Issue 20 | September 2006

  • Message from the Associate Membership Directors
  • Message from the President
  • Member Profile: Jane Chen '96
  • Industry Successes...
  • And the Award Goes to...
  • LA Insider...

Message from the Associate Membership Directors

Greetings!

The end of summer brings with it the premiere of "Red Doors" in New York. The movie by writer-director Georgia Lee '98 is co-produced by Harvardwood President, Mia Riverton. For all her success, Angela and I congratulate her.

The member profiled this month is Jane Chen '96, a co-producer on "Red Doors." The LA Insider this month is all about culinary non sequiturs: a swanky place called Joe's, a great deli off a convenient subway stop -- in LA, and the best Indian food in LA at a Pakistani joint.

Thanks to everyone that submitted this past month. This issue has Father Abraham, G-D, and Tara Reid.

Please continue to share your stories, successes, and insider tips. Your participation is what Harvardwood is all about.

Angela and Amit

Message from Mia

Ah, September...summer's over, and it's back-to-school time -- so come enrich your mind (and gorge on brunch) at the Harvardwood Seminar Series! HSS is sponsored by VarietyCareers.com and takes place each Saturday in September at the Writers Guild of America in LA: www.harvardwood.org/events/event_details.asp?id=6560

And now for some shameless self-promotion...if you missed our Harvardwood Heads To...RED DOORS event in NYC, fear not -- you can still catch the film in theaters in NYC, LA and SF over the next few weeks. If you have an event or production you'd like to promote, create your own Harvardwood Heads To...event: www.harvardwood.org/?HarvardwoodHeadsTo

--Mia

Member Profile: Jane Chen '96

by Amit Samuel ALB '05

Ivy Walls and Red Carpets

Under a blackboard sky, in the light of a chalk white moon, a production caravan travels across three states -- Nutmeg, Empire, and Garden -- in a marathon two-day denouement to a two-year filmmaking odyssey.

Jane Chen's personal journey began a lot earlier. In the halls of Harvard, Jane was like any other second generation immigrant, balancing the import of family and culture with the lure of dreams and ambition. So while Jane concentrated in East Asian Studies, she nurtured her dreams by teaming up with a couple of equally ambitious undergrads: Mia Riverton and Georgia Lee. The self-described "Three Chicks from Harvard" shared an Asian-American heritage, but their background only brought them together; their dream of a future different from the one envisioned by their parents kept them together.

Success in the Chen household is a matter of degrees: masters and doctorates -- a baccalaureate is insufficient. Explaining to her parents that she was deferring business school was not easy, but working in the corporate world, which is a pre-MBA path for many, did mollify them for the time being. While building her reputation in the marketing and business side of Hollywood, Jane cultivated her creative side by making short films with Georgia. With each film, Jane found staying in her corporate position increasingly difficult.

It became impossible when she read Georgia's newest script, a deeply personal story about a "bizarrely dysfunctional Chinese-American family." The bizarre aspects piqued Jane's curiosity. She has always been fascinated by the superstitions of her mother and the bizarre events in her own life. Her mother would tell young Jane about good and bad spirits and the mischief they would cause. At Harvard, as the Business Manager of The Crimson, Jane saw a parade of bizarre events: the Harvard President collapsing from fatigue, the Dunster House murder-suicide, a revoked admission because a student lied on her application...about murdering her mother, and finally the revelation that the Unabomber was a Harvard grad. Opal, who?

No matter how bizarre the undergrad experience, the Harvard imprimatur remains undiminished. With that in mind, Jane set out to raise money. With Mia also on board, the Three Chicks from Harvard stormed Wall Street. Without any film school experience or any full-length feature-film producing experience, the trio pitched the movie on the strength of their academic credentials. Their resume was their pitch, and Wall street bit. They financed the whole movie -- not a penny came from studios, distribution deals, or film funds. Jane helped craft an aglet budget that sold Wall Street and reified her dreams. Assuring her parents that she was merely going on sabbatical like any pre-MBA student would, Jane left the corporate world to start producing Georgia Lee's "Red Doors."

On the penultimate day of production, the shoot lasted into the night. After the last take, the cast and crew packed up and left Connecticut. Arriving in New York in the early morning, they changed crews and headed for New Jersey where their big-screen family would finally part ways.

