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Wednesday Appreciations: FCPX

Wednesday Appreciations: I love FCPX because it makes editing a lot faster, which makes editing a lot more fun. At $300, it’s an insane bargain.


Beijing Haze

I woke up today thinking about the passing of another year, the dreams we all have about our lives, and how we reconcile who we are with who we’d like to be.

The conclusion is always the same for me: happiness comes mostly from pursuing the dream, not necessarily achieving it. (Though achieving it every now and then is pretty nice too.)

And then I realized this is an idea I continually re-visit and re-discover, and not just on New Year’s Day. In fact, I made a short film about it six years ago. So much for progress…

In January 2008, my short film Beijing Haze premiered at Slamdance before going on to play at SXSW and a bunch of other festivals. But it’s never been available anywhere else.

Today seemed like a good time to change that. You can now watch it for free on my YouTube channel.

Of the shorts I’ve made, this is my favorite. I hope you enjoy it too.

Happy New Year everyone! Let’s all chase our dreams in 2014.

Announcements Moviemaking Transit

Interns Wanted (Day Job Edition)

I’m looking for students with superior storytelling skills to help me make videos this summer about New York’s amazing transportation network.

As a video intern with the MTA Press Office, you’ll help tell the story of the transit system and the hardworking men and women who keep it running. You’ll shoot onboard MTA trains and buses, inside stations and tunnels, and maybe even climb a bridge or two.

You’ll also sharpen your skills at all aspects of video production — from story development to distribution — and learn a lot about turning around quality packages cost-efficiently and on tight deadlines.

Internships will start in early June and can continue beyond the summer. For more info and to apply, go here. Please don’t apply to me directly.

(Want to help me at my night job? Check back here later this summer.)

Moviemaking Transit

These Kids Are All Right

I don’t have any kids of my own (birthing movies every now and then while holding down a full-time job is about as much as I can handle at the moment) but I appreciate them more and more as the years roll on. Children are the best reminder that a cynical — and ultimately selfish — worldview has real consequences for those who follow us.

Put more positively: our good choices today can really pay off for those who come after us. Is there any better reason to do the right thing?

That was the simple idea behind these PSAs I shot for MTA in celebration of Earth Day. Last weekend, twenty-seven volunteers — all children of MTA employees — spent an afternoon in a makeshift studio that myself and my hard-working colleagues set up in our midtown headquarters.

Some of the kids had a little experience with cameras and acting, but the majority of them were entirely new to the process. They were incredibly eager to participate and their energy helped all of us get through an exhausting five hours of shooting.

Like many filmmakers, I find it difficult to watch my own work once it’s done. Oftentimes, all you can see on screen are the things you wish you’d done differently. It’s extremely humbling and sometimes very painful.

These cheap and cheerful PSAs are by no means perfect. I still see plenty of things I wish I’d done better. But they were made in less than two days, with a production budget of zero, and they communicate an important message for the public.

Most importantly, these kids melt my heart every time I watch them. They remind me that the world will go on long after I’m gone, and that my choices today have consequences for that world. And also that traffic on the B.Q.E. is always going to be an epic fail.

Moviemaking Tech

Today’s FCPX Updates and News

Apple just updated Final Cut Pro X to 10.0.8, which includes, among other tweaks, support for the Sony XAVC codecs up to 4K in the new F5/F55 cameras. Compressor and Motion got updates also. Sweet.

I don’t have an XAVC camera so I couldn’t test the new codec, but the rest of 10.0.8 has been stable on my Macs so far. If you’re not the middle of a project, I’d advise upgrading. (Never upgrade anything during a project, unless you’re absolutely sure the new stuff will solve whatever problems you’re having with your current stuff.)

Probably not coincidentally, there’s also an interesting L.A. Times piece today about Apple’s new push to win back pro editors, including case studies with FCPX users like Tsui Hark.

I love FCPX and I’m very glad I made the jump from FCP7 a year-and-a-half ago. But I’m definitely in the minority among the filmmakers I know in embracing the software.

