Ridiculously short interviews: Ohina Short Film Showcase

OhinaPosterThis year, I was asked to be a judge at the Ohina Short Film Showcase by Gerard Elmore, the executive director. I was honored – but wary. This micro-fest has showcased Hawaii’s best short films for 15 years. But would sifting through dozens of shorts be a pleasurable experience or a painful one?

Turns out, the films were good. Surprisingly good. Solid storytelling. Unique voices. Visionary filmmaking. In fact, the films were so good, instead of a single show, the Showcase was split into two separate Friday and Saturday programs.

They were smart. Funny. Moving. Weird. They may have started small, but I could tell… these filmmakers were dreaming big.

So in keeping with the “short” theme, I did a few ridiculously short interviews with six talented Ohina filmmakers. Catch their films on the big screen this Friday through Sunday at the Doris Duke Theater.

“B9” • KEIKO SUGIHARA • WRITER/DIRECTOR/ACTOR
Ohina_B9Keiko Sugihara is a recent graduate of the University of Hawaii’s Academy of Creative Media (ACM). Her film “B9″ won the ACM Takeyama Screenwriting Award in the spring of 2014. Sugihara is currently an assistant to the executive producers of “Hawaii Five-0.”

“B9″ is a comedy about a high school slacker who must complete volunteer work by assisting an elderly cancer patient in order to graduate.

What was the most challenging part of making your short?
The entire production was a challenge because I had to figure out how to manage my roles as a writer, director and actor.

What’s harder, writing, acting or directing?
Writing.

What’s one piece of advice you’d like to give to future short filmmakers?
Never give up.

“HIGH RIDER” • BRADLEY TANGONAN • WRITER/DIRECTOR
Ohina_High_RiderWideBradley Tangonan is a graduate of Moanalua High School and Stanford University. He works as a freelance director and editor in advertising. “High Rider” was featured on Nowness and was named a Vimeo Short of the Week.

“High Rider” is an eerie tropical fairy tale about a skater girl and the strange characters she encounters on her ride to work.

Describe your film in one word.
Sublime.

What was the most challenging scene in your short?
The tarp wave was difficult to shoot, as it required precise timing and a little bit of luck.

What was the inspiration behind this film?
The idea that our imaginations reveal things we hide from ourselves.

“SID” • JOSH ALMARIO • WRITER/DIRECTOR

Josh Almario recently graduated from UH’s ACM program. He works as a freelance director and cinematographer and co-owns a production company called Redefined Media. He’s won first place at Showdown in Chinatown and has screened at the Idyllwild International Film Festival.

“Sid” is a psychological thriller about a high school student who struggles to maintain his sanity when his childhood imaginary friend resurfaces.

Name a film that inspired “Sid.”
“Fight Club.”

What was the most challenging part of making your short?
Casting, because I needed a person who could breathe life into this violently psychotic entity – luckily we found the perfect match.

What’s one piece of advice you’d like to give to future short filmmakers?
It’s not all about making the perfect film, but rather making sure you enjoy yourself and learn from the experience because one day that film will serve as a great reminder of where you were at that point in life and how far you’ve come.

“THE FISHING CLUB” • DAVID ROSEN • DIRECTOR

David Rosen went to college at Clark University, where he went from studying psychology to pursuing film. He’s a commercial director who’s won numerous awards including Hawaii’s Advertising Man of the Year at the 2010 Pele Awards.

“The Fishing Club” is about a close group of friends determined to stop one of Hawaii’s last pristine shorelines from turning into a resort. The film premiered at the Hawaii International Film Festival, was an official selection at the PBS Online Film Festival and won the Best Hawaii Short at the Big Island Film Festival.

What was the most challenging part of making your short?
Finding a pristine beach to shoot on – because of the controversial nature of the film, nobody wanted us.

What was it like working with such a talented cast (Robert Kekaula, Keali‘i Reichel)?
Working with the cast was the most fun part of making “The Fishing Club.” I tried to create an environment where each actor could make the role their own.

What’s the secret behind being a good director?
About the only thing I’ve noticed that good directors have in common is a stubbornness to get their project made when sometimes the whole world seems to be conspiring against them.

