Under the moonlight

The more people entrust in me with their stories about love, about rock bottom, about vulnerability, the more I realize that there is no such thing as a perfect life. If someone says he begs to differ, then I’d say he’s missing out on life in general.

Everyone at some point gets her heart broken if she trifles with love. Sometimes what they’ve experienced should only happen in a movie. And yet, the truth is stranger than fiction. 

As a writer, you get to see life in various shapes and colors. If you don’t have an open mind, you only capture a limited few layers of life and people. But if you are willing, willing to set aside your own judgement, your own opinion, maybe you will find that people are more alike than they’re willing to let on. 

And yet, we tend to preach the popular, go with the flow through sunlight. We only let go of our subconsciousness and desire under the moonlight.

As a writer, my job is to bring what’s under the moon back to the sun. When it’s done right, it provokes people, it makes them uneasy, angry, upset… But in the end, people see their true selves through the story. 

They won’t admit it, but they feel it. To a writer, that’s a job well done.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

The bubble

I met with three groups of friends on Saturday. All career women. They blew me away. I think if I need support group here in Shanghai, they would be the first people I go to.

I saw a pattern in all of their Shanghai lifestyle. I call it “The Bubble.”

If one exposes herself too thoroughly in the Shanghai environment, it’d be like opening up your soul to the Death Eaters.

The mass would judge your taste, your lifestyle, your career choices, your partner, your car, your language… They would tell you that you should change to fit in and think they are doing you a favor.

Women don the same shade of makeup, even have the same face from their latest plastic surgeries. They wear the same style because it’s in and hip. Because some celebrity is making a wave with it. The latest model of iPhone is glued to their palms, bending their neck. People stop judging others taking selfies. Because now it has become the mainstream.

If you don’t want to be taken away by the current, you gotta have some haven, some shelter… some bubble for your soul to breathe and expand.

“Where would you want to end up?” I heard myself ask each one of them.

The answer stays the same: not here.

I suddenly felt a wave of sadness. The place I grew up, the place I call my hometown, has become too fast to strange to me, to us, that only this bubble of our daily life can make the old home liveable again.

So Shanghai, what’s your trait other than new and shiny?

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Two months later

My folks are on a trip for three days.

It’s just me and my cat Michael in the apartment.

Where I had spent three years all myself in the US, now three days seems too long. I need to heat up the food three times a day for three days. I need to feed and clean the cat. I need to get things in place for the room-bot. I need to do my own laundry. I need to remind myself to drink water…

All these things that I had been doing for myself, I handed the responsibility over to my folks when I came home exactly two months ago. Suddenly picking those things up seems a real stretch.

It sounds bizarre but we get used to things real quick. I only hope that with this pace that I’m going, I won’t settle in too much before I uproot myself again back to LA, where my heart belongs.

Two months later… things are better. But spare my heart, it still aches for the California sun.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Communication

I was going to have three calls today. One with the feature project director. The other two with the short film directors. 

The first one went extremely well. I was elated how this pro from the Big League liked my voice and nuances in the script. 

The second director was caught up in production. So we rescheduled till tomorrow. 

The third, boy oh boy, the third one got my head spinning like crazy. The director bumped into every possible pet peeves I had, the ones I didn’t know I had or the ones I thought had departed me…

Maybe I was being greedy. Because I didn’t need this extra short for my credit list when I was slaving away three short films, one feature while trying to build up the structure for my first Chinese animation feature plus a few other things.

Through the communication with the third director today, I learned a few things about communication and miscommunication.

Phone manners: Never answered the phone while you are in the loo when you tell the other side that you are ready while actually you’re not. Lock yourself inside the room when you know your call would meow and distract your conversation. The director blatantly did both. I rolled my eyes so openly. Thank the Lord it was not FaceTime.

Everyone needs to be acknowledged. This person never once said: “Thank you so much to turn it around within the 12 hour window.” Maybe she’s just another spoiled rich brat from China that need some spanking. I heard myself thinking.