I don’t believe, as some do, that Apple has abandoned pros. I just think they’ve been a bit distracted by iOS. The updates to FCPX are a great sign that they still care about their professional users. But of course, an awesome new Mac Pro would be an even better sign.


These Long Stretches of Nothing

From “Ang Lee and the Uncertainity of Success” at

If you’re an aspiring author, director, musician, startup founder, these long stretches of nothing are a huge reason why it’s important to pick something personally meaningful, something that you actually love to do. When external rewards and validation are nonexistent; when you suffer through bouts where of jealousy, wondering “How come so-and-so got signed/is successful/got a deal/etc?”; when every new development seems like a kick in the stomach, the love of what you are doing gives you something to hang onto.

It’s hard to overstate how important this advice is, regardless of the particular dream you’re pursuing. Outcomes are tough to predict and largely out of your control. What you can control is your effort, attitude, and perseverance in pursuit of that dream.

The other thing you can control is who you choose to go through life with and how you spend that time where “nothing” is happening. Ang Lee married a woman who believed in him and supported him through his lean years. They raised kids together and everyone had a roof over their heads and food on the table.

That’s a whole lotta something for a period of nothing.

(Hat tip to @5tu’s Tweet that led to Andrew Sullivan’s post that led me to Jeff Lin’s piece.)

Moviemaking Self-Portraits

Via Video

Phew, my first student videoconference went off well. Thanks HIFF for the opportunity to speak to Hawaii youth. Great questions, y’all!

(McKinley High School, Honolulu, HI)

Asian Americana Moviemaking

Sublimely DisOriented


There are now several good Asian American film festivals in the US and filmmakers and audiences of all stripes are the better for it.DisOrient in Eugene is, as far as I know, the only one not in a large city. But the smallness of place hides a bigness of community-mindedness and hospitality.

I’m having a great time here at what I think is becoming the Asian American Telluride. Kudos, dudes!

(Bijou Art Cinema, Eugene, OR)

Moviemaking Peeps

Slamdance Awards Those That Sit

(Slamdance Film Festival, Park City, UT)


Watching History from Park City

(Slamdance Film Festival, Treasure Mountain Inn, Park City, UT)


At the 2009 Slamdance

(Treasure Mountain Inn, Park City, UT)


Hello, Roto

There’s a right way and a wrong way to rotoscope your footage. The wrong way involves Photoshop, countless hours, and carpal tunnel.

Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out the right way yet.

(Bklyn Blggng HQ)


Return of Frankencam

The unholy combination of the Canon HV20 and the Cinevate Brevis has gotten me through two shorts, more than paying for itself in 16 months of ownership.

But as good as the images can be from this setup, the rig itself still looks hopelessly dorky. Can’t have everything, ya know.

(Floyd Benett Field, Brooklyn)



The Rhode Island International Film Festival was fun and friendly. The Rhodies have an interesting way of making hummus.

(Providence, RI)


York College

There’s something surreal about seeing your name on a flyer, especially in a place you’ve never been. But I had been warned before my visit that there were flyers advertising my visit to the York College film club, so it wasn’t exactly an ambush.

The kids were a great audience for my (undoubtedly rambling) lecture on indie film distribution. I felt a bit old and nerdy speaking to them, but also honored and inspired by their enthusiasm and attention. They asked smart, thoughtful questions, too.Go York film club! Please hire me when you guys get to Hollywood.

(York College, Jamaica, Queens)


Park City: Special Bonus Photo

OK, I’m back in NYC and so technically it’s cheating to still be posting Park City photos. (Plus, it’s blurry.) But dude…that’s Cheech!

(Asian American Filmmakers Reception, China Panda Restaurant, Park City, UT)


Sad Farewell

Park City has been a total blast and I’m sad to be leaving. I’m so darn grateful to Slamdance for premiering my film. Festival week is known for its celebrity circus, but Heath’s untimely passing is a strong reminder of why most of us are here: we love movies and we are moved by them.

(Treasure Mountain Inn, Park City, UT)

Moviemaking Scenic Lookouts

Park City

With all the festival frenzy, it’s easy to forget to look up and realize how frickin’ beautiful this place is.