“KAHEA” • WALTER DODS • WRITER/DIRECTOR

Walter Dods is a graduate of Punahou School and the London Film School. He’s currently a freelance writer and director. His commercial work has won at the Pele Awards and the Telly Awards. He was also selected for the inaugural HIFF Creative Lab Writers Accelerator.

“Kahea” is the story of a father and son’s annual fishing trip to the Big Island of Hawaii. The film won Best Actor (John Diehl) in the Southampton International Film Festival and Best Supporting Actress (Claire Nono) at the Asians On Film Festival.

What was the most challenging part of making your short?
The weather, we got rained out for almost an entire day.

What was it like working with John Diehl (“Miami Vice,” “A Time to Kill”)?
We were very lucky to work with an experienced actor like John Diehl. His generosity and patience made the entire process a real pleasure.

What’s one thing you learned that you’d like to share with future short filmmakers?
Focus on your story. Writing a great story often means getting to play with folks in a whole different league.

“DAY PASS” • ERIN LAU • DIRECTOR
Ohina_DayPassErin Lau attended UH’s ACM and is currently at Chapman film school for her MFA in film directing. She is the winner of two Eurocinema Best Student Film awards and the Best Student Documentary award at the Shanghai International Film Festival.

“Day Pass” is a dramedy that follows Ben, an uptight twentysomething, as he checks his troubled teen sister out of a behavioral health institute. “Day Pass” was also nominated for the Eurocinema Best Student Film award.

Name a director that inspires you.
Taika Waititi, because his films tend to strike a good balance between comedy and drama, while also beautifully exploring or conveying a certain truth or idea.

Where do you see your filmmaking career in five years?
I hope to be making a living in scripted television, while also working on my own personal indie features whenever possible.

What’s one piece of advice you’d like to give to future short filmmakers?
Always be flexible. Things will rarely play out exactly the way you envisioned them, creatively and logistically, so you need to be open to making compromises.

The Ohina Short Film Showcase runs Friday to Sunday, August 14 to 16 at the Doris Duke Theatre at the Honolulu Museum of Art. There is an opening night reception on Friday night from 6 to 7:30. For schedules and tickets, visit ohina.org.

A review of ‘Inside Out’ by a 4-year-old

Inside Out EmotionsIf you thought puberty was tough, try parenthood.

That’s the impression I walked away with after seeing Pixar’s “Inside Out.” My 4-year-old, of course, had a completely different take.

A little over a year ago, I took my daughter to see her first movie on the big screen. You can read her “Review of Frozen by a 3-year old” here. While a lot has changed in a year – she’s about an inch and a half taller and she can record shows on our DVR – I was a little skeptical about taking her to “Inside Out.”

The story on paper seems a little crazy. Five emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust – control the mind of Riley, an 11-year old girl who’s making a stressful move from Minnesota to San Francisco. No talking snowmen. No singing princesses. It just seemed like a lot of math. And a whole lot of post-movie questions that I was ill-equipped to answer.

Inside Out FearNot to mention all the tweets about the film being a real tearjerker. This was par for the course for director Pete Docter, who previously made us sob in public with “Up” (one of the saddest opening scenes ever) and “Monsters Inc.” (one of the best last scenes ever). Did I really want to subject my 4-year-old to that?

Well, I did. And this is what she said after she bounced out into the Ward lobby:

Did you like it?
YES!

Who was your favorite character?
I liked Fierce (she calls “Fear,” “Fierce”). And Joy.

Why did you like Fear?
Because he fell down and bonked his face.

What was your favorite part?
I forget.

What did you learn from the movie?
I don’t know.

But you liked it.
YES!

INSIDE OUT HeadquartersShe loved the film. It was dazzling, channeling the pure, visual creativity of Hayao Miyazaki (“My Neighbor Totoro,” “Spirited Away”) like no other Pixar film. It featured strong female characters like “Frozen.” It was funny and poignant. And I can honestly say, as a jaded, part-time screenwriter, I had no idea where the story was taking me.

And that’s the dirty little secret of “Inside Out.” While my daughter loved Anger going ballistic and the Dream-Boys saying, “I would die for Riley,” what she didn’t get was this was a movie that was really for PARENTS.

