"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.

Talking About The Early Days: Hartley, Gondry, Field, Puccini & Berman, and Motolla

Okay, this is also about talking these days too, but I didn't know how to put that into the headline.

I was interviewed on Wednesday by Aaron Aradilis for his BlogTalkRadio show "Back By Midnight" on the occasion of the DVD release of ADVENTURELAND. Martin Starr precedes me so that give you ample reason to tune in, but if you need more Anthony quizzed me on the big questions like why I wanted to make me movies in the first place. We cover Hal Hartley's early films, and the current state of indie film of course. We go into why it was obvious that Michel Gondry, Todd Field, and Puccini & Berman were obvious artists to back for their first narrative features. We even hit the state of film criticism and the crisis in print media. I guess we go on for awhile.. but of course you get to enjoy my nasal honk for most of it (and a couple good tunes off the Adventureland soundtrack).

Email Blast: Good Movies And What You Can Do To Save Them

Periodically I send out email blasts to various film folk and some actual film enthusiasts.  I resort to the blast because there still is a certain breed of people that don't seem to do much web surfing.  They want their news delivered and they haven't mastered RSS feeds or Feed Burner subscriptions (I know, I know, no one likes to enter their email address, but...).  It usually is a recap of much of what I have previously written here, perhaps with a few Twitter posts thrown in.   Since many are industry types, I need to stir them up a bit.  I sent the following out yesterday afternoon.  Here it is for your reading pleasure.

I have been asked why I stopped doing these email blasts; was it that everything is now okay in Indieland or was it that good movies stopped coming out? Did the lack of blasts = no news to report? I am happy (okay, sort of happy, sort of really really frustrated) to report that none of that is the case.

The good news is a week doesn't go by now when I don't see at least one film that really impresses me (Goodbye Solo, Treeless Mountain, Star Trek, The Exploding Girl, We Live In Public, Made In China, Humpday, The Yes Men Fix The World, Sugar, In A Dream, Tulpan, Hunger), but the unfortunate flip side is that it is rarely in a commercial theater that I see these films anymore. It's bad that it has become increasingly hard to read about such films (please check out HammerToNail) as papers and magazines fire critics and give less space to ambitious work. The really horrible reality is the trickle down is going to reduce & effect the films you see for years to come completely altering the movies that get made and find their way to your eyeballs.

The next few years' culture dose is corroding rapidly away as I type and your diet is about to get really limited and hyper-specific. Trust me, as someone who has tried this with other such essentials like food -- even if it is delivered right to your door, you don't want the same meal on a regular basis, particularly when they can't source or afford the best and most unique ingrediants. Filmmaking is going on a horribly bland diet that is not good for anyone.

Now if I was really good, I would tell you how we can all solve this by working together. But I am not. I need your help for that -- and that is a hard thing to both get and then to use.

I stopped doing email blasts as I thought the blogging would give more people access and thus I would get more input, but I am now not believing that is the case. On TrulyFreeFilm, I have spent the year speaking of solutions for Indieville, but what I always find people prefer to hear about the problems. On TheseAreThoseThings, I have attempted to curate a little corner of pop culture, but it's hard to get people to participate. On TheNextGoodIdea, I've hoped to publicize the things that are making this world a better place step by step. I lost steam at InfoWantsToBeFree hoping to highlight the issues that shaped our media-mindscape, as I was encouraged to build it and others would join, but that just wasn't so. And yes, there is the one I do with my son, for the young 'uns too: BowlOfNoses. I would love it if you chose to subscribe to these blogs so I could believe they were valuable to you -- or maybe I need to recognize the opposite.

So today, I blast out with a statement of the obvious: Art FIlm culture will dwindle down further to a bloody flatline unless you start to act to preserve it. Everyone sees it, but what are we going to do about it? This is urgent. Really urgent. More good films are going undistributed than ever before.

Mainstream news media has started reporting on Indie's presumed death. This is the first time that in twenty years I think that MainstreamMedia looked at Indie without naming it Weinstien, Sloss, or Sundance or that wasn't during the Oscar season I believe (okay, so I exaggerate for the sake of emphasis, but you know what I am saying). In prepping for what was my first live broadcast appearance (what? you didn't yet look at that earlier link? just click on it now), I tried to consider what were the problems facing Indie film, and in less time than it took to write with this email, I came up with 38 Problems. Thirty Eight. And that was easy. Read them. Ponder. Link. Distribute. Add to the list. To kill the beast, we must name the beast.

But the situation is worse than what I just wrote. If you missed it Hollywood Reporter did an article how even the A-list auteurs' star-filled agency-backed packages are failing to find US buyers at Cannes on Sunday:
http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/film/news/e3ibd965fb07c296111fd0b189f8ac38b39

And that's not the only one. Foreign sales acquisitions have fallen. Festival funding is drying up. Places to push the message out, like newspapers and magazines, are folding. And is anything taking their place? I have been twittering similar stuff for a long time. What? You are not on Twitter yet? Forget about what others have said; Twitter is a great filter, a curating tool. I have found a film project through it, music to listen too, art to see, books to read, and issues to respond to. Forget the folks who Twit about what they... eat. Follow the ones I follow. Heck, follow me. It's simple and free and I dig it.

It's funny. I wrote this blast for a clear reason. The title still sticks, even if the answer never made it to print. I have now gone on too long to burden you with such further details. That will have to be another blast. Or blog post (where you will miss it if you don't subscribe). I am sure you have some ideas for solutions, or evidence to the contrary. Let me know them. I will blast about them. Or I would be happy to have you post on any of the blogs. Let me know.

But don't despair. Trauma generally breeds action. As a species, we've generally demonstrated we don't act until the pain of the present becomes greater than the fear of the future and the unknown. I think we are there -- maybe not at the bottom, but with a little imagination we can now see the bottom or at least guess the depth. And there are reasons to look up (many of which have been chronicled on TFF): as has been said by others "The theatrical market is healthy; the economic model is not healthy.". A better delivery system has been found, albeit by the bootleggers, but hopefully someone -- and someone with a commitment for equal access and equal opportunity -- will learn how to monetize it.

In the meantime, please go see some films. Tell your friends, family, fans, and followers why you liked them. Tell them to see them. Curate. Facebook about them. Take culture into your hands. Bring people together. Tell the media you care about culture and want it covered.

Maybe come here me talk about all this stuff. I am doing an event 5/28 for NY Foundation For The Arts. Please come.

Thanks for reading. And watching. But don't fiddle. Our culture is burning.

Ted