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 1, Mynette describes her early interest in movies and how she made her initial move toward movie producing:
Scott: I’m not sure there is a typical path to becoming a movie producer, but your journey strikes me as particularly distinctive, so let’s start there. Where were you born and where did you grow up?
Mynette: I was born in Manhattan but grew up in Brooklyn. My neighborhood, Kensington, was the most diverse in New York, maybe even the country, at that time. My parents were born in China and grew up in Hong Kong, and they met as students at the University of Hawaii. In Brooklyn, we lived with my grandparents who were from Toisan and spoke a village dialect, so I grew up speaking English, Cantonese, and Toisan. We also lived in Honolulu for a short stint—from age 3 to 8 for me. Yes, it really sucked at first when my family moved from Hawaii back to Brooklyn.
Scott: Were movies a big part of your life as a youth and if not, how and when did you catch the movie bug?
Mynette: Huge part. I come from an artistic family—my dad was a watercolor artist (he used to sell paintings in Washington Square Park and had a gallery in Honolulu for a short time); my mom majored in studio art; my uncle was a photographer, illustrator, and filmmaker (he went to SVA, won a Yankees poster contest, and took photos for Hustler in the 70s); and my sister is a fashion designer who has designed for Calvin Klein, DDCLab, etc. So art and film have always been a big part of my life. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I caught the movie bug since I was so young when it happened.
Scott: What are some of the most important or memorable movies from your childhood?
Mynette: Gosh, I have so many! How do I choose? Well, I still remember the first films I saw in a theater: Bambi, Sleeping Beauty, and The Empire Strikes Back. They were all pretty traumatizing—Bambi’s mother dying, creepy Maleficent, frozen Han Solo. Some of the images from these films were seared into my brain, so I knew early on how powerful film could be. My parents also subscribed to HBO for a few years when I was around 5 or 6, and late at night while they were busy playing mahjongg, I would sneak into the TV room and watch all kinds of crazy stuff that kids should probably not watch—The Exorcist, The Omen, The Shining, Poltergeist, Stripes. I saw a lot of good movies on HBO back then—Kramer vs. Kramer, Arthur, Tootsie, The Elephant Man. When I moved back to Brooklyn, I’d always watch WPIX Channel 11’s Saturday & Sunday afternoon movies, and supplement with video rentals from the local drugstore. I discovered Stand By Me, Mosquito Coast, River’s Edge and Platoon this way, mostly because my rental pattern was based on my actor crushes, which included River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves, and Charlie Sheen. It was around this time, around age 11, that I started discovering auteurs like Woody Allen, Scorsese, Kubrick, Almodovar, the Coen brothers, The Godfather trilogy, and on and on. I would literally spend every weekend and summer going to the theater or binge-watching rented movies to the point of making myself sick.
Scott: I believe you attended Hunter College, then graduated from Harvard. What were your areas of study? When did the idea of being involved in the movie business kick in for you?
Mynette: I went to Hunter College High School, not the college, from 7th through 12th grade. It’s pretty artsy fartsy. There were several kids acting in Broadway plays and few in movies while I was there. I think the school had like half a dozen different theater groups. And there’s a long list of alumni in the arts—Cynthia Ozick, Audre Lorde, Manohla Dargis, Ruby Dee, Eli Attie, Adam Horowitz, Cynthia Nixon, Bobby Lopez, Lin-Manuel Miranda, etc. But even though I had all these examples of successful artistic paths, I was still very scared about pursuing a film career because my dad struggled to make a living as a painter. He basically earned a very good living at it for five years, and then suddenly it was over. He didn’t want me to have that same fate, so he and my mom pushed me toward law and accounting, which they thought were more practical. What’s funny is that this is such a stereotype in the Asian American community, buy my parents were pushing me away from the arts not just because they thought it was unstable, they knew it from personal experience. What’s even funnier is that I am now doing a TON of law and accounting anyway as an independent producer!
But you know, I’ve probably known since 7th grade that I wanted to produce films. Growing up in New York and seeing movie sets in the street all the time, I was always fascinated by how that whole circus of crew, cast, lights, and trucks got assembled. When I got to Harvard, I did try to listen to my parents and major in economics, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I ended up majoring in East Asian Studies, with a focus on Chinese film and literature. I was really into fifth generation Chinese film and literature from the pre-Communist May 4th Movement. It was not very practical or applicable to my initial jobs out of school (marketing at Time Magazine, market research at Jupiter Research, and biz dev at SportsIllustrated.com), but it’s come in pretty handy for producing.
Tomorrow in Part 2, Mynette talks about how she developed her producing chops working on NYU student thesis films, then got involved with Andrew Bujalski’s first feature-length movie Mutual Appreciation.
You may follow Mynette on Twitter: @mynette.