InsideOutSadnessIt’s a film about watching your child lose their innocence and transition to their teens. It’s about the fragility of memory and how ephemeral those moments are. It’s about how there can be no joy without sadness. And yes, there is one particular scene that really makes you long for some Kleenex. At that moment, out of nowhere, my 4-year-old actually reached up to feel my face. She wanted to see if I was crying. She wasn’t. But I sure was.

All that stuff flew way over her head. The scene where we get to see the emotions that control Riley’s parents was a true jab right at the parentals. We all know Joy controls the youthful Riley. But in her dad’s head, Anger runs the show. In her mom’s head, Sadness is in charge. It’s a bit cynical, but true. As grownups, we lose our Joy.

Inside Out JoyLast night, my daughter got out of bed, crying. She had left her favorite stuffed animal, “Boo” (the world’s cutest dog), at grandma’s house. I was in that precarious position that all parents find themselves in – having to say the right thing at the right time. I don’t remember what I said. “Take a deep breath.” “You’ll see him tomorrow.” “You’re a big girl.”

She eventually went to sleep, but about a half-hour later I thought of the perfect thing to say. The French have a word for this. “L’esprit de l’escalier,” the spirit of the stairway, where you think of the right thing to say just a little too late. What I should have said to my daughter was this:

“Find your Joy.”

It’s advice all parents could probably use for themselves.

Watch “Inside Out,” currently in theaters.

‘Jurassic World’ vs. ‘Aloha’

Jurassic World vs AlohaTWO big Hollywood films shot in Hawaii are at your multiplex this weekend. So which movie should you spend your hard-earned money on? Let’s look at the contenders.

While the trailer for “Aloha” gave me high hopes, this star-studded film has taken a beating by critics and activists. And that’s a shame. While the first half is a narrative mess, Cameron Crowe’s love for Hawaii is all over the screen. For all the bloggers complaining about “white-washing” before even seeing it, there’s plenty of Hawaiian involvement for a film centered on the military.

And while Crowe could have cast an Asian actor for Emma Stone’s “Allison Ng,” he based the character on a real person. I have many haole-looking friends who have Hawaiian or Japanese or whatever in them. If you’re from here, you know that a white-looking hapa isn’t so impossible. And right now, Jennifer Lawrence is the only actress in Hollywood who’s hotter than Stone. Crowe’s casting of her was a no-brainer. Like an esteemed local writer friend said, “If you don’t like the story, then write your own.”

Which leads us to “Jurassic World.” A friend invited me to the cast and crew screening on Wednesday. The film is what you’d expect: a big blockbuster popcorn movie built for the 10-year-old in all of us. But what many casual moviegoers don’t know is that these big Hollywood productions employ hundreds of local cast and crew – Hawaiian, Asian, haole and everything in between. While their faces may not be on the screen, they’re just as much a part of a film as Chris Pratt or Bradley Cooper. I felt it Wednesday night, when the entire audience stayed late and burst into applause when the “Hawaii crew” credits hit the screen. Box office boom or bust, these movies allow locals to do what they love. And for that, both these films deserve some aloha.

Okay, on to the fun stuff. So which movie should you see this weekend? Let’s compare:

JurassicvsAlohaHeaderJurassicAloha4
JurassicAlohaBlogger
JurassicAloha1
JurassicAloha2JAbResident
JurassicAloha6
JurassicAloha7
JurassicAloha8
JurassicAloha10
JurassicAloha9

And the winner of which movie…

Filmed in Hawaii…

That you should see this weekend…

Is…

Wait for it…

Wait for it…

Wait for it…

NorthShore

Cheesy thrills, romantic fun, haoles and locals, all in one. My friend calls this the “Karate Kid” of surfing. Much aloha to the local cast and crew who made all these movies happen.

Q&A: Pig & the Lady gets in ‘Big Trouble’

Big Trouble In LIttle China PosterNext Wednesday’s Consolidated Theatres Hana Hou Picture Show promises to be one hell of a dinner and movie night with “Big Trouble in Little China” and a special “Pork Chop Express” pop-up by the Pig & the Lady. That’s fitting, given that this is the fourth anniversary of Consolidated’s monthly screening of classic films voted on by fans.

