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Filmmakers Spotlight: Q&A with Craig Rosenthal of "Shanghai Love Market"

This week's Filmmaker Spotlight focuses on Writer/Director Craig Rosenthal, whose film is showcased at Sunset Gower Studios as part of NewFilmmakers Los Angeles. Learn about his film, Shanghai Love Market as he discusses goals and reminisces about making the film, lessons he's learned and where you can catch him next.

Tell us a little bit about your project and how long you’ve been working on it. 

I moved to Shanghai in 2008. I’d been keeping a diary full of all sorts of quirky things I saw.  For instance: Badly translated Chinese signs like ‘Male Sex Toilet”, “Do not empty your dog here”; how people exercise by walking backwards; the persistent hawkers who only know three English words “bags, watch, DVD”; my mandarin tutor who was very fond of stroking my leg when I pronounced a word correctly; and then there was this curious park that took my fancy.

One weekend, I was taking my camera for a look-see and I wandered through Shanghai’s People’s Park. Here, I saw all these people standing below posters that I initially thought were job ads. My buddy explained that they were parents trying to find the perfect partner for their kids. The ads usually have a headshot of the person, age, income, education, properties owned and of course list the parent’s phone numbers. Usually the children have no idea their parents are trying to set them up. So that ended up in my diary too.

Then about a year later, I found myself on a train for 48 hours from Shanghai to Lhasa, Tibet. I re-read the story and thought it would make a good short film. I started to write it while I traveled through Tibet. The story ends with a kind of a karmic twist, which I think has a lot to do with it being written while I was visiting the motherland of karma.

Is there anyone you'd like to thank for helping out with this film?

You can’t make a film without collaborating with many, many people. But there are two who if they hadn’t of stepped up then nothing would have happened – Judy Tseng and Nai Yen Wang. I’d made a TV commercial with Judy before in Shanghai with her production company called Cases Film. She was interested in making a short film so she provided all the production support. Then, Nai Yen came to the party with a handbag full of cash for financing.

How does it feel to have your film part of the New Filmmakers Screening at Sunset Gower Studios?

It’s great to be included. The thing I love about New Filmmakers is that it’s really by filmmakers for filmmakers. Almost like a writing group for screenwriters but it’s a mixed bag of producers, writers, and director. Also it’s not so much about the work you are showing but what you are going to do next. And I much prefer to look forward than back.

What inspires you?

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t inspired by the quirky and slightly off beat. I just take it all in, write it down in my diary – no judgments. Then later I’ll try and make sense of it all when I read back over the pages. Might be an awfully flawed character in need of life-changing journey, might be some weird event, or even a weird job. I don’t judge. I just write it all down.

Who are your influences and who do you admire?

My background is advertising. So I draw inspiration from some of the greats like Bill Bernback, Alex Bogusky, and Lee Clow. The ones who can elevate otherwise boring product messages to the art form of storytelling.

Then in filmmaking I love those writers and directors who tell seemingly innocent stories with the message hidden deep below layers of action or humor. Directors like Todd Phillips, John Hughes, Judd Apatow, Seth MacFarlane, David Gordon Green, Danny Leiner and Spike Jones.

As innocent as many of their films appear, these directors make many people walk out of the cinema with more energy to keep striving in their own lives all creating their own personal real life character arcs. You know, I kind of prefer them to the obviously preachy, overly dramatic message laden Oscar-worthy like films. But having said that I will also watch in slow motion anything Meryl Streep does.

What lessons have you learned from the industry so far?

1. Always get a good lawyer to look over any option agreements you sign.
2. Beware of script doctors.  A script doctor is like someone who knows a hundred ways to make love but doesn’t know any women.

If you could collaborate with anybody, who would it be?

I’d love to do something with Spike Jones. I love his sense of ridiculousness.

What is the best piece of advice someone has given to you?

Don’t aim to be rich. Eight percent of suicides are wealthy people. Aim to do something you love.

What advice would you give to new filmmakers starting out in the industry?

Storyboard everything. Including crew toilet breaks. I’m serious.

In advertising, we storyboard 30-second commercials with sometimes over 30 frames. It’s great training. For a short film you have months of pre-production to get all your ducks in a row but then just but just hours to shoot your ducks.

I’m really bad at thinking on my feet so I need to figure out in advance how I’m going to shoot my ducks on the day.

Where can we expect to see you next?

I read that you need to write about ten feature film scripts before you get anywhere near to being good. So that’s why I’ve been doing lately. I’m up to script number six. It’s called Killer App.

It can’t be half bad because my manager is getting ready to take it out to the town. It’s like a 21st century retelling of Fatal Attraction. But think of Glenn Close as being like an advanced form of AI. And Michael Douglass is like a nerdy geek looking for a good time.

Let our readers know where they can find more information about you and your projects.

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About the Author

Formerly an editor at Demand Media, writer at Citysearch, The Examiner, LA Youth Newspaper and proofreader at The Los Angeles Daily News, Christy Buena decided to start Disarray Magazine because she missed writing what she wanted. From hiring writers, to contacting publicists and making assignments, Christy is responsible for the editorial strategy of Disarray Magazine. Get to know the team of talented contributors.
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