Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Favorite Film Series [Wk:6]

It's been a long hiatus, but finally decided to write something here again. And what better way for the first post to be about the "Favorite Film Series" here on Refine Films blog.

This week's film is a film that is indeed one of my favorites. Unfortunately, it is also a film that is quite difficult to find, which is rather surprising considering how well-received it was. I know I said I'd only put up films with decent distribution and accessibility, but that went out the window when [Wk:5] was City of Sadness. So, what the hey, I'll put this one up; maybe someday down the road, it will cross your path and you'll remember this.

A Stranger of Mine (2005) Dir. Kenji Uchida

Why this film: There are comedy films aplenty, but good comedy films? Now that is difficult. Comedy films are hard to do, any experienced filmmaker or cinephile knows this. When a good comedy film comes along, it deserves a closer look and deeper appreciation, which is why I've chosen this film. This film cuts against the grain because it isn't slapstick, but rather a "structural" comedy. In other words, it's humor is found in the film's structure and that should be evident for anyone who has a chance to watch this film. It was certainly evident enough to do quite well at Cannes a couple years ago, for whatever that is worth.
When I first saw this film at the San Diego Asian Film Festival a couple of years ago, like many commentators and reviewers, I was led to believe this was a romance film, about a nerdy, down-on-his-luck Takeshi (Yasuhi Nakamura) who falls in love with Maki (Reiki Kirishima), aided by Takeshi's best friend Yusuke (So Yamanaka). Well, let's just say, along with everybody else who watches the film for the first time, I was quite wrong. I won't delve into what the film is really about, because I'm hoping someday you'll get a chance to watch this.
What I can say is that I think this film, in a sea of today's slapstick, low-brow comedy, really stands out as brilliant, if only because Dir. Uchida stuck to his guns on this one. I don't know enough about Japanese culture to know what is considered funny, and comedy films often have difficulty translating overseas, but it certainly worked really well for an international audience. Be on the lookout for this film and I hope everyone gets a chance to watch it down the road.

Languages: Japanese

Availability (included additional sources)
Netflix: N/A
Amazon: N/A
UCSD: Available (Limited)
SD Public Library: N/A
Play-Asia.com: Available (here)

Friday, November 18, 2011

"Red Wings" on Twitter!

Red Wings is now on Twitter. Follow us during production with the latest news and exclusive first looks at the production set. Follow us here!!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Red Wings," getting ready to take-off!

It's the final week of preparations for the scheduled flight of Red Wings, a new short film written and directed by yours truly. In the last two weeks, our RW team has been building our production and diligently preparing for when the time comes to take flight!

The final week of pre-production means production week and the entire team is working frantically, taking care of logistical issues and planning the creative vision and we are excited what will is about the unfold this upcoming weekend. It's the final week for everything to come together and it is looking very good.

It's not too late to join us for the RW voyage! Remember, any contribution of $20 or more will reserve your copy of the Red Wings Exclusive DVD and a still-to-be-determined small gift. In addition, it will also give you access to the Red Baron Hanger, a members-only club that will give you behind the scenes access during production. It's like flying First Class!

You can make a contribution through our Paypal page here or clicking the button below. For offline contributions, please e-mail RedBaronHangerRW@gmail.com for more information!

To those who have already booked their flight, welcome aboard! For those who are thinking about it, I hope you'll join the rest of us!

(Photo Credit: Bryan Harrold)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Presenting "Red Wings", a new short film!

Refine Films is excited to present Red Wings (working title), a new short film that we are producing this Fall 2011. I've teamed up with my colleague Jeff Gardiner and his production company, Madrid Rd Productions, whose recent film Love in The Time of Flannel played recently at the 2011 San Diego Asian Film Festival and Ventura Film Festival.

Red Wings is a story about a boy, his toy red plane, his imaginary world and how quickly that world can come crashing down. It is a fun, warm, adventurous, and simple story that highlights the humorous results when fantasy meets reality, especially for a young boy.

We are currently in pre-production, with production slated to begin November 2011. It is an active and busy time as we crew up, rehearse with our cast, and figure out logistics.

