"Reaching The Impossible" Indie Prod Battle Diary: MADE IN CHINA

Today's guest post is from the star of 2009 SXSW Grand Jury Prize Winning film MADE IN CHINA, Jackson Kuehn.  I had the good fortune of being on the jury (with Scott Foundas and Anne Thompson) that year and was delighted how ambitious, inventive, funny and moving the film was.  As great all of those qualities were, the film also was centered by Jackson's comic and committed star turn.  Jackson and Judi (Krant -- the director) are both the real deal.  I will make a point of watching whatever they do.  And lucky for you: MADE IN CHINA is now up on IFC VOD.  If you love Indie Film, if you believe in ambitious film, if you want a diverse & unique film culture, if you want some good laughs, or just want to see how much can be created with very limited means, PLEASE make sure to watch MADE IN CHINA this month (and tell all your friends likewise). ‘One Hundred Year Old Egg’

by Jackson Kuehn

I was suffering from gastric pain, malnutrition, hot weather conditions, incoherence of thought, so three Lomotil pills later, I decided to stand up for myself and address the situation to Judi Krant during the casting process of our beloved Dorothy.  I let Judi know that agitation had gotten the better of me and I felt that at any moment I was going to die in Shanghai, China; commonly known as the Paris of the East.  At that precise moment, Judi’s highly concentrated eyes shifted my way like a famished, bloodthirsty wolf who had one last shot to feed her babies and to get it through my head that she’s the leader of the pack.  She said, “Jackson, now is the time to fight through it all.  I don’t want to hear any more excuses.  You need to toughen up now.”  I nodded my head and agreed.  Then she said, “For the next three weeks, you’ll be sharing the queen sized bed with Mr. James Choi.”  I replied, “But I need personal time to recover from all of our feverish activity!  I need plenty of time to listen to Mozart and time to take my bubble bathes!” Once again, she stared at me very similarly to a king cobra about to strike a blind burrowing rodent.  The consciousness of one’s own dignity was at stake, so I concurred.

It was time to make our movie ‘Made in China’- indie style.

With exceptionally clever Judi at the helm and a crew comprised of New Yorkers, Austinites, Californians, English, Swedes, Africans, Koreans and Chinese (all posing as an Italian Documentary Crew I might add) I knew that shooting under the radar from Chinese Authorities was risky.  However, tension mostly resulted from adverse, out of the box ideas, but that’s where natural aptitude is born.  No one was going to deny Judi’s astute, artistic temperament and shooting in Shanghai was a must, not camera-friendly Hong Kong.  Most days hit record highs of 100 degrees, accompanied by heavy rain in the evening.  The humidity was unbearable, even the camera broke out in a sweat.  Up at 5am, home by 1:30am.  Day after day.  I just finished shooting possibly one of the most pivotal scenes for the movie, a scene that captivated the intrinsic nature of the characters soul, a scene so powerful that Daniel Day Lewis and Charlie Chaplin would have been proud.  A couple of minutes later, the scene disappeared from the camera. Due to lack of sleep and ten, fifteen hour long days in a row, I remember throwing up in the train station before we boarded our train to the ancient water city. With all of my doubts and second-guessing, was I suffering the consequences of indie filmmaking?  Nevertheless, I was in Shanghai to examine the mind of a young novelty enthusiast, explore his fundamental core.  All of us were on a mission to prove our unbending indie principles and strong diet of independent filmmaking.

The days unfolded quickly and the 15-day shoot came to a halt. After we wrapped production, I remember sitting in the back of a taxi purposefully staring at neon lights and wondering about how much we all love independent film stories that proceed from genuine feelings.  My eyes welled up because I knew that this was my fate and kept thinking a sense of pride in oneself will only survive through self-sacrifice and widespread respect for others in the indie world.  The universal ‘indie-spirit’ theme we all shared was built upon trust and warm approval of each other’s actions, desires to explore human behavior and to seek the powers of our own imaginations.

The journey back to Los Angeles started.  After all the trials and tribulations in Shanghai, I found myself in the City of Angels directionless and in a consistent state of feeling bored.  I missed the culture, literature, the performing arts, food, the artistic awareness, the good times, the bad times and most importantly the warmth of the Chinese people.  What an ungratifying life not being apart of something you truly feel free doing.  A week passed by and my phone rang, it was Mr. James Choi or Judi, I couldn’t remember.  “Ni hao”, I said.   They replied, “Pack your bags, your going back to Shanghai.”

“Reshoots”.

Made in China is now available on VOD through IFC Films. Check your local listings at: http://www.ifcfilms.com/films/made-in-china

Jackson Kuehn was born in Austin, Texas but was raised all across the U.S. from California to New York. He attended New York University Tisch School of Arts and MADE IN CHINA is his first feature as a leading man. Jackson currently resides in Hollywood.

Ten* Filmmakers I Would Crowd Fund*

In celebration of Arin Crumley & Keiran Masterton's success using Kickstarter to fund development of OpenIndie.com, I thought I would launch my annual grants. Or rather my annual promise of grants. Money! $ For Films! Free!*

If any of the following filmmakers had a crowd funding page for their next film (provided the film was $300K neg.cost or less), I would donate some money to get it made. And I would encourage others to do so.
Who would you fund?
I know there are more than ten* I could have listed, but I thought this was a good start, and you have to draw the line somewhere. Plus, being an indie film producer in a land that does not demonstrate that it values what I do, I don't have enough cash to go beyond this list! And even still, my contribution would not be significant financially; it would be more of a vote of support in hopes that others would be encourage to support the culture they want. I would give in order to become part of their team, to hear what they are up to, to get updates.
I listed artists who have are all early in their careers -- but have already directed a feature. I listed filmmakers whom I was confident could deliver a whole lot for a little. I listed filmmakers whom I am not already involved with.
Yet before I gave to any of these filmmakers, I would want to see a commitment to building audiences PRIOR to filming -- say a pledge to not commence until they had collected 5000 unique fans. I would want to know that they had a plan to market and release their film that went beyond bringing it to festivals and hoping for the best. I would want to know that they would set up an e-commerce site on their websites -- and that they had a website (which they refreshed with regular content). And of course I wouldn't transfer the money until they had reached their goal in pledges. Then I would gladly give money to them to get that next film made (and not ask for anything in return other than the satisfaction of having helped).