Nov 30th, 2020
In this episode, I welcome Anh Le! Anh is a student filmmaker in the Bay Area, currently working on producing a feature film addressing a story about Vietnamese culture and PTSD. She shares about her filmmaking journey, her advice for artists, and how to accomplish your biggest artistic goals! (Fun fact: the cover image for this episode is artwork for Anh's new film, "Flaws of an Everlasting Memory.")
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Episode 29 - Anh Le
Lindsey Dinneen: Hello, and welcome to Artfully Told, where we share true stories about meaningful encounters with art.
[00:00:08] Krista: I think artists help people have different perspectives on every aspect of life.
[00:00:14] Roman: All I can do is put my part into the world.
[00:00:16] Elizabeth: It doesn't have to be perfect the first time. It doesn't have to be perfect ever really. I mean, as long as you, you're enjoying doing it and you're trying your best, that can be good enough.
[00:00:24] Elna: Art is something that you can experience with your senses and that you just experience as so beautiful.
[00:00:32]Lindsey Dinneen: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of Artfully Told. I'm your host Lindsey, and I am so excited to have as my guest today, Anh Le. She is a student filmmaker from the Bay Area who is working on a feature film that touches on Vietnamese culture and how people cope with PTSD. So she is actively working on projects that use art to change culture and opinions and everything that I just love that art can do. So I am so excited to have you today and to be able to share art with you. So thank you so much for being here, Ahn.
[00:01:16] Anh Le: Thank you very much, Lindsey, for having me here. I am so excited to share you about my endeavors for film and also to help filmmakers around here in the Bay Area and across the United States.
[00:01:28] Lindsey Dinneen: Excellent. Well, I would love if you would share a little bit about your story, maybe some of your background, how you got into filmmaking, all those great things.
[00:01:39] Anh Le: Sure. I got to film probably much longer than I would have thought of, but I didn't realize it until I went out to college. In the past, I had worked with poetry, graphic design and prose, short stories, but haven't gotten in touch into film quite yet. I still remember back in 2012, when I was watching the Academy Awards for the first time. And there was the 50th anniversary of "The Sound of Music," one of my most favorite films of all time. I really want to get up there someday. And after getting into the film classes, I have a much more profound appreciation of the independent films that my professors have taught me. And from here, I don't think it matters whether I go to Hollywood or not, but I really want to utilize film to heal the wounds of society.
[00:02:33] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah, I think that's really amazing. And you know, at the very beginning we had briefly talked about, even before we got on that, you're actually working on a feature film right now. Can you tell us more about? Oh my goodness. What a cool opportunity that is just how that kind of all came about.
[00:02:53] Anh Le: Yeah, sure. Last semester I was in a screenwriting class and there was this story that I wanted to do as a short film, but after developing the story much further, I realized this has to be a feature film I need to make sometime while using the Vietnamese language. Because I was introduced to some films, like “Co Ba Saigon” and “Em Chua 18,” which are pretty great films and hilarious ones as well, but also has a really deep touch into there. With these films, I incorporate a lot of the French classic cinema style in here as well as some films like, "Her" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" to really great romance films and created "Flaws of an Everlasting Memory."
[00:03:40] This follows a story of a lonely uptime lexicographer who struggles to find love in Saigon while grappling with untimely death of his first love. A lexicographer is someone who studies about the language that they're given and they also see how it evolves and how it can be incorporated into the dictionary. I thought it was fascinating because when I took Vietnamese classes at a younger age, I thought that I would be adequate enough to understand what people are saying and I'm writing about. But when I went over to Vietnam, there seems to be a huge change in how people use slang and also interact with each other. So I want to utilize that evolution for this film and also twist this romance with a little bit of mental health to show that sometimes we don't need to find the perfect person for companionship. Sometimes companionship can be found just within five steps of each other, such as your best friend, or maybe your coworker. Or someone that, that you've been in a long time getting in touch with.
[00:04:52] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah. Yeah. I think that's incredible. And what a cool story to have gone from potentially this short story to fully kind of evolved. So are you still in the writing process or are you more already into the production process and all of that?