If you'd like to contribute to our project, it isn't too late to support us in creating a high-quality short. Any contribution of $20 or more will receive a Red Wings Deluxe DVD and a small, unique gift (TBD) when the film is completed (slated for early-2012).

To make a contribution, we have set-up a PayPal page to streamline the process or click the button above. If you'd like to send a check directly (after all, PayPal does take a cut), please contact Jeff Gardiner at jeff@madridrd.com for address.

We will be setting up an official website for the film soon. More updates to come!

(photo credit: Bryan Harrold)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Favorite Film Series [Wk:5]

The 2011 12th Annual San Diego Film Festival just ended this past weekend and of all the films that the festival had in its line-up, I was really only excited about one. Lost in all the hubbub of all the latest and best in Asian-American cinema, was a retrospective screening of a film considered one of the greatest and most important Asian films ever created and it also happens to be one of my favorite films.

The problem with this film is that it's very difficult to find a copy, much less a copy with English subtitles. Up to this point, I've only put films on this series that are relatively available for you to find. But watching this film on the big screen, with a new 35mm print, was such a treat at the SDAFF, that I'm willing to include this film in the series. If you're fortunate enough to come across another film festival doing a retrospective and playing the new print (apparently, there are a few out there circulating the circuit), and if you're really want to be considered an even moderate cinephile, do yourself a favor and at least sit through this film.

Alright, that's enough of the gushing pretense and let's talk about it.

City of Sadness (1989). Dir. Hsiao-hsien Hou

Why this film: If you look at the film from a textual perspective, City of Sadness is set in one of the most pivotal and emotionally charged moments of Taiwanese-Chinese history; that is, the transition period where one colonizer (Japan) is exchanged with another colonizer (Chinese Nationalist) and the "228 incident". Many viewers who hold City of Sadness in high regard often do so because of the film's contextual importance, as Dir. Hou's film was the first in post-martial law Taiwan to address this period of the island's history.
Not to diminish the contextual importance, but as a filmmaker, the film is also superb in other ways. Firstly, the fact that the "228 incident" is viewed only in its periphery, not the actual massacre/clashes between native Taiwanese and Chinese Nationalist or the struggle in political arenas, already sets this historical period piece in contrast to others of the genre. While most historical period pieces nowadays are all about center-of-conflict action and accuracy, Dir. Hou's approach seems courageous by comparison. We don't see anything of the incident or massacre itself, we see none of the politicians involved, but what we do see is the affect of those central events and individuals on the lives of families and friendships. The drama of the incident is seen in how relationships are impacted and changed. In a sense, this emphasis opens the audience to learn more about the incident by watching its affects rather than the incident itself.
Finally, while being feted around the world as a bona-fide auteur, Dir. Hou has been known as a filmmaker of necessity, characterized by long takes, methodical, lingering camera, penchance for wide-shots, and all those characteristics combine to play out beautifully in this film. For example, the long takes allow real acting to take place, for actors to shine as they embody their characters, and the entire cast does so well in capturing the complex emotions as things spillover, out of their control. A young Tony Leung is brilliant playing the deaf brother Wen-ching, who, in typical Dir. Hou fashion, is deaf out of necessity (Leung couldn't speak Mandarin/Taiwanese effectively). Two side bits about the actors: 1) the best actor award goes to 3rd brother, who had to first play a crazy, shell-shocked war veteran, then a Shanghai-like gangster, and finally, a brain-dead brother. 2) My favorite actor goes to the grandfather, who is just adorably endearing and also plain hilarious the way he rides various people in the story.
A lot more can be said about this film, and there I'm certain there have been many articles and treatments have been written, but I'll stop here and hope you get a chance to watch this wonderful film.

Languages: Mandarin, Taiwanese, Cantonese, Japanese (amongst others)

Netflix: Not Available
Amazon: Not Available
UCSD: Available (Limited)
SDSU: Not Available
San Diego Public Library: Not Available

(Check your local research-oriented, liberal-arts university library, they may have a copy)

Friday, September 23, 2011

RF Exclusive: Melissa Kosar | TVIFF 2011

My final interview with a filmmaker was a pleasant surprise. I actually had an opportunity to screen her film during the submission process, and when I met her at the festival, she was more than gracious enough to sit down with me to talk about her film, Lex Talionis, which premiered at TVIFF this year.

