Category Archives: Production

December 5–10, 2011 — LA Production Shoot

My main rea­son for trav­el­ing to LA was to inter­view Li Ling-Ai’s nephew Andrew Li who was a young boy of 8, liv­ing in Nanking when Rey Scott and Li Ling-Ai began pre-pro­duc­tion for KUKAN.

Photo of Robin Lung talking to Andrew Li

Ann Kaneko films FINDING KUKAN direc­tor Robin Lung meet­ing with Li Ling-Ai’s nephew Andrew Li.

I hoped to find out more infor­ma­tion from Andrew about Ling-Ai’s con­nec­tions in Chi­na at the time. Though I was able to gath­er some valu­able infor­ma­tion from my inter­view, the 5 days in LA turned out to be about so much more — a lot of it behind the scenes stuff that will nev­er make it into the documentary.

Get­ting to know the tal­ent­ed film­mak­er Ann Kaneko was one of the unex­pect­ed bonus­es of the trip. Thanks to gen­er­ous dona­tions from ear­ly FINDING KUKAN sup­port­ers, I was able to hire Ann for a cou­ple of days as my LA Direc­tor of Pho­tog­ra­phy. Hav­ing a dp with a real inter­est in the project and expe­ri­ence with both edit­ing and being a char­ac­ter in her own films was invaluable.

Photo of Ann Kaneko with Julio and Ceiba

Ann Kaneko with Julio and Ceiba

Wit­ness­ing Ann bal­anc­ing her ded­i­ca­tion to her work with the demands of rais­ing her 8‑month old daugh­ter Cei­ba was a real inspi­ra­tional shot-in-the-arm too.

Andrew Li inspects photographs

Andrew Li inspects photographs

As I lunched with Andrew Li, his daugh­ters Por­tia and Quin­cy, and his wife Gil­da I got a sense of the rich life Li Ling-Ai had beyond KUKAN and the pro­found rip­ple effect that per­son­al sto­ries can have through time and space.

Photo of the Reading Room of the Margaret Herrick Library

John Zain­er talks to Ed Carter in front of the $500,000 King Kong poster that dec­o­rates the Mar­garet Her­rick Library’s read­ing room.

 

Film­ing B‑roll scenes of Ed Carter at the Mar­garet Her­rick Library intro­duced me to this gor­geous build­ing and amaz­ing film his­to­ry resource for the first time (I am already think­ing of excus­es to return to spend more leisure­ly hours there).

Photo of Ann Kaneko and Rebecca Bozzo in Margaret Herrick Library

Ann Kaneko and Rebec­ca Boz­zo prep for a shoot at the Mar­garet Her­rick Library

It also gave me an excuse to hook up with the peren­ni­al­ly upbeat Rebec­ca Boz­zo again. Bec­ca is a ded­i­cat­ed young film­mak­er who shares a pas­sion for old movies and has been a FINDING KUKAN sup­port­er from almost day one.

photo of Dan & Denise Levenick with Robin Lung

Dan & Denise Lev­enick with Robin Lung

Dan & Denise Lev­enick invit­ed me to their home in Pasade­na to view their moth­er’s home movies and pho­tographs of 1930s Hawaii. Besides giv­ing me anoth­er rea­son to mar­vel at the gen­eros­i­ty and kind­ness of strangers, Dan and Denise pro­vid­ed me with pre­cious “before-my-time” knowl­edge of my home town.

Photo of AMPAS Preservationist Joe Lindner

AMPAS Preser­va­tion­ist Joe Lind­ner describes how curled the KUKAN film print is.

Talk­ing to AMPAS Pres­re­va­tion­ist Joe Lind­ner about the ardu­ous process of restor­ing KUKAN gave me new insights into the pre­cious nature of old film, the his­toric val­ue that even old home movies have, and the galling num­ber of films that have been destroyed by time.

Photo of Ille-Heid Zainer

Ille-Heid Zain­er and her fresh baked bread.

photo of John Zainer

John Zain­er’s 1971 VW Van was the per­fect LA pro­duc­tion vehicle.


Final­ly my hosts in LA, John and Ille-Heid Zan­er, pro­vid­ed me with an inti­mate view of what liv­ing in LA can be like, invit­ing me to neigh­bor­hood par­ties, pro­vid­ing home-cooked meals after long days of shoot­ing, chauf­fer­ing me around in vin­tage vehi­cles, and shar­ing Ille’s sis­ter Elke’s amaz­ing Christ­mas cook­ies with me.

Elke’s Cook­ies

The result is that after my 5‑day pro­duc­tion shoot in LA, a city that I once had a very low opin­ion of, I can’t wait to go back.

