We are surrounded by whackiness… it's inescapable!


SAM CHEN: “Cole Needs Women” is your 4th film with SDAFF. We’re almost ready to do a David Chai retrospective. So which one of the 4 films is your personal favorite and why?

DAVID CHAI: “Fumi and the Bad Luck Foot” is my favorite so far. It has the whackiness and irreverence of the others, but also has heart and a nice message. People really seem to find it to be touching, even though it’s about a girl that keeps getting electrocuted, stabbed, and attacked throughout the whole film.

CHEN: Where do you get your whacky story ideas from?

CHAI: Ha, we are surrounded by whackiness… it’s inescapable! I’m especially fortunate to teach in an animation program, where the craziness is even more concentrated.

CHEN: Tell us about your unique collaboration with your students at San Jose State University as an instructor of animation.

CHAI: It’s really nice because I get to work with enthusiastic, talented students throughout the semester, and then am fortunate to be able to bring some of them onto projects during the breaks. Its fun working out of classes, because we’re still focusing on getting everything done professionally, but it allows for a little looser working environment. For example, some days we would all come into work wearing sarongs. One summer an ongoing obsession of the team was to successfully make solar ramen in a sun tea jar. It came out looking pretty good, but the texture left something to be desired!

CHEN: What are the challenges and benefits of only having students as your production crew?

CHAI: One challenge working with students is that they come in with less experience, so you can’t expect the same standards as you would from professionals. Also, because they are working during their breaks as volunteers, it’s hard to be too demanding in terms of hours.

I’m very lucky though because the ones with whom I’ve worked come in like soldiers; getting up, setting up, and never letting up! They are super talented and have wild heart, enthusiasm, and energy. The projects I’ve worked on with them have been some of the most fun times I’ve had in my life.

CHEN: Who are you main influences in animation?

CHAI: Though the influences probably don’t show up in my work, some of my favorites are Bill Plympton, Paul Dressien, Hayao Miyazaki, and Brad Bird.

CHEN: What would be in your “Desert Island DVD” collection? You’re only allowed 3.

CHAI: On a desert island, I’d probably pick ones like the special edition of Akira because it comes in a metal case. I could use it for reflecting light to signal passing airplanes, and also as a weapon to kill monkeys for food.

But in terms of picking ones to watch, I’d go for Nacho Libre, Napoleon Dynamite, and Kiki’s Delivery Service.

CHEN: Last year, your film “Fumi and the Bad Luck Foot” (SDAFF 2006) made it into the Sundance Film Festival, arguably the most coveted film fest for an indie filmmaker. Tell us about your experience there and what it was like to take your students there.

CHAI: The folks at Sundance and the festival were great. The best thing was the fact that our students worked on the film with absolutely no expectations. So they were blown away when we were accepted! With the help of our animation program and Adobe, we were able to send a group of them out to see a bunch of great films, attend some hip VIP parties, and to stalk Gwyneth Paltrow.

CHEN: What whacky crazy film are you brewing up for the world next?

CHAI: The next short I have planned will be based on a conflict that ensues when a lumberjack and a tree get caught in a waiting room together. I’m also wrapping up a screenplay for a feature length film about a guy who is conceived, born, orphaned, and raised in a ’68 Chevelle. Very powerful!

See “Cole Needs Women” in ANIMATION: THE ILLUSION OF LIFE on Saturday, Oct 13 at 3:00 PM or Wednesday, Oct 17 at 7:30 PM.