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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!!

TLD DVDDSC00052

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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

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.

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.”

“What?”

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

“…ok.”

“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.”

“Nothing?”

“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 AtTheLaundromat.com, 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 AtTheLaundromat.com. 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.