Programs Mon 3.16.2015

Film Independent Congratulates Our Latest Grant Winners!

At Film Independent, we’re always looking for new ways to give a boost to the innovative filmmakers who cross our path. Screenings, panel discussions, artist development labs—we do all of it in the hopes of giving a young director, writer or producer a push in the right direction at a make-or-break moment. And there’s no better way to help a filmmaker get some momentum behind their project than with a quick infusion of cash.

So we ‘re thrilled to announce that we recently awarded fellowships to two emerging filmmakers with promising projects: Philiane Phang received the Ammon Family Foundation Fellowship for a Female Director and Christina Choe has been awarded the Roger & Chaz Ebert Foundation Fellowship. Both are among our 2015 Directing Lab Fellows. Each award is for $10,000.

“Receiving this fellowship is immeasurable,” Choe says. “Emotionally, it’s a validation to keep going when often the road to making a first feature can be challenging. Logistically, it’s an incredible lifesaver, to have financial help while you are working on your project. Also, [using the grant money] I was able to take an amazing workshop with Joan Scheckel on her technique, which was mind-blowing and has opened up my script and directing process in a completely new way.”

Choe’s current project, Nancy, is a psychological drama about a serial imposter who lives at home with her abusive and elderly mother. Desperate for love, she creates a fake blog and catfishes a lover, but her hoaxes cause tragic consequences.

Before moving to Los Angeles, Choe got her MFA from Columbia’s Film School, where she met her mentor, who she calls “one of my biggest influences as a director.”

“He is probably the best directing teacher you could have on the planet,” she says. “He would have these epic 12-hour directing classes that would literally go into the night past midnight. We would go through an entire movie, shot by shot, like Rosemary’s Baby and talk about every single shot choice. He taught me that shots have meaning, and the way you put together your shots can make the audience feel something specific.” Another big influence from film school was Choe’s screenwriting teacher who said, “You have to write what breaks your heart, because what breaks your heart will mend your heart.” His words weren’t just a lesson but more of a reminder of why I want to tell stories.”

Being in the Directing Lab, says Choe “is an invaluable experience that you normally don’t get in the real world. The process of workshopping your script with actors and shooting excerpts of the feature is an opportunity to experiment wildly and learn in a no pressure environment. I believe that the best ideas can come from this kind of process.”

Phang’s project, The Space Between, tells the story of Serena Moss, a 30-something woman with dreams of becoming a professional body builder who is forced to confront her tragic past with her father when she unexpectedly falls in love.

For Phang, filmmaking is her second career. She calls herself a “recovering lawyer” but also says there’s a lot from her former career that can be applied to making films.

“As an attorney, you learn to view the world through very precise lenses,” says Phang. “I allow myself to play and explore, but it’s only in an effort to get to a more precise place. Whether that be a precise theme, or finding the precise words to say to an actor or a collaborator. One word can change the meaning of everything. Precision gets everyone on the same page.”

Phang says the Directing Lab has helped her get even more specific with what she wants to say with this film: “My personal adviser, Daniel Barnz, completely got underneath one of my scenes and opened up my mind to approaching it differently. It made the scene a lot more dynamic and interesting.”

As far as advice for aspiring filmmakers, Phang offers the following thoughts: “One: sometimes, the words on the page are just that—words. Allow yourself to explore the deeper meaning with your actor. It’s a collaborative process, so collaborate. Two: trust your gut. Three: know what you’re trying to say with this project, a.k.a. what’s your theme. Be very grounded in that. Four: Learn everything you can, soak it all up, keep what works for you in your toolbox. Then go out there and do it. Everyone has his or her own process and you’ve got to find your own.”

Pamela Miller / Website & Grants Manager