From time to time, I'm asked to contribute thoughts and written pieces around the practice of producing, as well as independent Chinese and American cinema. Please feel free to read on below.
ONE AMAZING RACE
As we anticipate the premiere of Circumstance in New York and LA theaters this weekend, Cinereach asked one of the film’s producers, Karin Chien, to reflect on the struggle behind the now-apparent glory. Faced with a strikingly compelling and important story, but a hard sell from a commercial perspective, the resourceful and committed team behind the film charted a harrowing fundraising course -- from pre-production to the final days before their Sundance premiere. We hope other independent producers will find her experience useful and inspirational. From our perspective, above all else, it is a testament to the dedication and bravery of the independent producers who bring vital stories into being. We’re proud to have had a small part in the Circumstance story, and congratulate the whole team and its supporters, on reaching this exciting milestone at last.
[Circumstance] was too provocative and too lesbian for Middle Eastern investors, too non-commercial for film investors… The financing of Circumstance often felt like The Amazing Race— Maryam, Melissa and I in last place, and the production budget in first. We were constantly raising money to catch up to our spend. For the first time, I broke a major producing rule of mine — never go into production without all the money raised — but we knew we had to. With the massive social and political change about to rock the Middle East, this was the time to tell this story. Even two weeks before our Sundance premiere, we were still locking in another equity investor.
GREETINGS FROM THE TRENCHES: How a Successful Producer Developed Her Philosophy
When you arrive at the place where you are making a hundred decisions a day, and you are responsible for everyone who is giving their time and talents and money to make this thing happen, it can be a frighteningly lonely place to be. You hope that when you arrive, you have a philosophy to ground you.
WHAT AMERICAN INDIES CAN LEARN FROM THEIR U.S. COUNTERPARTS
Ted Hope: I am dismayed at times how sometimes our local indie scene feels so repetitive and lacking creative ambition. We remake successful formulas, and only rarely break new ground. I know I am guilty of this too. I wonder how we can break out of this cycle, and what are the forces that contribute to this sad phenomenon?
It was such pondering that led me to profess on twitter that I wanted to learn more of the global microbudget film scene, to see what others are doing, and what we all could learn from each other. Producer/distributor Karin Chien was among those that reached out to me, to share her knowledge and experience — and it does start to show us a real alternative.
INVESTING IN AUDIENCE
As an Asian-American producer, I’ve had a front-row seat to this seismic shift hitting our industry. In the late ’90s, there were three Asian-American indie features made a year. Now there are 20 to 30, nearly all of which do not get distribution. Some celebrate this as progress, yet the real story has been happening elsewhere, on YouTube, where the top stars and highest earners are, incredibly, Asian-American.
OPEN LETTER TO THE PRODUCERS GUILD
Recently, a film I produced with Melissa Lee and Maryam Keshavarz, Circumstance, was submitted for the Producer’s Guild of America’s awards consideration. Circumstance is a hard film to categorize: It’s a story of teenage love and personal freedom set in Iran, filmed in Beirut, edited in Chile, finished in France, and financed primarily by US sources. And the film is in Farsi. We knew we were a long shot to be nominated, but we were still excited by the prospect. Producing is often thankless and invisible work, and awards that solely recognize a producer’s contribution are few and far between.