a video i produced, shot and edited while in saigon.
more details on the project here:
a video i produced, shot and edited while in saigon.
more details on the project here:
i’m concluding my six months in asia.
and i somehow managed to schedule five days of video shoots my last week here.
a few frame grabs.
during the french colonial period,
the cyclo/xích lô (bicycle taxi) was the primary mode of transportation in vietnam.
with the advent of scooters and cars, they’re now restricted to only a few tourist areas.
within a decade, they’ll be obsolete.
a story rarely told is that of the cyclo drivers,
who are often seen as a nuisance, scoffed and rudely brushed off by tourists.
back in august when truc-anh and i were shooting b-roll in bùi viện for the soul archive video,
i met, by chance, a cyclo driver named nghia.
there was a sincerity about him; i wanted to hear his story.
so vu and i spent tuesday with him.
i’ll share the video later next month,
but really, despite numerous cruel adversities and heartbreaks… such a kind, resilient soul.
jewellery making with charmés.
then an hour drive east to a little village called đông hồ
to produce a video on a 500-year-old printmaking tradition
using pattern carved wood blocks,
seashell, stone and plant fibre based ink.
last day in saigon to settle affairs and then onwards to the next chapter.
i’d like to think that all documentaries i produce are to be about love,
but this one is a bit controversial and would be a huge feat.
but i decided to drive to san francisco
to interview flor mari.
i leaned in, listened intently
and was fascinated and heartbroken by her battles,
but because of the nature her history and tom’s,
and the sensationalised headlines portraying them as monsters,
i don’t know if i have the skills or time to justly tell their story.
follow-up meeting with elaine when i get back to london next month to discuss.
back on the west coast this week for pick up shots.
lying on the grass all day,
pretending like we haven’t seen each other for five months.
donal told me his parents read my blog entry about him.
i wanted to crawl in a hole and die of embarrassment.
still, the entry was more so about the acting craft
and how it can really mess with your head, your emotions.
this sounds like a cop out.
had lunch with yvonne when i was in los angeles back in february
and we talked about working together again.
when she texted me last month, “hey girl! i’m coming to new york!”
i figured it’d be a great opportunity to shoot one of the vignettes for the love cats,
a feature i’ve been writing, working on.
casting her counterpart was… frustrating.
so many overzealous actors who lacked talent and exuded insincerity.
when u-shin came in for his audition,
he had this sweet, charismatic disposition that made me immediately like him.
he nailed the scene on the first take and was down to play around with me;
i had to cast him.
in some shots, u-shin reminds me of a young miu kiu wai.
would’ve been a waste of a warm spring day if we had stayed inside
so the film crew met up in columbus park to finish our working script.
except we didn’t get much done.
ended up napping in the sunshine, talking about guys, girls, love.
i adore b-boys.
acting, shooting, directing…
whichever role i take on, i’m happiest when i’m making films.
adelina as ruby, my mentor.
donal in my character’s art studio.
i emailed masami some pictures of my bedroom last month
and she included some old cameras in the set design,
just like the ones i have in my bedroom. very cool. :)
tara blew up frame grabs of me & donal from the video shoot
and created eight amazing art pieces.
it’s still crazy surreal seeing your face plastered all over the walls.
rain said, “doesn’t look like you one bit.
looks like it came straight out of suzie wong.”
sunday’s art gallery shoot was the most cluttered, scattered, hectic,
but for most of the shoot, i felt like i was alone with
in the middle of a room, swirling with bits, odds and ends.
kinda sad that it’s all over now.
definitely not easy to do.
especially when you’ve got a director watching your every move,
a boom mic catching your every breath,
and the dp hovering over you with this beast of a camera.
on set for fourteen hours doing what i love most
crew surprised me with birthday serenade & cute little asian (like me!) cake
and text message from masami before going to bed.
(my current, fleeting crush. he’s diego luna super cute.)
this all makes for a very happy birthday.
omg so weird seeing yourself.
edward and i do the same thing, except he does it on a greater scale,
a much, much greater scale.
still, it’s nice to know that someone understands me.
like when i admitted to him how during one shoot,
the cast and crew were working their asses off for me
and i had to play it off like i knew what i was doing;
i couldn’t let them down..
even though the whole time i was shitting my pants,
thinking to myself, “wtf am i doing?”
he said, “it’s like being the belligerent, drunken captain of the ship.
you’re standing at the bow, waving your sword in the air,
leading everyone on deck through a fierce storm.
you might not know where you’re going,
but theyre all counting on you to lead them home.”
we played catch-up over cuban lunch this afternoon.
both exhausted, but both still smiling.
donal made me cry today during rehearsal.
masami whispered something in his ear before we started the scene
jerk broke my heart.
emotionally overexerted and hungry.
table-read with entire cast.
and so begins our grand voyage.
masami sent me a frame grab of us from wednesday’s shoot.
