Author Archives: Ben Wang

Screening BREATHIN’ at San Quentin

Athough the official World Premiere of Breathin’: The Eddy Zheng Story is on March 11 at CAAMFest, the Asian Prisoner Support Committee and I organized a special preview screening on February 29—at San Quentin State Prison. The screening was hosted by the San Quentin ROOTS program, a weekly class modeled after an Asian American Studies/Ethnic Studies curriculum that documentary subject Eddy Zheng helped co-found. ROOTS is one of the few programs in the nation that addresses the specific experiences of Asian and Pacific Islander (API) prisoners through cultural empowerment and community building activities.

Given that a significant amount of footage was filmed at San Quentin and includes the voices of currently incarcerated individuals, screening the film at the prison was very important to me as a director, and the film’s crew. As far as I know, this is the first documentary film screening about an API subject to be held at San Quentin.

About 75 incarcerated individuals joined us for the early afternoon screening. The crowd was a diverse mix of ethnicities with roots from China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, the Philippines, Hawaii, Samoa, Nicaragua, Mexico, parts of Africa, and many more places. Many of the audience members have stories that mirror Eddy’s—juveniles charged as adults, families who hid their incarceration as a secret, and “lifers” who have been denied parole countless times.

Once inside the prison, a projector displayed the movie onto a small screen at the front of the chapel, with rows of men sitting in the pews. The audience was particularly enthusiastic—laughing, nodding, and cheering throughout the screening. The loudest cheers came when Lee, Kam, Thongsy—all API inmates still in San Quentin—and others were given their cameos on screen.

As the film ended, the audience gave us a standing ovation. Many of the men greeted me with smiles, handshakes, and heartfelt congratulations. As expected, the Q&A after the screening was unique and engaging. The audience members expressed how strongly they could identify with Eddy’s struggles and appreciated his journey to change, grow, and evolve as a person. One of the questions explored Eddy’s process of letting go of the prison mindset—and even being okay to wear blue jeans again after his release, as blue clothes are the prisoners’ daily uniforms. Another question reflected on the thin line between maintaining hope against all odds and “lying to yourself”—a dilemma that many of the audience members face on a daily basis, especially the “lifers.”

As Breathin’ premieres at CAAMFest and embarks on many more festival and community screenings, I am forever grateful for the thoughtful, engaging, and warm reception we received at San Quentin.

—Ben Wang

Eddy Zheng and Ben Wang

Eddy Zheng and Ben Wang

Processing took almost two hours, so Eddy had ample time to pose and take photos on the “red carpet.” Paparazzi photo credit: Kasi Chakravartula

Processing took almost two hours, so Eddy had ample time to pose and take photos on the “red carpet.” Paparazzi photo credit: Kasi Chakravartula

In the parking lot before the screening, the SQ tower and gates in the distance

In the parking lot before the screening, the SQ tower and gates in the distance

Our group after the screening--some of the sponsors, volunteers, and guests who make the ROOTS program happen on a weekly basis.

Our group after the screening–some of the sponsors, volunteers, and guests who make the ROOTS program happen on a weekly basis.

We hope to share more photos later – from inside the prison of the screening

Breathin’ World Premiere – March 11 and 20 at CAAMFest

I am proud to announce the World Premiere of Breathin’: the Eddy Zheng Story at CAAMFest 2016. We received two very good screening times: Fri, March 11, 6:30pm at the Alamo Drafthouse in SF (capacity 320) and Sat, March 19, 8:10pm at The New Parkway in Oakland (capacity 140). Tickets available NOW on CAAM’s website.

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CAAMFest Description: Arrested at 16 and tried as an adult for kidnapping and robbery, Eddy Zheng served over 20 years in state prison. Ben Wang’s BREATHIN’: THE EDDY ZHENG STORY paints an intimate portrait of Eddy — the prisoner, the immigrant, the son, the activist — on his journey to freedom, rehabilitation and redemption. BREATHIN’ moves with a deep, critical love, unafraid in confronting the hard truths of Eddy’s crime, the harsh realities of mass incarceration and the intertwined emotional hardships experienced by all involved. The film finds Eddy at many crossroads — in and out of parole hearings, organizing in the community, othered and at risk of deportation — his resilience and astounding compassion resounding throughout. In chronicling Eddy’s decades-long struggle for freedom, the film interrogates the complexities and hypocrisies of crime and punishment in the United States, raising the greater question: For whom are prisons for? — Andrew Yeung

Co-presented by: Chinese for Affirmative Action & Asian Prisoner Support Committee

 

Watching a Film

After hundreds of hours in the editing room, I am pleased to announce that we have reached “picture lock” for Breathin’: the Eddy Zheng Story! A major part of this editing phase involved showing the film to people … lots of people. We held focus groups with filmmakers, writers, and editors. We sent out online screeners to colleagues, film programmers, and friends. I showed my wife, sister, brother-in-law, and mother-in-law. Christine Kwon (Producer) and Deann Borshay Liem (Executive Producer) watched many cuts and provided detailed notes. Scott “Chops” Jung (Composer) insisted on watching nearly every new version and continually developed new music cues. And finally, I showed the film to Eddy. 

