Setup Menus in Admin Panel

Chatting With Indy Filmmaker Quentin Lee

Quentin Lee first picked up a camera at age six. The independent filmmaker’s career began with the 1996 release Shopping With Fangs and his The Last Summer of Nathan Lee about an 18 year old Chinese American teen’s vow to live life to the fullest after being diagnosed with brain cancer debuts later this year. Lee’s storytelling extends to novels (The Secret Diary of Edward Ng) and his Mystery Brothers mini series from Red 5 Comics which debuts in July. I recently had the pleasure to interview Lee and we hope you’ll find the conversation interesting!

Gay League: Hello and happy Pride, Quentin! How are you doing?

Quentin Lee: Happy Pride! I’m doing well. By gay years, this has to be my thirty first Pride. I went to my first Pride in San Francisco in 1991 after coming out as queer at Berkeley.

GL: You were born in Hong Kong and today you’re an indie filmmaker and media producer in the US and Canada. A lot of things happened between then and now. What’s the story of your life?

QL: I was born and raised in Hong Kong on a healthy diet of Japanese comics (manga) and American horror films, and immigrated to Montreal, Canada, when I was 15. I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker since I was 6, making silent 8mm films with my dad’s Super 8 camera. I set my eyes on UCLA Film School at 15 but ended up going to Berkeley and Yale before finally getting into UCLA on my third try… and started making films and made my first feature “Shopping for Fangs” while still in school in 1996, premiering at Toronto International Film Festival in 1997, which propelled my career into filmmaking.

GL: Stonewall was a riot that lasted several days in late June and early July in 1969. The first Pride March a year later — and for many years after — was a protest. For many queer people today Pride is still a protest while for others it’s a celebration. Pride can be both too I think. What does Pride mean for you and has it taken on new meaning or otherwise been affected by the rise of homophobia and anti-Asian hate and violence of the past several years thanks to right wing extremist ideology?

QL: I came out at the heights of Act Up and Queer Nation in 1990 and went to queer protests where I met most of my queer friends. I came out protesting and being political at Cal. When I was going to Berkeley, there was a protest every day. I remember going to a massive San Francisco protest in 1990 where we stopped traffic on Market street because the city just turned down legalizing domestic partnerships. Because I went to my first Pride in San Francisco which was a celebration and was free, I think all Prides should be free so that young people or people without resources can come out and celebrate. In the 90s, we were the minority and radicals. 30 years later, the extreme right wing has taken that position. What a reversal of fortune and politics? I encourage everyone of all political leanings to protest peacefully and will never endorse illegal or violent protests / political actions. Likewise, as a child of democracy, I will fight for everyone to have a voice, be it someone from the left or right. And I encourage everyone to think out of the binarism of opposites which is the very problem of Western intelligibility.

GL: What can you tell us about any projects you’ve been working on recently?

QL: I’m on post for my feature film Last Summer of Nathan Lee whose NFTs are being released this Pride month. Last Summer of Nathan Lee is comedic feature about a Chinese American teen finding out that he has terminal brain cancer and refusing to die a virgin, having his gay best friend document his last summer. And on July 20, the day before San Diego Comic-con, Red 5 Comics will release the first issue of my sci-fi adventure comic book Mystery Brothers. Spores Network is dropping NFTs of Mystery Brothers up to the first issue comics release. Then two seasons of my stand-up comedy TV series Comedy InvAsian that I showran and directed are streaming on Peacock, Tubi and other streaming platforms. I’m also on post on Comedy Invasion, a Canadian spinoff of Comedy InvAsian. It has been a super fun and exciting summer so far!

GL: For queer people, especially queer people of color, making one’s place and whether or not to fit into their respective minority communities as well as society at large is a series of challenges. What struggles did you encounter and how did you keep your hopes up?

QL: I grew up in the 70s and 80s and came of age in the 90s… and those periods were much more conservative times than 2020s. I was a college freshman in 1988 and started fighting and protesting for gay marriage, legalization of marijuana, animal rights, nudists rights… etc. When I was 16, the summer of 1986, I attended the Highlights for Children children books writers conference as a teenage aspiring writer and told my fellow aspiring and established writers that I wanted to write a gay novel for teens. No one was encouraging and kept saying that it wouldn’t be a novel for teens. I wrote that novel at 16 but never got it published then. 28 years later, I found a published children’s book titled “Operation Marriage” about gay marriage and raised enough money to create a free short film for all to watch. If I hadn’t had hope and passion, I would have given up at 16 and never made here to where I am.

GL: The stereotypical ways Hollywood media has allowed Asian and Asian American representation to be packaged are well known. In one of your tweets you mentioned producing a short film titled The Myth which addresses Asian Americans are fed imagery and messaging in how to be a model minority. Would you talk about the kinds of characters and themes on which you focus in your works?

QL: I set out as a teenager to tell stories of a queer teenager like me… so I will always create stories with some participation of queer or Asian or queer and Asian characters. In the case of “The Myth,” my producing partner and I were hired by Biscuit Films and Wieden + Kennedy to produce a socially impactful short film “The Myth” which got released last May. It was for a good cause and we produced it on a good budget from both companies.

GL: With a long list of credits to your name, story telling seems to be in your blood. When did you realize this about yourself and what drew you to film as your primary medium?

QL: In 1976, I sort of discovered storytelling when I was six making short 8mm films with my dad’s super 8 camera. Around that time, my friend and I also created a comic about our obnoxious neighbors. And after many years, it’s coming full circle now.

GL: During your career in film to date you’ve worked in many capacities from director to producer to writer to actor. Do you find yourself benefitting from each in different ways?

QL: Yes, I acted in my very early films and found out I was much better and more comfortable behind the camera—being a writer, director and/or producer. Being an independent filmmaker taught me everything I needed to be a producer from development to production to postproduction to distribution to preservation. I’ve been writing since I was 12… and been directing and producing since Grade 11 in high school.

GL: Many, many years ago I wanted to have children and letting a couple things stand in the way of that dream is one of my regrets. I was very interested to learn you became a father six years ago. Thank you for not letting things or people stand in the way of becoming a parent. How is being a father and has your son Casper surprised in the ways he sees the world?

QL: I’ve always wanted children since I was a teenager… and at 45 I thought if I didn’t have a kid by 50 I would really regret it… so I made the leap into parenthood. While it has been challenging being a single parent, it’s also rewarding to raise a child and be able to see things from a child’s POV again. Living for two, vs. living for one before, has given me tremendous insights as an artist and filmmaker.

GL: Do you have any advice or tips for readers who might just be starting their studies or a career in film?

QL: One and only advice: follow your passion.

GL: Where can people keep up with you and your projects?

QL: On Instagram you can find me @gayhollywooddad and on twitter @leequentin. My film and TV works are mostly collected on AsianAmericanMovies.com or AAM.tv.

GL: Thank you, Quentin! And thank you, dear readers! We hope you’ll come back to read part two of this interview when Quentin returns to talk about his Mystery Brothers comics project in advance of his trip to Comic Con!

June 24, 2022
© 2024 Gay League. Website design by Anton Kawasaki.