and believe you me, it’s a wonderful dilemma to have.

Once an initial rough cut emerged, I had the pleasure of showing the rough (and boy, was it rough) to my professor and my story consultant. The feedback was constructive and insightful, and I came away with a lot to do, but more importantly, a strong sense of where the story and the film in general are heading.

Then I did what any self-respecting director would do, I took a break. Yes, crazy, busy self-respecting directors take breaks (probably). But it was time to step away from the film for a bit, take a breath, and get some perspective. One of my favorite places to catch my breath is at the Cliffs in La Jolla, a leftover habit from my undergrad days. Yet who wouldn’t feel a little more serene looking at this?

And with that view in mind, I return to my movie. The first task I gave myself was to map out each sequence in the feature-length doc. It was actually pretty cool, because not only did I see how individual pieces fit together in chronological order, but I got to see the whole big picture, the big mosaic (or 5000-piece jigsaw puzzle, whichever you prefer). Basically, it’s a colorful set of post-its that wend their way around a cork board. It got me all excited to begin the process again.

Besides that, it looks kinda beautiful.

Wish me luck in this next phase.

Hooray for quick updates!

I’m so so pleased to announce that TLD is UCLA’s first nominee for the Princess Grace/JUSTFilms Grant. I can’t even describe how amazing it would be to be selected. I’d get to be contemps with Cary Joji Fukunaga, director of Sin Nombre and Jane Eyre, and UCLA’s own Ham Tran, director of Journey from the Fall. But even being nominated puts me in good company with UCLA’s most talented.

In a general sense, it’s a little affirmation after all the work my producer and I put into grants. I am far from being good at this grant-writing process, yet I was beginning to worry that my grant-writing was not getting better (though I did get better at taking rejection.) I’ve probably mentioned (whined about) it before, but grant-writing is totally distracting from the main task of making a movie, while at the same time, totally essential. It’s one of those frustrating paradoxes, like spending money to make money. For now I’m just happy at the faint whiff of finishing funds for TLD. It would kinda rock real hard to be able to finish the movie with some resources available.

In other news, I’m also excited to introduce the filmmaker who is helping TLD come together as a movie. Esther Julie-Anne and I know each other through UCLA where she is a year ahead of me in the program. She is a mucho talented editor and a great storyteller in general. She also has a cat who can sense my fear, but he is too much of a gentleman to rub his allergens on me.

gentleman cat

Esther and I have been working to do some heavy lifting with TLD. As the end of my time at UCLA approaches, we hope to have a really solid rough cut that will determine the “skeleton” of my movie as we like to call it. What exactly is the rough cut? Broadly speaking, it is the first cut of your whole movie. It is often way too long, and in narrative, it’s when you cut to the script. Imagine it as the sculpture with distinct lines and broad strokes but not a whole lot of details. You can just make out the shape – ok, it’s human – but maybe the eyes don’t have pupils yet.

From what I’ve seen already, it’s a bit exhilarating. It’s my movie as filtered through the eyes of someone who has not lived with this material as long – fresh and only the essentials. It’s fun because we understand each other as often as we question each other. I tell and retell the different threads and themes of the story to my editor, because many of the details are stored in my head, inaccessible by the external hard drives we share.

In a way it’s like grant-writing. Yet it’s completely different because the objective is not to sell, but to sync up. Sometimes I like to think that Esther is my fingers – if my fingers had a mind of their own and were wiser and saw the world in a Franco-American way. 😀 Wish us good luck on this next part of the journey.

So all who hide too well away
Must speak and tell us where they are.
– R. Frost

Working on TLD I have gotten a chance to hear a lot of heart-wrenching stories, news articles, and statistics. So when I heard this line from the poem, “Revelation”, it stopped me in my tracks. It immediately gave form to half-finished thoughts I had on my own experiences during my darkest times in college.

Probably one of the things I regret the most was how much I expected people to reach out to me and/or read my mind. “Didn’t they get it?” I would ask myself. “I sent very clear signals that I am NOT doing well. What do I have to do to get people to be concerned about me the way that I think they should be?”

Yet even when someone did ask, I evaded or brushed it off or minimized. At some point I was thoroughly confusing myself:

“Wait, don’t you want someone to ask if everything is alright?”