[00:05:12]Anh Le: In this film, I actually just recently finished translating the script. Of course, there will be minor changes along the way. I have selected actors that are suitable for the roles I'm looking for. And I also have to identify maybe there's a certain way they say something that I might change it, or maybe the works that I've provided for them, it's a bit stilted. And it's not comfortable with them. So I might change that too. But for the most part, the story structure has been solid at the moment. My team and I are focusing on a Holly Jolly Fundraiser. Now this is one of the more expensive films we're working on, although in the industry, they consider this as, I believe a medium, moderate, low budget. It's in the $325,000 range. And it's crazy. This is a low, a low budget, but we're doing our best to reach out to potential donors. And we've been fiscally sponsored by a wonderful nonprofit called From the Heart Productions who focuses on supporting indie filmmakers like us, that intend to make an impact in society.
[00:06:27]Lindsey Dinneen: I love that. Yeah, and so that's probably a new area, even for you to explore perhaps with the fundraising aspect, but how has COVID and all the precautions and all the things that you need to take, how has that affected your process?
[00:06:45] Anh Le: Originally, I was intending to switch to a different profession, which is web design or communications, because it was something that was, that seemed more stable compared to some of the art related careers. A lot of the film industry has shut down and right now they're slowly trying to get back up as more people are trying to get the content out there. But I was fortunate enough to have met a colleague who I met at my college, and she's also the family advisory board at my university. She helps me a lot and understanding about the pursuit of dreams. And she's, she's really the one who got me back in check. I consider her as a fairy godmother to me. And from there I've been utilizing my knowledge to help all filmmakers. Whenever I network with them, I also shared my knowledge on how to network with people, how to get fundraising for donors. And also some photography tips, because I also love to do photography as a hobby, especially modeling photography.
[00:07:55] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah. Excellent. And so do you have any kind of timeline in mind or is it still sort of in process and we'll see how it goes?
[00:08:08] Anh Le: Our goal is to do the music recording at Skywalker Sound. So this studio has been known for doing sound mixing and also music producing for, for example, "The Last Black Man in San Francisco," some Pixar films, and even some Star Wars films. I have a very talented music producer named Logan Gammill, who I met at West Valley College. I was introduced by a friend and he's been helping me a lot with the original score. And composing the original song ever since. So this victory, and I want, I want him to achieve his full recording there as well. When it comes to the production itself, we intend to do it in July . Of course, this may change or hinder depending of the conditions of COVID-19, but we hope to get all the cast and crew here in the Bay Area to bring this film to life.
[00:09:06] Lindsey Dinneen: Wow. That is so cool. This must be such an amazing dream come true. I can only imagine how excited you must feel, but it's, it's massive. So on a day-to-day basis, how are you prioritizing tasks and things like that? I mean, this is, it's a fantastic undertaking, but at times I would imagine it would feel a little maybe daunting.
[00:09:32] Anh Le: Yes, it is, it is kind of shocking. I have a few colleagues that told me, like, why are you doing a feature film? Like, you know, you could have, you could've done a short film instead, and this is the craziest thing. And I look at myself and I was like, yeah, this is crazy. Why did I, why did I move on with this? You could have stopped me. But, so I, I am very fortunate to have producers who work with me a lot whom are students attending schools in the Bay Area. And I'm, unto myself and attending school while getting involved in clubs. There's a lot of time management here, but with what I've done at my college, I think I can handle this workload so far. And I wouldn'd have been able to focus a lot with the artistic side without my friends' support.
[00:10:19] So I have some people who are involved in, for example, business administration, psychology. And these, there are some students who are not filmmakers, but the quality of their work has convinced me to have them involve my team. They're great colleagues that I've worked with so far, and they have done some outstanding work such as the website, the fundraising plan. And we have also reached out to grants and full festival opportunities across some of the world.
[00:10:50] Lindsey Dinneen: That is really cool. And so out of curiosity, do you plan to film mostly in the Bay Area or does the film, will you end up being filmed a few other places or how's that all gonna work out?
[00:11:06] Anh Le: For the majority part, yes, we will be filming in the Bay Area. We will be utilizing some spaces in San Francisco. I haven't contacted this place yet, but there's a beautiful library at UC Berkeley. I've been seeing some pictures. And this is where my inspiration comes to mind for a particular library scene in my film, and also utilizing San Jose and some nearby locations as well. Even though my film takes place in Saigon, due to the financial limitations, it may not be achievable, but I believe I can try to accommodate the look with what the Bay Area can offer. I mean, for example, I, I actually learned from the movie "Her," although the story seems to take place in Southern California, they also had shot their scenes in Shanghai and I didn't realize it. And it was incredible what they can do with the visual manipulation and creativity.
