‘Linsanity’ producers talk playing to one’s assets

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This past weekend and through this week, Rialto Cinemas Elmwood on College Avenue is hosting a limited-engagement showing of the Sundance Film Festival movie “Linsanity,” named after the viral pun about the hype surrounding NBA star Jeremy Lin. The film was produced by UC Berkeley alumni Christopher Chen, founder of Endgame Entertainment, and Brian Yang, known for his role on CBS’s “Hawaii 5-0.” The Daily Californian caught up with both Bears to speak about the film, discrimination and life after UC Berkeley.

The Daily Cal: Why a film about Linsanity?

Brian Yang: Well, Chris, Jeremy and I are all from the Bay Area … We all keep tabs on each other. We’re all hoop heads. Jeremy was already on a lot of NBA scouts’ lists (when he was in high school). As an Asian American, you don’t see many people of that background who succeed on the court. A couple Golden Bears pursued his story out of passion.

DC: What strikes you most about Jeremy Lin?

BY: His story is so interesting because he is so ordinary. He had no scholarships and had to knock on (the varsity teams’) doors instead. We started filming him his first year at Golden State and (filmed him playing) at Harvard. He doesn’t have an ego about (his success) … still the same big kid who likes to play video games. Everyone can relate to him, whether or not you were Asian or even liked basketball. There was something about his story. He is not your prototypical superstar athlete who rolls up with a posse. He’s the kid next door.

Christopher Chen: Jeremy is such a humble and down-to-earth guy. I found out that he didn’t get any offers to play anywhere, (but) he got (into varsity basketball) on his own and got in on his own way. (Lin overcame) certain signs of stereotyping … Asian Americans are stereotyped as being doctors and lawyers. Jeremy proved to me that there shouldn’t be any stereotypes. Take, for example, an African American computer programmer. Why would they be looked upon differently?

DC: How did UC Berkeley shape your aspirations and outlook?

BY: I was always at Zellerbach. (Acting) started out as a hobby for fun. I was bit by the bug … I knew while I was at Cal that I wanted to be in the (film) industry. It took me a while to get working into it full time, but I eventually made my way. (Now) I’m more on the narrative side, doing independent feature films.

CC: I was a poli sci major. Berkeley opens your eyes — it’s the real world. Berkeley is ethnically diverse and prepares you (for life). The film world is its own animal.

DC: What advice do you have for Berkeley students who are aspiring actors or producers wanting to break into the film industry?

BY: Get involved early. Intern at a production company or studio. I remember my first year after Cal, I did a summer internship at a production company … lots of Cal folks in entertainment. There’s a Cal entertainment alumni network and a Cal alumni group at Sundance. Don’t underestimate the power of being a Golden Bear (laughs). Everyone has a different route, but apply yourself and be hungry. Don’t be a wallflower. In this industry, it’s all about who you know, (but) it’s all very attainable. It’s the same thing as if you want to go into medicine or law … You gotta pay your dues. No one becomes a studio executive right after you graduate. Hollywood is often seen as smoke and mirrors — people think it’s magic, but there’s two ends to it. It’s a business.

CC: You have to have thick skin. No is a very common answer. You have to be more outgoing than you would be normally. Entertainment is about personal and professional networking. If you’re a screenwriter, producer or director … it’s a function of the industry that there are always going to be more people who want the job than there are jobs. I encourage people to persevere.

DC: What aspect of “Linsanity” makes you the most proud?

CC: I always talk about how what you work on (as a producer) is very tangible. Twenty years from now, the film is still tangible. With a documentary, you can have a plan of attack, but there is no blueprint. We don’t know anything about what’s going to happen. There is a certain level of creative license, as the director has a point of view. The documentary (is) a reflection of the creative team. (But) how do we make (Jeremy Lin) into a protagonist, a hero, so that we want to root for him? (The) “how” is getting the subject to open up. “Linsanity” was one of the most widely covered media events of the year. Jeremy was turning down interviews but would talk to us every day. He has a trust with our filmmaking team that we aren’t going to mince his words or have a bend on it that wouldn’t be fair.

DC: Would you say the film is one about race?

CC: It’s is a film about hope and inspiration. Jeremy had a rough road. Racism is not something a lot of people like to talk about, (but) we wanted to recreate (Jeremy’s entire) experience for our audience. We want to encourage young people to chase their dreams. There were so many steps where Jeremy could have given up and become an accountant. People will tell you no all along the way … basketball is the backdrop.

Contact Kate Irwin at [email protected].