This is the next post in a series of interviews with writers who have had their first films, web series, television assignment, etc. make it to the big or small or computer screen. It is an effort to find out what their journey was to their initial success.
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David Au was born and raised in Hong Kong. At age 18, he decided to move to Madison, Wisconsin, where he realized the true meaning of cold. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison under Journalism and Theatre/Drama, he got a job in advertising at DDB Chicago as a media planner. In 2002, he quit his job and moved out to Los Angeles to study film. That was when he wrote and directed his first short film Fresh Like Strawberries, which later developed into his feature film debut Eat With Me (Premiered at Los Angeles Film Festival in 2014). David is also a video editor by day, editing films, trailers, commercials and music videos. He edited feature narrative films such as The American Dream, August, Eat With Me and documentary feature Body Sex With Betty Dodson.
Eat With Me synopsis: Tired of being invisible in a bland marriage, Emma moves in with her son Elliot in his loft in downtown LA. Elliot is a chef at a lackluster Chinese restaurant facing disclosure. Also, he’s gay – and Emma’s distaste and denial over this has made strangers of mother and son. But the two need each other now more than ever, and as Emma indulges herself with the encouragement of a saucy new friend, and Elliot confronts his fears of intimacy, the pair find ways to communicate, with food where words fail.
1. What is the name of your first screenplay that was produced?
My first feature film that was produced was called Eat With Me, which was based on a short film I did years ago called Fresh Like Strawberries.
2. Can you tell us a bit about the journey as to how it came about?
The story is loosely based on a little story that my mom told me years ago about how my dad woke up in the middle of the night one night and cut off his wedding ring because it was giving him a headache. My parents are still together now, but at the time, it was so bizarre to me that I had to write it into a film. And then I expanded it into a feature with more story lines and characters.
3. Tell me a little bit about the experience of having the project come to completion.
It’s probably the most satisfying experience ever, especially because the project had been inside my head for so many years. So it was very humbling when I finally got to collaborate with such an amazing team to get the film made. There was a lot of sweat and tears, and we went through a roller coaster ride of emotions, but it was incredibly touching and rewarding when I finally saw the film at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco with a full house of audience.
I would say two things. One is to get the script done. I’m not a professional writer, so writing comes harder for me. I have a lot of respect for other writers who do this for a living. While writing, I felt very isolated and alone, and to have the perseverance to keep going even if you think your script sucks was the biggest challenge. Second hardest obstacle would be money. As everyone knows, it’s difficult for independent filmmakers to find funding. I’m lucky I have an amazing producer Joyce Liu-Countryman who really was the main drive behind the entire fundraising process. She literally made this film happen, among other team members.
5. What have you learned about the industry when it comes to being a writer?
That it’s a harsh, harsh world out there. Everyone has an opinion and everyone likes to express it. One person’s favorite can be total shit to another person. I learned quickly that I need to have thick skin in order to stay in this business. You take every opinion with a grain of salt, and you think very carefully about what would make a better story at the end. That’s the most important.
6. What are you working on now?
I’m currently writing my second feature film with my writing partner Mark Neal. We’re currently looking for funding so we can shoot it later in the year hopefully.
7. What is your favorite movie or TV series?
This is really tough, but I would say Eat Drink Man Woman by Ang Lee. It was a film that really inspired me to tell good stories. To have characters that are perfect and flawed at the same time, and a story that takes you through laughter and tears. That’s the kind of films I strive to make.
8. Where do you think the movie and television industry is heading? What do you think its future is?
I think everyone knows by now that binge-watching online is the new best thing in our culture, especially TV. There is definitely a huge increase in content because of the convenience of internet, and the accessibility of filmmaking. I think as filmmakers, we now have more freedom to create stories that can be as personable and niche as we want them to be because it’s easier to reach the audience who are interested in our stories.
9. What parting advice do you have for writers?
I don’t know if I’m qualified to give advice, but something that works for me, and keeps me from being insane is to write something that I really care about, whether it’s a subject matter, a character, or a particular feeling. It’s a lot harder to give up in the middle if it’s a story you HAVE to write.
10. What do you do when you’re not writing? What do you do to get away from the industry?
I’m editing when I’m not writing, which is my normal day job. But to get away from the industry, I usually try to go outside of the city like San Francisco, Palm Springs or Hong Kong. It’s tough to get away from the industry when you’re living in the middle of Los Angeles. They know where to find you.
11. Tell us something about yourself that many people may not know.
When I was younger, I always thought I would become a marine animal trainer one day. I thought it’s the coolest thing to be able to swim or kiss a dolphin in front of an audience. If my biology wasn’t so awful…
And check out the other interviews in the series:
Dwayne Alexander Smith http://ow.ly/J8GJI
Haifaa Al-Mansour http://ow.ly/ITabq
Chad Crawford Kinkle http://ow.ly/HXLq0
Mikey Levy http://ow.ly/HA9Xm
Hilliard Guess http://ow.ly/HcOmr
Amir Ohebsion http://ow.ly/H8aPq
Donald McKinney http://ow.ly/GvPfn
Michelle Ehlen http://ow.ly/GvPr1
Dwayne Alexander Smith, screenwriter, screenwriting, screenplay, Free Fall, Forty Acres, See Dick Run