The Process

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 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).