[00:12:05]Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, when you're dedicated and willing to be creative and to creatively solve things, then of course the world is so much more open to you. So that's, that's really cool to hear. I commend you. So I'm, I'm curious, obviously you have a lot of passion for the film and for the story, what sort of settled you on this particular storyline, especially perhaps if you're willing to speak to the mental health aspect of it, which is so important to talk about. But what kind of led you to realize, or whatever that this was something that really needed, a story that really needed to be told?
[00:12:50]Anh Le: I was actually first inspired by a short film I worked on called “Sarah King” with Colby Cao, and in this story, it tells us about a sister who was struggling to mourn over her older sister's loss. My taking in bad things like, like drugs, and from there, I felt that PTSD, I had watched some films and heard different stories about PTSD and they come in different levels and different experiences. So I want to test out and see what I can do in the shadow of romance, because there must have been people who have experienced trauma of losing a loved one in the past. And I want to understand how people cope with it. There are a lot of families and communities right now who don't understand too much about mental health and they, they might've think of this as something that can easily be gone away, like you'll have some medication or you'll heal in time, but what the people who might contact and learn about there are some mental health, like PTSD that lingers for a much longer time. And I want to bring out for that in the spotlight. So that way people can understand, "Oh, this is how some people may experience it." And of course, while this, this movie is a fictional story, everyone experiences mental health in different levels in different ways. And in order to help them out, we also need to understand their story, their background. And from there we are, we'll be able to utilize our strengths and our community connections in order to support them rather than saying, "Oh, this, this is something that can be easily bored away with time."
[00:14:50]Lindsey Dinneen: Yes, absolutely. So I'm curious, we kind of learned how you got into filmmaking, but I'm curious--since obviously you're interested in the arts in general-- how did you come to the conclusion that filmmaking was the best way to tell this story? I'm sure that it is, but I'm just curious since there are in theory, other ways to share this story, have you ever considered other paths, or is filmmaking like--well, it, it needs to be told this way for this reason?
[00:15:24] Anh Le: I have done poetry, short story writing. Those have never been published before. I mostly, most likely did it with my school assignments and also for the scholarship opportunities. And as a hobby, I felt that what's filmmaking--a lot of people would be able to have much wider access when it comes to the visual representation, because I do have some symbolism in mine that connects more or less with the Vietnamese culture that may not be obtained with a book, or written material in general. I feel that by utilizing film, not only are we able to engage a lot with the language and the overall look, but also with sound, because sound I recall from my classes is 50% of your fill or actually even more. And without sound, we wouldn't be really able to perceive the intensity and depth of the film. There are a lot of people who think visuals are important, but visuals can only extend you so far. Like in, I remember when I was traveling, in Vietnam the way, obviously the way people talk was different from here in the Bay Area, the ambulance sounds were different. The sirens of the police cars were definitely different. And also the texture and the field environment is different. Even though Saigon, we have this metropolis city that's growing, it's different from the look that we see in New York or Chicago or even San Francisco. And you can definitely tell when you, whenever you traveled there.
[00:17:13] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah. That makes complete sense. Thank you. Well, I'm also curious, so, are there any stories that come to mind either from growing up or maybe even in this process of creating this film where you just had this moment of connecting with art in some way, and you thought, "Wow, I have to remember this because this is a moment that matters that, where art made an impact."
[00:17:42]Anh Le: I would say, it's pretty weird to say that a lot of the films I've made come from my dreams and sometimes they come with different blurbs. I just don't understand where it would go. Like I, I remember I was dreaming for this particular film there was an argument between, the two main characters and this came from an inspiration, as I said, from a short film, I was working on. I was thinking about it. And for some reason, like three to four weeks, I was stuck in, in this dream trying to understand, "Okay, what are the characters arguing about?" What are they, what are stressing about, what are the flaws that we have here? And after that, it was a challenge actually writing this particular story in order because of the twist that is involved. I had to work backwards. So I, I had written the ending. I knew what would happen to the characters, but I didn't know how to begin it. So I had to float us backwards. I had worked on a couple other scripts that deal with different social topics. And at the same time, they're more or less inspired by other films I've seen that come into dream as well. Of course, I don't remember every single one of my dream, but when I do remember, I jot it down in the book. Sometimes the dreams may not relate each other. And when I have an assignment or something that I can think of, that's when I really put these pieces together and understand what my characters are doing and why they want to achieve their goals.
