Independent Filmmaker's Guide
September 22, 2020
Make One Million Bucks Look Like Ten: Lucky Grandma
On the surface, how a film succeeds can feel like a roll of the dice. In our conversation, this Director of Photography and Writer/Director duo reveals how it was actually their skill, determination, attention to detail and relationships that helped them create their heist comedy, LUCKY GRANDMA.
Steven Pierce: Just tell me first of all, how did you come up with the idea.
Sasie Sealy: So you’re in New York, right?
Steven Pierce: Yeah.
Sasie Sealy: You’re familiar with the Chinatown bus.
Steven Pierce: I’m very familiar with the Chinatown bus. That’s a chapter from my history that I hope never to repeat.
Sasie Sealy: Exactly.
Eduardo Mayen: So you’ve taken it?
Steven Pierce: Oh yeah, I’ve taken the Chinatown bus.
Sasie Sealy: I feel like everybody who’s lived in New York has taken the Chinatown bus.
Steven Pierce: Absolutely. It’s a rite of passage if you’ve not stood on 34th Street where it picks up, by MSG, at least a lot of them do.
Sasie Sealy: They’ll pick up there and a bunch of them will pick up on like Bowery or down there, depending on where you’re going, DC or Boston or whatever. Or the casino.
Steven Pierce: I had some friends who were very into poker for a while. So sometimes we would go to the casinos. There’s these casinos on Indian reservations outside of New York, and you can take the Chinatown bus to the Indian reservations. And so that’s what I would do because I was in my 20s and I was broke. My mode of transport was the Chinatown bus. And I would be like the only person under 50 on this bus. And you have to understand, that these buses that go to the casino, they are like a party bus because they leave at 5PM or 6PM and they come back at four o’clock in the morning. So this is like a party bus full of senior citizens and me, basically, who are all planning for a night out.
Steven Pierce: It’s like a cruise without the shuffleboard.
Sasie Sealy: Totally. I kind of had the image of the idea for that scene on the bus, which kind of sets everything in motion. That was sort of a little bit of the impetus behind the idea. I like things that have a snowball effect or irrevocable decision for lots of grandmas and grandpas. But at the time, nobody wanted to make a movie about an old woman, particularly one that was in Chinese. It was Pretty Crazy Rich Asians, and even though people loved the script, we couldn’t get the financing together.
Steven Pierce: Can you sum up kind of the high points of the story or of the movie?
Sasie Sealy: Of just the plot, the story?
Steven Pierce: Without giving anything away. If somebody’s not seen the movie, for instance, it’s all subtitled. It stars kind of a comedy high jinks of gambling, high jinks of elderly woman.
Sasie Sealy: Yeah. Okay. I don’t know. Why don’t I try one, and then Eduardo., maybe I should make you try and give the logline.
Steven Pierce: I would love this. I’d love this. I really want to hear DP give a logline. This is going to be exciting.
Eduardo Mayen: To me, it felt like a Coen Brothers movie in Chinese. It’s a total heist, it’s a heist film with a lot of comedic moments.
Steven Pierce: Damn this guy, he’s not only a great shooter, I mean, that’s a great pitch.
Eduardo Mayen: And there’s all these amazing characters. Unfortunately and fortunately, our lead was in every single scene of the movie and she was 85?
Sasie Sealy: 85. She’s 86 now but she was 85 when we made the movies.
Eduardo Mayen: We have a window of capturing that magic and then she’s got to go rest. She’s done it for so long.
Steven Pierce: What was that like? How did you how did you go about casting? Let’s start there.
Sasie Sealy: So, we were looking for grandma. And when we first started, I was not planning on casting and an 85 year old. I was like, no, I’m going to make my life easier. I’m going to find a nice spry 70 year old and I’ll just give her a little makeup or something. We started doing auditions, reaching out to people, making lists, the things that you do when you cast. Nobody was really Grandma. We were having trouble finding her. And Tsai Chin is like, she’s definitely known in the Asian American community in the theater community. She’s Auntie Lindo from Joy Luck Club and has been around a long time, although she’s never really had a chance to do a lead role like this before.
Steven Pierce: It was a great role for somebody. Something about her as well that’s super unique I think is that she’s been in two James Bond movies 40 years apart. She was in You Only Live Twice in 1967 And then Casino Royale, right?
Sasie Sealy: Yep. Yep. She’s had a very interesting career and a very interesting life.
