I'm delighted to be able to share the insights of the incredible director and editor, Allan Tsao. Allan first contacted us to share the story about a narrative he wrote for his feature directorial debut, ‘Reawaken, ' a crime drama set against the backdrop of a post-earthquake Haiti about a suicidal prison guard and a displaced teenage mother who reluctantly unite to rescue her infant daughter from a notorious gang of kidnappers (think ‘City of God’ meets ‘The Professional').
Unlike the classic tale of ‘Pocahontas’ or ‘Avatar,’ Allan wanted the protagonist to go through the inverse transformation from longing for a new life in a foreign land (America) to re-discovering the love and appreciation of his roots in Haiti. Allan chose Haiti after his close friend and a producer of the project, Michel, a Haitian filmmaker and photographer, was kidnapped (yes, KIDNAPPED!) by the gangs of Cite Soleil, one of the most dangerous slums in the Western Hemisphere. At the time, Michel was working as a cameraman for the UN, filming a campaign against Gun Violence and made a wrong turn one day. The gangs accused him of spying with the camera and kept him captive for 2 hours while they interrogated him. As surreal an experience as it was, ironically, it was also Michel's film background that saved him. He mentioned to the gangsters he was in a film that they were actually fans of and some of them recognized him and let him go. But about a year later, a couple of Michel's family members were also captured by gangs from the same slum. Luckily, no one was harmed and he got them back after paying a ransom. Later, the 2010 catastrophic earthquake destroyed Michel's homeland and the death toll was in the hundred thousands.
As an Asian-American, Allan admits he's " not exactly the poster child of what a Haitian voice would look like nor do I have any personal connection to the land and its people. And indeed, I was hesitant to tackle a story in a setting so far removed from my own, but art is about inclusion and really at the heart of this Haitian story is a human story of survival, identity and redemption that blurs the line of color and culture. It is a story that demonstrates my passion for sharing tales of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and my belief that the personal can be social."
It’s estimated that there are 40 million slaves in the world today. That's more than any time in history and the majority are women and children but boys and men are impacted as well. As Allan notes, "Most people probably don’t know that child kidnapping since Haiti’s earthquake is a great contributor to this horrifying issue and, as Allen explains, some of our charitable contributions get into the wrong hands that breed this perpetuating problem."
Currently, Allan is working on an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to get to Haiti in January. He told me that more than 75% of the funds will go to the people of Haiti. Here is what more of what Allan had to say:
1. In a short paragraph, please tell us a little about yourself, your background and your work
I was born in Taipei, Taiwan and immigrated to the States when I was six. Grew up in New York. Went to NYU and studied film and television. Work professionally as an editor and in the process of getting my first feature film off the ground as a writer/director. I would consider myself, at the moment, an editor by practice, a director by art.
2. What are the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of your work and why?
I would say the most challenging aspect of film is just having your voice heard. In a noisy world where there are many voices and so many outlets for voices to be projected, how does my voice set apart from the next person? What makes my voice unique that people want to take the time out of their day to listen?
3. How do race and/or gender and/or diversity play into your work?
I think my feature script speaks a lot of my views on diversity. As an Asian-American, I am not exactly the poster child of what a Haitian voice would look like nor do I have any personal connection to the land and its people. And indeed, I was hesitant to tackle a story in a setting so far removed from my own, but art is about inclusion and really at the heart of this Haitian story is a human story of survival, identity and redemption that blurs the line of color and culture. It is a story that demonstrates my passion for sharing tales of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and my belief that the personal can be social.
4. If you could share a single sentence of advice or insight for others in the entertainment business, what would it be?
Network. This business is really about who you know.
5. Do you think filmmakers have an obligation to create diverse content? Why or why not?
I don’t necessarily think filmmakers have an “obligation” to create diverse content for the sake of diversity. I think filmmakers have the obligation to tell stories that are true and genuine. And if such stories are diverse, don’t be afraid to have your voice heard even if you feel it might not be popular.
6. What are the biggest challenges you face as a filmmaker and how do you deal with them?
Biggest challenge is to get others to believe in what you’re selling. To have them join your movement. To want to be a part of your team even if it means they have to abandon their own ship. But at the end of the day, it’s about putting out good quality of work. The rest will follow.
7. What are the most sage words of advice you can offer to new and emerging filmmakers?
I think so many filmmakers get caught up in the art of filmmaking that they forget to take into consideration the business side of it. Like any industry, the work you put out there still has to be sustainable.
8. Does your advice change at all if I ask you to focus on women and/or minority filmmakers? If so, why and how.
9. What is the single most fun moment you've experienced in the entertainment industry?
When I shot my short film, ‘Ghost Soldier.' it was the last day of shooting and we were getting ready for the aftermath of an explosion scene. Had a fog machine running and someone forgot to close the door to the soundstage and the fog seeped out into the hallway. Someone, who wasn’t part of the crew, thought it was smoke and pulled the fire alarm. Five trucks showed up, the fire marshall, evacuated every NYU building on West 4th Street. My actors were all still in their Marine gear, bloodied. We caused quite a ruckus for that one shot but that’s the filmmaking. Can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.
10. What is the single most obnoxious moment you've experienced in the entertainment industry?
I haven’t necessarily experienced anything directed specifically towards me but, of course, diversity in film is something minorities struggle together.
11. What lies ahead for you in terms of the entertainment biz?
Getting my first feature film off the ground. In the process of assembling a team, building traction for the script and attaching a named producer/actor.
12. What does the phrase "Ethical Is Beautiful Be Beautiful" mean to you and your work, if anything?
To me the phrase is about embracing all stories that blur the line of color and culture.