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Toolkit Case Study: Friends Band Together to Make "The People I've Slept With"

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire November 3, 2010 at 7:59AM

Born out of conversation between two friends, director Quentin Lee and actress Karin Anna Cheung, "The People I've Slept With" has gone on to earn positive word of mouth in the press and a TV deal through MTV's Logo TV.
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Born out of conversation between two friends, director Quentin Lee and actress Karin Anna Cheung, "The People I've Slept With" has gone on to earn positive word of mouth in the press and a TV deal through MTV's Logo TV.

Lee and Cheung came together in an effort to make a feature with a strong female protagonist and positive LGBT sensibility. The result is a romantic comedy that centers on Angela (Cheung), a young woman with an active sex life, who one day finds out she's pregnant and sets out on a quest to find the identity of the father, together with her gay best friend.

The following profile of "The People I've Slept With" reformatted for publication on indieWIRE‘s Filmmaker Toolkit, is one of the filmmaking case studies featured in the case study book handed out to participants of this week’s Film Independent Filmmaker Forum in Los Angeles.

Dramatic Feature
Director: Quentin Lee
Producers: Stanley Yung, Koji Steven Sakai, Quentin Lee
Executive Producers: Tien Lee, Sam Kwok, Brian Yang
Budget: Under $500K
Financing: Private Equity
Production: 19 days/Los Angeles area/June 2008
Shooting Format: Red 4K
Screening Format: HD
World Premiere: 2009 Hawaii International Film Festival
Awards: Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival – Rainbow Award Winner

Case Study for “The People I've Slept With,” with information provided by the filmmakers and courtesy of Film Independent.

Development and Financing

Director Quentin Lee met actress Karin Anna Cheung through director Justin Lin on the production of "Better Luck Tomorrow." Lee and Cheung became friends over the years and in 2006 they started talking about doing a feature together with a strong female protagonist and a positive LGBT sensibility. Lee met writer Koji Steven Sakai at a CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) meeting and got Sakai and long time collaborator producer Stanley Yung on the project. The four became the core team and began developing the script.

With a draft they felt ready to be sent out, Lee sent the script to an investor friend Patrick Lee who was one of the founders of Rottentomatoes.com. Patrick sent the project to Sam Kwok and Brian Yang of 408 Films who were immediately interested. Lee also got his cousin Tien Lee who had a bio-tech financing background on-board as the executive producer. With the financing committed from 408 Films, Tien was able to raise the rest of the financing for the film. The filmmakers banked the money June of 2008, just months before the September stock market crash.

Production Highlights

The production began in the heat wave of June 2008 with a majority Asian American and female camera crew headed by DP Quyen Tran. The crew was a comfortable sized indie crew of 30. It was the first time that Lee was working entirely on digital 4K and shooting onto hard drives.

One of the most daunting production and post-production issues initially was the workflow for working with the Red because the technology was really new at that point. But as soon as it was worked out from shooting to ingesting the footage and editing on Final Cut Pro, the Red proved a truly cost-saving way of acquiring high quality footage for commercial release.

Aldo Velasco, a fellow ex-UCLA classmate and a Film Independent Project Involve alum, was the editor on the project. Aldo was editing with an assistant when Lee was shooting. "People" was shot for 18 days with one day of pick-up and then the editorial was about 12 weeks.

Once editing was complete, Lee and his team began submitting the cut to film festivals while embarking on the sound mix. As the production ran out of funds, the team didn’t get to do a “proper” color correction for which one post-house demanded $50K. Instead, DP Quyen Tran did the color correction within Final Cut Pro and Lee output the cut to HDCam and DigiBeta for festival delivery.

Festival Preparation and Strategy

All the post was completed around June of 2009. Lee and team had been submitting to film festivals themselves without major festival acceptances at first and the investors were adamant that the film should world premiere at a non-niche (non-Asian or non-LGBT) film festival. One producer’s rep saw the movie and wanted to charge an upfront fee to represent it but the team didn’t feel it was the right match.

Lee and team showed the film to programmer Anderson Le at Hawaii International Film Festival who liked the film and programmed it. Separately, Lee also showed the cut to longtime friend producer Chris Lee who became a strong supporter of the film. Chris hooked the team up with producer’s rep Kevin Iwashina who took the film on with enthusiasm and without an upfront fee, charging 15% commission on sales.

By October 2009, Lee and team were about to book six festivals from October to December 2009: Hawaii International Film Festival, Sao Paulo International Film Festival, San Diego Asian Film Festival (Closing Film), Vancouver Asian Film Festival (Closing Film), Taipei Golden Horse International Film Festival and Hong Kong Asian Independent Film Festival (Closing Film). The investors were happy with the initial festival bookings and let the team book as many festivals as possible from that point on. The film continued to receive strong support from both the Asian American and LGBT film festival circuits such as Outfest Fusion (Gala), San Francisco Asian American Film Festival (Centerpiece), Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (Centerpiece), and New York Asian American Film Festival (Closing Film).

Sale and Release

With a positive Variety review and good buzz from Hawaii and the initial domestic festivals, MTV’s Logo made an offer to acquire the TV rights at the beginning of 2010. Iwashina negotiated the deal in the mid-to high five figures.

Separately, Lee and team engaged Australia-based Odin’s Eye Entertainment as the international sales agent after meeting Michael Favelle, the company’s owner, at It Project Market (a component of the Puchon International Film Festival) in July 2009. Odin’s Eye charged 20% of all sales, plus expenses, which are capped at $50K.

While there were several North American distribution offers, the team was happiest with the offers coming in with no MG or minimal advances below 30K . Around July of 2010, Maya Entertainment began talking to Kevin about acquiring the rest of the North American rights for "The People I’ve Slept With" and a fair offer was proposed. Maya bought all remaining North American rights except theatrical (for an undisclosed fee).

As Kevin was negotiating with Maya, Lee and team were worried that a theatrical wouldn’t be possible with the approaching late fall airdate from Logo. Acting quickly, Lee and team immediately booked four theaters in New York, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area for a small DIY 1-week theatrical with Lee financing the approx. 15K P&A on his credit cards. The theatrical generated both publicity and positive reviews from the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle.

Lee and his team were amazed that they were able to deliver the movie and exhibit at film festivals and theaters entirely on HDCAM and Blu-ray DVDs. This significantly cut the costs for distribution which would have required a 35mm film out and release prints just a few years ago.

At this point, North American sales have been concluded with the DVD release planned for March 2011, and VOD release and Logo airdate on the horizon. Odin’s Eye Entertainment has just begun selling international territories.

Advice from the Filmmaker

“Push yourself as far as you can.”

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