Especially for screenplay projects, written words should be everyone’s best friend. I found myself trying to convince the director my vision from our previous conversation. It became her words against mine. When she said, “oh, my characters won’t do that. You can find it in the file I sent earlier.” “No, you didn’t.” I called her out loud. “Oh, now the male character has changed so much blah blah blah and the female character…” That part of our convo was a mistake, if not a disaster like Trump v. Pelosi & Schumer. I should ask her to send me more background stuff in bullet points before I started. Maybe she is young; maybe she’s inherited the worst part of the director title before earning it.

As a rule, I try to speak Chinese unless I can’t come up with the English word. I know how pretentious it could sound to the others in certain scenarios. We are both Chinese. So what the fuck? The director’s cringe-worthy English pronunciation got on my nerves if you want to know the truth. I’m not a pronunciation Nazi, but having so little awareness of how poor her English is by contaminating her mother tongue is what gets me. I found myself speaking English unnecessarily frequent with her as a way to beg her to stop.

And earlier I should sense the red flags. Like when I told her my price. She tried to bargain for a few rounds when I already told her that was what I charged for her three other classmates. Or, the part where she tried to give me RMB instead of USD and calling it thoughtful because I’m in China. I would have appreciated her street-smart in a whole different setting. Right then, I was not impressed to say the least.

When I asked her at the end of our call to send me her notes in bullet points, she never did. I recalled earlier when she came to me that she was worried about not being able to make it in time to the hands of her producer. Now she’s stalling?  Or maybe, we are just not the right fit. It happens. 

When my mentor asked me to not to internalize other people’s urgency but to go with my pace, I said I don’t have many choices right now because I want to get back to LA before I get bogged down by the Shanghai way of thinking (translation: What’s in it for me? How much can I milk out of it?)

I know better now after the bumpy voice call with the wannabe director. I took the rest of the day off; took a stroll with dad in the park; caught up the latest Colbert I’ve missed for the last few days; lit my scented candle and took a warm bath. I felt calmer. 

On the flip side though, I can’t help but think about those general meetings which I never heard back from. Is it because I was having too huge an ego for my petite stature? 

Hell, I can’t please everyone. All I can do is to listen better; make sure who does what by when in writing especially when I spar with another person whose personality doesn’t fit mine, which I’m sure may happen quite often.

And yes, I will need to breathe more and chill out. 

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Something’s gotta give

I just submitted a short script to another student director…

Within a month, I worked on four short scripts (10 – 12 pages per piece), did the first pass on a feature rewrite (110 pages), gave two lectures (2 hours each), and landed my first Chinese animation feature project. Plus, I will work on a dissertation with my screenwriting professor friend. Next March, I will do a screenwriting class at SIVA with the freshmen.

And yet, I haven’t shipped a single podcast in two weeks now. When the third student director came to me with his project, I knew I can’t get everything done on time.

I was losing sleep over my podcast project. Am I dropping the ball now? Where can I find more time to do this?

I don’t have an answer yet. The beginning of anything is hard. You are underpaid, overworked, and sleep-deprived. If you stop right here, you get devalued by being stationary. Moving is your only option.

Right now, to be able to juggle many balls, it feels all of a sudden like a privilege comparing to my last 9-to-6 job. Something’s gotta give means I have more than a thing on my plate. Yes, sure, I give a thing or two if my plate is full. Keep my mind from wandering…

 

Yours truly,
YZ

What shall I major

“If I want to go abroad to get a master’s degree?”

A girl from the class I lectured today asked.

I know that question. I’ve asked that question when I was her age, when I started working, and when I felt my soul was being ripped apart by the work I did.

“Most of us aren’t Steve Jobs, aren’t Bill Gates, we don’t know how to answer questions like this from the get go.” I said, “It’s more a process. I remember I read Man’s Search for Meaning, The Alchemist, when I was your age. I read memoirs, biographies ferociously because I thought I could find some pattern, some shortcut there from the lives already lived and proved. But in the end, you can’t calculate your 100th step when you barely have your step. Sure you will make mistakes, but that’s part life, part living, part growing. Media advocates overnight success, but we both know that it takes years to be an overnight sensation. And even if you thought that you found what you wanted to do for the rest of your life, sometimes you still get lost, get confused, get frustrated, wondering whether it was the right path that you took given the growing sunk cost…”

Some students drifted away already. Only a handful were still with me. I said that I didn’t know what to do with my expensive education for a while, whether I should ditch it and start something else… But I’m glad I didn’t quit. It’s only the dip.