Steven Pierce: So how did you find her? Did you use a casting director?
Sasie Sealy: I knew about her. She was on my list, but I thought that she was too old because the character’s 80 in the script, and Tsai was 85. I was just like, ah, I don’t even know she’s acting anymore. Maybe she’s retired or something. But a friend of mine went to the 25th anniversary screening of Joy Luck Club, which was playing in LA. So I was there doing the QA. He called me immediately afterwards and said, “I don’t know, Sas, she seems pretty spry to me, I would talk to her.” And so, when I got that phone call, I was like, okay. Sent her the script, got on a plane 48 hours later. Met her for dinner. We had this epic four hour crazy dinner with many bottles of wine.
Steven Pierce: I love this woman.
Sasie Sealy: She seduced me or I seduced her. She spent the first half hour telling me all the reasons I should not catch her. She’s very funny.
Steven Pierce: Sounds perfect for the character though, kind of reluctantly stubborn.
Sasie Sealy: They definitely share a spirit animal or something. As soon as I met Tsai within like five seconds, I was like, oh, grandma. As soon as I met her, really. It didn’t matter what she told me. She was like, I’m not going to run, I’m not going to swim. I need a rest. And I was like, I don’t care. Great. You’ll be grandma.
Steven Pierce: Did you find her agent and just send it that way?
Sasie Sealy: Yeah, we got it to her through her manager or agent, one of those. Our casting director got it to her.
Steven Pierce: Okay, got it. And that’s when things started to turn to really making the movie?
Sasie Sealy: Well, the movie was happening regardless because we got the financing from a grant from Tribeca and AT&T. And we had to make a movie and deliver it within a year of getting the grant.
Steven Pierce: Oh, interesting. Sorry, I don’t know much about that process at all.
Sasie Sealy: Well, that was sort of how we got financing for the film, which was really like a Cinderella story. It’s very unusual for independent films. But basically, we’ve had this script, had tried to raise money for it, but it was basically sitting in a drawer. I was working on other stuff, I was directing some TV and commercials and stuff, which is how I met Eduardo. And then basically, Tribeca called so I’d had a relationship with them because I’d had some shorts in the festival and some other feature projects that had been part of their labs or grants or other things.
Sasie Sealy: So in independent film, all of those things matter, right? Your relationships with Sundance, with Tribeca, with Film Independent, all of those stuff spanned years usually. And so they called and they told me about this grant that they had, and asked if I had any projects that kind of fit the parameters of what they were looking for. Which was basically, what they were looking for was an “untold story,” which is basically like anything that you don’t usually see. So it could be like a minority, it could be like an old woman, disability, mental, whatever, anything that’s just sort of not your normal Hollywood thing, and that could be made for a million dollars, and it was ready to go. There was a script and a schedule and a budget. And we had that for this project because we’d been trying to get it made.
Sasie Sealy: And so, when we got the grant, the stipulations for the money were that he had to turn around a movie to premiere the next year’s Tribeca, like in a year. That was like a whole process.
Steven Pierce: That is a dream scenario. I’ve never heard of that story before. That’s amazing.
Sasie Sealy: Oh, yeah. They give you a giant check that’s like the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes check. It was in our production office. Totally crazy. You have to pitch to get the money. Also, once you go through the different rounds, all the initial rounds, the final thing is like Shark Tank basically. You pitch to this celebrity panel.
Steven Pierce: Wow. So you mentioned that’s how you met Eduardo because you were working in commercials and television at the same time.
Sasie Sealy: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, we met on a TV show called Gordimer Gibbons Life on Normal Street. That’s where we met.
Eduardo Mayen: Yeah, Amazon.
Sasie Sealy: Yeah.
Eduardo Mayen: Going back to $1 million, you’ve seen the movie. It’s not a $1 million movie.
Steven Pierce: No, there’s a lot of locations. It doesn’t have a terrible ton of cast in it but there’s a lot of production design in that movie.
Sasie Sealy: Yeah. And a lot of locations. I don’t know.
Eduardo Mayen: Chase sequences, action sequences.
Sasie Sealy: Action sequences. Multiple action sequences, with an 85 year old.
Steven Pierce: With an 85 year old woman, that’s a great point. The center of all of it.
Sasie Sealy: The whole thing was really just an exercise in blind optimism.
