Filmmaker Spotlight: Jeff Man

The X1 Asian American Film & TV destination will feature “Santa Claus,” starring, directed, and written by Jeff Man. You can find the film in the Lunar New Year collection this February. We had the chance to ask Jeff about his film making journey, love for director Hirokazu Koreeda, and experiences growing up in a Chinese household.

Image Credit: “Santa Claus” Film

Tell us about your film featured on X1 this month!

Jeff Man: I write stuff for my friends to act in because it gives me a chance to work with people I love and it’s also an opportunity for them to showcase themselves. With “Santa Claus” it was my friend Yosilu Chen who is really funny and is so much fun to be around. So I drew up this simple story around her and another character (who is not so fun to be around), and based it off of my experiences being alone during the holidays in Los Angeles and show how these two people handle that situation in different ways.

Image Credit: “Santa Claus” Film

How did you get into filmmaking?

JM: I actually thought I was going to be a movie critic. I was a big Roger Ebert fan and wanted to like him. But then I started writing reviews for my college paper and didn't really enjoy picking apart people's hard work. After graduation I moved home, took a filmmaking class, made a couple of shorts, and loved it. Then worked for a cable network for year, got laid off, worked on a documentary for two years while making shorts with my friend Jay and then moved to LA to try to make a career out of this.

What are some films and/or filmmakers that have inspired you?

JM: I grew up watching Chinese and big Hollywood movies, but when I was 12, I saw 2001 and that changed everything. In college, I took Japanese and European film classes and discovered my love for Ozu, Koreeda, Agnes Varda and Mike Leigh. The Duplass Brothers’ “The Puffy Chair” was a big moment. I saw it with my friend and the story really resonated because we saw ourselves in the characters, and it also gave us hope that we could make a great movie and not have to raise millions of dollars to do it.

Do you have a favorite Asian and/or Asian American film?

JM: Hong Kong movies were big in my house. Early on it was Bruce Lee, Chow Yun Fat and Jackie Chan. Then as a teenager it was all about Stephen Chow comedies. Then college it was all about Ozu and Koreeda. Koreeda is my favorite director working today. I remember seeing “Better Luck Tomorrow” and “Saving Face” in theaters and those were pretty big moments for me in terms of seeing Asian American representation. And then a couple of years later came So Yong Kim’s “In Between Days,” which really spoke to me. I love her movies so much.

How does your Asian heritage influence your work?

JM: I think the experience of growing up in a Chinese household in America is a big part of my stories. My grandparents taught me Cantonese and Chinese values. They used to tell me "real men shed blood, not tears" and be like Bruce Lee. Then I started kindergarten and learned I was not like Bruce, but a shy/sensitive kid. There's a lot of confusion, shame and feeling like you don't fit into either world. I've learned to embrace all of that in my work, and the results can be emotional but also kind of hilarious when you express it honestly.

Image Credit: “Santa Claus” Film

What is your outlook on the state of Asian American cinema?

JM: I’m not a great forecaster but I’m very optimistic. Especially after 2018. “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Searching” were huge successes. Bing Liu and Sandi Tan had two great feature documentary debuts with “Minding the Gap” and “Shirkers”. My friends Weldon Wong Powers (“It’s A Party”) and Chris Yogi (“August At Akiko’s”) made awesome debut features. I loved “The Rider” and everything about what Chloe Zhao does. I also loved this documentary, “Becoming Who I Was” by Moon Chang-Yong and Jeon Jim. It’s the most beautiful act of love I’ve ever seen in a movie. I’m excited to see what’s next!

What’s next for you?

JM: I’ve spent the past year writing and developing a TV series that’s kind of a continuation of the characters in “Santa Claus” and also based off my experiences working at Chinese restaurants (my family’s and many others). I also started writing my first feature film that is kind of about my grandparents who lived most of their adult life in Kansas. We’ll see what happens!

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.