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July 23, 2011 — A Visit to the New York City Office of the National Archives

When I first start­ed check­ing to see if Li Ling-Ai could have been the real life inspi­ra­tion for the fic­tion­al detec­tive Lily Wu, I tracked down some of her trav­els through boat records that are avail­able on Ancestry.com.  One of the Ances­try records was a New York Exclu­sion file that list­ed the date of her arrival in San Fran­cis­co.  Going over the notes on the record again, I saw that Li Ling-Ai’s file includ­ed an inter­ro­ga­tion.  Since the inter­ro­ga­tion occurred only a year before Li Ling-Ai met Rey Scott and con­ceived of mak­ing the movie KUKAN, I was anx­ious to read through the inter­ro­ga­tion to see if it con­tained any clues.  In July I final­ly got a chance to vis­it the NYC office of the Nation­al Archives where Li Ling-Ai’s Exclu­sion file is located.

photo of Robin Lung at the NYC office of the National Archives

Robin Lung exam­ines Li Ling-Ai’s Chi­nese Exclu­sion File at the NYC office of the Nation­al Archives

It was amaz­ing­ly well-pre­served, and I had a lot of mixed emo­tions while exam­in­ing it.  On the one hand, I was excit­ed to see a pho­to­graph of Li Ling-Ai in the file that I had nev­er seen before and let­ters that were hand-writ­ten by her.  Han­dling the doc­u­ments gave me a very vis­cer­al con­nec­tion to the past and to this woman that I have been pur­su­ing for the last cou­ple of years.

photo of Li Ling-Ai's Chinese Exclusion File

Li Ling-Ai’s Chi­nese Exclu­sion File

On the oth­er hand I was appalled that this file exist­ed in the first place.  I had to think about the bla­tant anti-Chi­nese dis­crim­i­na­tion that led to The Chi­nese Exclu­sion Law — the rea­son for the cre­ation of the file I was touch­ing.  I was astound­ed that a U.S. cit­i­zen like Li Ling-Ai (she was born in Hawai‘i in 1908 when it was already a U.S. Ter­ri­to­ry) who had a U.S. Pass­port (doc­u­ment­ed in the file) would have to spend days at the NYC Immi­gra­tion Office in order to get a re-entry form that would make it pos­si­ble for her to come back to her own coun­try after leav­ing it!  And that she would have to sit through an inter­ro­ga­tion to prove that she was authen­tic despite all the oth­er doc­u­men­ta­tion she had made me even more indignant.

 

As a researcher, I was thank­ful to be able to access the reveal­ing infor­ma­tion in the file and draw both the pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive ener­gy from it.  So I have to acknowl­edge the hard work that goes into index­ing, stor­ing and retriev­ing these records.  That day at the Archives I wit­nessed two vol­un­teers who were labo­ri­ous­ly going through files and enter­ing data into lap­tops so that oth­ers like me could find infor­ma­tion about ances­tors and char­ac­ters from the past.  I wish I had got­ten their names and tak­en pho­tos of them if only to pay a small homage to all the oth­ers like them who have helped for­ward my investigation.

photo of documents in Li Ling-Ai's Chinese Exclusion File

Doc­u­ments in Li Ling-Ai’s Chi­nese Exclu­sion File

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July 11–16 Road Trip to Kennesaw & Tallahassee

Director Robin Lung behind the camera

Direc­tor Robin Lung films in Georgia

I was a more than a lit­tle ner­vous as I pre­pared for a trip to Geor­gia and Flori­da to meet descen­dants of KUKAN cam­era­man Rey Scott for the first time.  I was plan­ning to spend a week with Rey Scot­t’s grand­daugh­ter artist Michelle Scott and take a long road trip with her from her home in Ken­ne­saw, Geor­gia to her uncle’s house in Tal­la­has­see.  Michelle was on a mis­sion to find more of her grand­fa­ther’s pho­tographs and learn as much as she could about what he was like as a per­son.  I want­ed to tag along to doc­u­ment her search and poke around myself for addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion about Li Ling-Ai.
Michelle Scott in her studio.

Michelle Scott with a few paint­ings from her KUKAN series

As I packed my suit­case I wor­ried that since Michelle and I did­n’t real­ly know each oth­er the trip could be a total fias­co.  For­tu­nate­ly Michelle and the rest of the Scott fam­i­ly were so open­heart­ed and sup­port­ive that I felt instant­ly com­fort­able after meet­ing them and the trip was more suc­cess­ful than I could have imag­ined.   Wit­ness­ing Michelle’s pas­sion for her art and her com­mit­ment to pre­serv­ing her grand­fa­ther’s lega­cy infused me with new ener­gy to face all of the tedious things that go along with doc­u­men­tary film­mak­ing (like log­ging and tran­scrib­ing footage and writ­ing grant proposals).

Ray Scott

Ray Scott relax­es before interview.

I real­ize that gain­ing access to peo­ple and places out­side of my every­day com­fort zone is one of the immea­sur­able rewards of this process.  I’m look­ing for­ward to what the next road trip will bring me.

Mark Scott and Michelle Scott examine Rey Scott's cameras

Mark Scott and Michelle Scott exam­ine Rey Scot­t’s cam­eras as cam­era­man Kevin Deyo films the scene.

