Vicky Shen received a B.A. in Film Production from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Her advanced student film, “The Killing Seasons”, which she wrote, directed and acted in, garnered awards at several film festivals, including the Tampere International Short Film Festival, and was a finalist at the DGA Student Awards.
Her screenplay “In Between Days” was a semi-finalist at the Sundance Institute and Steven Spielberg’s Chesterfield Writer’s Project. She is also an honoree of the mentorship program, Project: Involve at Film Independent (home of the Independent Spirit Awards and the Los Angeles Film Festival), where “Adultolescence” was mentored by Kayo Hatta (”Picture Bride”/Winner of Sundance Audience Award) and Lee Zlotoff (”Spitfire Grill”/Winner of Sundance Audience Award; Creator of “MacGyver”).
ASIANCE: Vicky, it is great to meet you. You have received quite a bit of positive press on your last film, “Adultolescence”. For those that have not seen it can you tell us a little about it?
Vicky: The title, “Adultolescence,” comes from the blending of two words “adolescence” and “adulthood.” It is the story of stagnation for one twenty-something to reveal larger themes of the economics of emotions for post-grads and their parents. The film also blends the dual identity of American-born children of immigrant parents. It is ultimately a story about finding peace with the parents, after being boomeranged back home after college, by growing to accept them rather than the other way around.
ASIANCE: You wrote, co-directed, co-produced, edited and starred in the film. A lot of work and responsibility to say the least. Was it overwhelming? Also, you had limited resources and budget. What was a typical shoot day like?
Vicky: It was very overwhelming. I had no other choice. It’s really not ideal, but it was either make a film or not. There really didn’t seem like a reason not to make a film when technology allows for it. Dogma films like “Celebration” and mumblecore films show that you can tell an emotional, character-driven story without huge production value. I intentionally used a nostalgic video look to fit the subject matter, and so no other look I think would have worked as well. Microbudget films are made for this kind of story anyways.
ASIANCE: How valuable do you think your formal training in Film School was in retrospect?
Vicky: I co-directed the film with Zoe Bui, who played one of the leads in “Three Seasons” a triple award winner at Sundance Film Festival, co-produced with Eleonore Dailly, producer of the Sundance film, “Dirt”, and Nick Mustille did the cinematography. They were all USC film school alums who are multi-talented, which was great because it meant film school was valuable for more than just training.
I was a film production major at USC, which primarily emphasized directing, not producing or writing. My other education was after graduation, working on films and watching people I respected tell great stories and honor their craft. Film school taught me how to be a filmmaker, but not the business of filmmaking. You’re kind of own your own after school. There’s really no helping hand.
ASIANCE:”Adultolescence” has been talked about in relation to the “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” book by Amy Chua. Was this intentional or coincidence and are you happy with the comparisons?
Vicky: The film’s greatest asset, unbeknownst to itself, is demystifying the TIGER MOM debate by revealing that there is no unifying rule book when it comes to Asian parenting and garnering an interesting portrayal of an Asian mother by humanizing the individual, rather than making her a stereotype. I can only guess the term “Tiger Mom” is all of a sudden a catch phrase because China is at the forefront of politics and economics. So, traditional Asian parenting is news now. I think it’s interesting to ask why the Tiger Mom debate is an interesting subject matter and what it means for American culture.
On another note, I wouldn’t have wanted to do an identity-politics film unless I felt I had something different to say and if it wasn’t about identity crisis for Asian Americans. I know there is maybe a misconception against this kind of film because they’re so overdone. I think this film is more about family dynamics and how there’s more than one thing going on in every familial situation. Also, I believe the mother character in “Adultolescence” has a point-of-view, is a strong character, and wants to do what she thinks is best for her daughter- not based on some mindless adherence to tradition.
ASIANCE: The film also tackles many other topics including the use of social media today. Do you see social media as a negative or a positive and will you be using it to help promote your film?
Vicky: I have mixed feelings. On one hand, I think social media can be voyeuristic and portray false sense of selves. On the other hand, it can be a very powerful, medium to a more democratic way to live and work, as well as a way to connect with people and enrich people’s lives. I think it can only take you so far though in your personal and work life. It can help present opportunities for new friendships, networks, and work, but the rest is up to the individual to fulfill the potential.
ASIANCE: How do you feel about the roles and exposure that Asian-Americans are afforded in the media today?
Vicky: It still sucks. There’s only a handful of good roles, and you can count steadily, working actors on your two hands. I think it’s more color-blind behind the camera.
Ultimately, I don’t think the film industry is racist. It just wants to make money so the production companies are conservative, and it’s still considered an anomaly to see Asians on screen.
ASIANCE: How do feel about the state of indie filmmakers?
Vicky: I feel that filmmakers are always hustlers. It’s the nature of the business. Once you get more grounded into the industry or studio system, I see what a big difference it makes to shepherd along other filmmakers, not to become mainstream but to champion their voice. It takes so little to make such an impact in someone else’s lives. I think it’s sad when “successful” filmmakers get protective of themselves and won’t help fellow filmmakers just because they “made it” and don’t want to be used, when all along no one becomes successful without help from someone whether asked for or not. That doesn’t seem right to me.
ASIANCE: Tell us a little about yourself and growing up. Were you always interested in the arts?
Vicky: I was interested in the arts as a natural progression of my personality and interests. I was always fascinated in observing how people interact with each other and to specific situations, how they behave, and what they choose to say and not say. There’s always an interesting story behind it, and the way to express that story is a kind of art for me. It was a logical progression to become a filmmaker since I loved movies, and how they bring universality through individual stories.
ASIANCE: Tell us a little about your first project, “The Killing Seasons”.
Vicky: “The Killing Seasons” was a high concept short film about the cyclical nature of war. It was about how this Vietnamese baby is thrown out of a hideaway shelter during the Vietnam War because he’s crying, and inadvertently saves himself when the shelter is blown up. He ironically, returns to the next generation of war as an American soldier. You can view the trailer at this link…http://youtu.be/BqWzMF_F29A
ASIANCE: Now that you have finished “Adultolescence” what are your next projects?
Vicky: I am working on a comedy, television series about junior high kids looking for recognition in all the wrong places.
ASIANCE: Where can we go to keep updated?
Vicky: The facebook movie page at http://www.facebook.com/adultolescence, and the website at adultolescence.net are up. An independent film can use all the support it can get! Thank you!!