From the pages of...
  • Originally published on
  • Friday, Apr. 19, 2024
A scene from writer-director Vincent Lin's "Chopin"
Vincent Lin Reflects On Diversity, Inclusion and "Chopin"
Commercialmaker and co-founder of Valiant Pictures is in postproduction on his feature directing debut as AANHPI Heritage Month approaches
NEW YORK --

Though it wasn’t planned, it’s somehow fitting that Vincent Lin finds himself in postproduction putting the final touches on his feature directorial debut, Chopin, as May--which is Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month--fast approaches. The timing is apropos not only because of Lin’s heritage as a first-generation Taiwanese American but also the nature of the Chopin narrative. While it is ultimately a father-and-son story, the character in the title role (Chopin Wu portrayed by Eddie Liu) is too a Taiwanese American--in this case, second generation--who returns home to a small U.S. town to amend an estranged relationship with his workaholic dad (Leon Dai). With a sudden appearance from his ailing grandmother (Wu Min), Chopin Wu is confronted by a past he had left behind. In the midst of a health crisis and a broken family, he is forced to re-examine old relationships, embrace a heritage he once denied, and discover the importance of family and identity.

While Lin noted that Chopin is not biographical, the story was sparked in part by his upbringing as he was raised in small-town America--including Knoxville, Tennessee, and Central Pennsylvania--before moving to New York City where he embarked on a filmmaking career. In 2015 he teamed with exec producer Matthew D’Amato in 2015 to launch Valiant Pictures, a minority-owned production company that cut its teeth in commercialmaking and has since diversified into varied content.

Lin and D’Amato founded Valiant to help give voice to talent from underrepresented communities, based on the belief, said Lin, that “the most interesting and memorable stories come from storytellers from different, unconventional backgrounds.” Valiant set out to nurture those filmmakers in order to “bring something new to the table,” connecting that talent with agencies and brands. 

In recent years that talent has come to the fore in SHOOT’s New Directors Showcase (NDS) with filmmakers such as Alexandra Henry, Em Weinstein and Justice Jamal Jones making the NDS cut in 2019, 2020 and 2023, respectively.

Lin recalled feeling the impact of a film from Jones called Notes On A Siren which interweaves themes of African spirituality, Black queerness and non-binary identity. Henry made an impression with her Street Heroines documentary, introducing viewers to a group of Latina graffiti artists. And Weinstein made a favorable impression on Lin with In France Michelle is a Man’s Name, a short film which tackled trans identity along with themes of masculinity and fatherhood. In France Michelle is a Man’s Name went on to win the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Narrative Short at Outfest 2020 and qualified for Academy Award consideration.

Lin emphasized that Valiant doesn’t connect with these and other directors just because they “check off a diversity box” but rather due to the stories they tell “being interesting to us.” He added that as different as their backgrounds or belief systems might be, these varied directors tell stories that retain an element of universality--striking a relatable chord in that we can all find common ground in self-identity issues regardless of ethnicity or sexual orientation.

Chopin and commercialmaking 
Getting back to AANHPI Heritage Month and Chopin, Lin feels that significant progress has been over the past couple of decades relative to Asian representation behind and in front of the camera. “We’ve become more visible,” he observed, adding that there is increased “positivity” in the Asian American community regarding the availability of opportunities. “There are untold stories that people are hungry for and receptive to. We’re in a connected and more curious world.” 

Furthermore, Lin continued, “Asians aren’t just categorized in front of the camera as they were 20 years ago--as computer nerds and kung fu masters....Still, as a community we need to be diligent to avoid pitfalls.” He affirmed, “Our biggest assets are our differences. Let those stories shine.”

Towards that end, Lin observed that caring and commitment are needed to bring about diversity and inclusion. “It comes down to caring about it. It’s like losing weight, for example. You can suggest exercise, nutrition and so on, but if someone really doesn’t care, nothing’s going to happen.”

Helping Chopin to happen has been a steady process over the years. Lin wrote a script which he sent around to friends and colleagues in 2016. And though he didn’t always focus on the project--given that he spent considerable time and effort on getting Valiant Pictures established--Lin kept “chipping away” at Chopin, constantly rewriting and revising. Among the challenges from a narrative standpoint, he shared, was “how to tell a story that at the core deals with identity, a generational and cultural struggle, but in a way that doesn’t come across as preachy or melodramatic.” While it’s a story of depth, there was also the need to “disguise it in a way that’s entertaining,” handling it with a degree of levity.

It wasn’t until 2020 or so that he felt “really good” about the dramatic comedy script. Helping to corroborate that assessment was Chopin ranking high among the 2020 Motion Picture Academy Nicholl Fellows, cracking the Top 50 Screenplays list as a semi-finalist for the writing fellowship.

Fast forward to today and Lin at press time was in post on Chopin. But there’s still, he said, “a long road ahead” for the independent film, seeking the proper exposure, securing distribution and so on.

Lin noted that his experience in commercialmaking has proven invaluable in helping to bring Chopin to fruition. “Coming into my first feature film as a director, my many years of experience as a commercial director was probably my greatest strength.” Lin explained that comercialmaking made him accustomed to creating a visual language for a film, taught him the importance of prep and hiring good people, and made him comfortable with workflow, collaborating with key department heads and assuming a leadership role.”

Valiant is no stranger to theatrical motion pictures. In 2018, the company stepped into the feature filmmaking world, acting as producers on Clementine (director Lara Gallagher, IFP Film Lab, Sundance Creative Producing Summit), followed by Snakehead (director Evan Jackson Leong), and then post supervision for Porno, director Keola Racela’s film which premiered in the 2019 SXSW Narrative Competition.

 

Category: News

MySHOOT Company Profiles