From being an actor to first-time writer-director, Barney Cheng takes "Baby Steps" in achieving new career heights
An interview with Barney Cheng, writer-director of "Baby Steps"
by Oliver Carnay
One of the most refreshing comedy feature screened to a sold out audience at this year's Outfest 2015 was "Baby Steps," a timely story that deals with acceptance, gay relationships, and responsibilities. Barney Cheng starred, wrote, and directed the film. I had a chance to talk to Barney and he related some insights about the "baby steps" in creating his first feature film directing .. please read on after this trailer:
HOLLYWOODFLIP: When did the story idea of "Baby Steps" come into fruition? What attracted you to do this film? How did you actually first get connected with Ya-Lei Kuei?
BC: "I was inspired by Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet which was a cross-cultural and cross-generational story. Ya-Lei Kuei (Grace) was in The Wedding Banquet. That movie was about a closeted Taiwanese-American man hosting a "fake" wedding to please his parents. The film focused on a gay man's coming out. That was more than 20 years ago. We are in a different world now. Baby Steps is about an openly out Taiwanese-American man starting and celebrating his new family in a real gay wedding. We focused on the mother character because in a sense Baby Steps is a mother's coming-out story -- how she comes to terms with having an openly out gay son. Grace was attached to the project very early on, and through her, I was inspired to focus the spine and heart of the story on the mother character."
HOLLYWOODFLIP: The movie not only tackles responsibilities, about surrogate parenting, the relationship between an overbearing mother and her acceptance to a gay son. What sort of personal experience you have in relation to the character you played?
BC: "In terms of surrogacy and parenting, I got a lot of my ideas from friends who have gone through the process. The mother/son relationship in the movie is very real and similar to my personal relationship with my mom. So playing the character was about revisiting and imagining the emotional moments with my mom."
HOLLYWOODFLIP: Can you tell us about the casting process? How did you find the Asian girl who played the household helper of 'Ma'?
BC: "The movie was shot in Asia and the U.S. We hired two casting directors, one for each territory. Michael is the best actor for the role; he is the right age, looks great and is a terrific actor. His wife Lauryn and their son Joshua are also perfect for the parts. We were so happy to have them in the movie. The role of the Indonesian housekeeper (Mickey) was perfectly cast as well. We found her through our casting director in Asia."
HOLLYWOODFLIP: Is it easier to be an actor than a filmmaker? What is most satisfying? What were the most challenging part in doing this film, considering you wrote, direct, and also acted in this film? What's the hardest part - acting, directing, or writing the script?
BC: "It is easier to be an actor in the sense that you only have to worry about one task, which is to act. Working on this movie both as a director and actor was extremely challenging. Acting and directing require completely different mindsets. So much of directing is about planning, seeing the whole picture, controlling, but acting is about forgetting, being in the moment and letting go of control. Switching back and forth in split moments required a lot of discipline and focus. On top of that, we had a lot of locations and everyday was a race against time. I'm glad we survived! The experience made me a better filmmaker and actor."
"I really enjoy writing. I'm working on my next project right now, and it's so wonderful to just stay at home and write. Writing is just as challenging (and fun) as directing and acting, but much less demanding physically."
HOLLYWOODFLIP: What's also impressive and amazing about this film is production value and different locations involved. It looks like you shot in India, Taiwan, and in L.A. Can you talk about the locations involved in the film?
BC: "Having so many locations was definitely one of the most challenging aspects of this production. Our American and Taiwanese line producers helped us strategize and combine locations as much as possible during the shoot. We were fortunate to have so many partners that supported us. The Taiwan Ministry of Culture, the City of Taipei and Tribeca Film Institute supported us financially with production and post-production grants. China Airlines gave us access to their aircraft and Taipei Film Commission helped us with logistics of shooting in Taipei. Collaborating with these partners elevated our production value."
HOLLYWOODFLIP: Do you have another directorial job in the making? Would you direct another romcom movie or is looking for another genre?
BC: "NBC recently hired me to direct their annual Diversity Showcase, and I am a finalist for the NBC Directing Fellowship Program. I'm interested in television, and we are developing Baby Steps into a television show."
"I'm also writing my next script, a romantic comedy that, like Baby Steps, takes place in the U.S. and Asia. It's also an international cross-cultural story, and it's about wines! The same team will produce."
HOLLYWOODFLIP: How many shooting days did you have? From writing to pre-production, casting, shooting, and final editing, can you give me the timeline of how it happened to produce your film?
BC: "I just checked my oldest draft, and it was dated December 2010! Wow, that's almost five years ago! We shot 18 days in Los Angeles and 18 days in Asia. We had five weeks of pre-production in each region. It took about a month to edit the film. The entire post production was about two months and took place in Taipei last summer."
HOLLYWOOFLIP: Have you found a distribution, yet? Any marketing plans?
BC: "We are still looking for a distributor for North America. This is a crossover film, and we hope to partner with a distributor that will help the film reach the LGBT and Asian American communities as well as crossover to the mainstream audiences."
HOLLYWOODFLIP: Are there any film festivals, theatrical runs, audience may want to know where they can watch this film?
BC: "We opened theatrically in Taiwan on Mothers' Day. It's been two months, and it's still playing there. The movie will also play in Hong Kong theatrically this fall and hopefully in mainland China. We've just started our festival run. We played in Frameline and Outfest and many more to come!
HOLLYWOODFLIP: Good luck and keep in touch ... let us know any updates!