Eduardo Mayen: We made it through.
Steven Pierce: How do you approach an action sequence with an 85 year old woman on $1 million budget, and I’m sure the schedule was just also bananas?
Sasie Sealy: Well, we had to rewrite some stuff because on of Tsai’s things, she doesn’t run. She would often tell me, “I have no idea what it means to be old.” That’s what she would tell me all the time. So she would like to educate me about that. Tell me all the things that all people can’t do. One of which was run because if you fall, it’s very bad. So, “the chasing,” had to be kind of reimagined as a fast walking pursuit scene basically.
Steven Pierce: But it was cooler, it made it so much more special.
Sasie Sealy: Yeah, yeah. And it made it more character based because then I kind of reimagined it more as like, what would grandma do in terms of, and it became about her more outsmarting them than about-
Steven Pierce: Physical running getting away.
Sasie Sealy: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Steven Pierce: So Eduardo, tell me a little bit about the schedule, overall. How many days did you guys end up shooting?
Eduardo Mayen: It was 25 days.
Sasie Sealy: 25. Which sounds like a lot, but it’s not. More than most independent films have, but most independent films don’t have an 85 year old lead.
Eduardo Mayen: Or big shootout scenes and chasing, and shooting in Chinatown.
Steven Pierce: Shooting in Chinatown is a whole thing. I’ve done it a few times, man, that is difficult. You want to ramp up production, you can’t even park the truck. You can’t park anything, you can’t get people out of the way.
Eduardo Mayen: Things were not consistent for sure but we got the authenticity. It was hard a challenge to move in that small apartment which was a find, it took a while to find that apartment. Well, you had found it before, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t there yet. It was too big. Wen I came into this, I knew that we were going to have a limited time and a limited budget and equipment that we wouldn’t be able to have nature bend to our will, but we would have to let nature do its thing. So I was very specific about how the windows had to face a certain direction so that light would be consistent throughout the day. We had all these requirements for the apartment apart from the technical ones, the aesthetic ones too. And we found this place but it was just too big.
Sasie Sealy: And too new. Do you remember how new it was?
Eduardo Mayen: Brand new. Everything was brand new. The windows were great and half of the apartment, the layout was good. So, Sasie had the idea to build this full wall. And then it was perfect because then it became for production and for size dressing room, and the other was a practical set. And then we also had a wild wall, which made it-
Sasie Sealy: That was Eduardo’s idea.
Eduardo Mayen: Where we could actually shoot through a little board. And having that and having this blank canvas and having a director who already saw the scene in her head and saw the different scenarios, we could actually walk through the set as it was being built and I could ask the art department who was fantastic say, I’m going to need a light there, I’m going to need a there, need a light here. So, I was lighting a lot with practical lights.
Sasie Sealy: Yes. We got this space really because of a little sweet talking from Jenny, our coproducer, who is our Chinatown fixer and guardian angel.
Steven Pierce: And you having the ability to kind of go through and pick exactly what you were saying a minute ago there, Eduardo, be like I want to practical here, I want a practical here, when it allowed you to really sounds like maybe more control than you normally get in this kind of setting.
Eduardo Mayen: Well, it depends, but yes, because we built it out like heart almost. A lot of indie films when you work in practical locations, you kind of have to work with what’s there. But we were able to put in our own fixtures and our own walls where we needed them to be.
Steven Pierce: So you mentioned, sorry, go ahead.
Eduardo Mayen: I think it pretty much worked out how you envisioned it. You were pretty happy Sasie.
Sasie Sealy: Yeah. Basically, it was sort of almost building a set. But we were building a set and an actual apartment.
Steven Pierce: What’s the wild wall? Describe what the wild wall is.
Eduardo Mayen: A wild wall is a wall that can be easily swung in and out and open. So, if you’ve seen the movie, I might give away a secret.
Sasie Sealy: That’s okay.
Eduardo Mayen: Her sink, behind her sink and behind where the front door is, that’s a whole wooden wall. And behind the sink, you can actually swing open the sink with that light and you would go into the other room. And so, sometimes, mostly at night, we would put the camera in there and shoot right over the sink, and we could shoot the entire width of the apartment from that wall.
Steven Pierce: So you could get a wide angle where you would not have been able to get one before or you’re doing some kind of crazy lens? Well, that’s as close as you’re going to get until you build it on a stage. Like until you actually build that set on a soundstage, that sound is about as good as you’re going to get.
