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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 AtTheLaundromat.com, 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

DSCN3056

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.

Image

Oh yeah, bumper sticker fun!

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

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

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.

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 (http://www.facebook.com/TheLaundromatDocumentary).