Chris Chan Lee / YELLOW
We met at the corner of 14th
and Union, walking to our lunchtime destination of Saigon Pearl at Harvard Mkt I pointed out the landmarks. This, being Lees
second visit to Seattle, land of the frigid air and atmosphere you can touch. I was wearing my yello specs and he mentioned
that if youre in a yellow room, it makes you agitated and somewhat violent. Hmm, I think that if youre looking thru yellow
your eyes adjust to it, and gloomy gray days get a little brighter.
We arrive at the café and I order my usual of pho and hot
Vietnamese coffee, he orders the number 9, braised meat on skewers over rice noodles and no coffee.
Whats your Asian zodiac sign?
Whats your favorite color?
The last favorite color was orange. Im not sure what
it is now
did you have a favorite color when you were a child?
Yeah, it was orange.
[hes wearing a sports jersey in deep yellow with "Team Spam" across the chest]
Where were you born? San Francisco,
at Childrens Hospital, I grew up around Park Merced, I believe its fairly close to San Francisco State (University) that SW
part of SF. Our family had a little basement apartment. Eventually we moved to the suburbs, San Mateo. My parents had their
business in SF, and they went back and forth a lot.
What kind of business was it? It was like a "mom & pop" grocery store and Russian Deli
(he laughs) yeah.
So San Mateo is the place the Asians go to for being in the burbs? When I was there, It felt like I was the only Asian there. My highschool was where Merv Griffin and Alicia Silverstone attended.
When did you decide on becoming a filmmaker? um,
at the end of high school whenthere was no certainty or logic to it, I just decided thats what I wanted to do. It like totally
dropped out of the sky. I was doing a lot of photography at the time, the arts, illustration, things like that. Filmmaking,
I only knew it from the home video stuff, Super-8 and goof around with things with clay and stuff.
Somehow I just heard about USCs film school,
I was aware that my interests were in Visual Arts/Photography, and
I knew for sure I didnt want to get into Business and Computers, stuff that my parents were pushing me into. I just sort of
fell into it (film).
My resolve for actually doing it steadily grew through
Film School. But even going to USC, there was a lot of uncertainty, it was hard to get into the Film School, I was accepted
to the undergrad program and it took 2 years to actually get into the Film School.
If you didnt become a filmmaker, what would you probably
be doing now? Like managing a video store
or something, like some computer thinglike a game designer (laughing).
During your time at USC, did you do any other film projects other than "the Big One"??
Yeah, actually what I did was I crewed on
a lot of films, I worked on over 100 student films, as a PA (production
assistant), in sound, production management, cinematography and stuff, I tried to learn every aspect of film. Like even before
Film School I worked on stuff.
While I was in school I totally loved it, I just lived
for production and I hated everything else. And now I just feel like totally burned out, I get psyched about it , but I really
dont want to be on the set like every day. Cuz its like really hard physical labor and all that, I guess Im getting older
I used to be totally obsessed with production. I worked
on a bunch of student films, I graduated , and did some independent work, like really awful industrials to independent features.
I was either producing or doing cinematography. Just before I did Yellow I shot 2 super-low-budget indie features
for other directors.
Doing all the production work geared me up for directing-
because you learn everyones job and you know what they
need to know. You see how things operate smoothly and how they dont,if its not planned well.
Maybe I shoulda had one of those coffees, Im all foggy.
How did you come up with the idea for Yellow? I was writing all these scripts on spec, writing feature scripts
and trying to sell them or whatevertrying to get money, and it was just really hard and I felt like I was making these little
incremental gains but didnt amount to anything real.
I decided that I was gonna write a script that at all costs,was I gonna produce it, where it was for a million dollars or a
dollar, Im gonna turn it into a movie.
So I had to really think hard about what I
thought I was ready for, what I was willing to live with. I knew it would take years
to finish it, Id have to see it everyday and WHAT Id want to see in
YELLOWs not a real heavy film, theres lots of comedy, its about teenagers. The passion I had was just MAKING this film about a youth culture that had Asian
Americans at its core and that in itself was the statement
that I really WANTED to express on the screen.
It was like ..growing up, watching comedies on TV, youd just never see Asians, it was were invisible, so yeah, I thought
it would be a worthwhile endeavor.
Thats how I decided on YELLOW, I really
wanted to do a character piece that had a really simple , yet solid story. The core of the story for YELLOW
is the teens have to recover money before sunrise. So creatively in that sense, it was the RIGHT concept.
What was the timeframe from your first idea of YELLOW to now?
From today,it would be 4 1/2 years from concept
It came about at the time of the riots, just being in LA during the riots. My parents had relocated to Long
Beach and their store got totally trashed, the tension in the city and the way that the Korean community was very victimized
by the mainstream media. All the hostility and anger about the Rodney King trial, was re-directed towards the Korean and Black
communities, they were pitted against each other.
So it really resonated to me that Korean Americans are really under represented in mainstream media and no
one really knows who they are as PEOPLE and WHAT their communities are going through. So its really easy for them to become
the scapegoat target, cuz they are not humanizing their stories or their presence. It REALLY made me think about the power
of the media .
Its very much a personal story, because my parents
had a grocery store, I worked for them every summer, every weekend, and I thought I was never gonna get away.
i was trapped by my dad.
yeah, I definitely decided to make YELLOW because be at least
one voice to express an issue such as Asian Americans in American culture. Its only one story,one point of view, I dont think
people should think its the definitive Asian American story,we dont really expect that of other films--other
What film stock did you use? 7279, Kodak Vision 500, a brand new technology it was only a month old,
its high speed, the grains really tight and color is really rich. we shot it on Super 16 and we blew it up to 35.