Eduardo Mayen: Like you said, the truck, sorry, I’ll finish the story, but the truck, sometimes the truck can’t park there. We had lights outside shining in and we shot the sequence over three nights. So, sometimes if you look very carefully, the night exterior light shifts a little bit, but in the heat of the moment, nobody really noticed. That was Chinatown for you. You could put the lights in this space but maybe you had to put it two spaces down.
Sasie Sealy: There’s also a walk up. It’s not ideal.
Steven Pierce: Oh man, I feel for your ACs.
Steven Pierce: Had a lot of stair grips that day, getting into there.
Eduardo Mayen: We had a little dolly up there too. That was a labor of love carrying that thing up.
Steven Pierce: Oh, man. So third floor, you just stick those, you put those HMIs on Mombo Combos or something, just stick them way up? Wow, that’s crazy. In Chinatown?
Eduardo Mayen: I hadn’t used the Mombo Combo since film school. Once you start shooting TV professionally and you ask your guy, if I bring some Mombo Combo, it’s like, no, we can bring a scissor lift. Why would you want a Mombo Combo. It’s like, back to solving things that way. But that’s the beauty of it. There’s ways of doing it, you just forget because sometimes on TV or bigger budget stuff, you have all the tools.
Steven Pierce: In Chinatown also, you got to be small. That’s what you have to do if you’re going to shoot in that location. So, overall, the look of the film I really am into. I think you guys did a fantastic job just executing these great little pictures of like, and by picture, I mean kind of the staging, the composition where she’s sitting at the table and it’s warm. There’s cool kind of feel behind or make that space feel larger than it actually is but still feel intimate and textured. Most of that with practicals. Is that kind of your approach so that you can move quickly?
Eduardo Mayen: Yeah, and also to have a natural feel. Sasie had this bible of color palette, and she’s very into color palette, and very specific. We already knew what was gonna work harmoniously, it wasn’t just completely random. We knew that. We did a test where I was like, you like this gel, you like this gel, you like this gel, you like that gel. And we would choose it and then finding that harmony was based on this PDF that she built of seeing the color palette of the film evolve throughout the storyline.
Steven Pierce: Let’s talk about your collaboration together for a little bit. How much Sasie did you have shot-listed being like, this is what we’re going to do, this is what I want to cover the scene, this is a way all the construction of the composition should be? And how much of that came from the collaboration with Eduardo?
Sasie Sealy: Well, it’s always a collaboration. That’s why that’s why I picked Eduardo, he’s great and he can read my mind. So that’s good. Pretty much everything is shot-listed. My storyboards are not really storyboards. My storyboards are squares that I draw the stick figures in. They wouldn’t actually be storyboards that I would show to anyone. But you know, they’re shot-listed, and we also, for the stuff in the apartment, we were able to go there together. I had this thing where I like to act out the scenes. And I’ll look at angles and then I’ll show Eduardo a couple of angles and he’ll look at them and we’ll look at them together. As much as possible, we try to look at stuff ahead of time. Although it can always change in the moment, right?
Sasie Sealy: Sometimes Skye would have her own ideas about blocking, of course. And so, that would change things in the moment. Or like sometimes, we had a few locations that we didn’t get to the very last minute, like very last minute. And so we weren’t really able to do that kind of thing as much when you get a location the day before.
Steven Pierce: Yeah, especially in the indie film, I feel like location is, even in the Indie commercial world, location plays such a big, big, big, big part of it. You can save so much money and you have to find a location that can work for the scene and the production design, you just don’t have the money, resources or hands to put it all together from scratch.
Sasie Sealy: Yeah, and then a lot of the things are kind of, there was a lot of creativity and try to problem solve a lot of that. The sauna was a sauna that we built that was in a random, what was that, was like a dental office that was-
Eduardo Mayen: Used to be a dental office.
Sasie Sealy: It was attached to the bank.
Eduardo Mayen: Yeah, and now it’s just a location show, right?
Sasie Sealy: Yeah.
Eduardo Mayen: In Queens.
Steven Pierce: Oh, it was in Queens. So many random locations in Queens. How were you finding these locations?
