INTERVIEW: Tanya Giang

Behold, the two redheads!

Of all the interviews I have done to date, I'd actually say I have had more interaction with Tanya than with any of the others. We've had several somewhat lengthy Twitter conversations, something that I can not claim for many of the others. When I saw her project on IndieGogo I was immediately taken by the humor of their pitch video. So, with that in mind, I decided much like "The Expedition" before this, that I wanted to feature her project in a special way, and give her the opportunity to discuss it in her own words.   

Also, I like interviews.  

Below, I ask Tanya a seemingly random series of questions, for her take on "Staging Grief", Cameras, and Crowd-funding in general. Now, watch this short video, and read the interview that follows!

 

ME: Staging Grief sounds like a very personal story. How does that level of personal involvement effect your writing process? Is it easier to write something you are that invested in?

TANYA: Almost everything I've ever written began with a single line of dialogue that stuck with me so much that I start to write a scene around it. It doesn't always make the final draft, but it serves as a jumping point. Typically, it's a feeling or statement that is personal to me. I then step outside my personal involvement to try to be objective and find the story. When I wrote my web series about online dating in LA, it began with "What is it with guys and naked pictures? Why do boobs make men stupid?" Staging Grief began with my own observation about the 5 stages of grief and denial in particular. It then turned into a very specific story of one girl losing her mind over grief. As a filmmaker, I enjoy writing about things I'm invested in. But I don't know if it makes it harder or easier to write - when it's such an emotional investment. Sometimes it's both.

A few years ago, I started seeing someone who got diagnosed with cancer and then passed away at the age of 25. We had a lot of mutual friends, and it was inspiring to see how close we all became. At the same time though, there were people in my life who didn't understand what I was going through. It wasn't easy transitioning back to "normal" life, and there were many moments when I felt alone and misunderstood. I struggled to figure out what to do with these emotions until enough time had passed that I could write about it and not break down crying. When I decided my flip my own feelings on its head and turn it into a dark comedy, that's when I felt the freedom to finish the script and have a good laugh.

ME: Are there any major influences that you are drawing on when writing this particular film?

TANYA: Two of my favorite films that influenced me when I was writing Staging Grief are Amelie and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I love the quirky aspects of the former, the sense of the absurd in the everyday. I listened to the soundtrack a lot when I was trying to get a mood of the scene. Eternal Sunshine resonated with me with its play on reality vs the imagination, how the story weaves the two. I'm just such a huge fan of both films.

ME: Staging Grief is set to be a short film. How short is short, and if you were able, would you make it longer?

TANYA: Right now, I'm estimating the running time to be 20-25 minutes. I think that's a good length for this particular story. I wanted to explore the five stages of grief in moments, and I don't think that lends itself to a feature length. Should I ever go back to make it longer, I would most likely rewrite it to be a little more fluid and have a different narrative arc. I like that short films can be a little more untraditional in storytelling.

ME: I want to step away from Staging Grief for just a moment. What would your dream project be? If you had unlimited funds, what type of movie would you like to make?

TANYA: I would want to make SO MANY MOVIES!!! My dream project? That's like asking me to pick my one favorite movie or TV show. I'm a self-professed TV/film junkie. I love so many different genres. I grew up watching kung fu movies, musicals, classics like 12 Angry Men and Some Like It Hot, almost all Audrey Hepburn films, all the 80s big action flicks, Columbo, etc. My current heroes include Joss Whedon, JJ Abrams, Shonda Rhimes and Christopher Nolan.

I would love to make a great female superhero movie, one where the focus isn't on her love life or skin tight revealing spandex. Just an average woman with extraordinary gifts, who's as complex and interesting as Batman or even Tony Stark. That's my big-budget dream. My other personal dream would also be a film that's more personal and specific. As a first generation Asian-American daughter of a war refugee, I think my family's story is amazing. And I think it's time there's a Vietnam War movie that is from the POV of the Vietnamese fighting to survive. So yeah. Superheroes and war. Go figure.

ME: You're using the Red Scarlet to shoot this film. Nice little piece of machinery there. What made you choose this particular camera?

TANYA: I'm of the belief that talent will get you much further than equipment. Roger Deakins can probably shoot the shit out of an iPhone. I love my Director of Photography Zac Eubank's reel. I had the opportunity to meet him and Becca Scott (they head Aren't We Clever Productions) through a web series film festival. I think they're interesting and fantastic people to work with. It just happened that Zac came with his Red Scarlet. That made it easy to choose that camera, haha.

ME: After Staging Grief is in the can, what do you have lined up next?

TANYA: I currently work in television casting, so I need to figure out when my next hiatus will be after August before tackling anything of this size or larger. In the meantime, there are a few web shorts I'm thinking about that I can do on the weekends. I have a talented friend Will Link who's a writer and essayist, and I'm working on coming up with a visual component to his essay on his first strip club experience....it's a really funny essay. I wouldn't tackle a strip club without a good script. Julie (of 2 Redhead Productions) and I are also kicking around the idea of a documentary regarding immigration and artist visas. But that would be a long-term project in the making.

