GUIDE - 2 DECEMBER 2019 - BY TARA AQUINO & SAM MALLARI
TAKING CANDY FROM STRANGERS: LULU WANG ON FEARLESS FILMMAKING
The director of The Farewell describes how to break your own way into Hollywood by not caring about Hollywood too much.
Some people have known that they wanted to work in entertainment since they erupted from the womb and uttered their first words: "passion project." Some people got into filmmaking by playing around with their parents' old video cameras and plastering their bedrooms with posters of Agnes Varda movies.
But, not everyone working in entertainment was born a showbiz-super-fan. Lulu Wang is one of those people. The writer-director may be decked out in awards and nominations, but the truth is, she just wanted to make films on her own terms. Here, The Farewell director drops some gems on how her approach to filmmaking and immunity to Hollywood worshipping led her to become a unique voice (and Oscar hopeful!) within the Hollywood hodge-podge.
1. FTW Takeaway: You don’t need a degree as a license to love filmmaking.
Lulu Wang: I didn't go to film school, so I didn't really study directors in that way, and I didn't grow up with parents who knew about film. I really fell in love with filmmaking more through just the process of making it. I was always dabbling in the arts, and my mother said, "You have to pick one of these things to actually make a living.” I wanted to pick something that I could really focus on, and I picked film ‘cause I figured there's so many ways into film. There's music, there's writing—but I also knew right away that I wanted to be a director because I saw the director as the person who defended the writing, that actually was able to take the writing all the way to the end.
2. Take a step back from the intimidation and ask yourself, "What do I actually want to make?"
Lulu Wang: I didn't have a sense of worship for Hollywood, or for the movie industry, or for fame and celebrity. Once I decided I wanted to make films, [the question] was, "Well, what kind of films do I want to make?" That’s when I started to learn more about the history and theory of films. I learned by doing.
Most of my heroes are [people I know in] real life, heroes like my mother, my grandmother, and my teachers. I was more grounded and realistic because I didn’t worship people I didn’t know.
Because you have so much reverence for the people who do it well, and the people who have been doing it for a long time, it can actually be really intimidating when you're starting out to throw yourself fully into it, especially women. Especially if you're somebody who's been marginalized in representation in that industry. You can get caught up in these thoughts of, "Do I belong? Am I good enough?” As opposed to a kid who's just like, “This is cool, I'm going to do it.’
3. Think like a kid. Curiosity and shameless naivete can help you go farther than you’d expect.
Lulu Wang: I was a troublemaker and a tomboy, for sure. My mother said when I was little I would just talk to strangers. I did all the things that you're told not to as a kid.
I think my naivete really helped me in the beginning because I didn't see gatekeepers as gatekeepers. I just thought, "Well, I want to make films. Who are the people making films, and okay can I call them?" It's like, "Well of course you can't just call CAA". And then I was just like, "Why not? Don't they have actors? Can't I call them to ask if I can have one of their actors?"
And if I saw somebody who had money who was interested in films, I would say, "Well do you want to finance this film? ‘Cause you have money and I have a script," and I would just kind of ask these kind of naive questions. I guess I didn't know any better to not do it.
Lulu Wang is a classical pianist turned filmmaker. Her second feature THE FAREWELL, starring Awkwafina, premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in U.S. Dramatic Competition where the film was picked up for worldwide distribution by A24. Lulu was listed by Variety as Ten Directors To Watch in 2019. Born in Beijing, raised in Miami and educated in Boston, Lulu is a recipient of the Chaz and Roger Ebert Directing Fellowship, which was awarded at the 2014 Film Independent Spirit Awards. Her first feature film, Posthumous , starring Jack Huston and Brit Marling was released by The Orchard. She is also a 2014 Film Independent Project Involve Directing Fellow and a 2017 Sundance Fellow invited to participate in the FilmTwo Initiative for second time feature filmmakers.
Hero Photo Courtesy of Casi Moss & Big Beach
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