This week, we are fortunate to have as our interview guest Mynettte Louie, a New York-based independent film producer. Her film credits include Children of Invention, California Solo and Stones in the Sun. Most recently, Louie produced Tze Chun’s crime thriller Cold Comes the Night starring Alice Eve, Logan Marshall-Green, and Bryan Cranston which will be released in the U.S. in early 2014. Mynette is the recipient of the 2013 Independent Spirit Piaget Producers Award and was named in Ted Hope’s list of “21 Brave Thinkers Of Truly Free Film“.
Mynette and I recently conducted an interview via email.
Today in Part 3, Mynette shares insight into her work on the movies Children of Invention and California Solo:
Scott: Let’s move to another noteworthy movie with which you were involved, the Sundance 2009 drama Children of Invention: “Two young children living illegally in a model apartment outside Boston are left to fend for themselves when their hardworking mother disappears,” written and directed by Tze Chun. How did you intersect with this project?
Mynette: I met Tze after an Asian American filmmaker panel that took place during the Tribeca Film Festival in 2007. Tze had a project at Tribeca All-Access, and he had just premiered his short Windowbreaker at Sundance a few months before that. A bunch of us went to dinner after the panel (neither Tze nor I were panelists, but we tagged along with them). It turned out that he was a big Bujalski fan, and had found one of the Mutual Appreciation locations for us (I didn’t know about this because I came on a few days into the film since I was wrapping my short). I caught up with Tze again a few months later at IFP Market, where he had another project. Then in spring 2008, he sent me Children of Invention and asked me to produce it.
Scott: I’m assuming that as a producer, particularly in the indie world where it’s such a challenge to develop, finance, produce, distribute and market a movie, you have to be passionate about the projects you choose to commit to. What is it about Children of Invention that you resonated with personally and/or as a movie lover?
Mynette: You assume correctly! I only take on projects that I’d be willing to lose sleep and nutrition for, and that I’d be proud to put my name on. I fell in love with the script for Children of Invention immediately. It really resonated with me personally since my own mother is a working-class immigrant who was really into pyramid schemes. Like the little boy in the film, I constantly had anxiety about my family not being able to make ends meet. And when I saw Tze’s short Windowbreaker, I knew that he could make a great film. Plus, he had already found the financing for it! Granted, I had to redo the entire budget and negotiate the details of the financing deals, but the commitments were there, which obviously makes my job a lot easier.
Scott: What were some particular challenges you faced in getting this movie produced?
Mynette: Because we had such a tiny budget (only $150K through delivery), I had to do all the legal myself because we couldn’t afford to hire a lawyer. I’d had some experience with legalese because I wrote the Hawaii tax credit legislation and I drafted termsheets in my corporate media job, but it was my first time negotiating film financing deals, cast deals, and distribution deals—things that you don’t really do as a short film producer or line producer. We also had two child leads, aged 8 and 10, and 28 locations across 3 states and 7 cities. And we were SAG, WGA, and paid almost all of our crew. Yet we only went over 12 hours on one of our 25 days. I don’t know how we did it. Totally not a repeatable feat. But honestly, it was such a pleasant and smooth experience thanks to the incredible cast and crew, especially Tze. I mean, the film went from script to Sundance in just 10 months! So all in all, getting it produced wasn’t that difficult. Getting it distributed, however, is another story, one that I’ve told way too many times. So maybe everyone can just read about it here.
Children of Invention won several awards including the Grand Jury Prize at the Independent Film Festival Boston. Are winning events like that actually important for a movie and if so, why?
Mynette: Yes, very important, especially for a tiny first-time feature with unknown Asian American actors. Any kind of attention is helpful to get the film seen and the filmmakers known. Even if we don’t get the attention of the general public with these awards, the industry pays attention, and that helps validate us as filmmakers, which makes getting the next film off the ground a tiny bit easier.
Scott: Another movie you produced was the Sundance 2012 movie California Solo, written and directed by Marshall Lewy: “A former Britpop rocker who now works on a farm gets caught driving drunk and faces deportation after living in Los Angeles for many years. His efforts to stay in the U.S. force him to confront the past and current demons in his life.” How did you become attached to this project?
Mynette: I actually first met Marshall on the set of Mutual Appreciation. We borrowed his apartment in Brooklyn to shoot the party scene. He and Andrew were friends at Harvard, and Marshall acted in Funny Ha Ha. Marshall also got his MFA in directing at Columbia, and I had worked with a lot of folks from his class. It wasn’t until 7 years later that Marshall contacted me about producing California Solo. I really responded to the script—a moving story about an antihero told with very nuanced characters and thoughtful dialogue. (It’s on Netflix streaming now, so please check it out!) I had a lot of fun shooting this film in and around Los Angeles, in spite of the small budget. We shot 30 locations in 21 days, so I got to know the city really well, and even grew to like it. And like Andrew and Tze, Marshall is also really intelligent and pleasant to work with. I’ve been really lucky. See, no matter how great your script is or how talented you are, if you’re a horrible person to work with, I’m outta there. A director-producer relationship is a long, long haul.
Tomorrow in Part 4, Mynette provides background on her latest movie production Cold Comes the Night and what it meant to win the Piaget Producers Award.
For Part 1, go here.
Part 2, go here.
To learn more about Mynette, go here.
You may follow Mynette on Twitter: @mynette.