Filmmaker Li Lu & Fiscal Sponsorship
“We are stronger when we allow people to teach us and lift us up.”
There Is a New World Somewhere is filmmaker Li Lu’s debut feature length production and a part of NYFA’s Fiscal Sponsorship program. Sylvia returns to her Texas hometown for a friend’s wedding. There she meets Esteban, an electrifying stranger, who dares her to join him on a road trip through the Deep South. This coming-of-age story recently won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature Film at the Boonies International Film Festival. It has also won the Special Jury Award for Best First Feature at the Las Vegas Film Festival and Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. NYFA Current is delighted to chat with Lu about her process, inspiration, and creative practice.
There Is A New World Somewhere is available on-demand on iTunes, Google, and Amazon. You can also catch the film this weekend at the Film Fatales screening in Bushwick.
Film Fatales: There Is a New World Somewhere Screening + Q&A with Director Li Lu
When: October 9 at 7:15 PM
Where: Syndicated Bar Theatre Kitchen, 40 Bogart Street, Brooklyn, NY 11206
Tickets: $5; click here to purchase
View the There Is A New World Somewhere trailer!
NYFA: There Is a New World Somewhere (TIANWS) is your first feature-length film. Based upon your expectations and experiences making short films, what was different when making TIANWS?
LL: You learn so much when making a first feature. I had the privilege of working on features as a 1st Assistant Director, so I knew how to deal with the challenges concerning stamina and focus. But directing a first feature had its own set of growing pains. My biggest lesson was about being the spiritual leader of the crew and cast. With low budget filmmaking, a lot can – and will – go wrong or not as planned, and people will look to you as an example for how to react in a variety of situations. There were many moments where I had to be fearless and flexible, and those are the moments where you earn the respect of the crew and cast because they see the content of your character.
NYFA: When I watched TIANWS I was struck by a sense of disengagement and frustration with the young adult characters. This drew me into the film and reminded me of the post-recession landscape so many folks, especially millennials, find themselves in. What sorts of observations and experiences from your own life inform the plot?
LL: I graduated from college in one of the worst years of the recession – 2009. All of us didn’t know what to do with ourselves. We had all the ambition and talent to make our own films and develop our own ideas, but the climate of the times made us so fearful of not being able to find a job – any job – to make money and keep afloat. We grabbed onto any job we could in the realm of film, but the realm of film was also collapsing. All of the mini-majors were folding, so the few of us who were interested in indie film didn’t know where to go to start “climbing the ladder.” I wrote this story because I felt this intense conundrum – of being so creative and brimming with ideas, but having no connections, means, or possibility to bring those ideas to fruition. And I think that’s why so many creative people have responded and connected so deeply with the film.
NYFA: As an independent filmmaker, how did you make sure TIANWS would be seen by audiences when it was complete? How has your participation in festivals influenced the film’s reception?
LL: It was very important that the release of the film was as organic and celebratory as the making of the film. It’s so hard to finish a film. I’ve seen too many indies made by friends go through the intense hardships of production and post just release with a whimper on Video on Demand (VOD). I wanted my film to have a theatrical presence, so I took it upon myself to organize a theatrical tour of my film across five cities where I knew I had love and support – Houston, New Orleans, Austin, New York City, and Los Angeles. I had a VOD release date in August, so I spent July touring the country with my film at independent theaters. But while I did this, I caught the eye of an actual theatrical distributor, and they were able to place my film in 13 more cities. My wildest dreams came true. I was able to enjoy a full release of my film in theaters and on VOD, and most importantly, I was able to do it with joy and celebrate this with friends who had been there since day one.
Film festivals have become a tricky place to debut new work by new filmmakers. A lot of the film festival world has been overrun with politics and business. The slots available to truly independent films are getting slimmer and slimmer as bigger budget indies now rely on laurels and premieres at top festivals as part of their marketing strategy. I feel so lucky to have played the number of festivals we did, and even more gracious to those festivals that gave us Best Feature or Best First Feature awards. That recognition meant the world to the film and me, and gave us a foundation to build a strong, positive identity to present to distributors and press.
NYFA: TIANWS has an amazing Facebook presence! You frequently share updates, comments, and reviews. What role does social media play in helping you market your work?
LL: Social media is absolutely vital for every film. It is the most useful, accessible, and impactful medium for filmmakers to not only grow your own audience but also to market and advertise for your film once it’s complete. Traditional marketing does not apply for indie films, and neither do we have the budget or personnel to mount a huge marketing campaign. Big budget films are also focusing more on social media/digital marketing as well. Traditional distributors might say they have an idea about how to market your film, but at the end of the day, no one understands the film and can pinpoint its potential audience better than the filmmakers themselves. So tools like Facebook and other platforms have become essential skills in your toolkit.
NYFA: In addition to narrative filmmaking, your portfolio includes music videos and commercial advertisements. How did you build this dual career, and what motivates your interest in these fields?
LL: I started off as a 1st Assistant Director and producer of music videos and commercials. I learned so much by working on these high concept projects made under intense circumstances. I have a background in dance and music, so music videos are a natural playground for me. Music videos are like candy – you can be totally indulgent in aesthetic and form and present such a strong sense of tone. The narrative is purely delivered by the music and visuals – in essence, they are silent films. Commercials are also great because it’s storytelling deduced down to absolutes. Short content is challenging because you only have so much time to drive home a point, and it sharpens your narrative skills across the board.
I will continue to make things in every medium that interests me. I don’t feel the need to build a career in only one medium or mode of storytelling. I think we are only limited by the walls that we build ourselves, and I am constantly challenging myself to do more in every direction that interests me. All of these things come from the same creative place, and each individual medium inspires and fuels everything else.
NYFA: Why did you choose NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship to enhance the fundraising capacity for TIANWS? How did your fundraising plan evolve along the way?
LL: I wanted to find a fiscal sponsorship program to grow this project under because I wanted to be nurtured and mentored by an arts organization that really knew how to help artists make their first works. NYFA has been absolutely invaluable to me. The mentorship that I’ve received has been one of the biggest joys in the process of making TIANWS. Everyone needs allies. I would tell all emerging filmmakers and artists to go out and seek the wisdom and mentorship of entities such as NYFA. We are stronger when we allow people to teach us and lift us up.
NYFA’s Fiscal Sponsorship program provides individual artists and emerging arts organizations in all disciplines with the ability to raise funds using NYFA’s tax-exempt status as a 501(c )(3)-classified organization. The next deadline for NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship is December 31.
– Interview by Madeleine Cutrona, Program Assistant Fiscal Sponsorship & Finance
Images: courtesy of Li Lu