(Park City, UT)

Moviemaking Movies


Between parties and panels and sold-out screenings, it’s impossible to see everything I want to see at Slamdance/Sundance. Fortunately, I got a chance to catch Goliath, which is a pretty terrific movie. Especially if you’re a cat lover. Here kitty kitty kitty kitty…

(Zellner Brothers at the Library Center Theater, Park City, UT)


Slamdance 2008

The main posterboard at Slamdance is a work of art all by itself.

(Treasure Mountain Inn, Park City, UT)



I was pretty anxious about the premiere, but the (sold-out) audience was very warm and generous about the film. I only wish the cast and crew could have been there. Slamdance rocks!

(Treasure Mountain Inn, Park City, UT)


Celebrity Sighting

There are rumors that U2 is in town for a private concert (U2 3D is screening at Sundance), but for true indie cinema geeks, the Red camera was the real head-turner on Main Street today. Joe Kleber, a rental house owner from Atlanta, was showing off his Red the way people parade their boas on the Coney Island Boardwalk.

(Sundance Filmmakers Lodge, Main St, Park City, UT)


Getting Busy on Main Street

Today was a mix of panels, films, and free food. Main Street is getting busier as more folks arrive for the opening weekend festivities.

Update: about two hours after this photo was taken, this part of Main Street lost power for about twenty minutes. Ouch, filmmakers! Glad I wasn’t screening then.

(Egyptian Theatre, Park City, UT)


Into Thin Air

I’m in Park City, UT to premiere my new short Beijing Haze at the Slamdance Film Festival. It’s my first time in Park City and I’m really excited. As you probably know, Sundance Festival week is legendary for the industry hype, celebrity buzz, and heavy deal-making. Oh, and they also show a few movies as well. Slamdance, now in its fourteenth year, started as an indie answer to Sundance but now has its own formidable reputation as well.

My goals for the week are to have good screenings (like I have any control over that), meet lots of people, and watch a lot of movies. And eat free as often as possible.

Now, New York isn’t exactly a backwater when it comes to industry folk, but sharing a shuttle ride from SLC airport with Stacy Peralta, a Focus Features staffer, and an entertainment lawyer from LA was kind of intimidating. I mean, these people are way higher on the food chain than me. I tried to keep the self-doubt demons in check, but as the van barreled down Route 80, my mind was racing. I’m just a guy from Brooklyn who happens to own a camera. I was lucky enough to get a short into that scruffy festival at the end of Main Street. I’m the smallest of the small-time and everyone knows it. What the heck am I doing here?

But in the van, the vibe is low-key and we talk like we’re all equals (though Stacy has the best stories). For a fleeting moment, I almost feel like I belong here.

It’s not until I get to the Slamdance check-in at the Treasure Mountain Inn that I really start to feel that maybe I do belong here. Sarah greets us with a friendly hug, and she and Paul shower us with swag that’s actually useful, including a great Crumpler laptop bag and much-needed Doc Martens boots. Kodak sponsors a champagne toast for all the Slamdancers, and the week kicks off in the friendliest way.

I feel lightheaded, but that’s only partly due to the thin air.

(Treasure Mountain Inn, Park City, UT)

Eating Moviemaking

LA: Heading Home

Nutter butters and coffee for breakfast? Why not? I got two hours of sleep because I had to be up at five for a flight at eight, so I need every gram of caffeine and sugar I can get.I’m bummed I’m missing the chance to see Colma again. If you’re in LA, go see it Wednesday, May 10 at the DGA. I guarantee you’ll get hooked on Rich Wong and H.P. Mendoza’s masterpiece the way I did.

It’s good to be heading home, but I miss LA already. Big thanks to everyone at VC for screening my films and for putting on a great festival.

(AA #114, LAX-EWR)


LA: Painting With Light

Among the many excellent programs at the VC Filmfest was the free cinematography workshop with veteran DPs Bob Primes and Stephen Burum. They spent an entire day at Mole Richardson teaching us poor and hungry filmmakers the basics of film lighting and, equally important, how to do it on the cheap.