Anthony Pang | Let's start with the film's title. Tell me about it.

Melissa Kosar | Lex Talionis is Latin for "eye for an eye." I didn't want to call it "Revenge" or "Retribution," I wanted to be creative and wanted to make people think when they read it.

AP |
Well, it's a good title, definitely more attractive than "Revenge" or whatever. So, where did the film idea come from?

MK |
I wanted to write a revenge story that revolved around a female lead with an alter ego. I love psychological-thrillers and wanted to do a half-psychological, half-heavy drama. The different elements came together and once they did, it just snowballed from there. I do a lot of writing at night because that is when I feel most creative. After I had my outline I began writing and four hours later I had Lex Talionis. It helps when you have different emotions and feelings helping to get the words onto the page.

AP | So, what did you learn during the filmmaking process and what would you do differently next time?

MK |
I chose to do this film extremely late during my last year at graduate school as an independent study. I wrote the script in October of 2009, started pre-production in March of 2010 and shot it in April, one month before I graduated. It wasn’t a matter of needing credit, it was about having another opportunity to shoot a film before I graduated. There are always limitations doing a student film, especially that late into the curriculum. No matter what type of film you are making, a short, a feature or a documentary, there are many things to do and it can be stressful. Budget issues come up, time restraints, schedule conflicts, locations, permits, equipment, etc.
The one consistent thing I always learn from each film I do is to stress a little less the next time. Things have a way of working out, sometimes not exactly as planned but the job gets done. There is much to be said for a hard-working and talented crew as well. They are invaluable and it allowed me to focus on my responsibility as the director. Looking back now, it is hard to pinpoint one thing because you learn by doing. And you take each experience with you as you continue on your journey, and sometimes you can’t do anything but roll with it.

AP | Fair enough. You talked about shooting on film. Now, that medium presents its own challenges. Any thoughts on that experience?

MK | Yeah, again, being in school, the advantage we had was having the option to shoot on film. I knew I wanted to shoot it on film so we shot on Super 16 for this particular project. I didn't want to shoot this one digitally, I wanted keep it on film, just one more time before graduation. I knew it would be awhile before I would shoot on film again, so I figured, I might as well take advantage of this opportunity. Gail Duncan, our film rep from Kodak was so generous, she gave us a huge deal and helped us out tremendously with getting film stock and such.
There's nothing like shooting on film, even with the times changing to digital. I think there's something to be said for [shooting digital], but I think there are still films that should be shot on film. You just have to look and see what the story calls for.
Michael Mann is one director who I admire. For Collateral, he shot on both film and digital. You can't see the skyline at night if you shoot on film, it's too dark, so that is one example where he shot on digital. I didn't combine mediums on my film, but for me, it’s gaining knowledge and inspiration from other directors and other filmmakers that inspire me to do what I do and make the choices I make.

AP | Besides that, what was the most difficult challenge and how was that resolved?

MK | One particular challenge was trying to hit the budget to make the film. The amazing thing is that there were so many people that were willing to step up and support and be a part of this project, which I am truly thankful for. My cast were flexible with their schedules and my crew came on board knowing that this was not a “class project” or thesis film. I am always inspired to do better when those around me challenge me to do so. My brother, Anthony is a special FX artist and illustrator. He came out from Chicago to help and do all the special FX make-up for the film. Having him there gave me a sense of comfort and was a set of eyes I could trust. My brother and I are close and when things became intense from time to time, he was always there to reassure me, which definitely eased the load. There were a few people in particular who supported me throughout the entire process and words could never express my gratitude: of course my immediate family and Anthony, but also Bryan N., Mike V., and my school advisor on the project, James Gardner. When everyone else was telling me ‘no,’ they all said ‘yes.’

AP | Talk about your approach to the filmmaking process.

