Today is the first in my series of female features. In thinking of some fun ways to get some content to share while I’m on “self-employed maternity leave,” I quickly decided that I wanted to share some of the amazing things women in my life have done with their life professionally. Though I live in LA, I never expected to befriend an actress, let alone Lynn Chen who is just wrapping up directing and producing her first movie – I Will Make You Mine!
So how did Lynn and I meet? We met at a food blogging event (read her food blogging story below). Lynn almost always has a smile on her face. Besides being the positive light, she’s also incredibly straightforward and thoughtful. What more could you ask for in a friend?!
So here’s her story on the experience of directing her first film (and some photos of me in the background as an extra!).
1. Tell us about your background and the backstory of your film.
When people recognize me – it’s usually either because they’ve seen me on TV or in a movie, or because they’ve watched me stuff my face with food on their computer. I’ve been an actor my entire life and love it. I’ve done everything from opera/musicals to narrating books (“Crazy Rich Asians”) and video games (“Call of Duty: Black Ops III & IV”) and then lots of TV and commercials. But mostly I’m known in the Asian-American community for doing indie films (“Saving Face”).
One of my most frequent collaborators is Dave Boyle. He’s directed me in several movies, two of them being “Surrogate Valentine” and its sequel, “Daylight Savings.” These films both went to SXSW in 2011 and 2012 and we always thought they would be a trilogy. “I Will Make You Mine” is the third installment, and marks my directorial, producing, and writing debut. Dave is also helping me produce it.
In the midst of all of this, I started two blogs called “The Actor’s Diet” and “Thick Dumpling Skin.” Both centered around food and body image (I’ve been an Ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association since 2012). This was half of my career from 2009-2019 and opened a lot of doors for me. I hosted a podcast and videos for BuzzFeed, Hello Giggles, Tastemade and The Cooking Channel’s “Unique Sweets.” I have been featured in outlets from NPR to Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire. I’ve spoken about my relationship with food at places like Dartmouth, Disney California Adventure, and WonderCon.
But this past January, I decided to prioritize my acting/filmmaking career and am focusing solely on that.
2. Why did you decide this film needed to be done and you were the one to direct it?
I never really had a desire to be behind the camera until two years ago, when I went for a hike with Dave in November. I asked him when we would finish the “Surrogate Valentine” trilogy. He told me it was never going to happen. Something within me made me say, “What if I make it happen?” Dave promised he would help me if that’s what I wanted.
A fire was lit, and I knew this was a rare opportunity. I was on a flight to Boston for Thanksgiving where I wrote the script in a few days. The story poured out of me. I decided to take the characters from the first two movies and tell it from the female perspective. And because we were taking a story that was traditionally told from a male point of view, and I was the only female that was part of it since the beginning, I knew nobody else could do this but me.
We finished filming the movie one year later – just a few days before Thanksgiving.
3. How did you make the film your own while maintaining it as part of a series?
One of our cinematographers (we had two), Bill Otto, was the same one who DP’d the first two movies [DP means Director of Photography – I, Luci, had to ask too]. The style he set – plus filming in black and white – automatically gave it a similar look to the first two. Having Dave overseeing the entire process also rooted the project to its legacy.
But I would say the tone and feel are very different; the comedy is much more muted and the pace is slower. Those just come automatically from my own point of view as a writer/director. But also the theme of aging just naturally justifies those changes.
4. Films seem so glamorous. Tell us some of the not so glamorous parts of directing your film during filming and the post-production phases?
Ha ha ha ha. So much of filmmaking is unglamorous. Even as the talent, there is a lot of down time/waiting around. On a micro-budget set like this, nobody has their own trailer/space to decompress between takes.
As the producer/director, things are constantly happening – fires are always being put out. From a location changing last minute and people getting sick to logistics like parking and food and where to keep everyone out of the heat/cold. A lot of it is quite un-exciting and frankly, just a lot of straight-up work.
5. What were the unexpected struggles (personal and professional) during the process?
Luckily I have a really hard-working, dedicated, and very experienced team helping me out so I feel very supported. But even so, I don’t think I realized what a psychological toll making a movie would take one me. The creative process requires you to go to some really vulnerable places, for a long time. Getting out of that hasn’t been the smoothest transition each time we enter the next phase of production.
And putting your raw emotion out there for people to critique – I understand why people don’t want to ever take the risk; it’s absolutely terrifying.
6. Now that you’re nearing the end, would you direct another film?
No matter how this movie is received, and despite how difficult it was mentally/physically/financially – the experience of making it has been magical. I have learned so much about myself as a person and as an artist – and am in total awe of how so many friends, family members, and total strangers have come together to help support my vision.
I honestly don’t know if I can ever ask people to do that again – so if I do get the opportunity to direct again, I would have to carefully weigh out a lot of factors. But I will be honest – it will be very difficult to want to do it again if the outcome/feedback is disappointing. It’s just too much time/money/energy. Maybe I should try just simply directing it – not producing, writing, AND acting in it.
7. Anything else to share?
I had no idea all those years of carving out relationships in the food space would help me make my first narrative film (from location donations like Vernetti’s to food companies catering and sending donations for crafts service). All those years of producing/hosting/editing my own videos – it helped shape my confidence and find my voice as a filmmaker, even though the format is so different.
One of my favorite days on set was when you (Luci!!!!) was there with Leslie Durso, where you played “Influencers.” Having you both there at Vernetti’s (one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants) was so meaningful to me. In the final cut, we had to edit out pretty much ALL of the brilliant improv you guys did, but I love that we got to pay homage to my past career in food/blogging, which was ten years of my life filled with a lot of happy memories.
Be on the lookout for I Will Make You Mine next year! In the meantime follow Lynn on Instagram!
And Be Sure to Read the Other Females Features:
JESSE VOIGT ON OPENING HER BICOASTAL DESIGN FIRM
LORI RICE ON WRITING HER FIRST COOKBOOKS
DYAN DOLFI-OFFUTT ON OPENING HER OWN PR FIRM
SHANNON DAVENPORT ON STARTING HER OWN CLEAN BEAUTY COMPANY
LISA HSIEH ON STARTING A WOMEN + KID’S CLOTHING LINE
Photos by Eric Yang