“Well, yes, but I don’t like looking weak.”


“Yeah, it’s a thing. Look, I’m fine now.”


“Ahhhhhhhhh, why won’t someone understand me???”

It’s kinda humorous now. At the same time, I sometimes futilely wish that someone had (compassionately) explained to me something along the lines of that poem.

“You know, nobody’s a mind reader. You can mope and exude auras and send up silly white flags a la angsty blog posts, but until you say the words, nothing will change.”


“Not too much, no.”

“Oh…well, then…I’m scared and I feel so alone. I kinda hate myself and sometimes it feels like it’d be better if I could just cut off all emotions…”

But it’s much harder to get to that place. You begin to get so good at sending mixed signals to a busy, careless world that you trick yourself into believing that hiding deeper is the right thing to do. Besides, who are you burdening when you do that? What do you put at risk when you hide?

“Possibly everything.”

“…I think I need help.”

Speak and tell us where you are.

Over the four years I’ve been in film school my head has been stuffed with knowledge that heretofore had been completely foreign to me: The Method style of acting, Fisher dollies, story beats, and what the heck a producer even does. But within the last year of making my thesis, I feel like the amount of knowledge I’ve had to acquire to make a feature-length doc is exponentially greater. I’m even considering purchasing an extra hard drive for my brain. I think 8 terabytes might be enough (currently my personal collection of hard drives now numbers in the 15-20TB range, which is basically 15-20,000 GB).

But the best way to stop your head from exploding while making a movie is…*drum roll please*…finding the BEST collaborators. If you’ve ever had a great partnership, or just a bad one, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a very obvious statement, but to a lone-wolf documentarian type like me, it’s hard to entrust your work to others. I mean, the ever-talented JPhu set the bar high for my expectations for all subsequent collaborations, but as you may begin to hear a lot, I got so dang lucky with the people who I ended up working with. from on camera to behind the camera to before the camera even began rolling, there were people either stepping up and volunteering or people who i contacted that responded and gave in ways i could only imagine.

So similar to the 4 C’s you have to look for with diamonds, I think I can summarize my gleanings on collaboration to these 3 C’s: communication, clarity, and candidness.

COMMUNICATION be everything. That’s where it all starts and ends. You set the tone and punctuality of your correspondences. If you hate emails and meetings, quit filmmaking! Or, quit civilization. haha No, but seriously, my ability to communicate professionally started with my first corporate job. I’m thankful to KCS and Judy Mcmillon in making me into a lean, mean liaising machine.

CLARITY in communication and in your creative vision is also something essential. you can still have a couple of the details not figured out, but clearly knowing what you want and communicating what you need is the difference between good product and… poop on a stick. granted, not everything will be perfect, but many of the times, i didn’t get the thing that i asked for (right gfx, right shot, useable interview answer) because i didn’t lucidly communicate what i needed. in fact, if you do not ask for what you REALLY need from someone, please expect to get an empty box instead of that golden retriever puppy with the ribbon on its neck.

CANDIDNESS is one of the other things i needed to work on. of course, it wasn’t that i was lying to people’s face, it was more that i needed to be real about what i could offer people, or as mentioned before, you need to communicate what you really need from someone. in other cases, when someone needs feedback on something they did for you, tell them when it’s what you want or don’t want. it doesn’t help to hold back, because most times collaborators are there to help you continue figuring out how your vision can come to pass.

PHEW. all that blabbering made me tired. with my website just DAYS from being launched, i would like to introduce some of my stellar collaborators:

AKEMI HONG: graphic designer, artist extraordinaire, corgi-lover –responsible for the slick, streamlined look and feel of, Akemi is a sassy gal who’s sensibilities range from the abstract & beautiful moving image to the commercially-viable designs and lines she seems to make with ease.

CHRIS DOMINO: 1,021st level programmer, manly bike rider — responsible for all the plumbing and waterworks that help my little site exist. His wizardry can be seen on many professional sites, but he’s lent his skillz to making my site super interactive and ready to dialogue with the world.

APRIL BALOTRO: chief content manager, canine-loving high school friend — responsible for editing and helping bring fresh, grammatically-correct, and interesting content to my site. April came and asked me if she could help put her passion for these issues and her managing editor expertise to use with I had no choice but to say yes (or I’d fall over with my lack of knowledge).

