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Robin Lung shares filmmaking lessons learned

Filmmaker and friend to Hawaiʻi Women in Filmmaking Robin Lung dedicated eight years working to produce a documentary on an uncredited, Academy Award-winning Chinese, Hawaiian-born producer. After years of research, coffee dates, getting funding and fostering partnerships, the story of the Li Ling-Ai has become “Finding Kukan.”

Robin has directed the PBS Hawaiʻi documentary, “Washington Place: Hawaii’s First Home,” and was the associate producer for the national PBS documentary “Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority.”

Her new feature documentary, “Finding Kukan” screened at Hawaii International Film Festival 2016 and DOC NYC 2016 and is currently screening at festivals around the world. In 2015 she was selected as one of four documentary fellows for the NALIP ARC female filmmaker residency.

“Finding Kukan” received a Halekulani Golden Orchid Award at this year’s HIFF. Throughout her process, according to Robin, there were five mantras she would return to, to help her moving.

“Every film has its own little path, there’s no real one way to make a film,” she said. “There were key moments in my filmmaking process, things I learned along the way that stick with me, and things I keep coming back to.”

Robin, as our first guest of the year for our monthly gatherings, shares those lessons.

Just start. Robin had been researching everything on Li Ling-Ai as much as she could. She met with every mentor she could. At one meeting, she presented her mentor with stacks of notes research and content, and her mentor complimented her on all that but asked if there was any of the film to show her.

“She said to me, you could be researching this stuff for the rest of your life. You just have to start,” her mentor told her. Then she made the decision to film everything, even if it meant that she had so much footage that may not even make it in the film. But at least she had something.“There are so many reasons why I have to wait, or it’s not the right time,” she said. “A lot of the time, those excuses come from fear. Fear that it’s not going to work out or fear or asking someone you know to do you a favor or fear of just doing it yourself and failing. But if I hadn’t started, I’d probably still be researching.”

Ask for help. Robin felt overwhelmed by the project. At one point she said to herself, “I feel like an octopus with those eight legs. There was just so many things and the legs are going to get tangled up. I don’t know what to do.” She went back to a mentor who told her to sit and meditate. She thought, “What would Li Ling-Ai do?”

“She didn’t do it on her own, I can’t do it on my own,” Robin said.

Be it Kickstarter or mentors or fostering partnerships, getting people to help you will help you get your project finished.

Just date. “If you’re interested in making partnerships, you have to date.” It’s the same thing you would be doing if you were looking for a potential partner in life. Another lesson Robin learned from a mentor was, when looking for someone or a company to partner with for the project, you have to think of them as people and test the waters. “Approach people like it’s a date. ‘Introduce yourself, this is what the project is about and maybe then we have another date. Test the waters. It has to work for both parties.”

Is it something they can say ‘yes’ to? People are busy. You have to keep it direct, keep it short and make sure you know exactly what you want from these people you’re asking help from.

Pace yourself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. There are times throughout the process when it seems like it’s taking forever to finish that it’s difficult to wait.

“It’s easy to get frustrated and obsessed,” Robin said. “I realized that waiting has been great. It has allowed this film to develop into this amazing story that would not have happened had I not learned my way five years ago.”

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