While Frolic foodies may know the Pig & the Lady as one of Hawaii’s hottest restaurants, Frolic filmies know the Les — the family behind that killer pho French dip banh mi – are big fans of “Big Trouble.” I talked to brothers Anderson, Andrew and Alex Le about bacon, Chinese girls with green eyes, and “Big Trouble in Little China 2.”

We all know Anderson is the programming director of the Hawaii International Film Festival from our HIFF interview, so let’s get to know the brothers behind the Pig & the Lady.

Andrew: I’m the head chef and founder of the Pig & the Lady. I started off my culinary education at KCC and then moved on to the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York.

Alex: Andrew is being modest. He’s also an award-winning chef, including being nominated twice as a semi-finalist for the James Beard award. I’m the general manager and run the farmers markets.

Anderson, Andrew, Allison & Alex Le.

Anderson, Andrew, Allison & Alex Le.

What is the sibling order of the Le family?

Anderson: Anderson (numbah one son), then Alex and then Andrew. We end the Le lineage with our baby sister Allison.

You’re going back to your roots and popping up – in a movie theater. What do you love about pop-ups and farmers markets that keeps you doing them, even with a successful brick-and-mortar?

Alex: It’s where we started. Even though we have a restaurant now, I still want to continue our farmers market program and pop-ups because they parlay the mission we had when we first started: as an inspiration for Asian street food and hawker fare culture, and also serving food that we grew up eating in the kitchen.

What are your memories of “Big Trouble in Little China”?

Anderson: I think I was the only one who saw it in the theater (at the old Cinerama, I believe). It’s just a great, fun movie with major Asian characters on the screen.

Le BrothersAndrew: Anderson was such a film nerd that he would quote this movie all the time. I remember watching this movie time and time again on cable and we recorded it on VHS. It was a go-to movie for us. Oh, and Raiden from “Mortal Kombat” was inspired by the character Thunder in this movie.

Alex: My brothers are too embarrassed to say this, but whenever the scene where the flying eyeball monster would appear, we’d chuckle and say, “Hi Andrew!” We would tease him because at the time, Andrew was a small and round boy. We were brutal.

The bathroom at The Pig and the Lady is a shrine to “Big Trouble.” Why do you guys love the movie so much?

Anderson: It’s a fun movie that has so many memorable quotes and performances from Kurt Russell, James Hong, Dennis Dun and the late Victor Wong. The James Carpenter soundtrack is on point and the setting of Chinatown was mysterious and magical. It made me want to explore San Francisco’s Chinatown and find my own six demon bag there. Or meet a Chinese girl with green eyes.

Alex: It was fun, and for a kid, scary, especially with the creature effects. Lo Pan’s “Three Storms” were bad-ass. That was such a great time for movie-going, especially since Anderson and I would sometimes cut summer school (sorry mom and dad) and go catch matinees at Cinerama, the Kapiolani or the Waikiki Twins. Those were our hanabata days!

Andrew: I love the movie, but honestly, I loved it because my brothers loved it. I was only four when the movie was released, so I learned to appreciate it when I got older.

LeFamily2If you were characters in “Big Trouble in Little China,” who would you be?

Andrew: I know my brothers would say I’m the floating ball monster. By the way, you guys are dead. I would be Wang. He owns his own restaurant, is married to a hot Chinese girl with green eyes, knows kung fu and is the real hero in this movie.

Alex: Hey, I was going to say Wang too. I would go for either Egg Shen — because he knows black magic — or that one Chang Sing guy who speaks the worst Chinese ever in the basement, when Jack and Wang are hiding out from the gang battle.

Anderson: Jack Burton. He kisses Gracie Law played by a young Kim Catrall. She was in “Mannequin.” Need I say more?

Your family owned “Toys N Joys” in Kaimuki for 30 years. What was it like growing up in a toy store?

Alex: It was fun, but also grueling. I took it over from my parents when I was very young. In the end, I made some great friendships and Christmas seasons were super fun but also crazy busy. It was a great education for my second career working in the restaurant business.

