Jeff Adachi is the director of "The Slanted Screen"
a film about Asian American men in film and television
US ASIANS: Jeff,
what motivated you to do a film about Asian American men in film and television?
JEFF ADACHI: From
1995-1999, I produced a San Francisco-based Asian American awards show
called the Golden Ring Awards for the Asian American Arts Foundation.
We recognized Asian artists and actors, including Margaret Cho, Ming-Na,
Lou Diamond Phillips, Wayne Wang, Joan Chen, Steve Park, and others, and
I was struck by how difficult it was for Asian American actors to find
work. Although there were many talented Asian American actors, they rarely
had a chance to work. And when they did, the roles were forced to play
were limited to gangsters or waiters for men, or geishas or dragon ladies
for women. I became fascinated by the stories of these actors, who struggled
against incredible adversity for their entire careers, often receiving
little or no support from their families and the communities they came
from. I wanted to tell their story. That's how the Slanted Screen came
US ASIANS: Jeff, what motivated you to do a film about Asian American men in film and television?
JEFF ADACHI: From 1995-1999, I produced a San Francisco-based Asian American awards show called the Golden Ring Awards for the Asian American Arts Foundation. We recognized Asian artists and actors, including Margaret Cho, Ming-Na, Lou Diamond Phillips, Wayne Wang, Joan Chen, Steve Park, and others, and I was struck by how difficult it was for Asian American actors to find work. Although there were many talented Asian American actors, they rarely had a chance to work. And when they did, the roles were forced to play were limited to gangsters or waiters for men, or geishas or dragon ladies for women. I became fascinated by the stories of these actors, who struggled against incredible adversity for their entire careers, often receiving little or no support from their families and the communities they came from. I wanted to tell their story. That's how the Slanted Screen came about.
US ASIANS: Who is in your film?
JEFF ADACHI: We interviewed a number of Asian male actors, and I tried to include a range of both the older generation of actors, like Mako and James Shigeta, as well as the new generation of actors who are out there now like Will Yun Lee, and Jason Scott Lee. We also discuss Sessue Hayakawa, who was a silent screen star in the 1900's, and was the first Asian man to be nominated for an Oscar. And of course the film talks about the impact that Bruce Lee had as one of the world's best known action stars.
US ASIANS: How did you decide who to include in your film?
JEFF ADACHI: It was difficult. The film is a 60 minute documentary, and it would take a whole series to cover the story of every Asian male actor. Although there weren't many, each one had a fascinating life and career. Actors like Pat Morita or Jack Soo really had to struggle. Jack Soo was Japanese-American --- his real name was Goro Suzuki --- but he changed his name because he was concerned that he wouldn't work because of backlash from the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. He started off having to do horribly stereotypic roles - we show one of them in the movie, but later went on to star in the television series "Barney Miller." It was the same for Pat Morita, who started off as a stand-up comic who was billed as "the Hip Nip." We also talk about actors like Richard Loo and Phillip Ahn, who got their start acting in war propaganda films of the 40's and 50's. I tried to cover as many actors as I could, but there's a lot of people we weren't able to include. Hopefully, filmmakers of the future will tell some of their stories. There are some great tales in what they experienced.
US ASIANS: What will people learn about these actors by watching the film?
US ASIANS: Are you a filmmaker by training?
JEFF ADACHI: Actually, no. My day job is that I am a criminal defense attorney. I am the elected Public Defender in San Francisco, and I run an office of 90 attorneys who represent poor people in criminal cases. I first started as a producer and writer of the film, and then took over the directing reigns over when the person who originally was to be the director was unable to continue.
US ASIANS: How did you learn how to direct a film?
JEFF ADACHI: It's actually similar to courtroom work. You have to prepare to interview your subjects, just as I would prepare a cross-examination of a witness, take those interviews and develop a script, and then piece together a story-line. It was a fascinating process, although I have to admit, a trying and difficult one. I have gained great respect for filmmakers. You don't realize how difficult it is to make a film until you do it. It took hundreds of hours to make a 60-minute film. I also had a great editor, Alex Yeung, who worked closely with me and a great artistic and technical crew.
US ASIANS: What do you plan to do with the film now that it's done?
JEFF ADACHI: They say that most films, even after they are done, end up on somebody's shelf. I am determined to have this film shown in as many venues as possible. While it's important for Asians to see the film, I want to take this film beyond the ethnic milieu and show it to non-Asians. I am hoping that the film has some impact and will change the way in which Asian men have been typically cast in films and television. We are now entering the film in various film festivals around the country, and it will premiere in Los Angeles and San Francisco next month (March 2006). After that, I will try to do a brief theatrical run, and then get it on campuses and universities.
US ASIANS: Will the film have a theatrical run?
JEFF ADACHI: That's hard to say, but I plan to try. It's hard for any film to receive a distribution deal, and unless you're Roger Moore with a film like Fahrenheit 911, it's highly unlikely. But I hope to rent a theater for a few weeks here and there so people will have a chance to see the film.
US ASIANS: What's your strategy to getting people to the theaters to see the film?
JEFF ADACHI: It takes a lot of promotion and publicity, and I am hoping that Asian Americans and non-Asians who take an interest in the subject matter will step forward to help support the film. One of the problems we talk about in the film is that Asian Americans complain about the lack of representation in media, but rarely step forward and put resources and money down to see that it happens. An Asian business person will invest in a computer company but not a film because it's less risky. But in terms of having an impact, we need to have people who are shaping our image, how we are perceived in society. You can have a thousand Asian lawyers, but if there's no Asians on "The Practice," or "Law and Order" you don't exist in the eyes of a lot of people in this country. It's not all about being engineers, scientists or lawyers --- we need artists and image-makers too.
US ASIANS: Are things changing in Hollywood?
JEFF ADACHI: Yes and no. My friends who are working say things are slowly turning around. You have Will Yun Lee who is now in his second TV series, "Thief," on the FX network, having done "Witchblade." He's a lead actor in a lead role. You have B.D. Wong as a regular on "Law and Order," playing a psychologist. On the other hand, you have idiots like Adam Carolla who goes on national radio and does a parody of the AZN Excellence Awards (an Asian awards program - Editor's Note: event was a fund-raiser for Asian Professional Exchange (APEX), Second Generation - New York-based non-profit theater company, Taiwanese American Professionals (TAP) - enhances the Taiwanese- American community by networking individuals interested in professional and career development, and Taiwanese United Fund (TUF) - mission is to promote understanding of Taiwanese culture and heritage - read a review of the event by "Angry Asian Man" by clicking HERE) by saying that the best Asian actor was "Ching Chong." So we're making progress, but are constantly being dragged backwards by ignorance.
US ASIANS: How can our readers see the film?
JEFF ADACHI: We are showing the film at film festivals around the country. It's playing in Los Angeles on March 12th at the Fairfax Laemmle Theater, 7907 Beverly Blvd, at 6:00pm (www.ticketweb.com) and in San Francisco at the SF International Asian American Film Festival on March 19th at the AMC Kabuki Theater, 1881 Post Street, (www.asianamericanmedia.org) at 3:00 P.M.. The San Francisco screening is only $10 (Los Angeles is $11) and includes an After-Party sponsored by Remy Martin (www.ticketweb.com). Additional screening times are listed on our website at www.slantedscreen.com. After we complete the film festival circuit, I plan to make the film available to universities and schools. We welcome everyone's help and support in getting the film and its message out there. My hope is to reach the broadest audience possible, and to influence the folks who are in a position to change things.
US ASIANS: Thank you for taking the time to share your vision and passion behind this film.