ME: The independent film scene can be a cruel and unforgiving mistress. How do you think sites like Kickstarter and IndieGogo have changed the way independent films are made?

TANYA: I think the first thing that changed independent films was access to equipment. Having prosumer-level cameras and gear really allowed people to tackle more ambitious projects. Crowdfunding sites give aspiring filmmakers like myself a chance to take it a step further and afford the talent that makes a film, crew and cast. Everyone working on Staging Grief is already working in some aspect of their craft already. In order for me to have their time, I have to be able to pay them something. Unless I start dating a multi-millionaire who really loves me and independent film, sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo make it possible for me. I think it also allows you to build your audience during pre-production, and find out who's interested in the final product. I think it makes independent film scene harder insomuch as there's SO MANY out there. How can I make Staging Grief stand out? Who's going to give me, a stranger, $20 to make a film? But it makes it easier by providing a hope you can get it done. And people will follow and believe in you. You just have to show them you're professional, you're someone worth helping, and that the final film is something worth watching.

ME: Readers of my site will be familiar with my love of Kickstarter, what made you choose IndieGogo over Kickstarter. 

TANYA: Honestly, I struggled with choosing between the two for quite a while. They each have their pros and cons. And I also recently discovered Seed&Spark, which is a super cool new crowdfunding platform as well. But I had already started on Indiegogo, so it didn't factor into my decision. I know a lot of proponents of Kickstarter say it's a sexier website and the sense of urgency compels people to donate more. But I've found that the people who are going to back me don't care what site it is. Have you tried asking your 65yo aunt if she can go online instead of giving you cash? And at the end of the day, this is my first crowdfunding project. I have a full-time job and a freelance job in addition to being in pre-production. I know how time-intensive running a campaign can be, and it came down to a healthy dose of fear, to be blunt. Flexible funding was the most attractive aspect to someone who's totally new to this. But it doesn't negate the sense of urgency I do have and I do try to promote. If we don't make our goal, Indiegogo takes 9% instead of 4%. And if we don't make our goal, some people can't get paid or the project doesn't get finished. 

ME: In your project video you appear to briefly riff on the "Celebrity" crowd-funding concept. Do you think the influx of celebrity projects is helping draw attention to the crowd-funding concept, or hurting by pulling funds away from smaller independent projects?

TANYA: Again here, I think celebrity projects both help and hurt the crowdfunding concept. I don't think they necessarily pull FUNDS away from smaller projects. Someone who's only going on the site to give to Zach Braff because they love Garden State may not stay to see what else is there. I think the people who give to Staging Grief, outside of family and friends, will be people who support indie film, people who support women filmmakers, people who feel connected to the idea and find our pitch funny, people who feel we can execute and deliver what we say we can, and people I ask really nicely. Pretty please. But I think it draws ATTENTION away from the smaller projects, and that is dangerous. When the two most popular films on Indiegogo right now are by James Franco and Shemar Moore, it's a little daunting and frustrating to anyone without star power. How does one get featured above that billing? How do I find the people who will support me, when they may not be able to find me?  

ME:  Why do hate that poor dog so much? 

TANYA: Did you ever notice in movies how, if there's a dog trapped in a car in the path of pending doom, someone will always go back to save him? That dog (her name is Guinness, btw. Like the beer.) IS Staging Grief. The pending doom is the days left on our campaign. We need you to save the dog. Save the dog, save the film.

ME: Any advice for the future film makers of the world?

TANYA:

  1. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do something. Unless it's illegal...then never mind, you should listen to them. I'm an ethnic female on my way to my directorial debut. Part of that is because I continually heard there's no place for me in Hollywood. Instead of letting that defeat me, I just worked harder.
  2. Build a professional reputation for yourself from the very beginning. Treat everyone with respect, and deliver what you say you can. Indie film is built on collaboration these days, and you want to make sure you have a network of people you can rely you who trust you in return. Yesterday's PA is tomorrow's Oscar winner. You don't want to piss them off.
  3. Have fun. Have so much fun.

ME: Anything else you would like to add?

TANYA: I have said throughout this campaign that every single dollar helps, and anyone who wants to support indie film can find a way. No donation is too small....or too large. Don't be embarrassed to take that Exec Producer credit. Stand proud! In return, I have contributed to 3 Indiegogo, 2 Kickstarter and 1 Seed&Spark campaigns over the last month. They were projects and filmmakers I believed in. My promise has always been that I would never ask for money if I wasn't prepared to do the same. I think a film community means we're stronger together and we should all strive to help each other succeed. Yes, I realize that sounds very new age-y and karma-ish and The Secret-eque. I am your personal fortune cookie. 

Many thanks to everyone so far for their help, generosity, and patience with my Twitter feed. Your support means the world to me. Helping Staging Grief means helping a film crew get paid. That just doesn't happen nearly enough in independent film world. AND the budget is to finish the film. I promise, I won't ask you for more money for Staging Grief production. Scout's honor. Thank you again. And no puppies were harmed in the making of this interview.

 

Now, for a little evidence of just how much Tanya will do for her backers, this short little ditty (not about Jack or Diane). 

Some Behind the scenes stuff about Location scouting!