With no budget to pay or house the actors, the producers limited their search to the New York area. The news of their search, though, wouldn't stay in New York. Through the Asian Grapevine, actors from as far away as California were calling to audition. Talented Asian-American actors, largely ignored by the major studios, rarely see scripts with substantial roles for them The roles are usually mired in stereotype or caricature. "Red Doors" was different. Not only did the characters have depth, but the script focused on generational -- not Chinese -- conflict. This duality of universal appeal and personal story was something all the actors were willing to make sacrifices for to bring to the screen.

At the end of the first day of shooting, after numerous takes in front of a black grand piano, Jane noticed that the once shiny piano was smudged all over. With the set designer nowhere to be found and no rag handy, filming stalled. Exasperated, Mia, Chastain-style, whipped off her shirt in front of the whole cast and crew and started buffing the piano. Everyone on the set, except Jane and Georgia, were dumbfounded. They had known Mia since college. Everyone, meet Mia. Mia, everyone.

The movie was shot mostly in Georgia's family house. If her mother held any hope that Georgia would return to Harvard Business School, the film crew traipsing through her dining room erased the last of it. The production also shot some scenes in Jane's apartment and a Buddhist temple in upstate New York. By the time they got to Connecticut to shoot in a hospital, the cast and crew were used to long days. But to keep to their tight production schedule and budget, they undertook a forty-eight hour marathon to finally end in New Jersey, coincidentally on Georgia's birthday.

Jane produced "Red Doors" not only because she identifies with it, but also because it is a good business decision. It had to be for Wall Street to be convinced. For them, artistic vision takes a back-seat to ROI. Considering the growing Asian-American population, their demand for quality entertainment is obvious. The demand doesn't diminish abroad. Jane believes that this movie plays to the Chinese conception of the American experience -- an aspirational story about a family that looks like them but who live American lives. And regardless of cultural differences, the story speaks to the shared experience of generational conflict. No matter the city, Shenzen or New York, the struggle of parents and children to understand each other is universal.

By the time "Red Doors" won Best Narrative Feature at the TriBeCa film festival, Jane's parents began to accept that she was never going back to the corporate world or applying to graduate school. She will focus instead on writing and producing personal, female-centric films with commercial appeal. That her brother took the traditional path to B-school would have to be enough. Considering all of her festival wins and accolades for this movie, Jane's path looks to be red crimson carpeted.

Industry Successes...

James P. Connolly's '88 new CD "The Master Plan" will be released Sept 5th nationwide. For more info you can go to: www.jamespconnolly.tv

Sandi DuBowski '92, Director/Producer of the award-winning Trembling Before G-d (www.tremblingbeforeg-d.com), is the Producer of In the Name of Allah, the first feature-length documentary on Islam and homosexuality. Filmed over four years, with unprecedented access and depth, gay Muslim filmmaker Parvez Sharma brings to light the hidden lives of gay, lesbian, and transgender Muslims and goes where the silence has been loudest in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Egypt and Bangladesh, as well as in Turkey, France, India, South Africa, the United States and the United Kingdom. The doc is an international co-production with UK's Channel 4, France/Germany's ZDF/Arte, SBS Australia, and LOGO. We held a major Gala fundraiser in NYC in June which was a stunning success (www.halalfilms.net). She is organizing major Los Angeles and Bay Area Gala Preview fundraisers for late October. If you are interested in participating on the Los Angeles or Bay Area Gala Host Committee, know people who would, have any links to foundations or donors who could help us move to completion, please contact her at simcha2000@aol.com.

Ellen J. Knebel KSG '05 has a new DVD out called "Jack Valenti Negotiating for the Motion Picture Association." It summarizes the background and career highlights of Jack Valenti, longtime head of the Motion Picture Association of America and the Motion Picture Association. The DVD explores three difficult negotiation challenges that Valenti faced: a rating system for movies, the financial syndication rules for television networks, and a French-backed "culture exemption" for movies in world trade talks. The DVD was recently made available through HBS Publishing.
http://www.hbsp.harvard.edu/b01/en/search/searchResults.jhtml;jsessionid=NQEGGPPDXKL4WAKRGWCB5VQBKE0YOISW?sid=null&N=4294959951

Eric Santiestevan '93 has finished music on his first feature film, 'Divided We Fall', which is a documentary by Valarie Kaur and Sharat Raju that addresses hate crimes against Sikhs and other ethnic and religious groups after 9/11, and asks the questions: Who looks like an enemy? Who looks like an American? Who counts as 'one of us'? More information, including screenings at a theater near you, can be found at www.dwf-film.com. 'Divided We Fall' was lovingly mixed at The Dubstage (www.thedubstage.com), which is a stellar facility, and Marti, the engineer, plays a mean game of air hockey as well. You can hear more of Eric's work at www.axotrax.com.