MK |
I played basketball since I was five years old. I was recruited in undergrad to play ball and I was also a basketball coach. That helped me as a director because you have to delegate responsibility; you have to rely on a team to do what they do best. So, that whole aspect helped set me up as a director to get all those elements to work. I approach filmmaking as I do a coach. You have to know your cast and crew, the different personalities, being able to delegate responsibility, and being able to answer all the questions that come to you like rapid-fire. You can't shut down, you have keep the ball rolling. I attack it like a basketball game, everybody has their responsibility to make sure everyone is doing their job to their best potential, and you create that team to the unified outcome. And depending on what genre I'm shooting or depending on what the film is, of course, I'll take liberties with how I'll approach it. The main thing is keeping everybody on the same page. Making sure at the end of day the voice you want represented is heard and the story comes out the way you envisioned in your head.

AP | You're the second straight interviewee to answer with the sports team analogy, very interesting. Switching to your film, Lex Talionis, how has the response been so far?

MK | The response has been great. We got into three film festivals, so far, and we have a screening next month for the LA Femme Film Festival. I did show it to a couple people during the process just to get feedback. It is a heavy story with a lot of information in 15 minutes. People really dig the premise. My whole goal for my film is to extend it into a feature and use the short as a tool to show the tone and visual style. The screening in Temecula was our premiere, some of my cast and crew came out to see it for the first time in its completion. It was great to hear their positive response to the film. I not only had a composer score the film, but also had Michael Del Palazzo of The Wake Effect allow us to use a track for the film. It was the first time he was ever part of a film and he was excited to see the finished product and was very happy to have been part of it. It always makes you feel good as a filmmaker when people who were a part of the project or are seeing it for the first time respond enthusiastically. I am always open to critique, I like people telling me the truth, but the reality is you ask 10 people, 10 people will do it 10 different ways. The most important thing is that I am proud of the finished product and I’m excited to see where the film goes and the prospect of turning it into a feature.

AP | What kind of advice would you give to young, aspiring filmmakers? What's one thing you would say to them?

MK | The best advice I can give is that you really have to have a direction of where you want to go, really narrow it down, pick a field you want to get into and then go for it. A majority of the time it's a long, hard, difficult road. I'm the type that keeps fighting and never looks back, but that is what you have to do if you want it badly. You have to go out there and do it, get your hands dirty and make things happen on your own. The best thing anyone has ever told me was ‘no,’ it only made me work harder.

AP | What is one of your favorite films?

MK | There are so many films that I love and watch and get inspired by. There are two very specific favorite films, for two different reasons. First, Back to the Future II is one of my favorites and when I was in 7th grade I saw a behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of the film and that is what sparked my interest in film production. I thank my technology teacher for showing that in class or else I probably wouldn't be here today doing what I'm doing. David Fincher and Michael Mann are two directors I most admire for their style, storytelling ability and visual imagery. With that being said, Collateral is my favorite film. In my opinion, Mann hit that one out of the ballpark.

AP |
One last question. On a lighter note, have you ever ran coffee for anyone?

MK | [laugh] You gotta pay your dues, you better believe I have.

AP | Who was the first person you ran coffee for?

MK | My mentor, Lee Shallat Chemel, is the first person I ever ran coffee for. She is a wonderful person and an extremely talented director who has been sharing her knowledge and craft with me over the last year. Lee actually came out to my screening over the weekend, which really meant a lot to me. I have nothing but respect and admiration for her and am happy to get her double decaf soy cappuccino whenever she wants! [laugh]

Here's to Dir. Melissa Kosar and the hope for her feature!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

RF Exclusive: Andrew Erwin | TVIFF 2011

My next interview is with Dir. Andrew Erwin. Andrew co-directed the film October Baby with his brother Jon (known as The Erwin Brothers), and I am honored to have a chance to talk more about this film with him. If you remember, October Baby was on my TVIFF 2011 "To-Watch List," and it was such a treat to watch it again on the big screen, where it was so much better than my puny TV. (By the way, audiences agreed with me, sending the film with a runner-up Audience Choice Award. Congrats!)

Even with big things in the works for the film (theatrical distribution!), Andrew was very approachable and graciously sat down with me after the festival.

