The first featured artist is a volunteer whose work I'd never seen before! He kindly offered to be our guinea pig so here goes. The volunteer is filmmaker Paul Leach. You can listen to Paul here. As always, the views expressed by the filmmaker do not necessarily reflect those of the Film Lab or my own views. Here is what he has to say:
1. In a short paragraph, please tell us a little about yourself, your background and your work
I went to conservatory in western NY for theatre, music and dance. While there, I did my first professional jobs (a run of “Godspell” in Canada and shows at SixFlags Darien Lake) as well as wrote an original musical that was invited off-Broadway called CANVAS. Since that time, I have been in several equity theatre productions (including “Equus” starring George Takei from Star Trek), appeared on Days of Our Lives and just wrote/directed/scored my first indie feature thriller called: “The Woodsman”.
2. What are the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of your work and why?
The rewarding aspect is in the privilege it is to create and perform art. As artists, we have the unique experience of feeling what creation is like. The challenge can be finding a platform, as being Asian, we really don’t have one and the industry is largely closed to us. That’s the heart breaking part. I’ll read Sam Shepherd and realize I’ll never get to play these parts.
3. How do race and/or gender and/or diversity play into your work?
They play a part subtly. I believe if you try to make a statement, say an all women western or an all Asian film, it becomes a niche project and the people you want acceptance from (the broader public) will never see your work, so it is ultimately defeating in assimilating more Asian faces (for instance) into the public consciousness. I choose to integrate in a way that has broader appeal, like using an Asian strong supporting. It’s the only way to re-propagandize.
4. What are the best and worst things that have happened to you, within the context of race or gender issues in entertainment, and what did you learn from them?
I’m not sure there’s a “best” as my race has never been an asset (which is very, very sad). The worst would be when a big music manager passed on me ONLY because I was Asian. She loved my music, my voice and my look, but said she couldn’t take me because of my ethnicity. Also in worst are the stereotypes I face daily. I was just cast in a film where the Asian character was diminutive and gets rejected by the hot girl…c’mon. What I’ve learned is that we need to do something about this…as a community. We need to speak up and demand better representation in the media. It starts with the writing. Write better roles. Then with the producing.
5. If you could share a single sentence of advice or insight for others in the entertainment business, what would it be?
Go to conservatory and be freaking good at your craft. Whoever says they want to be a concert pianist and never trains or practices? How would that person sound? Well, that describes almost every actor, writer and director in Los Angeles. If you don’t start with talent, go to conservatory and become educated, or work your craft constantly afterwards, then you don’t really love the craft, you just want to be famous. If all you want is fame, you should then find something else to do / pursue because you don't have the discipline or love of the craft needed to become good.
6. Do you think filmmakers have an obligation to create diverse content? Why or why not?
No, your obligation as a filmmaker is to make exceptional art. Now does that art necessitate diversity? Absolutely. However if your focus is diversity, then anyone can do that…poorly.
7. What are the biggest challenges you face as a filmmaker and how do you deal with them?
1). Funding. Having the resources to make a film. I’ve been waiting on investors for years, so ultimately, me and my friend spent a combined total of $15K and made a feature because I didn’t want to wait around. So if you don’t have money, don’t let it stop you
2) Actors. Like the above point, there are very few actual trained actors in LA and casting was horrendous because of the lack of talent. Almost everyone I ended up casting had a background in theatre and we had extensive coaching sessions before shooting. Guys, if you make a film, especially low budget, you have no where to hide bad acting. Go to local theatre and find talent. It’s better to have an average looking person who can act, than a beauty who can’t. Nothing says low budget like the hot girl who can’t act.
3) Get a DP and sound person who have experience and know what they’re doing. A movie comes down to two physical senses: sight and sound. I had a two person crew, and neither the DP or sound guy had experience on a feature (I thought I could monitor them through it….I couldn’t). I spent an extra 6 months in post having to re-cut my film because so much footage was unusable and so much audio had clipped. Save yourself the headache, find people with experience, or you yourself learn and practice before you do it.
4). Music is more important in some ways than the visuals. Sound is actually 70% of the information you take in from a film. Think about it. You can take the same video clip and change the soundtrack, and the movie becomes a horror, a comedy, a drama. So why do we spend only 5% of our time on 70% of our project? It’s backwards. Start with sound and music first. I wrote most of the score BEFORE we shot my film and my actors loved it because they could get the tonality of each scene.
8. What are the most sage words of advice you can offer to new and emerging filmmakers?
See earlier point. Education and then further study. My training in music, art and dance definitively affects my style in my directing in a way that is uniquely me because of my background. Additionally, I watched days of films from diectors I liked and studied them, like Fincher, Mallick, Innrutu. I can tell you what makes their styles unique, etc. Study your butt off and be great, or else your piano playing is going to be horrible.
9. Does your advice change at all if I ask you to focus on women and/or minority filmmakers? If so, why and how.
No. Again, the focus should be on being technically and artistically great. If you aren’t, no one’s gonna care what you do. No one cares what the worst salesman in an office does. Now if you’re the BEST, you have influence!
10. What is the single most fun moment you've experienced in the entertainment industry?
Too many to name. I think every night when you do a curtain call, it’s the moment of justification you look for. Surprisingly, often you don’t even hear the cheers. Odd.
11. What is the single most obnoxious moment you've experienced in the entertainment industry?
Anytime other people are affected by one person’s lack of skill or lack or preparation. Learn your lines. Learn your gear.
12. What lies ahead for you in terms of the entertainment biz?
So I plan on trying to change the perception of Asian males by creating content that I or maybe others can be in. Additionally, my little indie thriller has been picked up for distribution (yay)! I want to direct more.
13. What does the phrase "Ethical Is Beautiful Be Beautiful" mean to you and your work, if anything?
Oh guys….I already think you’re beautiful.