Making a big noise on a modest budget
Director Ray Yeung directly taps his target audience when seeking the funds he needed for his latest production
Ray Yeung was in no illusions about the size of his target audience when he set out to make his latest feature film, Front Cover.
“It’s a gay movie and it’s about an ethnic group – Asians – so it’s a minority within a minority in the filmmaking world,” says the Hong Kong-born director. “And gay Asian Americans are among the most under-represented of the under-represented.”
The trick to getting the money needed to make the film was in finding a way to use this to his advantage, says Yeung, and the solution came when he decided to forgo what might be termed more traditional methods of fund-raising – tapping the likes of established studios for cash, or attending pitching and partner-searching sessions at film festivals.
Yeung started hosting private screening of his debut feature – the 2006 gay-themed comedy Cut Sleeve Boys – where he’d distribute information about what Front Cover would be all about, collect business cards, and then go to work on the follow-up calls and emails.
“We found this a much more personal way,” says Yeung. “We really just wanted to get a bunch of money to start us off. So we’d show them my first feature and then talk about this film and what we wanted to do.
“We’d also talk about the under-representation of Asians in cinema. Back in 2013, that was a topic that was beginning to be discussed, as was what it’s like to be gay in America. We tapped into people from these crowds who were interesting in these topics.”
And the money came – “Not really as an investment but a donation,” says Yeung.
Front Cover follows the relationship that develops between a Chinese-American (Jake Choi) and the mainland Chinese actor (James Chen) he finds himself working with.
It made its premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival last May before opening the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in September and then going on general release through the Broadway Circuit of cinemas in Hong Kong.
“The deal was that if we got a certain amount of people in our screenings, they would continue screening the film,” says Yeung.
It’s a gay movie and it’s about an ethnic group – Asians – so it’s a minority within a minority in the filmmaking world. And gay Asian-Americans are among the most under-represented of the under-represented
The crowds keep coming. Front Cover is still getting regular screenings in Hong Kong, and has also played in cinemas in North America – making it one of 336 films eligible for Academy Awards consideration in the Best Picture category.
“Front Cover is a small film and was always going to be small in terms of budget and its target audience,” says Yeung. “But if you want to get your film made outside what is considered the normal system you have to work hard and explore every opportunity you can find.
“I think that’s the lesson I have learned. The important thing is that there is hope – all you have to do is find people who believe in you and your project.”