By Jennifer Phang
Gwen is the spokesperson for a radical technology allowing people to overcome their natural disadvantages and begin life anew. But when her job and family are in crisis, will she undergo the procedure herself?
To what extremes would a parent go to secure their child’s future? In considering the purpose of this series, I felt it was the right time for me to take a hard look at issues surrounding the future of women. I started envisioning the tale of a talented mother going to extremes to preserve her own viability in the job market in order to protect the prospects of her gifted daughter.
The stories of mothers sacrificing and suffering for their children proliferate across generations and cultures. I began looking for a multifaceted approach in exploring this theme. I didn’t want to tell a story about a guileless, idealized mother whose sole need in life is to raise a child. Rather, I wanted to create a mother who was a savvy, accomplished figure – a woman certain of herself, even prideful – a woman aware of her station and the tenuous nature of her position in a hostile, fast-paced world. This mother had to be fiercely determined to make good on her commitment to her daughter and to make up for past mistakes at any cost.
Around the time I began developing the script, I also began to notice an evolution in America’s collective consciousness: while in the past women were stigmatized if they had any plastic surgery done at all, they were now being judged on whether or not their elective surgeries were well-executed. Through the media, through our personal and professional circles, we are encouraged more and more to accept this kind of “self-improvement” as a compromised empowerment, or at least a practicality.
With this in mind, I wanted to look at the decisions of a cosmopolitan single woman at a time when competition for employment and education has reached a crisis point. This tale is ultimately a reaction to the myriad ways we try to self-improve in order to attain stability and success.
—Jennifer Phang, Writing/Director/Editor
The moment I knew that this film could work was when our cast met for the first time in a rehearsal space. Jacqueline Kim was sophisticated and stunning. James Urbaniak brought profound intrigue and nuance to the exposition he was saddled with. Yasmin Kazi attacked every moment with incredible range and vigor. And I was so grateful to have met Samantha Kim (who is not related to Jacqueline), who was daring enough to go to difficult emotional places and could directly relate to the concerns about the competitiveness in schooling that faced her character. They constantly surprised me with the truth and creativity they brought to each scene.
The first day of production was memorable. After studying our schedule, we realized we had no choice but to start with the apartment-spanning dolly shot that opens the film. Usually the preferred strategy is to begin production with a relatively “easy” day, so that the cast and crew can find a functional working rhythm before the tackling the “hard” days. But we simply couldn’t make this work, given the constraints of our shooting schedule and myriad other logistical challenges.
Then by the end of the shoot day, mandatory evacuations for Hurricane Irene had been put into effect for many low-lying areas of Manhattan. We parked our trucks on higher ground and sent the cast and crew off to look after themselves, their families, and homes. After three days of severe wind and rain, New York’s public transportation system was back on its feet again, and we scrambled to reassemble the cast and crew. Unfortunately, some of the crew had been evacuated to parts of upstate New York and New Jersey that were hit worse than Manhattan. When we resumed shooting on the pier we could see an eerie amount of wreckage floating past us down the Hudson River.
One of the biggest challenges for the visual effects team was the hologram shots of James Urbaniak, if merely for the sheer volume of them and managing the consistency of the look from shot to shot. Another challenge was the matte paintings of the cityscapes. I was inspired to create a very dense cityscape to suggest the realities of an overpopulated world. The matte painting artists ended up using pieces of the Hong Kong skyline as a model for this and combining hi-rise buildings shot in New York and Vancouver. The challenge for the compositors was lighting and integrating the matte paintings, but in the end they turned out some excellent work.
The look of the streams of light in the tube-filled headpiece took some finessing. Rather than simply showing lights streaming at a constant rate through the tubes, I wanted to convey the idea of little packets of memories and emotion building up slowly and then, when they reached threshold, suddenly shooting off through the tubes.
Looking back from pre-production through post, the creative process was exciting and highly rewarding because of the talents and commitment of our collaborators. I was fortunate to be able work with people who were so willing to give a lot to this project to get the work done right.
—Jennifer Phang, Writing/Director/Editor
Writer, Director, Editor
Jennifer Phang wrote and directed the award-winning feature Half-Life, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, screened at SXSW, and premiered internationally at the Tokyo International Film Festival as a Grand Prix Nominee. Look for Water, Phang’s follow-up feature film project, was selected for the Sundance Screenwriters Labs and won the L’Oréal Woman of Worth Vision Award at Tribeca All Access. Look for Water has also received an Annenberg Feature Film Grant and a Cinereach Grant, both from the Sundance Institute, to support its further development.
Executive Producer, Editor
Although probably best known for writing and directing the short film Pop Foul, for which he won a Student Academy Award, Moon Molson has been producing short films in New York and Los Angeles for more than 10 years. After shepherding the production of Advantageous through Hurricane Irene in New York City, he has vowed to never produce again …
Jayda Denise Thompson
Jayda Denise Thompson is a 2012 graduate of Columbia University’s MFA film program. Her previous award-winning film Crazy Beats Strong Every Time, directed by Moon Molson, has played and won awards at more than 30 film festivals worldwide. Thompson is also photographer, and is working on a photo series entitled On the Stoop: Girl Talk vol. 1. She is currently in production on her first feature documentary,Mama’s Roses.
Jacqueline Kim – Gwen
Jacqueline Kim was nominated for a FIND Independent Spirit award for her portrayal of Charlotte/Darcy in Charlotte Sometimes. She wrote and directed the short Present: a moment in the future. Kim is most known for her work in Red Doors, Brokedown Palace, Volcano, and Disclosure, and for playing Lao Ma in Xena: Warrior Princess. Her first EP, This I Heard (songs & melodies, part 1), was released in 2011.
Samantha Kim – Jules
Samantha Kim resides in Bergen County, New Jersey with her parents and two younger siblings. She made her first foray into performing when she started dancing at the age of five. In addition to dance and playing the piano, she enjoys painting and sketching. She is also a second-degree black belt and a straight-A student.
Yasmin Kazi – Gwen 2.0
Yasmin Kazi is a graduate of the Actors Studio MFA program at the New School University. She played the role of Janie in the television series Damages, Amartya inNew Amsterdam, and Ruby in the film Intersection. She has appeared in various off-Broadway theatrical productions.
James Urbaniak – Dave Fisher
James Urbaniak’s film credits include American Splendor (as Robert Crumb), You Don’t Know Jack, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Sweet and Lowdown, Across the Universe, Legally Blonde 2, and several films for Hal Hartley, including Henry Fool, No Such Thing, and Fay Grim. His recent indies include Drones and Hello Lonesome, and his extensive TV appearances include The Office, Weeds, and Sex and the City. Urbaniak won an Obie Award for his work in Richard Foreman’s The Universe.