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'Saving Face' Explores Personal Identity

23 Nov, 2005 By: Jessica Wolf

Saving Face director Alice Wu (third from right) was honored recently at the San Diego Asian Film Festival.

Saving Face represents a life-altering journey for writer-director Alice Wu.

The film streeted on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (SPHE) Oct. 18, more than five years after Wu quit her lucrative job as a programmer at Microsoft to become a filmmaker.

“I was so bored at work that I ended up writing the two-page treatment for Saving Face, which I thought was going to be my first novel,” she said.

A bit of prodding from a screenwriting instructor at the University of Washington helped turn that into a screenplay.

Saving Face is the story of a Chinese-American surgeon who is a lesbian and has just embarked on a new romance when her mother, a very traditionalist widow, arrives on her Manhattan doorstep, pregnant. The mother-daughter pair navigates their way through the taboos of the Chinese culture with their unconventional love-life situations.

Wu gave herself a five-year salary cushion, which allowed her to move to New York, learn filmmaking and get Saving Face made, giving herself a deadline.

“I thought at the end of five years, if I haven't made my film at least I'll know it wasn't because I gave up on it,” she said.

That deadline passed during the middle of shooting the film.

Saving Face wouldn't have been made without the support of several people at SPHE, including president Benjamin Feingold, worldwide marketing EVP Lexine Wong and worldwide publicity SVP Fritz Friedman, who championed and eventually funded the film.

Wu based her screenplay, which won the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment screenwriting award in 2001, on her own experiences of coming out as a Chinese-American woman. It was important to her that she retain as much control over the end product as possible, which is why she stuck with the learning process and kept Saving Face an indie film, rather than selling or optioning it, which was proposed several times.

“In film, the writer really gets no say,” she said.

Wu knew if she took her script to Hollywood and sold it, the lead character would be “not Chinese, not gay, and there would be no Mandarin spoken in it,” she said. So she hung on until the right opportunity came.

Her advice to aspiring filmmakers is twofold: First, love your story. “Hang on to the fact that you are dying to make that story,” she said.

Second, a little financial pragmatism goes a long way. “You want to stack the deck in your favor,” she said. If you can't afford to take off for years and work for free like she was lucky enough to do, Wu advises up-and-comers to look for part-time jobs that enhance filmmaking knowledge.

Wu was honored for her directorial debut at the San Diego Asian Film Festival last month.

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