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July 10, 2011 Preparing for an Independent Shoot & Finding a Great Camera Store in NYC

A cou­ple of months ago I pur­chased a Pana­son­ic GH2 to take on my trip to NYC and Atlanta so that I could shoot some inter­views and footage of artist Michelle Scott — the tal­ent­ed grand­daugh­ter of KUKAN cam­era­man Rey Scott. As with most new cam­eras, it’s a learn as you go and make mis­takes process.  The sec­ond day in NYC, I had my bat­tery go out in a test inter­view and got a cor­rupt­ed mts file on the SD card (techie lan­guage for a screwup that you do not want to hap­pen dur­ing the real thing). I decid­ed I need­ed an AC adap­tor for the cam­era — that should be easy enough in the big apple shop­ping capi­tol, right?

Sur­prise, sur­prise, the two biggest cam­era stores in Man­hat­tan were out of stock. For­tu­nate­ly, I dis­cov­ered Alex & Tony at H & B Dig­i­tal on 46th Street. Not only did they have the part, but they were the sweet­est sales­men that I’ve run across in a long time. They patient­ly looked up how the adap­tor worked, let me test it, and then spent almost an hour advis­ing me about fil­ters and giv­ing me a pep talk about doing a shoot on my own — some­thing I have to face when the bud­get won’t tol­er­ate hir­ing a larg­er crew.

Tony & Alex at H & B Digital

So if you find your­self in NYC with cam­era needs, check Alex and Tony out on 46th St. They are a small shop, but well-stocked and have great prices too. Most of all they have a pas­sion for pho­tog­ra­phy & film­ing and seem to love what they do.

H & B Digital storefront

H & B Dig­i­tal storefront

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May 16, 2011 — Bryan Pearson Records Narration for Fundraising Trailer

British stage actor Bryan Pear­son stepped in to record a few lines of nar­ra­tion for the Find­ing KUKAN fundrais­ing trail­er cur­rent­ly in its final edit.

 

Finding KUKAN narrator Bryan Pearson

Bryan Pear­son and Robin Lung go over lines of nar­ra­tion for the FINDING KUKAN fundrais­ing trailer.

 

Bri­an refers to him­self as the “orig­i­nal Ter­mi­na­tor” since he played Thor in the 1959 cult clas­sic Teenagers from Out­er Space under his stage name Bryan Grant.

 

Bryan Pearson aka Bryan Grant as Thor

Bryan Pear­son aka Bryan Grant as Thor in TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE

 

I found Bri­an through a fas­ci­nat­ing loop of con­nec­tions that start­ed off when I inter­viewed war-time Chungk­ing jour­nal­ist Wing Yung Emery and sis­ter of Choy Wai Chuen, the first Chi­nese man to play at Wim­ble­don in 1948. The loop of con­nec­tion was made pos­si­ble by the dili­gence of Chris Essex, web­mas­ter for Fram­ling­ham Col­lege alum­ni. Fram­ling­ham was the prep acad­e­my that Choy Wai Chuen and Bryan Pear­son both went to.

Anoth­er eye-open­ing zig in the amaz­ing zig-zag jour­ney I’ve had since find­ing KUKAN.

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January 2011 — Work on the Fundraising Trailer Begins

Ron Darby on set

Ron Dar­by sets up for an interview

Cam­era­man Ron Dar­by and Pro­duc­er Robin Lung begin film­ing inter­views and b‑roll in Hawaii for the Find­ing KUKAN fundrais­ing trailer.

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April 2010 — Only copy of KUKAN Arrives at AMPAS for Restoration

Robin Lung & Leigh Mierke prepare to film the initial inspection of KUKAN at AMPAS

Robin Lung & Leigh Mierke pre­pare to film the ini­tial inspec­tion of KUKAN at AMPAS

Pro­duc­er Robin Lung trav­els to Los Ange­les to film the arrival of the only known full print of the 1941 Oscar-win­ning doc­u­men­tary KUKAN at the Acad­e­my Motion Pic­ture Arts and Sci­ences Film Archives in Los Ange­les. Pre­vi­ous­ly “lost” for decades, the print is bad­ly dam­aged and needs a full restoration.

An inter­view with AMPAS doc­u­men­tary cura­tor Ed Carter reveals inter­est­ing facts about the film, but leaves many ques­tions unanswered.

Ed Carter inspecting KUKAN film reel

AMPAS doc­u­men­tary cura­tor Ed Carter inspects KUKAN film reel

 

Film­ing at AMPAS was made pos­si­ble by the gen­er­ous help of fel­low doc­u­men­tary pro­duc­er Rebec­ca Boz­zo (Frank Borzage, Direc­tor) and cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er Leigh Mierke.

My dear friend and tal­ent­ed musi­cian John Zain­er pitched in as sound man.

Leigh Mierke and John Zainer film Ed Carter opening KUKAN shipping box.
Leigh Mierke and John Zain­er film Ed Carter open­ing KUKAN ship­ping box.
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