THE SHOPS AT SANTA ANITA I – “SCHOOLS”
Executive Producers: Caruso Affiliated, ICG Worldwide, LA-18.
Written by: Ron Wong, Ming Lo.
Directed and Edited by: Ming Lo
Producers: Mia Chan, Ming Lo.
Cast: Father, Ben Chou; Mother, Adrienne Zi; Daughter, Lindsey Vaerst; Son, Alex Leong.
Crew: Director of Photography, Alexander Brown; Gaffer, Cris Moris; Grip, Chris Cotterman; Grip, Mario Nichols; Grip, Bill Klug; Make-Up and Hair, Randi Peters; Craft Services, Mia Chan.
Graphics: Ming Lo, Diego Taracena.
The Project. Caruso Affiliated, the company that owns well-known malls such as The Grove, Commons at Calabasas, Promenade at Westlake, and several others, is planning to build a mall in Santa Anita. To encourage community support, Caruso decided to produce a series of commercials explaining the benefits of the development. Targetted toward the Asian community, this piece has been airing in Chinese on Channel 18 since November, 2006.
The Creative Challenge. As a director, the challenge was to infuse the message with meaning, to translate the script (which is of course, commercial), into visuals that would emotionally resonate with the audience. I’m quite fond of this piece, because I think we were able to achieve that. If you watch the piece carefully, you’ll see that the Mom is a bit worried as she sends her kids off. Small touches like that are important, I think. Of course, the heart of the commercial is the jib shot of the kids running down the street. Somehow, its very uplifting, and even a bit grand.
Behind the Scenes. For me, execution is everything. However good a concept, however interesting the directorial vision, it’s nothing without great execution. And while the project went smoothly, it was by no means an easy shoot.
– Location was a huge challenge, because it had to be in Arcadia, and had to reflect the upscale homes in the neighborhood. Moreover, we were lucky to be in a cul-de-sac because we had to put the dolly and jib in the street to get the wide shots. On another street, traffic could easily have ruined the day.
– Casting was also a biggie. Finding an Asian family for a whole day – on basically a shoestring budget, is really difficult. Luckily, I guest starred on an episode of NCIS that very week. Guess what I played? The Asian bad guy who traded in young teen sex slaves. So after lunch, I walked up to the 15 extras playing the teen sex slaves (yes, that’s what they well named on the call sheet) and asked them if they wanted to be in a commercial. I was so, so lucky, because all of them were over 21, but they all looked like they were 14. So, that’s how I found Lindsey, who played the daughter. The son, Alex, was the brother of one of the NCIS extras.
– Weather was almost an issue. We were scheduled to shoot Saturday, but rain was expected. So we moved it to Sunday. And of course, Sunday morning, it was drizzling. We were committed, with a truck full of rented equipment, cast and crew on the way, location paid for. If it rained, I was hosed. Luckily, it just stayed cloudy for the day. Which actually turned out to be great for light, because we didn’t have to spend the day knocking down the sunlight. If any of you have been on set, you know that’s a big, big deal.
– All in all, I was so fortunate that day. Small things, like we didn’t have a good shirt for one of the actors, and the owner of the house, my friend Peter Koh, lent us one of his. If you look carefully, the color of the clothes really makes a difference. When we shot, some wiseguy across the street decided to blast his stereo. On purpose, I’m sure. We didn’t have dialogue, so we just ignored him.
The Team. I can’t talk about this without mentioning the team. I had a great cast, crew and producer. Nobody does anything in this biz by themselves. I’m eternally grateful to them for making all this possible.