Indie writer/director/producer Quentin Lee, formerly COO of Chopso, has just launched Asian American Movies, a subscription streamer set to debut his new apocalyptic sci-fi comedy feature, Comisery, on Tuesday, September 1.
In addition to Comisery, over the past 25 years, Lee has directed features in multiple genres, including Shopping For Fangs (co- directed with Justin Lin), Drift, Ethan Mao, White Frog, The People I’ve Slept With and The Unbidden.
Born in Hong Kong, Lee attended high school in Montreal, graduated from UC Berkeley, and earned an M.A. in English from Yale University and an M.F.A. in Film Directing from UCLA.
The Savvy Screener recently spoke with Lee about Chopso, Asian American Movies, Comisery and more.
TSS: Just as the country was starting to shelter in place, Chopso shut down in late March. What went wrong with that subscription service?
Quentin Lee: With our own money, we ran and invested in Chopso for three years and were just not getting enough subscribers or traction to sustain the operation. My partner didn’t have film distribution experience like I did, and we could not decide on the direction of the company. We also acquired a lot of content, some I believed in and others not so much. In March, we all agreed that we should close shop as our numbers hadn’t improved for three years.
TSS: How does Asian American Movies differ from Chopso?
Lee: Even though we closed Chopso, I still strongly believe in Asian American content and the need to have a platform dedicated to it. With AsianAmericanMovies.com, I’m starting from ground zero, mostly with a library collection of the productions I’ve produced through Margin Films. We will slowly acquire other features, short films and shows that we believe in. Currently, we are growing from a small library of 20 titles. For the price of a cup of coffee, $3.98 a month or $28.98 a year, subscribers can support Asian American filmmaking and help us slowly grow. Being on Android, iOS and the web, we are also focused on mobile content exhibition.
TSS: Can you describe AAM’s content offerings?
Lee: Currently, besides the permanent collection of Margin Films’ library titles — from the indie hit The People I’ve Slept With to the first Asian American standup comedy series Comedy InvAsian, we are streaming two seasons of Ying Liu’s The Haunted Bay, about ghost-hunting in the San Francisco Bay Area. We will be releasing the third season of The Haunted Bay this Halloween.
TSS: What can you tell us about your new feature, ‘Comisery’?
Lee: Comisery, the first Asian-American sci-fi comedy feature film, was shot during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. Adi Tantimedh, my co-writer/co-director, and I decided to create an opportunity for our actor friends to stay safe and productive, and the result ended up being a fun and innovative experience that challenges our traditional way of storytelling and distribution. Told almost entirely through web chat sessions, Comisery is an apocalyptic sci-fi comedy about a group of Asian American friends living through an invasion by an alien virus during the 2020 pandemic. It’s also the second feature starring Bee Vang (below) who was handpicked by Clint Eastwood to star in Gran Torino 12 years ago.
TSS: Can you describe the production process?
Lee: Just as the lockdown was happening, Adi and I started talking. We came up with the concept and pilot script of Comisery, originally a web series, within just a few days. I went to actors I knew, who came on board at once and we started shooting on Zoom the week after. We began principal photography on May 18 for eight weeks, making an episode per week. The crew was just Adi and I. He mainly wrote, and we co-directed together. I did all the editing, sound mixing and color correction. It was literally a crew of two. After completing the series, we realized we also had a feature on our hands, so I shot some extra footage with the actors and put it together as a feature. It was such a work of passion, and I felt it would be the perfect project to spearhead launching AsianAmericanMovies.com.
TSS: Was ‘Comisery’ partly a reaction to the backlash against Asian Americans due to the pandemic?
Lee: Absolutely! When the pandemic happened, Asians all over the world — and to this day – have been getting a backlash. From my friend getting harassed on a subway in Berlin to the viral anti-Asian videos all over the US, Adi and I felt the need to address this in an imaginative and creative way. Comisery is our answer.
TSS: In addition to being an Asian American filmmaker, you’re also unabashedly a gay filmmaker. What kind of challenges has that presented?
Lee: Let’s say I’m an unabashedly gay Asian American filmmaker. As I want to create content for both minority groups, I face double the challenges. Back when I started film school in the ‘90s, it wasn’t even possible to make a mainstream feature or create a TV series with an LGBTQ or Asian American protagonist. After a quarter of a century, I’m glad things are finally changing and I get to be part of the change as a filmmaker and distributor.
TSS: What other films and/or projects can we look forward to from you in the coming weeks and months?
Lee: On August 28, Here TV will release the 15th Anniversary restored edition of my third feature, Ethan Mao, worldwide. It will also be on AsianAmericanMovies.com.
September will be a big month for me. On September 1, Comisery will be released worldwide online via AAM and Amazon Video. Then, on September 8, Brash Boys Club, the first gay male/non-binary standup comedy feature special, which I produced and directed will be released by Comedy Dynamics for streaming worldwide.
I’m in post-production for a documentary titled Searching for Anna May Wong about Asian American actors, featuring luminaries such as Sandra Oh, Tzi Ma, James Hong and Oscar winner Chris Tashima. I’m also developing three TV series — Hollywoodshare.TV, Son of Smiley and Demos — and a supernatural thriller feature titled How to Talk with Spirits, starring Veronica Cartwright.
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