Recently I had an “angsty conversation about idealism” with a friend (her words, not mine). One of the topics I raised was “why we do what we do”. It seems like a simple enough place to go. It just always seemed so prudent to know my motivations. But I forgot how scary and difficult that examination is.

This past year (and arguably these past four years) has been about continuous forward motion. There’s always, always the next meeting, the next deadline, the next project. In making my own documentary I am the little engine that must. (I’m pretty convinced this is how my life will be forever, and even more, I love reminding myself that I signed up for this gig.)

So once in a while, I can probably be forgiven for forgetting to take stock and assess the big wh- question. Still, the last time I was asked why I was making this doc, I was caught off-guard. I think that barely a year ago it was easy to say, “There’s an urgent need in the community to de-stigmatize therapy”, or even, “we need to begin a dialogue about these issues”. And these reasons have not changed. But when asked why I am making this doc, I felt a little speechless, especially when told I knew the reason. Instead of figuring out what this reason might be, I stammered and got a bit defensive.

I think the reason it’s such a nerve-wracking assessment is because in the question “why”, there is always the niggling possibility it is the wrong reason or a weak reason, or my worst fear, a selfish reason.

Yet amidst the ir/rational doubt, one of the things that reassures me that this is what I’m supposed to be doing are the stories I’m collecting, whether in the doc or the website. I am constantly blown away by people’s generosity to share their extremely personal experiences.

Here are some excerpts from different stories that I’ve had the privilege to receive for the website:

  • “She then uttered the words that would distance me from my dad indefinitely. ‘We can never tell your dad,’ she said.”
  • “I am their son, he wrote, and he understood I kept this a secret for so long for their sakes. So I wouldn’t hurt them.”
  • “I began to cry when I said it…I realized that I had not cried for over a decade.”
  • “While these questions seem innocent enough, they were usually followed by ‘Are your parents ashamed of you? Why do you hate being Korean?'”
  • “I fight depression each and everyday. I sometimes want to talk to my family about it but I’m seen as the joker of the family…I’ve been the one everyone looks to to break the tension and keep everybody’s mood up when everything is going to hell.”
  • “It suddenly clicked in my head that I had gone 20 years without knowing exactly how my parents got out of Vietnam and into America.”
  • “I myself have counseled friends to forgive those who have hurt them because it’s the only way to release the anger and resentment inside of them. I honestly had just never considered it for myself.”

So why do I do what I do? I can say for certain that these stories are part of it. Each submission tells me there are stories that people want to tell and that someone needs to be there to listen and then pass them on. It’s not really a thorough or concrete answer to the question, but it helps fuel the momentum forward. In other words, for now it’s a satisfying one.

Do you know why you do what you do? Feel free to leave a comment.

What’s your story? Tell me about it.

You’ve heard about logging, and oh yeah, more logging, so I won’t try to tire you out on all my logging complaints too soon. 😉  (After re-reading that sentence, I realized I wrote the word three times.)

But as I mentioned before, I’m moonlighting as a grant-writer (for my own film). It’s neither an exciting nor easy process, but it’s a necessary one that I dare not neglect. It might seem strange to always seem like you’re looking for funding, but many independent filmmakers have to go this route.

For documentary filmmakers like myself, you’re not only looking to finance each step of your film, but awards can often bring prestige and legitimacy you need to reach out to your target audiences. For instance, I’ve been looking at organizations that advocate for minority voices, Asian American media representation, and social causes. Getting support from these organizations means funding, positive publicity (what other kind is there? haha), and sometimes even in-kind services.

At the same time, writing a proposal all day means I might not get to log or take meetings with different collaborators. I secretly want to clone myself or stop time to ensure I get everything done. There’s never enough time and enough me to go around to do everything. (Perhaps the one thing I have in common with my friends who are parents. Or overachievers. haha)

One thing I have no room to complain about is my producer who has started to help me refine my language and push me to articulate my story better. Her notes have been keen and concrete. Always constructive, I find myself writing less vaguely and less lazily. Themes I thought to be understood get clarified (like so much delicious butter). Swiss cheese plot points are discovered then filled in (and promptly eaten).

