I Hate All Absolutists (in response to Brian Koppelman’s “Con Men, Gurus, and the Screenwriting Instruction Industrial Complex”)

These are my thoughts after having read Brian Koppelman’s blog post “Con Men, Gurus, and the Screenwriting Instruction Industrial Complex“:
Having been on both sides of this argument at different points in my artistic career, I have to say that while Koppelman says some truths, he also seems to be holding too steadfastly to this purist idea of filmmaking as an artistic expression. Unfortunately, film is a business and there is value to understanding the common language of the industry. You would not go into a job in finance and not know what currency you are trading in. It is important to understand how and why you are breaking, bending or ignoring “the rules”.

Having now taught screenwriting, I also have a deeper appreciation for systems like “Save The Cat,” “The Screenwriter’s Bible” and “Story”. Do I believe any of these books will give the secret method to writing the next Citizen Kane? No. But what they do give is a point of reference, a way to relate what one does in their writing to what others have done before them. Without a point of reference from which to base discussions, there is no way to actually constructively engage in critique.

I often told my students that I can not teach the aspect of writing that is alchemy; that is up to the individual artists. But what I can teach is a way for one to approach the material.

For myself, I think much of what Koppelman suggests is stuff I did on instinct in the past. I genuinely liked to tinker with dramatic situations. I voraciously studied movies that were similar to whatever I was working on. I once poo-poo’d all screenwriting theories and books accusing them of creating uninspired homogenized mass art.

But now that I have gotten older, I find that I really appreciate what these screenwriting “gurus” have done. The hardest part about writing is not the actual writing, it is the rewriting. Going back to the thing and saying, “there’s something wrong here” or “something is not as strong as it could be”. What I like about being armed with resources like McKee, Snyder, August, Field, etc. is that it gives me something to poke the first draft with like a stick. Without the stick, I either have to use my finger and risk it being bitten off or just go in blind and mess with things willy-nilly until the piece is fixed but not in any way that I could recreate come the next project or problem.

In short, my response to this piece is that I subscribe to the Bruce Lee Jeet Kune Do school of screenwriting: draw upon whatever is the most useful technique for any given situation. To deny the merits of any one way limits your ability to be successful.


4 Wedding Planners (aka Knots) now available on VOD/web.

In case anyone actually is still visiting this blog, I thought I’d add the latest news about my new film “4 Wedding Planners” (aka “Knots“). The film is now available nationwide (and in Canada) on VOD and the web. Taking a virtual vacation to Hawai‘i with our little film is as easy as a mouse click.


YOUTUBE: http://www.youtube.com/movie/4-wedding-planners?feature=mv_e_shr
AMAZON: http://www.amazon.com/4-Wedding-Planners/dp/B008XFB3LY/ref=sr_1_5?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1344949721&sr=1-5&keywords=4+wedding+planners
XBOX: http://marketplace.xbox.com/en-US/Movie/4-Wedding-Planners/413f3dd0-4c7d-4c94-b66c-d0506e5ea63b


a film by Michael Kang
written by Kimberly-Rose Wolter
featuring Kimberly-Rose Wolter, Illeana Douglas, Sung Kang, Janel Parrish and Mia Riverton


Lily Kim returns to Hawaii in order to escape an engagement trigger-happy boyfriend in LA. Once home, she reluctantly joins her dysfunctional family’s wedding planning business. Her mother and sisters have very different ideas about what marriage means and for Lily it means only one thing – divorce. As the family’s newest wedding planner Lily learns about love, life and floral arrangements.

About The Film:

In the UN-romantic comedy “4 Wedding Planners,” matriarch Miriam (Illeana Douglas) is three times divorced, with one daughter born from each husband. What ensues is a recipe for comical family strife as the daughters finally reach the breaking point of addressing feelings repressed thanks to mom’s poor choices in men.

When eldest daughter Lily (Kimberly-Rose Wolter) rejects her boyfriend’s marriage proposal, she decides to return home to Hawaii for family support. It turns out the family is having troubles of their own — their wedding planning business is being run into the ground by Lily’s two half-sisters Twinny (Mia Riverton) and Hoku (Janel Parrish). It’s left to Lily to get things on the right track. If things couldn’t get worse, Lily’s ex-boyfriend Kai (Sung Kang) enters the picture, as does a surprise reveal that makes reconciliation no easy matter.

With “4 Wedding Planners,” director Michael Kang (The Motel, SDAFF ’05; West 32nd, SDAFF ’07) vibrantly interweaves multiple storylines together in this brisk, delightful film.