Sasie Sealy: We had a location manager. So Joanna Lu, who’s also coproducer on the film, she was our location manager, but also Jenny, our coproducer, kind of came through with a lot. So Jenny, just to describe Jenny, she’s like the godmother of all production in Chinatown. She works on pretty much any production that shoots in Chinatown, whether it’s like a giant Hollywood thing like the Joker or our film. If it shoots in Chinatown, Jenny works on it. She’s like a badass, she’s a teamster. She’s great. So she has a lot of connections and so she helped us with a few of the locations. I think her connection was I think the one that got us the bank/dental office. It became the sauna.
Sasie Sealy: But then also Joanna, who was our location manager, who is normally on, oh my god, what is the show she’s on? Blacklist? Is that the one she’s normally on, Eduardo?
Eduardo Mayen: That sounds right.
Sasie Sealy: Yeah, yeah. So Joanna, she’s like many people on this film, who basically took a leave of absence from her very well paid union gig to basically work on our tiny film for like a month. So very much a labor of love.
Steven Pierce: What camera did you guys end up, what did you shoot on, what lenses? Were you using a variety of lenses?
Eduardo Mayen: We used the Alexa Mini. Actually no, the Amira. We wanted the Alexa Mini but we could only get an Amira, which I turned out like liking more. The problem with the Amira is it’s a little bigger and every inch in that apartment counted.
Steven Pierce: What was your base lighting package? How did you operate? Did you have basically a three ton that you were just rolling around or you’d go for most of the LED stuff? What was your game?
Eduardo Mayen: Well, it depends on the location. Sometimes we didn’t have a grip truck. We did have a little cube truck where we kept lights but everything changed depending on what we were shooting that week or the next couple days.
Steven Pierce: You did your packages per week per day?
Eduardo Mayen: Sometimes. I brought special stuff. For the night interiors, I brought big special lights and then I sent the back. And then the basic stuff was really basic, was like an LED kit, an LED card kit, a couple of LED panels, a couple of daylight units. That’s about it.
Steven Pierce: There you go. That’s what I’ve been kind of seeing with indie films is they basically, there are two ways of thought is on it that I’ve seen. One is you get your package for the whole time and that’s what this is. This is what you have, you bring in something for a day here, a day there, but this is your kit. Or other people who try and approach it being like dissect each location, each scene and package out each one, which seems to be the harder one to do.
Eduardo Mayen: It is. Some scenes were completely specific and needed special equipment that we didn’t want to carry for the entire shoot. For night interiors, for example, I needed big sources coming from the windows and those only work for two days. So we brought them in and we sent back. The Mombo Combos we sent back. The grips hated me, everything, they came out of the truck, they’re heavy. They’re heavy and they’re cumbersome. Once you want to move them, you have to bring the entire light down and then move it to the side. That was only two nights. It was a lot of little units because I try to light as many things as practically as I could.
Steven Pierce: That’s very smart. That allows you to quickly move around scenes cover stuff and not have to do total whole relights. You can dim a lamp up, dim a lap down, pull something a little bit this way or this way.
Eduardo Mayen: That was the idea. And we also didn’t have a lot of space.
Sasie Sealy: Yeah.
Eduardo Mayen: We had like hide lights in little nooks and crannies.
Steven Pierce: We literally just did a shoot in Chinatown last fall in an apartment, very similar to this and it was exactly the same thing. We chose to go mostly practical and then a couple of light mats, just overhead clamped on to stuff or on a stand because you just don’t have the room. Once you put the stands in there you can’t move anybody, you can’t move the cameras. So I totally love that approach.
Eduardo Mayen: Yeah, that’s what it was.
Steven Pierce: So, what does the release now look like for Lucky Grandma with, I mean, COVID has really thrown a wrench into everybody’s plan. How is that playing a role into what your strategy is moving forward?
Sasie Sealy: It’s all making it up as we go along pretty much. So we came out May 22 in “virtual theaters.” So that was sort of a new plan. We were originally supposed to have an indie-theatrical release in August. I think it was a 30 city kind of release, but still small. We just weren’t sure if movie theaters were going to be open. I think we still don’t know if movie theaters are going to be back open, if anybody would be going, etc. And we were like, well, everybody’s stuck at home. Maybe we should just release now. So we kind of put our foot on the gas, we actually hadn’t even delivered our DCP and stuff to our distributors yet. And kind of got everything to them in a hurry.
