Lynn Chen wrote, directed, and starred in the feature film I WILL MAKE YOU MINE, which had its world premiere in competition at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. Her three-decade career includes credits in over 50 television shows (SHAMELESS, SILICON VALLEY), films (SAVING FACE, GO BACK TO CHINA), audiobooks (CRAZY RICH ASIANS), and video games (CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS III & IV). She is also an Ambassador with The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and Miry’s List, and currently sits on the jury for our Feature competition.
Lynn sat down with Sarah Eagen for WeScreenplay’s ongoing Cocktails & Conversations virtual events. The conversation touched on subjects like her jump from performer to writer/director, her writing style, and the representation of Asian Americans on screen. If you don’t have time to watch the whole talk, here are some key takeaways for new and emerging screenwriters.
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Follow your intuition when it comes to projects
Lynn has been working consistently as an actor since 1998. She was attracted to the idea of creating her own stories from having a blog and a podcast before everyone was doing those things, but there was still a bit of resistance within herself to take the leap to a feature film.
“I was always interested in telling my own story and using these new platforms to do that, but the idea of writing, producing, directing — I think because I was part of the indie world for so long, and I knew just how difficult it was and I was pushing towards 40. It just felt to me like that it was too late.”
Fortunately, Lynn pursued her dream of writing and creating films. She starred in two films by director Dave Boyle, SURROGATE VALENTINE and DAYLIGHT SAVINGS, and discovered that Boyle intended to make a trilogy. One day in late 2017, she went on a hike with him and asked when the third film was going to be made. After he answered that he had no plans on making it, something sparked inside of her.
“I just felt, I don’t even know what it was, it was like a voice or something that made me say to him, ‘What if I make it happen?’”
Boyle voiced his support and said he would help her make it happen. And Chen got to writing.
How to fight self-doubt
After making her writing and directorial debut with the film I WILL MAKE YOU MINE — an official selection of SXSW 2020 which was sold to Gravitas Ventures before the festival — Chen got comfortable with the filmmaker label.
“And now I feel comfortable saying yes, I am a filmmaker. I don’t know if I could have said that if I had not made the film, but I do think there’s a lot of imposter syndrome that I felt, certainly even just a few months ago, even calling myself a writer.”
But she’s no stranger to self-doubt.
“I do feel like so much of this industry is this balance of art and the feelings of self-doubt that you have to push past. I certainly have had a lot of experience with that as an actor.”
Be gentle with yourself
When asked how she overcomes writer’s block, Chen advocated building a schedule and setting time aside to write. But also noted that she’s a big fan of following her own internal cues and allowing herself to play Animal Crossing instead of writing if that is what she needs that day.
“I think a lot of it, for me, is knowing how I work and being really gentle with myself and how I talk to myself. When push comes to shove I will do it.”
“The hardest part is self-motivation and not allowing yourself to drift. It’s a little bit of discipline but also treating myself kindly, giving myself boundaries — but if I’m going to shift and wander, that’s okay.”
Hollywood still has a long way to go with Asian American representation
When Eagen asked her about the state of Asian American representation and portrayal in Hollywood, Chen had this to say:
“I’ve been asked this question my entire career, about the state of representation for Asian Americans, and I feel like, for the first 10 years I was like, ‘It’s cool, it’s totally cool!’, even though it was so not cool. And, what I will say is that things have definitely gotten better. However, things that were wrong before, stereotypes, people not being represented behind the camera, that hasn’t changed. It still exists.”
She goes on to say, “I’m glad I’m at a point in my career where I can say no, but it’s out there and it’s going to get made. And it’s going to be out there. And it’s still at the point where, even though we made strides, people are being very vocal about what they want to see, and what’s okay and what’s not okay, it still doesn’t feel like enough.”
How to know when your script is done
One of Chen’s biggest pieces of advice is about how to bring others into your work. She has people she trusts to share her work with and follows her own gut when it comes to sending a script out into the world. “I like to give it to trusted colleagues to read to see if things are clear. I like to give it a little time to breathe.”
“Giving it space and another set of eyes is important. I hate rewriting.”
Thankfully, Chen has some simple advice for when you know your script is finished. “Make sure you have a couple of readers and ultimately it’s what your gut is telling you. You know when you’ve done your best work. You know when you can do more.”
Are you ready to take the next step in your screenwriting career? Submit your script to the WeScreenplay Feature Competition and get your screenplay in front of industry professionals like Lynn Chen.
Julia Camara is an award-winning Brazilian screenwriter/filmmaker. Julia won a Telly Award for the sci-fi found footage feature Occupants. Julia’s feature directorial debut In Transit, won Best Experimental Film at four different festivals. Julia’s other writing credits include Area Q and Open Road.