[00:19:19]Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah. And what a fascinating writing process, the fact that, yeah, you started with the ending and then worked backwards from there. I kind of love that. I haven't ever actually written them, but I've had a few instances of things like that, where I thought," Oh, this is a good ending, but I don't even know how to begin it." So that's pretty cool. Excellent. Well, you had mentioned earlier with your networking and trying to help other artists as well--and I love that, I think that's so important, especially collaboration-- but is there any particular advice that you would give to someone who wants to pursue a artistic endeavor, especially-- well, actually, let me just start there and then I'll ask a follow-up question.
[00:20:05] Anh Le: For someone who's pursuing an artistic endeavor in general, I would stretch out what kind of goals you want to achieve. For example, in five years, in 10 years, because I have met very talented people who have changed their position from being an artist to maybe something that's more substantial. Like I said, computer engineering, communications, business administration, but at the same time that people have met, they haven't solidified down what kind of projects or goals that they want to make. So I would first find that out because that will more or less determined how you want to pursue a goal. Because without that, without those goals, if you just want to become a filmmaker, that may be a challenge to really going for what kind of position you want. At the same time for filmmaking, they come in so many different avenues. You can utilize it for commercialism. I'm sure a lot of business, they will need this kind of art in order to promote their products as well. So we've seen that out in the field and not the same time. YouTube is highly accessible. So really understanding your goals, making plans and really going forward them will help you pursue a lot more in the art field rather than just saying, "Oh, I want to become an artist and I'm going to make stuff."
[00:21:38]Lindsey Dinneen: Yes. Thank you for that. I think that is really incredible advice. And I want to highlight something that you said that I often also say, especially when I am talking about pursuing dreams--but you had said that there are many avenues, and I think that's such an important concept of--you know, as an artist, flexibility is sort of part of the job, but that's an exciting element of the job. So there are always so many avenues to a dream. And if one particular one doesn't quite pan out the way that you thought, there are so many more, if you're willing to explore them. So thank you for that, because I think that's just a very incredibly important observation. And then my part B for that question is what you're doing is undertaking a huge dream and goal. And I have so much admiration and respect for that. I think that that is incredible. What kind of advice would you give to someone who has a dream on that scale?
[00:22:49] Anh Le: For that scale, again, I would say understand your goals and how you want to go forth with your career--and when you make the plans for those of course, I'm sure COVID-19 has ruined a lot of plans for everyone--but backup plans also help us well. I've also met artists who have full-time jobs and part-time jobs with their main career. And you like see film as part of their main dream. You know, some people have been secretly making films in the attic or in the backyard or something, and it worked out. Some of them have won festivals and such. So really art doesn't need too much. It really needs a goal to motivate people to pursuing it. Because without that, I mean, it will be very difficult to strive for your dream if you don't have a vision for it.
[00:23:49] Lindsey Dinneen: Yes, so true. Thank you for that. That was great. Well, I have a few questions that I always like to ask my guests if you're okay with that.
[00:23:58] Anh Le: No problem, ask away.
[00:24:00] Lindsey Dinneen: Wonderful. So, first of all, how do you personally define art or what is art to you?
[00:24:07] Anh Le: To me, art is something where for me I can utilize to heal the wounds of society. But it's also a very interesting way of expressing storytelling because I've seen, for example, abstract art, and I'm an artist myself too. So sometimes I see it and I just connected with things maybe, for example, the sun or, or like the womb of someone, every person sees art differently. And, even with one movie, people can say so many things. For example, like, one person can say, "Oh, from this movie, I learned more about domestic abuse and the effects of it." But another person might say, "I've learned about the importance of having a mentor in life." So you can have one movie. It's the same exact story. But so many different takes. And I think art has pursued the same way, because it is a way where we share, we share stories and everyone takes, has different take based on how they were raised, how they were influenced by art and so forth.
[00:25:21]Lindsey Dinneen: Yes, absolutely. Great. And what do you think is the most important role of an artist?
[00:25:28] Anh Le: The most important role of an artist? I believe it's really getting their story out there because again, stories can come in so many different forms from sculptures and ceramics and everything that you can imagine. I know a lot of people of color are really trying to get their stories out there in the industry. And definitely there has been much more opportunity for them than there has ever before though. So, in COVID-19 the opportunities now, people can start connecting with each other much more easily, rather than going face-to-face and location that might cost them, might have much more cost to an artist anticipated. So really taking the opportunity now to share these stories, or even put these stories in development. So that way they could bring more awareness to the world or even enhance a beauty of a particular culture.
