Reel Asian Celebrates AHM! Interview with Stephanie Law

Happy Asian Heritage Month! This May, we will be highlighting Reel Asian filmmakers participating in our annual Asian Heritage Month School Tour. These selected filmmakers will be visiting schools in the GTA and York Region to present their films and speak about a variety of social issues and filmmaking approaches.

Check out the first installment of our interview series with Stephanie Law!

Please introduce yourself and us what you do. How did you first get into filmmaking?

Hey, I’m Steph! And I’m a filmmaker/writer. It’s taken me years to say that with confidence. To own up to the fact that this is who I am, and this is what I want to do with my life. Though I’ve been in love with movies since I was a little kid, I didn’t think I could actually pursue this career path until my last year of high school. Since I’m a writer first and foremost, I started writing short stories, poetry, and plays in high school, and that naturally progressed to screenwriting. I didn’t really start learning about filmmaking and making films until university – I guess I’m a late bloomer in that respect.

I completely understand what you mean when you say that it’s taken you years to confidently state your role and what you do! So I’m very happy to hear you say this.

Since you are primarily a writer, what type of genre/stories do you usually write about? i.e. comedy, drama..etc

That’s a great question! I’ve written feature/TV/short spec scripts that have ranged from animation, big budget action, comedy, satire to drama. I do tend to add humour to my work, and often with a good dose of heart. But basically, I follow the story. If there’s a story that I’m burning to tell, it usually will reveal itself to me as either a comedy or drama – I realize that sounds very weird, but it’s true. Though, in the commercial filmmaking/TV world, there is an advantage to specializing in one genre. I will rebel against this for as long as I can. 😉

Any suggestions and tips for other writers out there who are trying to write their own stories and scripts?

You will see this in every screenwriting book, and it sounds so simple, but it’s true: write every day. Until you treat screenwriting like a job, it will only ever be a hobby for you. Athletes train intensely to stay on top of their game; it’s no different for writers. Also, find the heart of your story. Find the reason why you and ONLY you can tell this story – what makes it special to you? If you can tap into this, then guaranteed, we, as an audience, will feel where you’re coming from, and buy into your vision. Lastly, read scripts – professional scripts and scripts written by peers. Be generous and honest in your feedback, and with any luck, your readers will return the favour.

I love this answer! It’s so easy to lose sight and somewhere along the line people tend to second-guess themselves. But this really puts it in perspective that everyone has a story to tell.

Can you tell us a bit about your film, Little Miss Jihad, and the inspiration behind it?

“Little Miss Jihad” was inspired of my memory of where I was on 9/11. We were in our school basement, having our class photos taken, when our Principal came on the speaker and announced that a plane had hit the first tower. This was my first introduction to the word “terrorism” – and unfortunately, ever since then, it has never really left our collective consciousness.

I think during your Q&A at Reel Asian, someone asked what the reaction was like from US audiences. At the time, I don’t think the screening was accessible to US audiences yet – is there an update to this question?

We will be screening at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival in May, so this will be the first time a primarily U.S. audience will be receiving it. I am curious about what the reaction will be, especially with the recent events in Boston. The film is meant as satire, and so I hope it will be taken as such – as well as its message of tolerance in the face of fear and prejudice.

What was your most memorable experience of Little Miss Jihad? (on set, screening..etc)

My favourite experience about shooting “Little Miss Jihad,” ironically, has little to do with the actual production, but the reaction of my neighbours when we were shooting on my street. I live in a very Asian part of Scarborough, and so, for my neighbours, the production must have looked like some odd foreign invasion of crew people and equipment! I’m fairly certain they’re probably still wondering what the heck we were doing… hahahaha.

Why do you think it’s important to have more Asian filmmakers out there? This can probably be applied to Asians in creative industries, in general.

Diversity is important in any industry – creative or otherwise. When you have the same perspective being emphasized over and over again, not only does it become predictable, but you lose out on innovation and new stories – exciting stories. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many talented Asian filmmakers through Reel Asian, but the biggest challenge, and this goes for any artist, is learning how to manage and sustain a career in the arts. I think there are distinct historical and cultural obstacles for Asian filmmakers – obstacles that sometimes make it easier for a filmmaker to decide to leave the industry and get a “so-called real job.” I find that others I encounter in the industry (non-Asians) often have a stronger sense of confidence, in that they feel like it’s their right to succeed and follow their dreams. Whereas for Asian filmmakers, I feel like sometimes we’re almost apologetic for pursuing them – rather than a typical “profession.” But that could just be my own Asian guilt coming through!

You’re definitely not alone… and I can also see it as a cultural thing. If your family/core support group doesn’t have a background or understanding of the arts, its more difficult for them to fully support the “artiste” in the family.

Do you have any particularly inspiring/favorite films, directors, creative individuals?

I’m a writer, so I look up to screenwriters rather than the defacto “director auteurs.” I’m a big fan of Jane Espenson, who has written on everything from “Buffy,” “Battlestar Galactica,” to “Game of Thrones.” She has a wicked sense of humour, and has written for some of the most acclaimed genre series in television. Of course, there’s Joss Whedon, who I admire for being able to write for both television and film. His quirky voice, combined with his ability to infuse such heart into his work, has set off a whole generation of admirers and imitators. Count me as one of them! I don’t really have a favourite film – I will watch anything as long as it a) entertains me b) provokes me to rethink my worldview or c) makes me crumple into a ball of tears. Damn you, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”! Damn you!

Haha I missed the film at TIFF but I’ve heard the same thing from others. Tears. Tears everywhere.

One of the best things about films is that it gives everyone a voice. Everyone has a story to tell. Do you have any words for (young) people who are interesting in dabbling into film arts?

Know who you are, and tell the stories that matter to YOU. Not anyone else. You. Eventually, you can branch out from that – if you end up writing for hire or for a producer. But at the end of the day, if you don’t know what you’re trying to say (and it does take time to figure out), how is anyone else supposed to connect to your work? Finally, embrace your support network. Nobody does it alone.

Don’t be afraid to learn on family and friends for help. If they truly love you, they will understand, in their own way, that this is your life’s passion. How many people can say that?

What is one thing you’d like to see more of on screen?

I’d like to see more diverse stories being told – more diverse faces in front of and behind the camera – especially in mainstream TV and film. If we never see ourselves as “the hero,” then how can we believe that we can be? That we too can fulfill our destinies and reach our limitless potential? Confidence is everything. We draw strength from role models. If we see someone like ourselves succeeding, it empowers us to succeed and push further. When we don’t see someone like ourselves in positions of power, we begin to doubt. It’s a subtle thing, but it matters so much.

Are you currently working on anything? What are some next steps that you have planned?

Currently, I’m rewriting an action/spy feature script, which I hope to submit to producers and managers – it probably won’t get made, but could work as a nice sample. 😉   I’m also pushing myself to develop more TV concepts and scripts.  It’s a process; TV is such a different beast.  But I’ve been working on a ½ comedy pilot, which I also hope to either pitch or use as a sample.  In short, the plan is to keep writing, and hopefully, all that hard work will pay off. 😉

Good luck with all your projects Stephanie and thanks for doing this interview!

Little Miss Jihad is currently travelling the film festival circuit. Los Angeles followers will have a chance to see the film at the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival on May 4 and May 6. More information here. Toronto audiences will also get to see Little Miss Jihad again at the 2nd Annual Breakthroughs Film Festival on May 11. More information here

Click here to read the rest of our Asian Heritage Month interview series with Leslie Supnet!