(footage off the red)
masami auditioned over forty actors to find eleven suitable for my leading man.
after an exhausting weekend of callbacks,
we narrowed it down to four brilliant actors.
tomorrow, i will have my tristan.
acting is one of those things i studied in high school and a little bit in college,
but after a few films, i shortly abandoned the craft to pursue the production side.
masami saw me in kieu from a few years ago
and auditioned me for the lead role in her upcoming film
while i was in san francisco over the holidays.
i was a little hesitant because, you know, acting is a scary thing.
to feel, to hurt, to spill your soul, to be scrutinized. it’s a scary thing.
but if you’re an actor,
you also know about those incredibly raw moments with the camera
that remind you what it’s like to be vulnerable, what it’s like to be human.
anyway, yours truly landed the role, accepted the challenge,
and is now in los angeles for pre-production.
also decided to stay with the family while i’m here.
isabella is the most fun.
currently listening to:
your sunny someday will come one day soon to you.
ed zwick once wrote to me:
When I was a young man I had no idea what Henry Miller meant
when he would rant about the need to surrender to the dark Dionysian urge.
To write, to fuck, to burn. (To paint, to sing, to dance, to act, take photos, it’s all the same).
To burn brightly. To burn white hot.
To surrender oneself completely, a heedless, headlong, silently screaming.
Until there is nothing left inside. Until you are spent and sweating, depleted utterly.
Crashing and grieving, too, because you know it will never come again.
and i realized
now is the time to escape.
three months of notes compiled,
story mapped out.
i’m too distracted in new york.
heading back to california in a few days
to spend the next three months writing first draft of screenplay.
currently listening to:
we were nominated for best story, best director.
i agree with rain, “the winning film rightfully blew us away,”
and i hope to one day make films with that much heart.
pic of me (director/cinematographer/editor), rain (writer/actor),
adam (music producer), tony (producer/actor) and henry (writer) from that night.
this year, rain and tess play the lead again,
except they play very different characters from last year’s “cold war.”
i suggested the idea of a fairy tale
because i’m all about the whimsical stuff.
plus my heart’s been in a very hopeful mood lately.
audio too low, continuity issues, but i had some personal issues to deal with,
so no time to fix and we barely made the deadline,
but not too shabby for 72 hours to write, produce, shoot, edit… make a movie.
it’s officially online so check it out:
grace and the staten island fairy
(skip the first 30 seconds; it’s just bars, tones and stuff).
and if you like it, show us some love on youtube.
During the Vietnam war, tens, hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians became M.I.A.
My grandfather was one of them. For thirty years, my family has tried to track him down.
Last they heard, he was in Cambodia, but after thirty years,
they came to conclude he had passed away.
Recently people have been using the help of psychics to find their missing relatives in Vietnam.
My uncle Doanh decided he would try it out.
Now of course, my family believed this was all hooey and discouraged it,
but uncle Doanh insisted.
He flew to Vietnam this summer to a small village in the North.
There, lived an old psychic who wanted to take care of his village.
In order to see him, you had to stay with a household in the village.
They’d take care of you, feed you, house you.
In return, you’d give them, I think, 30,000 dongs (which is about less than three USD) a day.
The psychic felt that if you wanted to find your dead relatives,
you shouldn’t be staying at posh, fancy hotels.
In order to see the psychic,
each morning you’d go to his house with a piece of paper with your name and simply the phrase,
“I am looking for someone.”
That afternoon, he’d pick a slip of paper and help that person find their missing relative.
It usually takes about two weeks before your name was called.
The evening my uncle arrived, he had a really bad fever and became really ill.
The next morning, he turned in his slip of paper. That afternoon, his name was called.
When he went to see the psychic, the psychic told him,
“You are looking for your father.
Your family believes this is nonsense, but if you want to find your father,
you have to follow me to the very end.
If you bail out on me halfway, I won’t do this for you.
You have to follow me to the very end.”
