Monday, October 4, 2010

Interview with the filmmakers of WORKS OF ART, director Andrew Pang and writer/actor Paul Juhn

Associate Director Mye Hoang interviewed these two gents in regards to their short film WORKS OF ART, which will screen in our New York-themed "Empire State of Mind" shorts program.

MH: Where did you learn filmmaking? Where did you shoot the film? What did you shoot on?

PJ: Master Filmmaker Pang?

AP: In 2003, I performed in a musical that toured the country. With that gig, I had enough money to buy a camera and a computer. A friend of mine gave me a copy of Final Cut Pro, and I set out on a goal to make a little movie about the tour. It was awesome. I fell in love with it and knew I wanted to learn more. When I got back to New York, I took a six week intensive class at The Edit Center to learn FCP and storytelling through film. That's my only formal training in film—although I wouldn’t discount my experiences as an actor, as well as the years I spent as an online editor/colorist. Oh yeah, watching a lot of DVD extras from some of your favorite films can be helpful too . . .

The film was shot mainly on the Lower East Side in New York City with the RED camera.

MH: The main character is a struggling Asian actor, but the film seems to suggest that the reason he is struggling has less to do with being Asian and more with his outlook on life. What are your thoughts on that and how do you feel about the state of Asian Americans in film and tv today?

PJ: Yes, he's not down just because he's Asian or an Asian American actor. That would be too sad...and pathetic. He's an actor, and there are certainly rough days (or weeks, months, years...) like that for struggling actors.

Things are certainly better than before. It's great that we have these talented Asian American actors on primetime television, etc. Plus, I think it's great that actors like Daniel Dae Kim, John Cho, C.S. Lee, Sandra Oh, etc. are good people and are representing us well.

AP: Yeah I definitely think it's exciting to see what's happening with Asian Americans in the entertainment business today. I can't say I’m completely satisfied now, but it's definitely different from when I first got out of graduate school. At this point, I think we need to have more people involved as writers, directors and producers. That was part of the impulse of why we wanted to make this film--to take control and tell a story about "us."

PJ: Yes, we are seeing more Asian Americans in other vital roles in the industry. I agree that it ultimately comes down to taking control and telling our own stories. Sometimes in the past, it was easy to feel powerless whether you were an actor or a viewer.

MH: There is a point in the film where the main character pretends to be Japanese to get the role. How do you feel about Asian actors being cast for roles that are Asian, but not their particular ethnicity?

PJ: As a writer, I was mainly trying to have fun with how casting people sometimes really don't know, or care what specific ethnicity we are. As an actor, you'd like to do whatever you can to get the job. But, beware--booking a job under false pretenses often has a way of biting you back.

AP: Yeah, what he said . . .

PJ: While I wasn’t necessarily trying to make this point, I think that if you're Asian in America, you're still viewed as Japanese American or Korean American, etc., i.e., not quite "fully" American. This is reflected in how Asian American actors are so often offered roles that involve knowing a specific Asian language. Maybe in the future the distinctions will no longer matter--and we hope for a day when Asian American actors will no longer be required to fake an accent in the majority of roles they play--but at this point in time it's still part of the reality.

MH: In your film, the main character agrees to take a friend's place on a blind date. Was this based on a true story, or what was the inspiration for this premise?

AP: Paul?

PJ: What is true is that I have had friends go on these things. Sometimes I'd meet up with them after these usually unsuccessful, awkward outings. I was always intrigued with the way these dates seemed to go. And, at some point, reluctant friends and I would joke that maybe I should go in their places. I myself have never been set up like this, Korean-style. I don't think traditional Korean parents were exactly eager to set up their daughters with a poor, struggling actor.

MH: The film has a high production value, but also has the feel of guerilla filmmaking being primarily handheld and using available light. What are your thoughts on new technologies like DSLR cameras that shoot video and how those technologies are changing the way films can be made? And what factors do you attribute to the success of making the film?

AP: Without a doubt - it's very exciting to be living in a time where it can be relatively cheap to make a "good-looking" film.

That being said,- it's really easy to get overly excited about the "gear" and overlook the most important element: the story.

Prior to shooting, Paul had spent several years working on the feature script for Works of Art. We wanted to shoot something relatively soon and we decided to try and condense the story into a short. It was a much harder task then we realized. We spent close to six months working on the script, meeting regularly until we finally had something we wanted to shoot.

In addition to our passion for the project and our desire to complete the film, I think one of the biggest factors that helped us put this together- was collaboration. It's something we believed in and wanted to implement from the start.

First of all, we don't claim to know a hell of a lot about filmmaking, and we knew we needed to listen to the advice of others. We also knew from our past experience as actors- that when you collaborate, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences--especially when it all comes together.

Everyone is working for free, sharing their valuable time, so why not take the time and hear everyone's input and let them contribute their skills/talents into making the best piece you can?

Granted, it's not always easy. You have to be willing/able to communicate your thoughts- as well as really listen to others. Even with your friends, it's not always an easy transition, but we stayed focused and kept moving d toward the goal of making the best short film we could.

Speaking for all of us, I think that's one of the things we're most proud of about this project is that we did it together.

MH:. What do you want audiences to take away from their experience of seeing your film?

PJ: We want people to have a good time watching this.

AP: Yeah, we definitely want people to have fun--and gain something out of a "Korean American experience” without being hit over the head with it.

MH: Lastly, have you ever been on a blind date? Would you ever pose as your best friend on one?

AP: Can’t say I have and now that I’m engaged - I’m happy to say I’ll never have to pose as my best friend to be on one.

PJ: Yes, I have been on blind dates. Sometimes, not so bad. Sometimes, awkward. Mostly, forgettable. I'd like to say that I'd do anything for my best friend. But now that I'm married, no, that's not going to happen.

Make sure to check out WORKS OF ART, also featuring Sarah Kim, Ken Leung, and Paul Giamatti, along with all of our other fantastic New York shorts in the "Empire State of Mind" program on Saturday, October 23 at 3:55 pm, when you can meet and chat with Andrew at the screening. But, just in case you won't be able to make it out on Saturday, be sure to check out an encore screening of "Empire State of Mind" on Thursday, Oct 28 at 5:30 pm.

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