Despite us following him and working on the project for over four years, he never once requested to view the earlier drafts or hounded us with questions about the film’s creative direction. Along with the Asian Prisoner Support Committee (APSC) and a small group of friends, we screened a near final draft of the film for Eddy in a crowded hotel room during a conference. Eddy laid on the bed and chomped on sunflower seeds throughout the entire screening. When it was over, we held a constructive feedback session with the small audience. I could tell that they really liked the film, but I was still waiting to hear from Eddy. He ate a few more sunflower seeds. Finally, he responded, “It’s kind of hard for me to respond right now. I think I’m still processing it. That’s my life up there.” 

I would probably feel the same way if I was in his shoes—it must be strange to view one’s life on a screen, for others to watch and evaluate and judge. That’s my life up there. And life becomes complicated, story lines get messy, personalities show vulnerabilities. After a brief pause, Eddy chose a few specific scenes to discuss; he was curious about some editing choices. He talked about what impact the film could have, and started getting excited about future screenings, its distribution, and audience engagement. The reality of the film began to sink in for both of us. We continued talking and discussing through the night, and I anticipate reactions will continue to evolve. I am excited about the next phase: screening the film to even more people at the world premiere! I am pleased to announce that Breathin’ will screen in San Francisco and Oakland in March 2016. More details to come!

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Still frame from the “picture lock” cut: Eddy moments after his release, February 27, 2007

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Still frame from “picture lock” cut: Eddy and family playing Mahjong

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Editor Ken Schneider and Director/Producer Ben Wang at the PatchWorks Editing Office

 

Happy Lunar New Year! & Updates

 

Happy Lunar New Year to all our supporters of Breathin’: the Eddy Zheng Story!

Breathin’ has made many important strides in the editing phase and I thought I would give a brief recap with some of the major updates. Editor Tina Nguyen and I spent much of the summer and fall 2014 editing the previous drafts towards a full-length rough cut. Bringing in another person to help shape the story was a major leap. Tina was able to approach problem areas from a different angle and inject new creativity, which has been great for the film. During this phase, we also gathered feedback from other filmmakers, media programmers, and community members during private screenings and solo viewings (thank you to all who viewed the cuts and provided notes!). After being so deeply engrossed in editing specific scenes and material, it was helpful to receive the candid feedback.

Originally, we planned to finish the film by the end of 2014 with a goal of premiering in early 2015. However, after receiving feedback from key advisors and discussing with our team, I decided to extend the editing phase. We also had an opportunity to work with Editor Ken Schneider, an accomplished Editor and Producer in the bay area. It has been a pleasure working with Ken on taking the film to a higher level and I look forward to continued progress in the coming months. Ken has edited films such as: Regret To Inform (Oscar & Emmy nominee, Peabody and Sundance winner), Bolinao 52 (regional Emmy winner), and In Football We Trust (Sundance 2015).

I am also excited to announce that Scott Jung (a.k.a. CHOPS) has come on board to compose the original score for Breathin’! Scott recently scored music for the documentary 9-Man (which screens at CAAMFest in March, go see it!) and has had his music featured in many television shows and films. Scott is well known for his ground-breaking work as a producer/rapper for the Asian American hip hop group Mountain Brothers and has had an illustrious career as a producer for many hip hop artists. Over the past several months, Scott has worked diligently on drafting music for key scenes based on our rough cut. We Skype regularly to discuss concepts, ideas, and examples that will highlight the emotional character and dramatic arcs of the film. Music will play a crucial piece to Breathin’ and Scott is on track to create a score that enhances Eddy’s story.

I look forward to completing the film in 2015. Thank you to all of you for your support and enthusiasm!

Sincerely,

Ben Wang

Director/Producer

Breathin’ Updates – June 2014

Hi Everyone!

We have entered an exciting stage of the Breathin’ project and wanted to give you some key updates. Recently, we hired editor Tina Nguyen to join our team and help us work toward building a final cut ready to submit to festivals this fall! Tina says, “It’s great to be joining the team and to help share Eddy’s inspirational story. I’m taking a deep breath as we dive into the editing!”

Tina and I have spent the past two weeks in Los Angeles working intensively on reviewing footage, identifying key story ideas, and a ton of index-card storyboarding. We will spend the next few months developing the story and working towards a fine cut!

Thank you to all of our supporters as we enter this crucial stage of finishing the film! Please stay tuned for more updates this summer.

Here are a few stills from the film to enjoy:

Eddy at Carson section inside San Quentin state prison, 2012
Eddy at Carson section inside San Quentin state prison, 2012

 

Eddy graduating from college at San Quentin, 2000
Eddy graduating from college at San Quentin, 2000

 

Eddy speaking at SF Leadership High School, 2011
Eddy speaking at SF Leadership High School, 2011

 

Sincerely,

Ben Wang, Director

 

Breathin’ Updates December 2013

(Photo taken from The New Parkway work-in-progress screening)

(Photo taken from The New Parkway work-in-progress screening)

Happy holidays to you and your loved ones! We wanted to share a brief update on the progress of Breathin’: the Eddy Zheng Story with all of you. 2013 has been a busy year — we held a work-in-progress screening of the documentary, filmed the birth of Eddy’s first child Abella, and continued to EDIT, EDIT, EDIT.