Sasie Sealy: So we were one of the first films, not the very first, but we’re kind of in this initial wave of these “virtual theatrical” releases. So basically, this was sort of invented during COVID. Kino Lorber, the sort of stalwart indie distributor, they kind of pioneered this. But basically, it’s a way to give indie and art house theaters revenue during COVID. So it’s basically just streaming but instead of going to iTunes or Amazon or something like that, you go to a specific link for your local art house theater. And then they share the revenue with the distributor and the filmmakers just like they would in a theatrical release.
Sasie Sealy: And we wanted to do that because we really believe in movie theaters and the whole indie ecosystem, and really want those guys to survive. They’re not getting any revenue right now, at all, except for these streamers. If you want to, I’ll just pitch out there, if you want to support the Angelika or the Alamo Drafthouse, or like any of your sort of local art house theaters, if you go to their website, there’s a bunch of films that are streaming now that are being released this way. And so, that’s sort of what we’ve been doing.
Sasie Sealy: I was really sad, right as we were opening or after we opened, my art house theater in North Carolina, the one where I grew up, which is where I saw Pulp Fiction for the first time, it’s like the one I always used to go to, there’s only one artsy theater in Charlotte and this was it. But they closed down after 45 years or something in business, like not to be reopened again. That was a little bit sad.
Steven Pierce: Yeah, that’s heartbreaking. It’s crazy right now. You’re the first person I have talked to that has a film currently showing in virtual cinema. Some are about to release. So how’s that experience been for you? Was your initial plan, were you connected to a distributor before you were going to film festivals?
Sasie Sealy: No, no. We had a sales agent when we premiered. And then finding a distributor is sort of like the normal song and dance. And we really wanted, I mean, the irony is is that we took a really long time to make a deal because we really wanted a theatrical release, like, a lot. So we kind of gave that up.
Sasie Sealy: But on the other hand, all the newspapers and press have been reviewing these virtual movies as if they were theatrical releases. So, we were still able to get the same reviews and press attention that we would have gotten I think if we had opened normally.
Steven Pierce: Gotcha.
Sasie Sealy: And then we’re going to be on iTunes, like all the normal VOD stuff.
Steven Pierce: Got it. That makes sense. It’s a real bummer that you weren’t able to obviously hit the festivals because you were going to have a big run and then 30 cities still seems like a lot to me. You know what I mean? I know it’s not a huge run, but I mean, if my film was showing in 30 cities, that’d be super exciting.
Sasie Sealy: I mean, no, it’s been fine. Well, we still got to do the festival. We premiered in Tribeca in late April, May. And then we did a whole round of festivals, and we still were in a few festivals. We had a European premiere in London and we were head of Asia premiere in Macao. So we did the whole festival circuit as well, just while we were negotiating with distributors, and figuring out which way to go. And then now, actually, the virtual cinemas, fewer people are going, you’re not going to get the box office that you would get from normal theatrical. I think nobody knows what it is basically because it’s pretty new.
Steven Pierce: And virtual cinema is kind of a cryptic term in my opinion. It sounds like you plug into the matrix.
Sasie Sealy: Yeah, it’s kind of weird. But we’ve actually been able to show in more cities than 30 because there’s not the physical limitations on theater booking because a lot of small town art house theaters have maybe two screens or something. If you don’t perform, they’ll change out pretty quickly. But now there’s less pressure on opening weekend and things like that because since it’s streaming, they can hold more titles than they normally would. So an art house theater might be showing five or six or something like that.
Steven Pierce: So in a way, there’s a give and a take, probably less people go on but you’re getting to show in more virtual “screens?”
Sasie Sealy: Yeah. Although, I mean, the thing is just from a point of view, the box office pretty much mirrors regular box office. The theaters that are big theaters for the indie market normally are still the ones that are performing the best. It’s the big cities really. It’s New York, LA, Chicago, etc.
Steven Pierce: What was your post-production process like?
Sasie Sealy: Not long enough. I don’t know. I mean, what about it?
Steven Pierce: I’m kind of diving towards how long did you spend in editorial and then how mix and color, how did that all go?
Sasie Sealy: Everything was very fast on this film, I would say, a little faster than normal. A year sounds like a long time but it’s not actually because we didn’t really start moving. I did some script revisions, we got the grant in April, then I was booked, me and my producers and my cowriter, Angela, we were booked on other things. We had to get out of other obligations to suspend our life for the next year to work on the movie. So that took a little bit of time, and so, during that period, we did some polishes on the script.