This kind of “master class” could cost you a small bundle elsewhere, but VC gave it to us for nothing – and even served us a tasty lunch from Buddha’s Belly. Kudos, you guys all ROCK.

(Mole Richardson, Hollywood, CA)


LA: Star Power (Part 2)

Take It Or Leave It? and Dry Clean Only screened yesterday and I think people liked them. TIOLI is a crowd pleaser and it’s always fun to hear the audience laugh. The post-screening Q&As were fun. I like answering questions and talking about my stuff; I can only hope that people enjoy listening.

The best part of the DCO screening was getting to see my wonderful actors Aaron and Kavi again. I miss working with them in New York, but I’m glad they’re rising fast out here in LA. It was also great seeing the other friends that came by for the screenings. Their presence meant a lot to me.

This screening was my first time seeing DCO on a big screen and, perhaps inevitably, I came away with a list of things I wanted to tweak. It’s funny, every time I think I’ve finished this film, I always find more stuff I wanna change. After this next edit, I think I have to stop watching; otherwise, I’ll probably just want to work on it some more.

One film I’ll never stop watching, however, is Julia Kwan’s exquisite Eve and the Fire Horse. I know I gushed about Eve after seeing it at SFIAAFF in March, but after watching it again last night, I just gotta gush some more. I can only hope that one day I’ll make a movie as beautiful and as elegant as this one. Rush out and see it as soon as it comes to your city.

The Eve screening also marked my favorite single moment of the festival: the widespread snickering after a really loud trailer for Fast & Furious 3: Tokyo Drift that preceded the film. READY…SET-O…GO!!!!

(Julia and her fans at the Director’s Guild of America, Los Angeles, CA)


LA: Star Power (Part 1)

Today’s screenings included Tanuj Chopra’s Punching at the Sun and Mike Kang’s The Motel. I really dug the surreal touches in Punching, a Queens story about a Pakistani teen dealing with loss. As for The Motel, I’ve now seen it three times and it just gets better with each viewing.

Afterwards, it was another crazy night hanging out with my new LA posse. To protect the guilty, I won’t name names, but they’re a fun bunch of amazingly talented and cool filmmakers, actors, and festival programmers. (Sorry, Mel Torme wasn’t one of them.)

(Sunset & Vine, Hollywood, CA)


LA: Many Movies, Many Parties

For me, writing is very difficult and not enjoyable, shooting is pretty difficult and mostly enjoyable, and attending film festivals (as a filmmaker) is not difficult and extremely enjoyable. Problem is, you gotta go through the first two to get to the third. But it’s worth it. As Oscar winning actor/director winner Chris Tashima pointed out at our directors luncheon today, the hard part is done, and now it’s just a series of parties.

(Chris is also really good in Eric Byler’s Americanese, and I suggest you all check it out when it’s released. I can only hope my Asian-American mid-life crisis involves a dalliance like the one he has with Joan Chen in that movie.)

Last night I watched Ham Tran’s Journey From the Fall, a surprisingly epic first feature from this LA-based filmmaker. It’s a sprawling story about a Vietnamese family in the wake of the Vietnam War, with lovely cinematography and great performances from the mostly first-time actors. If he ever makes a sequel to this movie, I can see Journey broken into two smaller films to make a trilogy because the two halves of the film are so different. Worth checking out.

Most of the festival films are screening at the Directors Guild of America, which is a great place to watch a film because of the excellent projection and sound systems. It’s also a bit intimidating and inspiring to be in the same place that is a home to so many legendary filmmakers.

(Director’s Guild of America, Los Angeles, CA)


LA: Off to VC

I’m heading to LA for a few days to attend the 2006 VC Filmfest where my shorts Take It Or Leave It? and Dry Clean Only will be playing. So far, it’s the only festival to screen both films, which means it is also quite possibly the best film festival ever in the history of celluloid.

So if you’re in LA this week and next, come check out my stuff and the other terrific films of the fest. Though I’ll only be here through the weekend, I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of movies and hanging out with many of the cool people I’ve met at previous festivals – and meeting new ones.

(AA flight #1, JFK-LAX Somewhere over central New Jersey)