Fay Ann Lee at Tribeca Film Festival 2006 Everywhere we’ve been to, whether a big city and a big festival like The Tribeca Film Festival or a quaint little town like Nevada City, CA, Fay Ann Lee has travelled with the movie and met her audience after the shows on opening weekend to answer questions.

By courtesy of "Mad About Movies"

MAD Film Gab -
Episode 24 - All About Fay Edition

Interview with Fay Ann Lee after a screening of "Falling for Grace" at the Cinemark Tinseltown in Vancouver in November 2007:

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"Questions & Answers" with Fay Ann Lee a screening of "Falling for Grace" at the Cinemark Tinseltown in Vancouver in November 2007:

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Here are the most frequently asked questions.

1. What inspired you to write "Falling For Grace"?

I started out in this career strictly as an actress. My very first professional job was the Broadway show "Miss Saigon" which opened doors for me in the theater world where I got to play many lead roles. Once I started auditioning for television and film roles, I quickly realized that there were very few good opportunities out there for Asian American actors. It isn’t that Hollywood is prejudiced, it’s just that there aren’t enough writers writing for us. So, I decided to write. I have always loved romantic comedies, growing up watching old Doris Day and Audrey Hepburn movies with my parents. So, it was quite natural for me to try my hand at a romantic comedy. What inspired the plot were my random encounters with John F. Kennedy Jr. In the mid 90’s in New York City, there were a few weeks where I kept running into this NY celebrity. It was as if I was accidentally stalking him. The last time I ran into John Jr. I actually got to observe him for a longer period of time. He was playing tennis at a private tennis club in New York City and I was a guest. I got to see how people treated him as well as how he reciprocated. He was truly a gentleman but it was also clear that the staff and members alike treated him differently. And the idea came to my head: Would someone like him ever go out with someone from Chinatown? I thought that was an interesting question.

2. Is the Grace character autobiographical?

I think Grace’s character flaws are unfortunately probably quite autobiographical. At the beginning of the story when little Grace is shunned by a group of more popular girls - well, that really did happen to me as a little girl in Hong Kong. I was at a rich girl’s birthday party and one of her friends told all the other little girls to go upstairs to my friend’s room and to leave me downstairs in the living room by myself. What was so amazing was that everyone actually went upstairs, including the birthday girl who invited me to begin with. I never forgot that incident and it probably wreaked havoc on the rest of my life. Like Grace, I struggle with believing that who I am and where I come from are not only enough, but what made me who I am today. And who I am with all my flaws as well as strengths are exactly right.

3. What made you write about sweatshops?

One of my friends in college grew up in New York Chinatown. Her mother worked in a sweatshop and her father worked in a restaurant. I always wondered why her mother chose to work in a sweatshop. I say chose because she was an American citizen who could go out and get a job that at least earned minimum wage, but she didn’t. My friend explained to me that she worked in a sweatshop because it provided her with a sense of belonging. Her friends worked there. They speak the same language. They have lunch together. She felt comfortable there. When I heard that, it gave me a perspective that I never thought about and I wanted to bring that out in the family life of Grace.

4. Were Dunkin’ Donuts and Coke product placements?

Yes, but in different ways. Coke was very gracious to give us free product during the initial shooting of the film. Our wonderful production designer actually called them up to probably ask for money. Coke said no money but they’d provide us with free drinks for the cast and crew. Dunkin’ Donuts came in at a different point in time. I was actually in re-write mode after seeing the first cuts of the movie. I wanted to shoot new scenes for the film and we were out of money. So, one of my producers called up Dunkin’ Donuts rather randomly and asked if they’d be willing to give some money to a wholesome family film, and without even a blink of an eye, DD said yes. So, I’m very grateful to Dunkin’ Donuts for supporting our movie and instead of just placing their product or logo in the movie, I thought it would be fun to actually make the lead characters eat them and almost use it as a character in itself. There have been people who have come up to me after Q & As and said they want to go get a donut. So, it worked out for all.

The audience at Tribeca Film Festival 2006 5. How did you finance the movie and what’s the most difficult hurdle in getting this film made?

The movie was financed by mostly individual investors who believed in the script. My original script, East Broadway, had placed in a bunch of writing competitions which helped investors understand that the screenplay was in good shape. I then shot a bunch of scenes with a 16mm camera and cut together a trailer which I used as marketing tool. I was able to show potential investors the feel of the film - that I wanted to make a mainstream American romantic comedy, something that any investor would understand. It took about 4 years to raise the money. And then when we began to shoot, one company who promised to give us a bunch of money, wrote us a bad check, so in the middle of shooting, we had to spend time raising money as well. Very stressful.

6. Who was the first person you cast in the film?

The first person was actually Ken Leung who plays Grace’s brother, Ming. He was the first because I actually wrote the role for him to play. Ken and I had worked together in a play and a recording of a musical album and I always thought he was one of the best actors of our generation. I tailor made the role for him and he really is fantastic in it. I think one of my favorite scenes of the film is the heated argument between Grace and Ming.

7. How did you decide on Gale Harold as Andrew? And is he a good kisser?

Our wonderful casting directors, Billy Hopkins and Paul Schnee, had put together a list of potential Andrews and Gale was on that list. At that point, I had never seen an episode of Queer As Folk because I didn’t have Showtime at the time. When Gale walked in the room, he looked completely different from his headshot. He had a beard because he was working on another film but he was really different from all the guys that came in. There was a real sense of humanity in his delivery and yet he was also very mysterious in a very attractive way. I certainly did not write Andrew to be JFK, Jr. by any means, but many people have said to me after seeing the movie that they really sensed a JFK, Jr. quality in Gale - a mysterious, sexy, boyish quality. And yes, he is a very good kisser ...

8. What was the story regarding Jennifer Lopez?

When my screenplay started placing in writing competitions, I started to get interest from producers. One particular producer called and said he was really interested in the screenplay and saw the mainstream potential of this film. There was only one thing he’d like to change. I was so excited I was willing to change almost anything. And he said, "Could you change the Asian American woman to a Hispanic one for Jennifer Lopez?" And I thought, he’s asking me to change the essence of the film. And I’m thinking there are thousands of writers just in L. A. writing for Jennifer Lopez every second of the day. I certainly did not need to be another one. So, I told the nice man that I don’t think Jennifer Lopez would have grown up in Chinatown. And, that was the end of that. I quickly realized after that conversation that if I wanted to get this film made with the characters that I wrote, I’d probably have to do it myself. And thus began the decade long journey.


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