Tze Chun’s CHILDREN OF INVENTION is a timely film. The story of a Chinese immigrant mother desperately trying to make enough money to support her two kids with little to no help and a wandering eye toward one dubious entrepreneurial opportunity after another is familiar. Too familiar. And that’s why it will last and still resonate long after our country rights itself toward the next period of prosperity. Because that elusive dream of instant wealth and relief from the struggle and embarrassment of not being able to pay rent or properly feed your kids will always be here – for someone. And the fear of that happening to all of us and the curiosity of how we would respond to that bleak situation – remains with everyone. But the magic of the film is that Chun illustrates the other hopeful side effect of that struggle in the persons of the mother’s young son and daughter – and that is the spirit of innovation to survive.
1 There is a strong autobiographical inspiration behind this film. Why was it so important for you to make this film?
It’s always hard to say why a certain script will inspire you while you’ll lose interest in another. I will say that as we were making the film, the cast (Cindy, Michael, and Crystal) continued to inspire me and kept the material fresh.
When I wrote the film, I was writing a personal story about the world I grew up in – a subculture of Americans trying to get-rich-quick in order to get themselves out of a financial hole. I didn’t foresee the current crisis. But with the economy tanking now and foreclosures going through the roof, it seems like everyone’s living through some version of what the Chengs go through in the film.
I hope this film can be a reminder that we’ve had bad times before, individually and as a country, but we’ve always made it out fine.
2 At this point in your life, are you comfortable with people who exhibit that get-rich-quick mentality or does your experiences growing up make you recoil from that?
The only thing that disturbs me is the get-rich-quick mentality without regard for hurting or exploiting others. But there are tons of harmless and brilliant get-rich-quick schemes that I’m very envious that I didn’t come up with — the Million Dollar Homepage, for example.
3 What is the best thing about having your film at AFI DALLAS?
Being eligible for the 25k prize! Also, hanging out with (programmers) James Faust and Sarah Harris.
4 Be honest here – Did you invest any money with Bernie Madoff?
Independent filmmakers generally have little to no money to invest in anything other than their own films, so luckily, no.
5 What should a director do that they never think of until it’s too late?
Wear layers when you go on set. Directing a movie is stressful, and your body temperature fluctuates a lot!
6 What’s the most underappreciated job on the set?
Hmm… The most underappreciated job on set has got to be the first Assistant Director, who keeps the crew on schedule. People always complain that the first AD isn’t giving their department enough time to get everything perfect before the shot is taken, but no one thanks them when they get to go home on time.
7 What kind of responsibility comes with being one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film last year?
The main responsibility that came with that article was having to buy a dozen copies of the magazine and mailing them to various aunts and uncles in Asia.
8 Do you still have one of those spinning spaghetti fork inventions the kids make in the film? And if so have you ever used it?
Haha, they kept on breaking on set. We went through a bunch of them. They work well for ramen, but spaghetti will break it in two.
9 What was the last film that made you cry? Laugh out loud?
Last film that made me cry was Spike Lee’s WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE. I hardly ever cry at narrative films, but I will cry at almost any documentary about any serious subject. Also at E.T. The last film that made me laugh out loud was H.P. Mendoza’s FRUIT FLY, which I just saw at the San Francisco Int’l Asian American Film Festival.
10 Popcorn or candy?
As I get older, I can’t bring myself to eat anything in the theater… I just don’t need those calories.
You and Anna Boden seem to keep trading off on each other’s skills: She edited WINDOWBREAKER so you painted the poster for HALF NELSON. Now she has edited CHILDREN OF INVENTION. So, what do you owe her now?
God, I think I may be all out of skills to trade. We edited the movie at Anna’s apartment, so I also owe Ryan Fleck for kicking him out of his own place for an entire month. Maybe I’ll clean their bathroom or something.