Sasie Sealy: And we didn’t really start casting, we hired a casting director to start casting until June. And then casting was a long process, and then starting everything up. Also, one of my producers was still finishing up another movie. She produced the Watergate, my documentary series, and was still on that until July. Then we’d shot mid October through November. Is that right, Eduardo?
Eduardo Mayen: Yeah. Yeah.
Sasie Sealy: And then we did a second pickup in January that Eduardo couldn’t shoot. And so, I edited some, we started editing some after that first production period till Christmas. But then I didn’t see because we were missing the entire casino sequence in like first act of the movie really. And so, we didn’t do that until January. So I didn’t see a full assembly of the movie until end of January, first week of February. And then I had to picture lock by March.
Steven Pierce: Wow. Yeah, that’s quick.
Sasie Sealy: Yeah. And then we had to do sound design and color because we had to deliver the DCP to Tribeca by April. Yes, everything was very fast.
Steven Pierce: Yeah, I guess you’re kind of in an unique situation because you had that back end of Tribeca where you had to get in, and you have to finish it, and finishing usually takes surprisingly longer than everybody always thinks.
Sasie Sealy: Exactly.
Steven Pierce: Mixing and color, even after you picture lock, there’s still a lot of work to be done to get that delivered.
Sasie Sealy: Oh, yeah. If I could have a few extra months, I definitely would have taken it if I could have had a little bit more time.
Steven Pierce: But also at the same time, you got to make a movie. That’s a hell of a great, great deal.
Sasie Sealy: Yeah, yeah. And we shot a little bit later than we wanted to because we had some, because casting took a lot longer than we thought it would. And also because Corey, who played Big Pong, he’s from Taiwan, we had visa issues with him. So we pushed the shoot because he couldn’t get into the country to work.
Steven Pierce: Wow. Wow, that’s really interesting. Wow, that’s super interesting. It’s a hurdle I’d never thought of being an issue is getting people to work temporarily in the US.
Sasie Sealy: Oh, yeah. It’s like a whole thing and it has not been made easier under the current administration.
Steven Pierce: Yeah, absolutely. So, last couple things here that I always like to touch on. Not including the cast, what kind of crew were you working with, and I mean, mostly like departmentally, how many people were there on a given day?
Sasie Sealy: You want to address that, Eduardo?
Eduardo Mayen: It depends. Usually I had two cameras assistants and two grips and two electrics. Sometimes we would need a couple more people depending on the location we were lighting and we were shooting. But that was the core crew for me. And then there was an onset dresser who was also a prop master. Everybody did a little bit more. It was good. We all felt like filmmakers. We all seemed like we were invested in it and so that made it more special. It was a small little crew.
Steven Pierce: That’s very common. First and second, plus, two and two, or three and three feels like the very common indie thing. And then honestly, where it usually fluctuates, seems like it’s in the production design in the art department, like how many people are on that, how many bodies you can get there. But you couldn’t have too many as you’re shooting in an apartment most the time it seemed like.
Eduardo Mayen: Yeah, and there were people also behind the scenes that we, we saw them when we came in and did the pre-production, but they were never on set because they were working on the next set.
Steven Pierce: If you were giving advice to people who were making their first indie film, or maybe their second or something, what would you take away from making this process that you’d say to them?
Sasie Sealy: Lots of advice.
Steven Pierce: Yeah. Some things that you’ve learned that maybe that this time if you could go back, you’re like, oh, you know what, if I did this, this would have made things much easier?
Sasie Sealy: Don’t underestimate the importance of a good UPM and line producer. That would be one. There are things that I hadn’t really spent that much time thinking about before and so I have a lot of opinions and thoughts about the DP and the production designer and the composer and things like that. But we have a good line producer and UPM that will make your life way better. That would be number one.
Sasie Sealy: And then I would say, the one thing that I’m really really happy with for the movie is I think, I really love the team that we assembled generally. Everybody was really there I think for the love of the project. I think it had some really talented people, some were inexperienced, some were very experienced< it was a real mix. I think choosing your people very wisely as much as possible and having good mojo on set I think is very important. That would be my advice.
Steven Pierce: Eduardo, what have you learned through your indie film time?
Eduardo Mayen: I mean, pre-production is always key.
Steven Pierce: Oh, yeah, that was something else I didn’t ask. How much prep did you guys end up doing?
