What do the films Swallow, The Tale, Children of Invention, The Invitation and the upcoming I Carry You with Me have in common? They are all independent films. They are all lauded by critics. And they are all produced by Mynette Louie AB ’97, who has already made an indelible mark on the world of independent cinema in a remarkably short amount of time.
But it was never certain that Mynette would end up in the world of film, a point we returned to numerous times throughout our conversation. Born to working-class parents who immigrated from China and Hong Kong, Mynette didn’t have the opportunity to form industry connections until years after she graduated college. That doesn’t mean she wasn’t interested, however. In her characteristically peppy and charming manner, Mynette informed me, “I’ve been consuming films like crazy since I was a little kid.” She also attended Hunter College High School, which has produced the likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Robert Lopez. “So I’d been around that world, but I never thought it was a practical path,” she told me. “And it still isn’t, it’s a very impractical path. So, I decided to just do well in school and go to Harvard.”
At Harvard, Mynette concentrated in East Asian Studies but focused on Chinese literature and film, never relinquishing cinema from her life. “Leo Ou-fan Lee was one of my professors,” she said, “and he introduced me to a lot of film theory and cultural theory and feminist theory… a lot of my papers [took] a socio-political view of films.” Mynette said that taking East Asian Studies and, more specifically, classes like Lee’s that dealt with fifth generation Chinese films, “was a great education in Chinese sensibilities… and indirectly influenced how I approach story and the kinds of notes that I give.” It also instilled her with a need to make films that, while not overtly political, have something to say about the world around her. When we discussed her filmography, Mynette explained, “I Carry You with Me is about these two gay undocumented immigrants living in New York… The Tale was about child sexual abuse and dealing with trauma… [and] Swallow was about a woman feeling stifled by the patriarchy.” She paused for a moment. “They aim to be entertaining, you know, first and foremost, and compelling… [but] there is something that I want to say with my movies.”
These films would come years after she graduated from Harvard. “After graduating from Harvard with debt,” she laughed, “I was like, gotta find a job to pay [it] off!” She wound up working in marketing at Time Magazine and later in business development at SportsIllustrated.com. “I didn’t love the jobs that I had right after college,” Mynette said, “But I thought it was a great general media business education that has served me well as a producer.” Our conversation was full of answers like these, because Mynette is someone who chooses not to focus on what a situation takes away from her, and instead on what she gained and how she can apply it to building herself and her career.
It was right after 9/11 that Mynette’s life took a dramatic turn. “A bunch of my colleagues [at SportsIllustrated.com] had been laid off and, you know, I was hoping to get laid off and get a severance package and that didn’t happen,” she told me, chuckling. “They [said], if you want to leave you have to quit.” I could almost hear her shrug over the phone. “So I actually did quit my job… and decided to figure out how to get into this film industry once and for all.”
Her decision was courageous, especially considering she still didn’t have any connections in the film industry. Her networking began when she answered an ad with a post.harvard.edu address. It belonged to a Harvard alumnus working on a PA-starved NYU graduate student film. Mynette worked as a PA on the short film for three days, her first hands-on foray into the film industry. She would go on to produce two more NYU graduate student films. “I feel like I got a free NYU film school education, just by producing these short films,” Mynette told me, laughing. “Then I moved on to co-producing my first feature, Mutual Appreciation.”
Four years after Mutual Appreciation, Mynette got her first self-described big break when she produced the film Children of Invention, an even more impressive feat considering she was still learning on the job. “As lead producer, I didn’t have a lawyer,” she explained. “Our film was so small, it had a $150,000 budget… I basically had to read a bunch of books on film law, and [make] a bunch of my own contracts, and it was a very DIY effort.” The film got into Sundance and, according to Mynette, “just blew the doors wide open… I was able to build my network from there and continue to produce feature films.”
Mynette Louie '97 (Producer, CHILDREN OF INVENTION, MUTUAL APPRECIATION)
By Mark Saltveit '83
Film producers are "suits," financiers, number crunchers and contract negotiators. They're not creative – they're the people directors have to fight in order to be creative. Independent producer Mynette Louie '97, laughs. "That’s the most common perception out there, and I think that’s why Sundance decided to start the Creative Producing Lab three years ago."
Louie was one of the first fellows of the Sundance Institute's Creative Producing Lab. She has also been a participant in Cinemart's Rotterdam Producers Lab, and frequently participates in conference panels. After just 6 years in the film business, she has emerged as an innovative producer of indie movies and a vocal participant in the conversation about the future of film.Read more