Anthony Pang | First of all, where did the idea or the inspiration for October Baby come from?
Andrew Erwin | The inspiration came from a girl I heard speak, named Gianna Jessen, who had an incredible true story. As I heard her story, that really moved me as a filmmaker to explore it. I didn’t know there was an issue with abortion survivors. The movie is ultimately about forgiveness and a girl’s journey, Hannah, as she tries to find her birth mother. It was because of Gianna’s story, who's an abortion survivor herself and [who] also has cerebral palsy, that really moved me to explore the world of “October Baby.”

AP | Obviously, the topic is very sensitive and also very charged at times. What was your approach tackling such a subject?

AE | Well, the subtext of the film is “life is beautiful,” and it was an exploration of life and forgiveness. We wanted to take not a politically-charged look at it but an emotionally vulnerable look at it, “to be human is to be beautifully flawed,” as I've heard said. It’s a complicated issue that becomes easier to look at when you look at it through the eyes of complicated people. We tried to take more of a sensitive approach, so there are no villains in this story. It's more a look at a very important issue. There are heartbreaking elements, and then, there’s a coming-of-age love story at its core as this girl Hannah begins to find out who she is and comes to grips with it all.

AP | You guys just got distribution and October Baby will be seen by a lot of people, hopefully. But so far, showing the film a little at the film festivals, what has been the response to the film so far?

AE | I’ve been nervous about it. Anytime you put a film out there as a filmmaker, it’s highly intimate because it’s something you’ve invested at least a year of life into and it’s a story that’s become deeply personal. And because it's such a charged issue, it wouldn’t have been my first choice to take on, but it’s a story that found us as filmmakers that we just had to tell. So, I’ve been nervous as we presented it, because it’s so important to me that the issue is presented in a way that is genuine, humble and sensitive. I was nervous to put it out there and to see how it [would be] received, but in all respects, it’s been received extremely well, whether someone agreed with the premise movie or not.
What the movie was intended to do was to promote dialogue and help people discuss the issue. Paul Haggis, who did Crash, said “good films don’t give answers, they ask the right questions.” Hopefully, this movie asked the right questions. At the end of each screening, there has been a lot of talking and dialogue back and forth, and that’s very gratifying for me as a filmmaker.

AP | Let’s talk about some of the talent from the film. With great films, there’s definitely great talent behind it, whether in front or behind the camera. Talk about Rachel Hendrix, who played the lead role of Hannah, who I think the performance was fantastic. Give me some thoughts about her.

AE | Rachel Hendrix is a fresh face that a filmmaker friend of mine cast in a short film, and I saw her and thought she was phenomenal. She really has this quality that people fall in love with her when they see her on screen. She just has a genuine-ness and an honesty to her that is very much like a Natalie Portman or Keri Russell. I think she’s got a wonderful future. She was discovered, like I said, by my friend, and we put her in a few of our music videos and a TV series that was a pilot for a network. With [October Baby], we really felt with Hannah’s character, it was extremely important that you loved her and rooted for her. We wanted an actress that would make you break your heart for her. Rachel just became Hannah and she’s got a special future ahead of her.

AP | I think another major component that stands out is the music, which really helps underscore some of the tensions, the drama and the emotions of the film. Talk about that.

AE | The music is something that I’m passionate about. I love Cameron Crowe films, how the music is a character to the film, especially with the band music that he chooses and the fresh voices that you haven’t heard before. So, we tried to find fresh music that may not have been heard on film before, a lot of indie bands. My opinion is that music in a film shouldn’t tell you what to think but that it should really reinforce how you should feel. The music very well does that. And then the score, Paul Mills, my composer, came along side and wrote a very simplistic score that had a very minimalist undertone that went hand-in-glove with the bands that we chose.

AP | Let’s talk a little bit more about the filmmaking process. What was a difficult aspect of the process and how did you go about seeing it through?

AE | The writing process was very interesting. My brother and I, our background is music videos and documentary. With those things, the story sort of comes to you. Documentary is all about going out and finding the story.
With the writing process, if I had to do it again, I probably would’ve cut about 20 pages out of our script. [laugh] I found out the hard way that we really had to work to hone down the film to find out what was the story we really wanted to tell. They say when the Statue of David was carved, they chipped away until nothing was left but David and we kind of took that approach. We tried to just keep whittling down unnecessary things, good things, to get to things that were better, so that was the long part of the process.
And then, just the difficulty of the marathon that it is to make a feature film. It's a much longer process, and you have to pace yourselves. It was much longer that I anticipated.

