Making a film is a very personal and special journey to embark upon. You learn a lot of things about yourself, such as things you all ready knew, and of course, things you didn’t want to know. But in the end they’re all things you should know. You just gotta hope that when you see the final edit it was all worth it. And if not, well, I guess there’s always the special-edition DVD director’s cut.
I wrote “Simply FOBulous” in 2 days. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever written. But honestly, I really shouldn’t take any credit. The script wrote itself.
I should also admit the concept was my wife’s idea. She’s Vietnamese-American, and had gotten fed up watching films with Vietnamese people playing prostitutes, gang-members, and Charlie. She had a point — it wasn’t fair.
Being a white guy growing up in Trailer Park USA, I loved it when Chuck and Stallone opened up a can of whoop-ass against the Viet Cong in South East Asia. But after being married to my wife, getting a chance to really see her life and get to know her and her family as real people, not simply screaming extras running around with AK-47s, I realized life does imitate art, and vice versa. What we do see on TV becomes the fabric of our society. Being that I had now seen and lived on both sides of the issue, I found myself in a place where I could be honest and tell a good story, a real story that would not be ashamed to look at life’s stereotypes and also not be limited by them, thereby transcending them.
It wasn’t hard getting people excited about the project. What was hard, however, was finding money. We live in Seattle, so there aren’t a lot of opportunities to “power lunch” with Bruckenheimer.
So, armed with a $5,000 budget scraped together by my wife’s family, we went down to LA, where we found some great actors. But needless to say, with that kind of budget, Dustin Nguyen wasn’t busting down our door. In Hollywood, nobody is in a hurry to make a film with an all-Vietnamese cast. Unless, of course, it has a high enough body count.
We came back up to Seattle, determined to make our film no matter what. We found actors, most of them Vietnamese. We shot over the course of 3 months, on the weekends and some week nights. I was very nice to the actors, to the point where some people complained. (You know how actors get). But I had to be nice, they weren’t being paid! (Deferred payment)
With an ensemble cast of 30 or so people, half of them non-actors, I couldn’t afford a mutiny. Our budget wouldn’t allow us to CGI Vietnamese people in post if anyone quit. I was fair and determined, and that won everyone over. We even got Sir Mix-A-Lot to show up for a day. He’s always ready to represent Seattle. Not to mention, always down for free Chinese food.
A lot of people do come up to me and ask, why or how was I able to write and direct a story about a culture I obviously am not really a part of?
I tell them the film is universal, not about a culture or particular race. It’s really about a facet of the human experience everyone struggles with at one point or another. If you were born and raised in America and had to move to Mexico tomorrow, forever, would you ever really consider yourself “Mexican”? If your kids grew up in Mexico, would you consider them Mexican? Would you want them marrying Mexicans, or someone of your own race? Does that make you racist? Or just terribly homesick? (I’m sure even the Pilgrims missed their English Breakfast and afternoon tea for a bit).
It’s something that I think that if asked, it can help you understand issues others find quite painful. Pain is often a doorway into something much more beautiful and positive, if you can hold the door open long enough and have a laugh or two while doing so.
In any case, I hope you enjoy the film.
Oh, and Viva Mexico!