And best of all, I keep knowing my film better. Every time I find a new way to express a concept or character’s struggle, I gain a new understanding of my story. All in all, it’s a win-lose-win situation.

Oh wait, did I mention my new skill set as a grant-writer? Now offering consultations! First payment is in high fives! 😀



Hello again, Laundroteers! Thanks for tuning in. And welcome to the first alliteration-filled post! (Quick updates at bottom of the post)

One very real challenge exists in the logging process about which I’m a bit embarrassed to admit. Yet I mention it, because it co-exists with the excitement about such wonderful material. Basically, one of the greatest strengths of the raw footage can sometimes be one of its greatest challenges.

With such intense subject matter there are oftentimes very emotional and wrenching interviews. Watching many of these interviews back for the first time, I basically must relive each shock and each tear. If I’m having a tough day, I can’t switch the channel. Nope, I have to move forward and understand what I have.

While rewatching the footage, I was reminded of mirror neurons. Simply put, they are neuron paths created when we take action but also when we are observing an action. Some scientists believe that mirror neurons might be essential to human empathy, where we not only try to understand how someone is feeling but also attempt to feel similarly. It even makes me wonder if this is where catharsis is rooted. I mean, do we learn something every time we watch others experience unfamiliar emotions and make decisions we’ve never had to? What kind of new neuron paths has my brain been forging while I watch back my material?

Perhaps the short answer to these questions lies in the other way this film acts as a mirror. In watching back I am actively confronted with the issues of identity, family, cultural background and shame. Even before I cut anything together, the film is acting as a mirror held up to myself. I watch and I can’t help but interrogate myself, how does my own family relate? How do we handle crises? What am I afraid of?

So, for these reasons and more, logging has admittedly been a difficult process. At the same time, these feelings affirm that the raw materials are awesome. haha I love conflict (it being the essence of drama in my life)! Either way, I can’t wait to start sculpting.

And here are some quick updates for those of you who love lists like I do:

– I’ve gained a “Transcriptor” if you will (similar to the Terminator but for docs). This teammate will be in charge of typing out every word that the professionals I’ve interviewed have said, which is great because it greatly reduces my workload. I feel freed up to log to my heart’s content.

– I sent in a letter of inquiry to The Fledgling Fund, looking for finishing funds for The Laundromat and its website.

– The website itself is shaping up nicely, and I’ll soon be unveiling some sexy new content that we can use to start developing a community and begin real discussions.

Hey Laundroteers! (sorry, that’s the best name I could come up with for now)

Welcome to the first post for The Laundromat Documentary blog. I’ve put it off for too long, but I’m hoping to make this a place to post any updates on the progress of the movie and my observations on the process of making this doc happen.

Right now I am in what can only be the most simultaneously tedious and exciting part of the post-production process – logging and transcribing. Traditionally, doc editors and their assistants watch through the footage and take detailed notes on the image and content of the video. While interning for Espinosa Productions (during those long-ago days of my undergrad), my notes would often look like this: WS of crowd to MCU on speaker, pan left to right over faces, 01:03:25:11-great B-roll of woman holding baby…

It sounds like a lot of gibberish, but it was essential for the editors to know what kind of material they had and when it occurred. Because I am doing this part myself, I get to relive all the glorious moments of production. Of course, this means watching back and taking notes on close to 40-50 hours of footage. And that means A LOT of sitting alone in a dark room cozied up to the warm glow of a school computer. People often ask me, “Vanessa, why don’t you have someone else do that?”

My answer is that even if I had the resources to hire a squadron of editorial assistants, there’s nothing like knowing the footage by heart. I’m taking notes while I watch, recording my initial reactions to emotional moments, and even writing down the important thematic elements that jump out. Everyone does it a bit differently, but I decided to take this route.

Anyway, that’s what I’m doing with my film right now. In addition to that, I’m working with a web designer and programmer to launch the interactive website, as well as searching out fiscal sponsorship and grant money. It can get hectic, but all of my collaborators have made my load lighter and the process fun. It’s a ridiculous privilege to work with such talented and passionate people, and I can’t get enough of them (I hope they feel the collaboration love too).

So check back soon! There will be more updates and links to visual material, such as production stills and even some video clips. Feel free to ask me questions or leave comments for me here or on the facebook page (