Hong Kong born actress premieres film in Del Mar
Don’t try to tell Fay Ann Lee that she can’t do something. Unless, of course, you want her to go ahead and prove you wrong.
Already a successful Broadway actress (“Miss Saigon”), Hong Kong born Lee wanted to move into film and television but became discouraged when she realized how few leading roles there were for Asian actors. So she went ahead and did it all herself by writing, directing, fundraising, distributing and starring in her first feature film, a traditional romantic comedy called “Falling For Grace.”
Lee was in San Diego last weekend to premiere the film at UltraStar Flower Hill Cinema in Del Mar and meet the audience for a post-screening Q&A. If the film performs well, it could remain in town for an open run.
Your background and training is in acting, so what inspired you to take on this project as writer, director and distributor?
After “Miss Saigon,” I started to do television and film and the roles were just horrible. So I thought, it’s probably because nobody’s writing for us (Asians) – or any minority for that matter. I took a writing class, not knowing what would happen and developed this movie. When the screenplay started placing in competitions, I got phone calls from Hollywood producers interested in the script. But it was the typical Hollywood story, one producer said they really loved it but wanted to change the lead to a Hispanic American for someone like J. Lo. I thought, what was the point of my writing this? What I wrote was not commercial enough, simply because there were no stars attached.
How were you able to raise the funding for the film?
I put together a little two-and-a-half minute trailer that I packaged with the screenplay and I used that to raise some seed money and gradually get more people to fund it. My acting teacher introduced me to casting director Billy Hopkins who helped recruit some recognizable faces (including Margaret Cho, Christine Baranski and Lewis Black) which made raising money a little easier. Overall, it took four years to raise the money.
This was your first time directing at the helm of a film. What was the learning curve like?
I learned by just doing it and making mistakes. I think I was able to get so far because I was so naïve. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. All I knew was that I had a good script, an interesting romantic comedy and I wanted to get it done. So I think my naivety completely protected me.
Do you think you’ve shown that there is audience demand for this kind of film?
I would not be in San Diego right now if there was no audience for this movie. When I first showed the film in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., the audiences responded so well that other theaters in the area began requesting it. So every theater I go to now is really by request. I know the movie that I made is not an Academy Award-winning movie by any means. It does what it’s supposed to do, which is make people feel good and smile.
What has surprised you most about the audience reaction to your movie?
That Americans are much more alike than we think. Whether you’re a red state or a blue state, we react to a lot of the same things exactly the same. And when it comes to family and love and all that, we are all the same.
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