My uncle agreed. The psychic began scribbling a map of mountains and oceans and told my uncle,
“Your father didn’t die in Cambodia. He’s in the South of Vietnam. Take this map,
go to the South of Vietnam and look around until you find a place that resembles this map.”
So then my uncle went on this wild goosechase with this scribbled map the psychic had given him.
Each time he came to a place that resembled the map, he’d call the psychic,
“Am I here?”
“No, keep going.”
For almost a month straight he did this.
Finally, he arrived at a little fishing village.
He called the psychic, who then told him,
“You’re there. Now ask around the village for the names of these three men.”
My uncle went around asking, but no one seemed to know who these men were.
He finally went to the main office in the village.
The workers there informed him that two of the men were deceased,
and gave him the address to where he could find the third man.
When he arrived at the man’s house, the man said to my uncle,
“How do you know my name? No one calls me by that name.”
(In Vietnam, people are often called by their nicknames throughout their lives, not by their real names.)
My uncle explained to the man his situation and why he was there.
The man told my uncle,
“In 1981, my two friends (the other two names the psychic had given my uncle), and I
found three bodies washed ashore. We buried them on top of the hill by the village.”
My uncle then traveled to the base of this hill and called the psychic,
“Am I here?”
“Yes. There are three bodies, one of them is your father.”
“From here I see five tombstones.”
“Two of them have already been dug out. Go to the top of the hill.”
When my uncle reached the top of the hill,
there were two large holes where two of the bodies had been.
He called back the psychic,
“How do I know which one of these three graves is my father?”
“Ask your father to help you find him. When you place your hand in the dirt,
you’ll find something that’ll tell you it’s your father.”
My uncle then asked out loud,
“Dad, please help me find you.”
He dug his hand into the dirt, and pulled out a bone.
He said he felt this overwhelming pressure in his chest and immediately knew it was his father.
The way people were buried, their body was placed on a wooden plank
and covered with a white sheet before dirt was placed over them.
After over thirty years, there was no flesh left, only a few bones and teeth.
But my uncle was absolutely convinced that he had found my grandfather.
There’s a bunch of theories to this whole situation.
For example, that the psychic was a fraud, just trying to make money out of wealthy foreigners,
but if that were the case,
wouldn’t he have insisted on more money for staying in the village households?
And then my mom told me about this other theory,
that there are a lot of lonely spirits in Vietnam, who want someone to properly bury them,
to love them, to pray for them, and might have gone to the psychic pretending to my grandfather.
My family, being the skeptics that they are, insisted on a DNA test.
I was told you need certain parts of the body in order to get 100% accuracy on DNA tests.
Because they were only able to use the bones and teeth my uncle found,
they were able to verify that it’s 87% my grandfather,
which to me, basically means, yes, it’s my grandfather.
The best part about this whole story? My uncle documented his trip on a little camcorder.
The map that started the journey.
I think this would make an awesome documentary.
A man’s relentless journey to find his father,
the interviews, images of Vietnam landscapes, oceans, mountains…
Sadly, this isn’t the sort of story investors are interested in tossing their money into.
It’s usually about returned profit for them.
Don’t suppose you guys know anyone with 15k lying around collecting dust
and wanna be listed as Executive Producer on this project?
this week started off really well with
the new york asian american international film festival 72 hour shootout awards ceremony.
“cold war” snagged four.
[tess also won best actress, rain as best actor]
so it’s nowhere near the academy awards,
but it still felt pretty damn good.
also, princess of nebraska played opening night.
it was cool to see some of my stills in the program and on the poster.
i don’t think i’ll never get excited seeing my stuff in print.
the 72 hour film shootout is a nationwide competition organized by aafilmlab
where filmmaking teams have 72 hours to write, shoot, edit and produce short films
up to five minutes in length on a common theme.
this year’s theme was “a first goodbye.”
for 56 grueling hours, we sweat, bled and made “cold war”:
here’s a quick behind the scenes shot taken by tomur:
more about us here:
jason and i went location scouting in manhattan for next weekend’s shoot.
we decided to edit the footage for fun and to see how well we work together.
[music: good poison by cubik & origami]
i think i’m gonna like working with him as my director.
during lunch on tuesday,
johnny suggested i stop by the set of his new film, “nu hon than chet”
to see how productions run in vietnam.
it’s not much different than in the states,
except the nazi assistant director running around
like a headless chicken squawking, “quiet on set!” was no where to be found.
johnny plays the good guy aka little miss sunshine.
and tommy plays the devil.