Comisery Launches – How to Accidentally Make a Movie
Comisery officially premieres today as a movie. It's an Asian-American Science Fiction Screwball Comedy that Quentin Lee and I created and made over eight weeks during the lockdown. It stars Bee Vang, Harrison Xu, Amy Hill, Jennifer Field, Nat Ho, Sheetal Sheth, Richard Anderson, and Verton Banks. It's a screwball comedy response to the pandemic and living under lockdown.
Full disclosure: when I'm not working on screenplays and film work, I'm a correspondent for Bleeding Cool. In the week leading up to the premiere, the editors of Bleeding Cool have let me run a series of interviews with the cast and crew to talk about what it was like to make a movie during the lockdown, shot on zoom, without leaving home. It's a new form of narrative filmmaking that the industry is still coming to terms with.
Every time I think I've finished talking about Comisery, something else pops up in memory. It's the most unexpected event of my life. Typically, making a movie is a big deal. It takes a lot of planning, a lot of time, a lot of money, a lot of waiting. Instead, Quentin and I just sat down with a group of actors in front of our computers and just recorded it. No pitching to producers to get financing. We just came up with a script, Quentin, who's unstoppable when he sets his mind on something, just gathered the actors together, and we started shooting. That's not really how movies work. But this is a pandemic, and the world is in limbo. All the usual rules went out the window when the world went into lockdown.
Making Movies in a Pandemic
And the lockdown has been a disaster for the economy. It's been a disaster for the film and television industry. The risk of catching COVID-19 stopped production for months, so no new movies or shows were being made. Movie theatres were closed, and many still are. At home, streaming thrived because that's where everyone was. Actors were stuck at home, unable to work. The only people who could work were producers who could at least conduct meetings and do deals via phone and zoom. And writers. Writers might be the luckiest ones of all – we already work from home anyway.
Comisery was a first for everyone involved. None of us had done this before. I certainly didn't expect to direct a movie without leaving my apartment. Some of us still haven't met any of the others face-to-face. Everyone was a face on the screen. This was Bee Vang's first movie since his debut in Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino in 2008. This was also his coming-out – he publicly declared himself non-binary in real life while also playing Skylar Fang, the non-binary hero whose survival proves vital to averting the apocalypse.
At first, Quentin and I set out to just shoot a 7-minute pilot as an experiment; then it became an 8-episode webseries, then Quentin decided it was strong enough to cut into a single feature. Quentin has directed nearly a dozen movies over the last 20 years. This became the first feature film I made, co-directing with Quentin, because I spent all this time writing screenplays, graphic novels, and books, not to mention articles for Bleeding Cool.
It's a surreal feeling to bring out a movie in this climate, with the world still in limbo during a pandemic and no end in sight yet. Yet lockdown drove us to make this movie. We had the crème de la crème of Asian-American actors as well as Richard Anderson and Verton R. Banks, who are brilliant actors and writers in their own right. All of them gave their time and energy to this project because creating stories in times like these matters.
As Bee Vang said when I interviewed him, "Part of what made Comisery great was to use the pandemic as a kind of backdrop, a metaphor for what the characters went through. Comisery reminds us that everything is ephemeral, including the most intense of our feelings, no matter how strongly we may feel them at any moment."
Comisery is available AsianAmericanMovies.com and on Amazon Video.