Eric Lallana, San Diego Asian Film Foundation

Below is a little essay I wrote about the film. Enjoy:

Why 4 Wedding Planners Is The Edgiest Film I’ve Ever Made
by Michael Kang  
If you are familiar with my other films (“The Motel,” “West 32nd”), you probably can surmise that I like to take on stories that have some bite to them. Whether I’m talking about a kid in the throes of puberty stuck in a world surrounded by the clandestine affairs at an hourly rate motel or two men from different worlds both driven by blind raw ambition in the gritty crime underworld of New York’s Koreatown, I never shy away from challenging subjects (both for me and the audience). I’m sure that for most that my moving on to a comedy about a dysfunctional family business of wedding planners in Hawaii may not have seemed like the natural next step. But I want to explain why I think this new film may actually be the edgiest of the trio.
I have always been attracted to the stories that I don’t get to see on the big and little screen. When I first got a hold of Kimberly-Rose Wolter’s script, I was immediately struck by how unique the story was. This was a Hawaii I’d never encountered before on screen. It was not centered around a tourist experience where Hawaii was simply used as an exotic backdrop and nice place for the production to spend a couple months a la “50 First Dates.” Nor was the story filled with over-exoticized local flavor like a pupu-platter of heavy-handed pseudo-spirituality and too essoteric to have a decent pop culture reference.   
“4 Wedding Planners” is a story about people — real people with real problems. The people in the film are folks that deal with things that we all do – family, relationships, home-life, professional life, and did I mention FAMILY? They struggle the ways we all do, just trying their best to find happiness. But what makes this story unique is they are struggling with these problems in the middle of paradise.
And here is why “4 Wedding Planners” is probably the edgiest film I’ve ever made. Spike Lee said that the most controversial thing we can do is be ourselves. That is what lies at the heart of this movie – it dares to show people just being people. The film embraces both its Hawaiian-ness and its universality. By being very culturally specific it in fact becomes more universal.   
The film centers the story around the kinds of people who are usually relegated to the sidelines of mainstream stories (if given a place at all). They are also the kinds of characters who put off most indie filmmakers because they are so, well… normal — these are the people those filmmakers are probably desperately trying to hide from in their own lives. I recognized immediately that these were characters I never get to see on screen.
I could easily latch on to certain aspects of the race identity politics of the film like: having a story about the Hapa (half-Asian) experience (a minority within a minority). Or having an unconventional Asian American male romantic lead (Sung Kang) who is a fully charged sexual being.  Or having a story that gives a wide swath of representations of women in three dimensions. But if you know my style, I don’t like to get didactic in my storytelling and it would be misleading to tell you I made the movie to lead the charge on any of those fronts. To me, all of the aforementioned were the fruits of putting together a very sweet simple story about unique characters in a unique place.
The film is not dark and gritty enough to be a film festival darling. But on the converse, we still shot this film on a shoestring indie-sized budget (in fact the lowest budget I’ve had to work with to date which is only a testament to the great aloha spirit of the cast and crew for pulling off such an ambitious and beautiful film). We don’t have the resources to give the film the Hollywood studio- sized pomp and circumstance it deserves. Regardless, I think there is an audience for this film. I think it is an audience of people that want to be entertained and introduced to new experiences. An audience that is daring and edgy enough to handle a story about wedding planners.  And I hope you are part of that audience.

Hey, all, this is from my friend and producer extraordinaire Karin Chien. It’s a call for all you hip club kids in NYC to come be extras in a new movie she is producing. I know from experience how hard it is to get a club to look like a real club in a movie in the middle of the day. If you are around, you should definitely help out. SUPPORT INDIE FILM!

From Karin:

Hi everyone,

[Please forward far and wide]

We need your help in finding non-union background actors to work with us on an indie feature shooting in Chelsea on June 21 – 22.  The film is a love story involving two teenage girls, Jack and Diane, who meet and fall in love one summer in New York City.

We will be shooting a club scene on Monday 6/21 and Tuesday 6/22 for which we need 50 clubgoers (in club wear), 2 bartenders, 2 bouncers (in all black) and 1 Transvestite (in Transvestite club wear).  We are looking for both males and females of all ethnicities in the “young adult” range (18 – 35).

The shoots will happen from roughly 10a – 11p on both days. You must be able to commit to a 12-hour day on set.  It would be great if you are able to make it on BOTH Monday and Tuesday; those that come both days will be compensated $50.

If you are interested we’d love to hear back from you.  Please e-mail a headshot, or recent photo, and your available dates to castingjackdiane@gmail.com.

Thank you!


In case you hadn’t heard about this, here is some info on the development of the plan to destroy the image of Korean Americans.

Here are some random thoughts I had about the challenges faced in putting this together:

  1. Though I do believe there are fame-whores in the Korean American community, I think there is generally a duality in these Korean knuckleheads that party — on one side, they definitely drink, fight, fornicate, do drugs, sing noh rae bang, etc. But in my limited experience I have found that these same people usually are also hyper-aware of how they represent for the Korean community, they tend to be church-goers and they don’t like to be public about their indiscretions.
  2. The ones that may not have the latter qualities stated above, tend to be involved in criminal activities and equally would not want to be showcased on a national television show.
  3. The deeper crevices of Koreatown (e.g. room salons) seem like highly unlikely participants in a show like this. Also many times, club staffs are commonly sprinkled with people with questionable immigration status which would make it even more difficult to get releases. In addition, the sensitivity of the Korean American community may cause a swell in boycotts by business owners (I speak from experience on this).

I think these producers have their work cut out for them. I am not sure which side to root for. On one side, I am bothered with the idea of exploiting Korean Americans with some of our collective worst qualities. On the other side, if it’s going to happen, I’d at least like it to be done right. My prediction is that they will need to create a watered-down incomplete portrait of K-town nightlife and the participants will hold back and not create the “situation” the producers are hoping for. But you can never underestimate the power of Patron and the allure of fame.