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.”

“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.

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