Andrew: I loved it. I had all the video games and game systems at home and I was a total otaku. I also got hooked on pogs, tamagotchi, Japanese import RPGs, etc. Yeah, I was pretty spoiled.

Anderson: I was sick of video games. Truth.

What do you have in store for the “Pork Chop Express” pop-up menu?

Pork Chop ExpressAlex: Pork dishes, of course! We’re going to have our porchetta banh mi sandwich available, for sure. We’re still crafting the menu but we also want to do some simple but delicious snacks with bacon as the key ingredient. It’ll be tasty!

Give us your Top 5 favorite movies about food.
1. “Big Night”
2. “Tanpopo”
3. “Spirited Away”
4. “Eat, Drink, Man, Woman”
5. “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”

What movie would you love to see back on the big screen for the Hana Hou Picture Show?

Anderson: It would be a toss up of either “Monster Squad” or “Real Genius.”

Alex: “The Goonies” is my all-time favorite.

Andrew: I would love a foodie film like “Tanpopo.”

Pitch us your idea for “Big Trouble In Little China 2.”

Anderson: Lo Pan is reincarnated and wreaks havoc again in the underworld of SF’s Chinatown. The now grown son of Wang and Miao Yin (played by Ryan Potter) must take the family mantle in defending the streets of Chinatown against this new evil.

But, with Egg Shen dead, he summons the forces of the old Chang Sing gang to come together (played by Jason Scott Lee, Mark Dacascos, Byron Mann and Russell Wong) while the reincarnated Lo Pan — now a successful businesswoman played by Joan Chen — runs for the vacated mayor seat and plots to take over the city once again.

Meanwhile, a mysterious stranger returns. An older and wiser Jack Burton has learned the ways of Egg Shen to finish what he started so many years ago.

Now, I’d see that movie.

“Big Trouble in Little China” screens on Wednesday, May 27th at 7 & 10 p.m. for the Hana Hou Picture Show 4th anniversary celebration at Ward. The Pig & the Lady “Pork Chop Express” pop-up will be open in the Ward theatre lobby from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. The first 200 guests attending the anniversary show will receive a complimentary Bacon Piggy Cookie.

Bonus: Frolic is giving away six pairs of tickets to next Wednesday’s “Big Trouble” screenings. Here’s how to enter.

Movie poster courtesy of MVNP

Q&A: ‘Fresh off the Boat’ showrunner Nahnatchka Khan

NAHNATCHKA KAHN (EXECUTIVE PRODUCER/CREATOR/WRITER)There was no pressure on Nahnatchka Khan.

All she had to do was pitch, write, manage and will into existence a new sitcom based on the outspoken and iconoclastic Eddie Huang’s memoir — which also happened to be the first TV show featuring an Asian American cast since “All-American Girl,” 20 years ago.

Like I said, no pressure.

Khan, one of the hottest women writer/showrunners in Hollywood, related to Huang’s provocative, best-selling memoir, “Fresh Off the Boat.” While she’s not Chinese, she lived the first generation, immigrant experience. And growing up in East Honolulu, she was surrounded by Asian culture.

Khan graduated from Kaiser High School and attended the USC School of Cinematic Arts. She went on to write for “Malcolm in the Middle” and “American Dad,” and created the show “ Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23.” Unlike in the movies — where directors have the power — television is a writer’s medium. And Khan, with expectations impossibly high, had a high-wire act to perform with “Fresh Off the Boat.”

Fresh Off the Boat 1That sound you heard on Wednesday, February 4th? A collective exhale of relief from Asian Americans across the country. “Fresh Off the Boat” premiered and wasn’t just a critical success, it was damned funny. Constance Wu was a breakout star, the show gave heart and humor to the immigrant experience, and my 4-year-old daughter was mesmerized by kids who looked just like her, looking back at her on our TV. Pressure? Please.

“Fresh Off the Boat,” “Empire” and “Blackish” are trailblazing a new age of diversity in television. And while Hawaii is a little different — yellow people are the majority and even white people are a little brown — it’s exciting to see a local girl spreading that message of diversity and excelling on the biggest of stages. I got to talk to Khan, who deserves a first-class “success perm.”