Nick Weiss ('00/'02) wrapped production in August on his directorial feature film debut. The film is a teen comedy called 'Senior Skip Day' about that mythical day when all the high school seniors cut out of school and party together. The project is independently-financed, and features Norm MacDonald, Lea Thompson, Tara Reid, and Larry Miller.

And the Award Goes to...

Andrew Bujalski '98 recently released his second feature, "Mutual Appreciation," in select theaters in NYC, LA, San Francisco, and Boston. The film, a hipster comedy of manners earned rave reviews from The New York Times, New York Magazine, Slate, Film Comment, and more. It won Best Screenplay at the Newport International Film Festival, Best Director at the Sidewalk Film Festival, was named a Top 10 Film of the Year by Cinematical, and was part of the Village Voice Best of 2005 Film Series. Andrew won the 2004 "Someone to Watch" Independent Spirit Award for his debut feature "Funny Ha Ha." To find out where you can see "Mutual Appreciation," go to http://mutualappreciation.com.

Abraham Kinkopf's '04 band the Indefinite article drew 174 people at the Emergenza Regional Finals. The band placed second behind the band that made it all the way to the finals in Germany. Father Abraham wants to say thank you to all the ridiculously loyal and fierce fans in Boston. For more information on the band, check out their website www.indef-art.com

Angela Wiggins '00 starred in the comedy short DRAGON OF LOVE, which was recently selected as one of 12 semifinalist out of 850 films in the NBC/Universal Comedy Shortcuts Festival.

Harvardwood Highlights: LA Insider

The Spot: Joe's
1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice
(310) 399-5811

With an unassuming name and modest store front, Joe's isn't looking to draw in the hundreds of thousands of tourists that flock to Venice each year. In fact, I'm sure he'd prefer to keep cooking for the locals like he has been for fifteen years. Unfortunately, with food as good as his, the word gets out. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America (the Harvard for Chefs), Joe honed his French skills at some of the best restaurants in the world. In 1991 he opened Joe's and established himself as one of LA's most talented chefs.

The Tip:
There is no way around it -- Joe's is expensive. Actually, there is one way around it: lunch. Even though the lunch menu is limited, it's filled with tasty bargains. Everything may be good, but get the fish. Joe never screws up the fish.

The Spot: Langer's
704 South Alvarado Street, Los Angeles
(213) 483-8050

The deli wars have been waged for many, many years. With almost every deli item, New York comes on top -- except one: pastrami. I know New Yorkers fetishize the pastrami at Katz's and the Carnegie deli, but the debate is over. The pastrami at Langer's is not a skyscraper of meat. It's a pile of slow cooked, meltingly tender meat on twice-baked rye. Since I don't have the words to best describe it, I'll quote Nora Ephron waxing on about it in The New Yorker:
"The rye bread, faintly sour, perfumed with caraway seeds, lightly dusted with cornmeal, is as good as any rye bread on the planet, and Langer's puts about seven ounces of pastrami on it, the proper proportion of meat to bread. The resulting sandwich, slathered with Gulden's mustard, is an exquisite combination of textures and tastes. It's soft but crispy, tender but chewy, peppery but sour, smoky but tangy. It's a symphony orchestra, different instruments brought together to play one perfect chord. It costs [ten-sixty] and is, in short, a work of art."

The Tip:
If your time is short, call ahead and someone will bring your order to your car. If you're in NY and want to try the best Pastrami in the country, Langer's can Fedex it to you.

The Spot: al-Noor
15112 Inglewood Avenue, Lawndale
(310) 675-4700

Being Indian myself, I often get asked often where I go for Indian food. Arguably, the best Indian food in LA is at a Pakistani restaurant. This isn't too surprising considering most Indian restaurants serve Northern Indian food. Al-Noor is a tiny, no-frills restaurant near LAX. The tandoori meats are intensely smoked and spiced. The fiery meat curries are multilayered creations. If you want a vegetable entree, try the goat curry. You see, in Pakistani cuisine, goat is a vegetable. This may not be the best place to take the cute vegan you met at Equinox.

The Tip:
Most people, Indian and Pakistani included, probably have never tried haleem. If they have, it probably wasn't at a restaurant. It's a difficult and involved dish with lentils and (of course) beef that, when made correctly, is as sublime as any cassoulet. The flavor of the haleem at al-Noor is not one you'll soon forget.

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