Later I told my professor friend who invited me to her college that the students might be able to understand what we discussed today years later, or maybe not. But maybe it may benefit them. There is a huge chasm between knowledge and practice.

Just like when I disappeared for the last two days from my daily blog to finish the third short film in time, I realized that no matter how much I wanted to impress the director, I had to give him something to begin our polishing process.

And by now, I have a fourth short film to finish by end of tomorrow which I haven’t started yet, because I was out all day today in Songjiang, because I didn’t arrive home until 11 pm, and because the fourth director and I didn’t confirm until this morning.

Right after the fourth short film, I will immediately start working on the animation feature as well as preparing the notes for another feature rewrite which I already did the first pass.

“It takes 10,000 hours to become a master in anything.” I quoted Malcolm Gladwell as I kept on going with my answer. I told them how lucky they are to choose this path at this age. If they persist, by the time they are my age, they’d experts.

I used to get frustrated when I read Wiki entry of a famous person whose work I admired and who started early.  Now, after the emotional move back to Shanghai, I’ve learned that everyone has her own time.

Like when Mulan’s dad pointed to his daughter, ‘The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.

I would like to think that I’m one of those late bloomers.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Choice

I was born and bred in Shanghai, the most expensive and exciting cosmopolitan city in China. Via my dad’s calculation, its food and beverages are even more expensive that those in LA – although I would defend that Shanghai’s rent is much cheaper than that in LA. 

The Chinese people (other than folks born in Beijing) seem to make Shanghai her goal as “making it.” But I never feel like I belong here. Shanghai is all about money and efficiency. It’s not a place for writers, or artists in general. 

Today, my cab driver told me that he just couldn’t stop but work in Shanghai. He can’t afford to rest because of its high living expense for his family of three. I listened and felt grateful that right now I’m rent-free.

So this evening, I went to downtown Shanghai, at a place where Chinese and expats mingle for a dinner with a friend who runs her own company. This friend came from a family of businessmen and women. It was only natural when she set up her own shop in her early 30s. After several rounds of wine and beer on her part, she tried to reason with me why moving back to the US sounds like an unwise idea. “You’re Chinese. You would never feel like you belong there.” She then gave me a cautionary tale of her friend; she listed her resources that we could exchange to do something big and interesting together; she told me tricks of how to set up my own  studio (aka. gong zuo shi) so I could charge much larger fees when I negotiated with brands and firms, creating an illusion that I ran an army instead of working as a freelancer. 

This was all new to me. The artist side of me resisted and rebelled. But the pragmatic side of me wanted to learn more. After all, who doesn’t want financial freedom and more flexible working hours plus having extra to take care of the parents?

I told my friend that I would like to explore those notions going forward. I promised that I will pop at an event she hosts on Monday so she can start to introduce me to her acquaintances.  I’m not a star sign believer, but I do relate to and adore her Pisces-ness – flexible, creative, and resourceful. 

“God, things we could’ve done.” John Sculley told Steve Jobs when they met again more than a decade later when Jobs was hired back to Apple. Steve replied, “Things we could’ve done.” 

Of course, this moment, this line were all created by Aaron Sorkin who wrote the award-winning script for Danny Boyle to shoot. But to me, it’s also a reminder in moments like this. I don’t want to be another person to confess to my potential ally that why the he’ll we didn’t end up working together when we can?

For the past three years, I closed myself off opportunities that are not film related. I think I need to think different. There must to ways to utilize my talent… on a bigger scale, stage-wise and pay-wise.  

And this morning, a fourth student director came to me to fix her script. I was flattered albeit overwhelmed.  Every day I feel and think more like a screenwriter. But I’m not happy with its power limitation in filmmaking. Or, maybe two months later when I read this blog entry, my future self may have a better idea.

 

Yours truly,
YZ