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Category Archives: Production
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.I was a more than a little nervous as I prepared for a trip to Georgia and Florida to meet descendants of
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cameraman Ron Darby and Producer Robin Lung begin filming interviews and b‑roll in Hawaii for the Finding KUKAN fundraising trailer.
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.
My dear friend and talented musician John Zainer pitched in as sound man.