The making of XANH, The movie
My name is Tracy and I'm one of the Producers of SunKissed Productions. It's been three years since we produced our first short narrative: XANH. It’s been hard for me to publicly share anything about it since then.
Maybe it’s because it was so heavy to produce a story about queer trauma. Maybe it’s because there were various interpersonal conflicts on and off set that I feel ashamed about. Maybe it’s because we have so much imposter syndrome about getting this type of film out into the world.
Regardless of the negative self-talk, a truth I hold confidently to this day is: the making of XANH the movie was a transformational experience that centered queer and trans Asian Americans.
Here’s the story of radical queer and Asian film-making through behind-the-scenes photography:
1 The Inception
The inception of the video actually started years before we embarked on the actual production. Our director Sal Tran wasn’t ready to fully write the piece at that time, but when I left my job in 2016, everything started to come together. We didn’t really know what the filmmaking process looked like but we started with a story arch, some storyboard sketching, and a look book.
2 Queer Women of Color Film Festival 2016
That year, I was screening a short nail salon film at the Queer Women of Color Film Festival. The moderator for the Q & A panel asked: what is your next big project? I shared with the audience: I’m going to produce a film about a trans Vietnamese person and their seamstress mother who polices their gender through clothing. Shortly after, Alexander L. Lee approached me and ask: I really like your project, can I be involved as your Assistant Director? This moment was pivotal because Alexander Lee became our biggest mentor throughout the whole production.
3 GRASSROOTS SUPPORT
With my fundraising and organizing background, I knew we could lean on our generous community's support. Originally, we set a modest fundraising goal of $7,000 and launched a kickstarter with a short promo video. After three short weeks, a benefit party, small grants and some major love and support...we raised over $15,000 grassroots dollars!!! From this process, we learned that as long as you lead with an unapologetically, raw vision, the rest will follow. So many people were moved by our vision and we had barely begun.
4 The Pre-production Momentum
By month three into pre-production, we had found 80% of our crew and were well underway to casting our actors. Our main character was a gender non-binary, Vietnamese person. So we casted gender non-binary Vietnamese people. Our supporting role was a Vietnamese mom. So we auditioned Vietnamese moms. The script was so raw that our auditions were filmed with tears and healing joy. Every person who auditioned for Xanh told us: "This role is important to me because it’s reflective of my own story."
Auditioning for the supporting role (a Vietnamese seamstress mother) however, was terrifying. Essentially, we had to "come out" to each Vietnamese mom that we auditioned by nature of explaining the script and the content of the film. At one point, we had found an actual Vietnamese seamstress mother who delivered the lines perfectly! After offering the role, she declined because she didn't feel comfortable moving forward. While we were discouraged that we couldn't cast our preferred actress, it was a humble reminder of the difficult journey we wanted to embark on. We set a goal to film by the end of September 2016.
5 ON SET WITH OUR COMMUNITY
Our director, Sal, wanted us to bring their family’s 150 lbs altar into the middle of a field. CK, our lead actor had never acted before in their life. Thu Pham, our supporting role (and Vietnamese elder) learned about the LGBTQ community as she went along. After finishing the first weekend shoot, we needed to find a new gaffer in less than five days. While there were many bumps in the road, nothing felt impossible. Our production was invincible and everything fell into place as we stayed true to our vision and goals.
For a majority of our cast and crew, it was their first time on a production! We intentionally tried to created a set with no hierarchy so everyone could feel comfortable to ask questions, learn, and grow from one another. Since many of us had never been on a production set before, we were able to challenge industry standards by following our intuition and leading with a radical community vision for filmmaking. Most importantly: everyone felt empowered to contribute to the film in their own ways and we were all determined to manifest it.
6 Distributing on Our Own
I can count the number of film festivals we were accepted to on my hands. It was disappointing and discouraging to feel like the film festivals didn’t want to showcase a story like ours. When our collective member Vivian suggested screening it at their VSCO office alongside other short films, we didn't expect much. With barely any planning, over 150 people flooded the VSCO office to catch the first ever queer and asian trans short films line up in Oakland. Then, we flew to New York to host a second screening with our friends Patrick Lee and Grace Naw. Due to high demand, we had to add a second block of short films-- attendees packed the house even through the rain!
The more positive feedback we received from our audience, the more we realized we needed to take distribution into our own hands. We started traveling the country to make sure our film still got out to our intended audiences. We know people are hungry for queer and trans Asian American films and we've received inquiries to visit Utah, Minnesota, and Nebraska.
7 SunKissed Productions
XANH is a product of a community effort. Since making this film three years ago, XANH has acquired a life of its own where it continues to engage, challenge, and uplift our communities. That's exactly what filmmaking is all about for SunKissed Productions.
While I wish we could’ve shared this video with the world sooner, the process of sharing something so raw and authentic is a battle between empowerment and self-doubt. Fortunately, we are constantly gifted reminders that our work is valid and meaningful. Many doors opened for us and we had the privilege to work with NBC Asian America, Lightshow Pictures, nenci, and many wonderful nonprofits and businesses. Recently, we were awarded Artist of the Year by the East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club.
Our team now consists of Tracy Nguyen, Sal Tran, and Vivian Liang. Keep in touch, because we have big plans for 2020. You can find us at our media links below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for any inquiries.
Thank you to our friends and family.
Thank you to all our supporters.
Thank you to our hundreds of donors.
Thank you our sponsors: Red Envelope Giving Circle, GAPA Foundation, Vietnamese Rainbow Orange County, and VietUnity-East Bay.
And of course SPECIAL thank you to our amazing XANH crew for starting and continuing the journey with us. We love and appreciate all of you.