[00:26:24]Lindsey Dinneen: I love that. Okay. And then my final question, and I'll define my terms a little bit, but do you think that art should be inclusive or exclusive? And what I mean by that is for inclusive, the artist shares something, you know, what they've created with the world and gives a little bit of context behind that could be as simple as a title, or it could be something where it's program notes, or an explanation of what the artist was thinking, versus exclusive referring to an artist who puts their art out into the world and doesn't provide much context behind it. So it's more up to the audience to decide. If that makes sense.
[00:27:07] Anh Le: Wow, this is one of those questions you got me stumped. So I really believe it depends on the artist itself, because for me, I want to be inclusive and exclusive on my art because not only am I going to share my narrative towards my community, but also want to see the unique perspectives that they will provide to the film. Because, that will allow me to know, "Oh, this is what they pay attention to. This is what's significant to them." Maybe for some other artists, they rather be more inclusive or they'd rather be more exclusive. It really depends on each person. And, everything has a storytelling process. So each person, they're first in what perspective they want to tell. That's, that's what I have to say.
[00:27:57] Lindsey Dinneen: Awesome. Thank you. So I'm curious, is there a way for us to kind of keep in step with you a little bit as you work towards the production of this film and maybe connect with you personally, especially if anyone's seeking additional advice, is there a way for us to do that?
[00:28:16] Anh Le: Sure. I have a website for my feature film. So the feature film title is "Flaws of an Everlasting Memory" and yes, it is a long title. So we narrowed it down to the initials FOAEM.com. It has all the informations for all of our film, and I believe there is an About page where you can reach out to the creative team, with the email, LinkedIn, and maybe even their portfolios. I know I put my portfolio up there if anyone wants access to it. And, I'd be more than happy to connect with anyone who would simply like to network or is looking for advice, or wants to have a tea day out because I, I sure do love drinking tea during this time of quarantine, and connecting with people.
[00:29:07] Lindsey Dinneen: Absolutely. And then would there be a way--is your fundraising that you're doing right now--say some of our listeners are inspired to help support your endeavor--is there a way for them to do this? Is this a public fundraiser that they can participate in?
[00:29:25] Anh Le: Yes, there is a public fundraiser. So we put up this campaign called the Holly Jolly Campaign and the link, it is tinyurl.com/foaemhjc2020. In this campaign, we provide different perks that include our work of poetry, graphic design, and specifically for those in the Bay Area, we would offer photography services because, you can have included for your portfolio, your biography, LinkedIn, and whatsoever. But the other two perks are much more accessible to a wider community. They were more than happy to share these perks with any donation that they're able to provide.
[00:30:16] Lindsey Dinneen: Perfect. Awesome. Well, thank you again so very much for being my guest today. You were awesome. I completely comend everything that you're doing. Congratulations. This is so cool. I personally cannot wait to follow your journey and success and future success. So thank you so much for being here and for sharing your art with the world. I know that what you're doing is making a difference and it will bring about some change. And so thank you so much.
[00:30:49] Anh Le: Yeah, thank you very much for having me involved, Lindsey. I'm looking forward to see more artists coming from your podcast because I surely love enjoying listening on your stories and support.
[00:31:00] Lindsey Dinneen: Awesome. Well, and thank you so much for everyone who has listened to this episode. I truly appreciate your support. And I hope that you have a day that is absolutely fantastic. And if you're feeling as inspired as I am, I would love if you would share this episode with a friend or two and we will catch you next time.
[00:31:26] If you have a story to share with us, we would love that so much. And I hope your day has been Artfully Told.
[00:31:35] Hey, Artfully Told listeners, it's Lindsey here. I want to say, first of all, thank you so very much for your continued support of Artfully Told, for listening to the episodes, and for being a part of bringing art to the world. I really believe that what we're doing is important and matters, and I'm just excited to share art with you on a continual basis. I do want to reach out to you. I do the whole podcasts myself from the interviews themselves to the editing, to the transcribing, and then of course posting and all that good stuff. And I absolutely love what I do, but it is both time-consuming and expensive to run a podcast. I have to have the proper equipment, and then of course the proper editing software and hosting platform. And in order to continue to be able to do this on a sustainable basis for the future, I'm asking our listeners, if you guys would consider supporting the podcast. Even a very small monthly donation, like $5 a month, would really go a long way towards me being able to continue to do this in the future. And so I have set up a PayPal account that you can access through the artfully told website, which is www.artfullytold.podbean.com. And I would love if you would consider just making a monthly reoccurring donation to support the podcast. We don't have corporate sponsors. So everything that you hear is me doing this from a labor of love. And I love it, but I would ask if you would perhaps consider supporting it too. Thank you so much. Have an amazing day and I'll catch you next time.