The first cut?
yeah, it was 2hrs 45 min, way too long.
Permits? 50 locations in 24 days, 1 permit for 3 hours on the beach, it was totally
guerilla. The sheriff came by and kicked us off the beach, the sand is the beach, so we ended up shooting the close-ups in
the parking lot, we tried to match the lighting and stuff.
Weird stuff? yeah, the bowling alley. this photographer was shooting some great shots,
after he left, I asked around and no one knew who he was.
Competition between other Asian american directors?
Very supportive, moral support. Everyones
too busy trying to get their own work out, information is shared.
Asian American Film Festivals? YELLOW has screened at most of them, and Ive attended most.
Chicagos is cool. The organizers let you crash at their
place,a floor full of filmmakers, amongst all the stressof putting on a festival.
Chaos? the liquor store was way out past Pasadena, as soon as the owner saw how big our cast and crew were,saw
our truck.He thought we were loaded, and started to extort money from us and started charging us $100 per 15 minutes. So we
shot that whole scene in 1 hr and 15 min.
Yeah, I had to throw out the shot list after the
first 3 shots,cuz of the time frame, so I had to have the DP (director of photography) shoot it hand held from the two points
of view, to save time. that night, it was hellish.
right after that we had the cemetery shot, and
we had permission to shoot there, but the sprinklers kept going off and we had to wait for someone to turn them off. A lot
When Q was shooting "Shopping For Fangs", was that around the
same time? Yeah,
we started the SAME day, it was totally by coincidence. As it turned out, we had two of the same cast members, so we had to coordinate that a bit. I didnt know
Quentin (Lee) that well, I didnt want it to be 2 filmmakers bickering over a schedule etc. But, they were really
cool, actually. It was no problem at all.
Subject: missing pieces Date:
Sat, 14 Nov 1998 15:44:59 EST
Hi Irene: Here's
the info you needed:
hooked up with my producer David Yang and we spent about one year trying to raise money from conventional sources such as
studios, producers, production companies... it was a total waste of time. Then I met my executive producers Taka Arai &
Theodore Kim through my agent, and they read the script and were excited about the concept of doing a youth comedy about Asian
American kids. In the end, most of our money came from investors they brought in from Japan and Korea. Unfortunately I had
no "family" money to speak of, but we did geta significant investment from a friend of a friend. Now, after over a year of
doing film festival after film festival, Yellow finally has a U.S. theatrical distributor, two U.S. television deals, a Canadian
distributor, and just recently a distributor that will handle Yellow's release internationally.It's a relief that we have
an opportunity to make our money back and actually pay off the costs of the film. Especially when you consider that less than
1percent of all feature films made here in the U.S. ever get a theatrical release.WHAT I AM UP TO NOW: A
good chunk of my time still goes toward doing Yellow publicity. We just did LA, Austin, Denver, Anchorage, and San Francisco
before Seattle, and I have to accompany the film all over again for New York, Boston, Chicago and the midwest. reclaiming my life
In the meantime, I'm trying
to reclaim my life and get other things done. I'm just about finished with a music video I directed for SEAM in Chicago, who
has just released their fourth album "The Pace is Glacial". Their lead singer is this guy Sooyoung Park who has become a huge
role model for me, even thoughhe's only like 2 years older.
next script I've also been working on my next script for a while, I can't really
say anything yet but its pretty different from Yellow, and its the kind of film I've wanted to make for a long while.
spam, the luncheon meat Short term projects
include shooting a 35mm short film for a friend of mine, and shooting a documentary on SPAM, the luncheon meat, for PBS. I'm
the cinematographer on those two projects.
the dp I'm supposed to shoot (as director of photography) a feature film next spring.
It's an ensemble drama, and its budgeted at one million, so it will be the biggest film I've ever participated in. But I'm
hoping to be done with my script by that time, in which case it'd be nice to be too busy to shoot something else.
misc income My other immediate sources of income include doing odd computer special effects
jobs for the city government, and occassional quickie cinematography jobs. That kind of work lets you manage your own time
and with minimum commitment for good money. Oh yeah but the stuff I do for the city is really dull.
It's pretty amazing, it seems like everyone in my generation
has all this education and these highly developed skills, but we have the damndest time locating jobs at which we can apply
them. Will this downward spiral continue? Will our children be Harvard grads in their 40's, flipping burgers at their day
jobs and living at home with their parents? Probably not, they'll probably have robots flipping the burgers. So I guess our
kids will just be Harvard grads in their 40's living at home with their parents, watching tv.
Talk 2 you later,
Seattle's most prolific filmmaker, all duds? mostly!
He's rather pathetic in his quest to be recognized,
gain the glory he desires.
In fact, it's now this weird obsession of his to become successful in the film-world.
What he has gained is what most people would consider as 'success' but to him
it's not good enough. It is now 2005, he is still obsessing about it.
Ing is most recognizable by his "SPOT", that's how i remembered him, others
remember him by his persistence ( stalker like qualities) in meeting/dating Asian Women at community events & film
festivals. 99% of the women flinch at the sound of his name. He seems to perpetuate this stalker-quality by telling the women on his first line of greeting
" i'm a really nice guy "
which totally repels everyone.
I have seen him work at weirding people out, as i was once a supporter of his work, but
after working with him as CAMERA person on his latest documentary called " JIKKEN "
about Bill Blauvelt's musical ensemble- he really pissed me off (unprofessional
behavior while shooting performances) and
refusing to give me a copy of the footage that I SHOT in the video. It's VIDEO, as it
was shot on TAPE, he calls it a film, NOT.
" i decided to use a lot of your footage, after i saw your name on the
credits in the
Margaret Cho documentary "--doug
I found this out after he did his nyc debut in june 05 --!!!