All the hard work has led to major progress with the film and we now have a 1 hour, 45 minute rough cut. Over the past two years, we’ve made great strides in developing the story and are committed to sharing a side of Eddy’s life that has not yet been told. The visual elements have also developed further, as we’ve tapped into archival news footage and even received original artwork from Hyung-Rae Tarselli, a prisoner who illustrates images of solitary confinement from his cell in SCI Greene prison. In June, we screened a 26-minute work-in-progress draft of the documentary. This free public screening was held at The New Parkway Theater in Oakland to a packed crowd of 145 people, who gave us invaluable feedback and enthusiasm.

We look forward to refining our film into a final cut through 2014. Thank you for supporting this project from the very beginning. The new year promises to be a fruitful one!

Sincerely,
Ben Wang, Director
Christine Kwon, Producer

BREATHIN’ baby

With Lisa’s due date less than two weeks away, I have been “on-call” to film the big day. The plan is to film the first moments after delivery, when Eddy and Lisa hold their new child for the first time. BREATHIN’ is about transformation, so Eddy’s transformation into becoming a father will be an important part of this story.

971737_10151725070769754_1386521235_nAs a filmmaker, how do you prepare for a film shoot like this? Normally, we schedule and plan for a film shoot weeks in advance, with plenty of time to assemble a crew and prep. This time, I will most likely be filming solo. Since I could get the call at any moment, I have been putting together a “Go Bag” in order to take off quickly. So far, I have all my basic camera and audio equipment, battery chargers, phone chargers, water bottle, snacks, and directions to the hospital. Do I feel prepared? NO. In any case, I will be “going with the flow,” as Eddy often says.

Photos from Breathin’ work-in-progress screening

On June 25th, we held a work-in-progress screening of Breathin’: the Eddy Zheng Story at The New Parkway Theater in Oakland. Thank you to everyone who helped us pack the house! It was the first time that we showed this 25-minute work-in-progress to the public (and to Eddy), so it was a very exciting night for all of us. It is always a bit awkward to show something at a relatively early stage–we are still finishing up filming, still editing, still working towards a full rough cut…but we wanted a chance to show our supporters and community the progress that we have made and to get feedback about the direction of the film. As expected, the Q&A discussion at the end was lively and constructive. Now, onward to the full rough cut! Here are a few photos of the night, captured by Director of Photography, R.J. Lozada! A few more photos on our Facebook page, too.

Producer Christine Kwon puts up the sign at the front entrance

The New Parkway Theater in Oakland, CA

Packed house!

Eddy and Lisa anxiously awaiting their first sneak peek of the work-in-progress cut!

Breathin’!

Lively Q&A discussion after the screening, with Executive Producer Deann Borshay Liem, Eddy Zheng, and Director Ben Wang

Eddy speaking to the crowd

Ruth Nakashima, Ben’s Grandmother, gives away the prized Tomatoes!

 

 

 

Breathin’ Party – Friday September 14th at 330 Ritch!

Come party with us at 330 Ritch on Friday September 14th and help raise funds for BREATHIN’: THE EDDY ZHENG STORY, the first ever documentary to highlight Eddy Zheng’s 21 years behind bars and the impact of incarceration and deportation on the Asian American community. Currently finishing up principal photography, we have been fortunate to receive a matching grant up to $10,000 from the East Bay Fund for Artists! These funds will enable us to launch post-production this Fall! This includes editing, sound design, music composition and rights, color grading and tape-mastering; as well as festival submission fees and marketing costs.

After serving over 20 years behind bars for a robbery he committed at age 16, Eddy Zheng has dedicated his life to preventing youth violence, and now faces deportation to China. Contrary to notions of a “model minority,” the Asian and Pacific Islander American prison population grew 250% between 1990 and 2000. Providing a complex portrayal of its subject, BREATHIN’: THE EDDY ZHENG STORY will highlight a critical human rights issue facing the U.S. today: the alarming increase of Asian immigrants and refugees being incarcerated and deported.

All ticket sales and donations will be matched 100% by the East Bay Fund for Artists at this event!

Breathin’ Fundraiser Party – Friday September 14th, 9PM – 2AM 

330 Ritch (360 Ritch St., SF)

COME EARLY to see Bandung 55 at 10PM, and stay for DJs King Most and Chickenscratch!

DOORS OPEN AT 9PM / $20 AT THE DOOR / $15 PRESALE @ http://eddyzhengstory.eventbrite.com/

Visit the FB event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/492720307406023/

Film website: www.eddyzhengstory.com

We believe sharing Eddy’s story will help raise awareness about issues of criminalization, restorative justice, and deportation; and we hope you will join us in making this feature length film a reality. You can support this film simply by partying to Bandung 55, featuring KIWI ILLAFONTE, and dancing the night through to some of the Bay’s hottest DJs. Hope to see you out on the dance floor.