Written By: Mut Asheru
We come across them all the time. Independent filmmakers/screenwriters with that certain something whose work gives us goosebumps. Their promise is palpable. You don’t know why but you expect great things.
For us here at Knowshi, Vandal Truong is one of the promising filmmaker/screenwriters we intend to watch and even place bets on. We had our first “whose-that?” moment when we saw a short called WHITE RABBIT. A short film about incest in an Asian-American household was something we’ve never seen before. The direction was clean, casting magnificent and the script yummy. It made us feel fascinated, sad and dirty. Key word “feel”. We like it when someone’s work penetrates our fog and gives us some breathing room.
Vandal has directed several music videos and short films in N.Y. and Boston including CHINESE CATCH an Emerson EVVY nominated Best Short and the horror tinged GAME OF YOU. Also a playwright, his work has been developed at The Barrow Group, Manhattan Theatre Source, and The Sande Shurin Theatre.
The best part is that the guy is fun to talk shop with. We seriously dislike dry ass filmmakers who give dry ass interviews. But Vandal’s an interesting fella who used to have to dance to Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation for his mother’s company. With the upcoming feature film CHICKEN, he and his fellow creatives over at Picture Planet have given us yet another story that will make us laugh, cringe and laugh some more. He took some time out of his schedule to speak with us about being Asian-American in the film / theatre industry, his triumphs, failures, future plans as a playwright and human being.
Knowshi: Let’s talk Chicken shall we?
Vandal: Sure. Chicken is our foray into making features. We had been doing shorts and a couple funny PSAs together. We kind of plateaued with the things we had done. The shorts, music videos and such. We wanted to challenge ourselves and see if we could do a feature. Our plan was to shoot nights and weekends when everyone was available. We wanted to know if we could really come together, make sacrifices and get this done in true DIY filmmaking fashion.
My character Poh Phuk is a Thai food delivery driver that yearns to be a street baller in NYC and his mom forbids him to. We took a ridiculous concept and tried to ground it in somewhat of a reality.
Knowshi: So it’s a comedy.
Vandal: We hope so. I think it’s funny. I think it’s the kind of comedy that pushes the envelope in terms of how we perceive cultural taboos and race in our society. We made a template or structure of the story but a lot of it is improve. Dan Bowhers directed and I cast a lot of people that I wanted to work with. The idea in terms of acting was be committed to your character and let’s have fun. We shot digital and not film so that gave us the opportunity to just experiment and go crazy. There was a lot of stuff that was really funny but didn’t fit the narrative of the story.
Knowshi: What prompted you to get into film?
Vandal: Well I always wanted to be a performer and for the longest time I resisted it. Then I began a life of writing wanted to be more of an academic. Being in an Asian family I kind of made that compromise of “okay I’ll do something creative but in a more journalistic fashion” so I started doing music reviews and theatre reviews. But when I moved from Boston to NYC I decided I couldn’t fight it any longer and made the leap of faith. I slowly started to blend my writing and performing together.
But honestly, I think I have to blame my Mom. I was a portly kid and Mom used to make me dance to Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation for her friends. She put me in the spotlight.
Knowshi: Why were you scared of performing?
Vandal: I think every performer enjoys performing. I think it’s the pursuit of acting that gets a lot of people. As a performer your skill set is to be vulnerable and yet you’re going out to specifically get told yes or no. I didn’t want to be a prisoner of opportunities that I can’t create. So I started looking for ways to create my own.
That’s how I started cultivating myself as a writer as well as an actor. One of the full length plays I wrote ultimately led me to segue into film. White Rabbit was originally going to be a play but it was more cost effective to do it as a short film. I realized walking the film it would kind of draw me out of the theater game in terms of not having time to audition and that I would kind of be working in a vacuum.
I understood that and that’s how I’ve been for the past couple of years and that’s fine because I can go to bed at night knowing that I’m creating my own opportunity.
Knowshi: Do you feel that being an Asian-American helps or hinders you and your creativity in the industry?
It is difficult across the board if you’re someone that doesn’t look like Matt Damon or Bradley Cooper. I feel that there is an activist inside me. I do want to get involved telling the stories of the plight of Asian-Americans. I mean from an audience side I would definitely like to see it but from an artist side I’m like “you know what? I just want to tell stories.” I want to go out there and create. I don’t want to be handcuffed. At the end of the day it all comes down to what’s important to you. For me, the artist takes over and says I’ll just do what I want to do and tell the stories I want to tell whether my story is an “Asian-American” story or not.
For more information the film CHICKEN and Picture Planet visit pictureplanetstudios.com.