Eduardo Mayen: We had a nice chunk.
Sasie Sealy: Yeah. Although we still kept losing location. So it was like kind of sometimes ineffective prep I would say.
Eduardo Mayen: But it was a nice creative exercises.
Steven Pierce: How many weeks were you on for prep, Eduardo?
Eduardo Mayen: It was like three weeks, three weeks of prep, right? I’m trying to remember when I got-
Sasie Sealy: Three or four weeks or something.
Eduardo Mayen: Yeah. And then we’ve been talking about it. She sent me the script. I literally wrapped the TV show and then wrapped my house because it was going to be empty until December. And then I got on a plane and left. But we’d been talking, I’d read the script and she already sent me references. I would watch movies on the weekends of stuff that she liked and that inspired her. And then we finally got boots on the ground in New York in October. And then we just started walking.
Eduardo Mayen: I still have my record of the most paces in one of our location. We walked about 12, 15 miles that day. It was up and down Chinatown. I learned the different Cantonese and Mandarin side of Chinatown. And a lot of things were completely finally fleshed out after our walks through Chinatown. And something she adjusted, she liked a little bit more or we got other ideas. It was great to walk around and just see all of that and then sit down with the locations that we had and map things out based on what we had.
Eduardo Mayen: I think the other lesson is less is more. I feel like sometimes I was trying to impose a little too much, and then when I was watching the dailies or watching the final cuts, like, oh, I was going really fast here. I just put one little light but it’s one of my favorite shots in the movie.
Sasie Sealy: Wait, which one?
Eduardo Mayen: I won’t tell you. When she’s hiding. We did the other shot and she’s very dark but she has just enough light, I just like how mysterious that looked. I think if I would have had a little bit more time, maybe I would have put more light, but actually like how it looks now. I feel like working on these indie movies, I adapt my style too, it’s like oh, I can actually get away with this and that’s actually gotten, it’s more emotive and it’s got a little bit more, a better mood than if I try to polish it a little too much.
Steven Pierce: Absolutely.
Eduardo Mayen: Which happens on TV because I have a lot more resources and a lot more time. And so, I took a lot of what I learned in Lucky Grandma on my last show, so I was like, yeah, yeah, we need that light from the window, that’s all we need. Let the actors do their thing. And that’s special I think when you learn from the indie world and you bring it to your other job, and you can work faster that way.
Steven Pierce: So in August, Lucky Grandma will be available on transactional VOD and other platforms probably most likely. So if people wanted to learn more about you all and your upcoming projects, where should they go and what are you guys working on?
Sasie Sealy: You can just google me. My name is pretty easy to google. Sasie Sealy, I’m like the only one. I’m definitely working on quite a few things. So things that haven’t been formally announced yet. We will see. But yeah, hopefully I’ll be doing another movie soon, very soon. As soon as production comes back. For the mean time, I’m going to be writing. I’m spending quarantine writing.
Steven Pierce: Do you have an Instagram or something, where people should follow you?
Sasie Sealy: Oh yeah, I have an Instagram. Sasie Sealy. See, very easy.
Steven Pierce: Very easy.
Sasie Sealy: Very easy.
Steven Pierce: How about you, Eduardo.
Eduardo Mayen: I have an Instagram. It’s Eduardo E Mayen, M-A-Y-E-N. I was actually working on a personal project when I got shut down. So hopefully, I can get back to that once things get back to a form of normality. But the last show that I did is called Cherish the Day. You can watch it now on demand if you’re stuck in quarantine. It’s a love story. It’s an anthology love story of nine episodes. So it doesn’t take that long. That was the last thing I did. And then I went to my home country of El Salvador to start working on this personal project and then got shut down. So, right now, I’m just reading scripts and meeting for things. Nobody has dates.
Steven Pierce: Everything’s kind of just on hold, complete hold.
Sasie Sealy: Yup.
Steven Pierce: Well, thanks guys for taking so much time to come and talk today. I’ve really enjoyed Lucky Grandma. Thanks for letting me watch it and I’m very excited to get this out there.
Sasie Sealy: Okay. Thank you. Thanks for having us.
IFG is created by Framework Productions. This episode was directed by James Allerdyce, produced by Matt Mundy, edited by Audrey Rae McHale, and hosted by Steven Pierce. The music is by Glass Boy. Find his music on freemusicarchive.org.