How are you feeling now that “Fresh Off the Boat” premiered and is a critical and ratings success?
So happy and extremely proud. The passion that both critics and fans have for the show is very satisfying to see and just makes me feel like, yessssssss.

Pitch “Fresh Off the Boat” for someone who hasn’t seen it yet.
Set in 1995, it follows the Huangs, a Taiwanese-American family who leave their family and friends in Chinatown in Washington D.C. and move to the white suburbs of Orlando so their father, Louis Huang, can own and operate an Old West steakhouse.

How did you get involved with the show?
The previous show I had created, “Don’t Trust the B in Apt 23″ had recently been cancelled and, after crying and drinking for a few months, I was trying to figure out what my next television project was going to be. Melvin Mar (one of the other executive producers on “FOTB”) sent me the manuscript of Eddie Huang’s memoir to see if I would be interested in developing it for television.

Fresh Off the Boat 2I read it right away and immediately zeroed in on the part where Eddie and his family move to Orlando in the mid-90s and knew that was where I wanted to set the series. Melvin and his producing partner Jake Kasdan (the show’s other executive producer) and I all have development deals at 20th Century Fox Television, which is our studio, and we sold the pitch to Paul Lee and Samie Falvey at ABC.

You graduated from Kaiser High School. What were you like growing up here?
Oh man, I was the BEST. No, but really, I lived in Hawaii Kai, went to Niu Valley, graduated from Kaiser and I loved it. It was the life. That mellowness of Hawaii, of being on “island time,” is something that I feel like I took with me to Hollywood. People are stressed out all the time here and on the inside I’m just like, “whatevehs.”

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I think I first knew when I was at Kaiser and they let me write an editorial column for the school newspaper. I was allowed to write about whatever I wanted, so I just wrote about stuff like prom and getting my drivers license, whatever was happening in my life at that time. And I remember kids coming up to me in the halls and being like, “Hey, your article was funny!” I really liked that feeling.

Fresh Off the Boat 3Name some of your creative influences.
Oh man, there’s so much out there that I love. James Brooks, the Coen Brothers, “Seinfeld,” “South Park,” Tina Fey, Judd Apatow, Amy Poehler, Wanda Sykes, T.C. Boyle, Julia-Louis Dreyfus, Christopher Guest, “Saturday Night Live,” Parker Posey, Louis CK, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Holly Hunter, “The Simpsons,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” the list goes on…!

Has growing up in Hawaii influenced “Fresh Off the Boat”?
So many of my friends’ parents had elements of their personalities that remind me of Jessica and Louis Huang. And definitely the culture of Hawaii, the food, the music, the people, the lifestyle, all of that definitely influenced me.

Fresh Off the Boat Success Perm 2What do you miss most about Hawaii?
Spam musubi times a thousand! Also, saimin, loco moco, huli huli chicken and Zippy’s chili. Sandy Beach, Cockroach Cove, Waimanalo, Ala Moana mall (yoooooo, I spent so much time there before I could drive. My friends and I would take the bus and then hang out all day and go to Eggs ‘N Things), Fun Factory… oh, and shave ice, guava flavor!

What did you learn from your experiences as a writer and showrunner in Hollywood?
The most important thing I’ve learned is to always give yourself options. Making sure you get alts for jokes in scenes, different levels of performances from the actors, so when you’re in the edit bay and you’re looking at the episode as a whole for the first time, you can make sure that the story and comedy are both flowing and working. And that there are many different ways to tell a story… eventually you just have to pick one.

What’s the best piece of advice you got during your career?
Have the most fun possible.

What’s on your DVR?
Broad City, The Walking Dead, Louie, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Adventure Time, Mad Men, Girls, Looking, Veep.

Fresh Off the Boat Success Perm 1What do you love about writing for TV?
Entertaining people, making them laugh and feel less alone.

Give local filmmakers and screenwriters who want to make it in Hollywood ONE piece of advice.
Be true to yourself and constantly be developing your own voice, don’t feel like you have to fit into any preconceived ideas of what you think you have to do or be in order to succeed. Oh, and don’t wear slippers to a meeting.

Watch an hour of “Fresh Off the Boat” on ABC this Tuesday at 7 pm. “Very Superstitious” guest-stars NBA legend Scottie Pippen.