AP | We’ve talked about some negatives, but now let’s talk about some positives. What was or has been the best part of the process so far?

AE | To see people emotionally engaged with what you’re putting out there. As a filmmaker, by the time you get done with a feature, especially since I'm also the editor, I’ve seen the film 100 times and by then, all I see are the mistakes. So, to be able to be in an audience and live vicariously in a fresh sense with people who are seeing it for the time, that’s a very satisfying. To hear them laughing at the right moments and crying at the right moments, to see people wiping away tears and at the end, see their emotional response to the issue and that they want to engage it and they want to talk about it, that's very satisfying to me.
And then, there’s been a healing aspect to the process, as well. So much of the time, as filmmakers, we get to deal with some very painful issues but in a way that is cathartic. Gianna Jessen, my friend that originally inspired us, she watched it and she said it was a very healing moment for her. Shari [Wiedman], who plays the birth mother in the [film], has a story very similar to the character she plays and to play it from the other side, to walk back, she said it was very healing for her to move on with her own story. That’s very satisfying, to see people emotionally engaged and to live vicariously through people who are watching it for the first time, let’s the movie be fresh for me again. That's a fun part of the process.

AP | We previously talked about faith and how faith is very central to your life. Talk about the mix of faith and filmmaking, where and how does it play in your process, because, obviously, it can be a very difficult place for faith to play out. Your thoughts on that.

AE | Yeah, I’m happy to speak to that. It’s a very important thing to me. I am a firm believer in Jesus Christ, I love the teachings of Jesus on forgiveness and redemption, and I hold those very, very personally. I feel like a lot of times in faith films, the way we present our message has lacked sensitivity to engaging culture in a way that they can hear us, not all the time, but sometimes. And sometimes, I feel like it’s lacked some art and craft to it, as well.
Jon and I really want our movies to be salt as we engage culture with the right questions. We look for stories that are redemptive at the core in a genuine, organic way, not forced, not fake, not disingenuous. Now, sometimes they may have overt faith message and sometimes they may not, but I feel like when we find a redemptive story, the Gospel shines through no matter what. And there have been movies that have that very, very well, like Chariots of Fire, one of my favorites, did that incredibly well and was recognized as Best Picture for that. We want the salt of the stories we tell to make people thirsty for the truth, truth that I feel is found in the freeing message of Jesus Christ. Hopefully, our films will ask the right questions to engage culture in this way.

AE | I think this film certainly does. Now, on a lighter note. Most recent film you saw and you liked.

AP | [thinking] I loved The Help. I watched it a couple weeks ago. Tate Taylor, the director of the film, he's from my neck of the woods. Heartbreaking look at a lot of the racist history of the South, but I liked it cause it was complex. You were able to empathize with both sides of the issue and where people were coming from back then. Just looking back at the history of that, it was heartbreaking but at the same time very healing. I [also] loved the look of that movie. I thought Emma Stone and Viola Davis were phenomenal in their respective roles.

AP | And just for fun, who was the first person you ran coffee for?

AE | [laugh] Ran coffee for… [laugh]

AP | [laugh] You’ve run coffee before, right?

AE | [laugh] Yeah, yeah, that’s the beauty of working with my brother. (Note: Andrew originally said “for” and then corrected himself) There’s a joke on set, that Jon, my brother, when he wants something, he’ll get snippy about it. So the running gag that my 1st AD says is “Les Grossman needs a Diet Coke,” from the movie Tropic Thunder and Tom Cruise’s character. So, my brother, I probably ran coffee for him and he’s picky about how he likes his coffee.

Thank you so much to Andrew for his time. October Baby will be playing at Heartland Film Festival and Red Rock Film Festival this Fall 2011, so check it out if you have a chance! I'll definitely keep track of the film's journey and I hope everyone gets an opportunity to watch the film.