Endings and Beginnings

Stories are everything. I mean this in the literal sense and the more existential sense. Basically though, I'm uninterested in making a production blog about what I learned and the varying degrees of pride I have in my own work or the work of my team (though I'll gush about the team plenty regardless). As per those guidelines, then, I will attempt to create a blog full of little stories which get lost in the shuffle of creation. Many of these will focus on my team. Some of them on my dog. All of them will be true, though not all of them will be factually verifiable. Here's the first, and in a sense, the last.

Two nights ago at around midnight I walked the three or four blocks between my place and Off-Season Production Designer Cinthia Chen's place with two bottles of wine. We had just closed and struck her one-act, an incredible live-cinema piece for which I was the director of photography. The piece, which everyone should read/watch/ask her about, was about Anna May Wong, the first Asian-American Hollywood star. It combined filmmaking and theatre in a way that I don't think has really been done before; we sold out the theatre, had people standing, and over half the audience stayed for a talk back. I hope Anna would have been happy with us. We lugged our multi-thousands of dollars worth of equipment carefully back where it belonged, and then I went to find Cinthia.

She was in the afterglow of her amazing performance, and over a cigarette we discussed the previous year. I always quit smoking while creating something - it never lasts into the night we wrap. That day, two days ago, was a year and a day since Cinthia and I had taken a trip to Bologna to visit our mutual friend (and Off-Season BTS photographer) Annie Lye. That trip fell right after Cinthia and I had both had really hard months. I had broken up with my long time girlfriend and was not handling it well. She had just lost her grandfather, flown back to Taiwan for the funeral from our year abroad in London, and then flown back to London in time for our trip to Italy. We had been friendly while in college but when we met at Gatwick airport, drained, depressed, exhausted, we were pretty much instantly close friends.

That 3.5 day trip we rarely slept, or did anything other than eat, drink, and talk about art and life. We were constantly moaning that the whole thing was much too "Before Sunset" - but instead of falling in love with strangers, Cinthia and I just enabled our mutual worst instincts towards lofty pseudo-spiritual ideology and art. We had both been planning thesis projects which were left-brained, smart, achievable things, i.e. boring garbage. Then, I think around 2AM on night one, we started casually talking about what we would do - you know, if we could do anything. I had had this treatment and early draft of a feature film, titled Trail at the time. It was about a girl who went looking for her opiate-addicted mother on horseback. Cinthia had this idea, she had seen a few Katie Mitchell plays which used live filmmaking, and she had this latent obsession with Hollywood's first Asian-American star, Anna May Wong. By the time we were walking to Bologna Centrale to catch the train to Verona, we were on each-other's case. I heard Cinthia's idea, and told her she had to do it. She must. She explained all these ideas, all these things you could do with the story. Then we would switch, she would tell me I must make my film and I would go on about it all. Annie must have been a bit bored of it all by the time we were coming back from Verona.

Flashing forward several months, I spent the Summer writing. And the Fall writing. And some of the Winter. Cinthia too. We start trading designs. The feature became a short (shooting with animals is expensive y'all). We get a schedule and Cinthia books her tickets. This time she's flying from Taipei to Boston, two weeks before production, to start building our sets and sourcing props. I remember dropping her in the middle of a cranberry bog with nothing but a wheelbarrow and her two hands to strike one of our sets. Later that night, she was helping cook the crew dinner. Then, Cinthia's project came up. For the past month we've been looking at blocking, redesigning the conceit of live-filmmaking from the ground up. Then, building three studio cameras and emulating period-accurate cinematography. She gave me her all, I gave her mine. Then, the other night. A year and a day since we had been wandering around Bologna with a few euros, a constant flow of Espresso, and some dumb ideas we would indulge before going back to "real life". 

We're about to start fundraising for In The Off-Season, the short film that came as a result of that original feature script, that trip with Cinthia. Her play just closed two nights ago. Cinthia and I shared my third-last cigarette and mourned the end of a cycle of creation; then, we started to plan our next trip. I am scared to finish Off-Season, to let these characters go into the world. I'm scared I'll start smoking again. But I know there is a choice between mourning and redemption, between pride and asking for help, between indulgence and the hard adult work of showing what you create to the world.

So for those of you who know us well, or for those who just heard about this online, for anyone in-between:

Please join me and help us turn this ending into a beginning.



Cinthia and I walking down the right bank of the Adige in Verona Photo: Annie Lye

Cinthia and I walking down the right bank of the Adige in Verona
Photo: Annie Lye