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.

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.)

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.

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.)

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)


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)