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Lynn Chen has been seen on numerous TV series including Silicon Valley, The Affair and Shameless, and starred in Nice Girls Crew from Sundance winner Tanuj Chopra. Her indie résumé includes the recent Emily Ting comedy Go Back to China, and she is probably best known for her role in Alice Wu’s film Saving Face. But it’s Dave Boyle’s indie franchise that could easily be heer crown jewel. The collection of films, which is adjacent to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset trilogy, kicked off with Surrogate Valentine in 2011 and was followed up with Daylight Savings in 2012. Eight years later, she and Boyle decided it was time to put a bookend to this story with I Will Make You Mine, which, like its predecessors, was set to premiere at this year’s SXSW Film Festival. For Chen, she didn’t even think she would have the opportunity to star in the third installment, let alone direct it.
“Many years had passed since the sequel, so I casually asked [Boyle] when he planned on making the third movie,” Chen told Deadline. “He responded ‘never,’ which broke my heart for a split second — and then in the next breath, I asked if he would mind if I gave it a shot. I don’t know what possessed me to ask — I had never stepped behind the camera before in any capacity — and was shocked when Dave not only gave me his blessing, he even said he’d help me.”
Chen said Boyle wanted to finish what he started so she churned out the first draft of the script in a week. The new installment follows the same characters from the previous films, but there’s a slight twist — it tells a stand-alone story from the female perspective.
I Will Make You Mine follows Rachel (Chen), who lives in luxury with her cheating husband; Professor Erika (Ayako Fujitani), who is trying her best to juggle her career and raising her daughter Sachiko (Ayami Riley Tomine); and struggling musician Yea-Ming (who plays a version of herself). They all may have different lives, but they share a common bond: a flawed romantic history with singer-songwriter Goh (who also plays a version of himself). When Goh comes back into their lives, things get complicated.
Chen knew she had to return to reprise her role, but sitting in the director’s chair was new territory for her.
“I had never directed anything, not even a short,” Chen admitted. “Honestly, the entire project was a leap of faith for myself. I’ve been an actor for pretty much my entire life, so I hoped it would come naturally to me — through osmosis. I figured if I surrounded myself with really talented collaborators, I would at least learn and have an incredible experience making it — which I did.”
Ahead of the film’s premiere at SXSW, it was acquired by Gravitas Ventures and set for a May 26 release — but then COVID-19 happened and derailed everything. SXSW was canceled, causing a ripple effect in the industry, as other festivals where the film was set began to postpone. We talked with Chen about how this affected her as a first-time filmmaker and what the I Will Make You Mine team is doing to persevere and how the crisis impacts indie film by and for diverse audiences.
DEADLINE: The previous two films Surrogate Valentine and Daylight Savings premiered at SXSW. What did it mean to you as a filmmaker, actor and personally for the third to be accepted to premiere at SXSW?
LYNN CHEN: The whole experience reminded me of applying to colleges — SXSW was definitely a “reach” for me as a first-time filmmaker, and I knew that even though the previous movies had gone there, there was no guarantee that my movie would be accepted. About 20 minutes before I found out we got in, I was looking up “SXSW acceptance notification” and went down a message board thread that did not make me feel good. When Dave Boyle called to congratulate me, I thought he was joking. I was on location filming the feature Pooling to Paradise and wound up crying from happiness all night, showing up to set the next day with very red, puffy eyes and couldn’t tell anybody why. It was one of the most exciting and fulfilling days of my professional career.
DEADLINE: The film was acquired by Gravitas ahead of its premiere. Did you see that as a sigh of relief before it was supposed to premiere at SXSW?
CHEN: Yes. Absolutely. I have been to many film festivals as an actor, and I really wanted to enjoy my first festival season as a director. I loved knowing that we wouldn’t have to stress about selling the movie and that I could just relax and interact with audience members and other filmmakers. My family and many of the cast/crew were coming – I wanted to just celebrate with them.
DEADLINE: When you first heard that SXSW was canceled, what was your initial reaction? How did the rest of the team react?
CHEN: With all of the companies pulling out of SXSW in the days leading up to the announcement, we were anticipating bad news — trying to still make plans for our Austin premiere, knowing it wouldn’t be the full experience we had hoped for. But still, we were surprised when everything got canceled — I know I definitely was shocked. We had a few days to process all of it. A lot of my team worked on my producer, Emily Ting’s Go Back to China which was having its theatrical debut that same evening. It was bittersweet to be with everyone and to have something positive to focus on for a few days before we began to discuss our next steps.
DEADLINE: It was definitely bad news, but how did this affect the journey for the film and how did you alter them?
CHEN: After SXSW, we had several other film festivals we planned on touring with that have since been canceled or postponed. Since the movie will be released on VOD May 26th, I wish that we had more opportunities to play on the big screen. The movie is filmed on anamorphic lenses in black and white with a lot of live music scenes, so I would really love for audiences to be able to experience it in a big way. When the time is right, that will happen. For now, I am just so grateful people will be able to watch it from their homes. I wish they could stream it now because the film’s message is very much about acceptance and having hope.
DEADLINE: Compared to Sundance, TIFF and Cannes, SXSW caters to a specific audience and is very much for the indie filmmaker. How do you think the cancellation is the same and different compared to other fests?
CHEN: It feels like SXSW is a place where film lovers discover movies they wouldn’t normally seek out. I was there last year with Go Back to China, and it was really interesting to see how different the audiences were at the first screening — mostly press/industry — and our last one [which was] mostly Austin locals or pass holders. I know so much of the SXSW experience is meeting people in line, at food trucks, etc. — there’s the tech and music world that I would have loved to reach with our film, especially the latter since there are two musicians (Yea-Ming Chen and Goh Nakamura) starring in I Will Make You Mine.
DEADLINE: The film will still live on with digital release, but ultimately, do you think the cancellation of its SXSW premiere affected it?
CHEN: I am trying my best not to entertain the nagging thoughts about what could have been, simply because I have no power over the situation. I can’t change what happened, so I have to let go of what my fantasies for the movie were, had everything gone as planned. It’s unfortunate that I will never be able to experience the premiere of my first film at a festival like SXSW — that moment is gone. But the amazing thing has been all of the support from the entertainment industry and from my fellow SXSW filmmakers. We are all in touch with one another and plan to keep supporting each other. We’ve connected in a way that I’m not sure we would have if we were in Austin, running around trying to promote our own films.
DEADLINE: How do you think the cancellation of fests has for films by diverse voices in the indie space, if any?
CHEN: Festivals give people like me — a first time, female filmmaker of color — the opportunity to reach a large number of people, not only film fans but also press and future work opportunities. We missed out on a chance to make industry connections, conduct interviews and have organic, word-of-mouth growth. I hope that production companies and journalists are still excited about the film, and still want to talk with me about it. I am hoping that when the movie is released that people don’t see it as just a movie for Asian Americans, or women or people who like black and white movies — because I made it for a diverse audience, the kind that would have attended SXSW.
DEADLINE: What are the next steps? How do you hope to push through?
CHEN: We are keeping our VOD release date of May 26 via Gravitas Ventures — which you can now pre-order on Apple TV — and plan to eventually screen in front of an audience, once things are more settled in the world. People can stay updated via our mailing list — where they’ll also get a link to watch the first two movies, plus the soundtrack. I still want to do Q&As and share this experience with other people. Maybe we can even do special screenings as a trilogy, take it on the road! I hope that if audiences enjoy I Will Make You Mine, they will make an extra effort to share and tell others to watch it. It’s exciting to know that no matter what, people will see it, which is all I ever wanted for my movie.