I went to China at my own expense and attended almost all of the filming there. If Wayne asked me to make scripts changes, I told him he had to give me a chit for breakfast. Filming in China was a definite hardship but completely absorbing. I wore seven layers of clothing and was still freezing. At one point, I was shaking so hard I knew I'd get hypothermia if I didn't get out of the wind. So I went and sat in a van. The amazing thing is, Wayne and the rest of the cast and crew continued filming. Of course, I would have stayed out there if he really needed me, but I figured I shouldn't have to die just to prove I was a trouper.
One of the most ironic comments I heard during a test audience focus group had to do with the scenes we shot in China. I think the scenes are stunning--so stunning, I guess, they strain credibility. To wit: A woman in the focus group said, "All the scenes were gorgeous--until we got to China. You should get rid of those matte paintings. You can tell they're fake." I turned to Wayne and poked him: "You see? We didn't have to suffer in the freezing rain after all. We could have used better matte paintings."
I CRIED MY EYES OUT
I saw all the dailies, most of them on video format at home. I cried throughout the making of the movie. I was very moved by what I was seeing. I was exhausted watching what the actors went through. At major stages, Ron and I worked with Wayne and the editor, Maysie Hoy, as the movie was being cut. That process was fascinating but tedious. I ended up thinking Maysie was a saint.
Around April, I got to see a first rough cut. I was supposed to watch it and take notes of problem areas and such. But I was too mesmerized to do anything but watch it pretty much like an ordinary moviegoer. I laughed, I cried. The second time I saw it, I said to Wayne: "I want you to remember this day. We're going to get a lot of different reactions to this film later down the road. But I want us to remember that on this day, you, Ron and I were proud with what we've accomplished. We made our vision."
Ron insisted that I come to the test previews because there I'd get one of the biggest highs or lows of my life, seeing how a real audience reacted. Fortunately, it was the former. I was surprised, though, whenever people laughed during a scene I never considered funny. I suppose it was one of those ironic laughs, in which one recognizes the pain of some childhood humiliation.
I've now seen the movie about 25 times, and I am not ashamed to say I'm moved to tears each time.
By the time you read this, I will have seen the movie with my mother and my half sister, who just immigrated from China. So that'll be my version of life imitating art, or sitting in front of it. I'm nervous about what my mother will think. I'm afraid she'll be overwhelmed by some of the scenes that are taken from her life, especially the one that depicts the suicide of her mother.
I hope those in the audience are moved by the film, that they connect with the emotions and feel changed at the end, that they feel closer to another person as a result. That's what I like to get out of a book, a connection with the world.
As to reviews, I've already imagined all the bad things that can be said. That way I'll be delighted by anything good that comes out. I'm aware that the success of this movie will depend on good reviews and word-of-mouth reactions. But there comes a point when you've done all you can. And then it's out of your control. Certainly I hope the movie's a success at the box office, mostly for Wayne and Ron's sakes, as well as the cast and crew who worked on this. And certainly I hope Disney feels it was more than justified in taking a risk on this movie. By my score, however, the movie is already a success. We made the movie we wanted to make. It's not perfect, but we're happy with it. And I'll be standing in line, ready to plunk down $7 to see it.
In the meantime, I've got a whole mess of Chinese lucky charms that are absolutely guaranteed to bring the gods to the theater.
I'VE LEARNED MY LESSONS
At different points in the making of the movie, I vowed I'd never do this again. It's too time-consuming. It's rife with ups and downs. There's so much business. I've developed calluses and a certain sang-froid attitude about some of the inherent difficulties of filmmaking.
Yet, against all my expectations, I like working collaboratively from time to time. I like fusing ideas into one vision. I like seeing that vision come to life with other people who know exactly what it took to get there.
My love of fiction is unaltered. It's my first love. But, yes, I'll make another film with Ron and Wayne. It'll probably be my second novel, "The Kitchen God's Wife." We've already started breaking the scenes out with page counts and narrative text. We started the day after we saw the first rough cut of "The Joy Luck Club."