An MBA's Starring Role in Moviemaking

Filmmaker Li-Anne Huang likens producing an indie movie to running a small company and reveals the B-school know-how she relies on

After receiving an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business, I spent the summer shooting five black-and-white silent movies at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. There, I fell in love with filmmaking and have never looked back at my former career as an investment banker.

Today, I write, direct, and produce short films in New York City, working on both the creative and business sides, while also traveling to other locations such as Singapore and China to shoot.


  Starting out as an independent filmmaker means using all of your entrepreneurial skills. On the business side, producing a short film is similar to starting a small company: Hiring a team, negotiating contracts with talent and crew, finding postproduction facilities, fund-raising, incorporating a company, working with sponsors and product placements, marketing, and distribution (to festivals).

This business is an unpredictable roller-coaster ride that constantly stretches me to my limits. There's no typical day, so I've chosen to write about a day during the preproduction phase when we were three weeks from shooting Singapore Girl, a short film completed in 2004 (see the trailer).

For Singapore Girl, we won a financial grant from the Singapore Film Commission, and I received the Singapore Tatler's Most Promising Young Filmmaker Award 2004.

6:30 a.m. -- I text-message Michelle Lee, my first assistant director, whom we hired two weeks ago: "Yes, let's confirm Matt Gray for the supporting male role with Fly [talent agency]. Any progress on getting Singapore Expo location? Pls. rush Turbo [location manager]. Confirmed meeting with Chin [set designer] today 3 p.m. Can you make it? Let's lock down preliminary shooting schedule by end of this week."

6:45 a.m. -- I catch a few more minutes of sleep

7 a.m. -- The phone rings. It's Christopher Doyle calling from Hong Kong. He's filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai's director of photography, and I'm in shock that he has returned my call. We talk about my script, and he considers shooting my film as a pro-bono project. I'm thrilled but know the chances are slim.

8 a.m. -- Our production meeting starts. We work out of my living room. Present are Bratina Tay, a co-producer, and Michelle Lee. Juan Foo, also a co-producer, is joining us via phone. We have final discussions on setting up an LLC vs. a nonprofit organization.

We've just been offered a $20,000 grant from the Lee Foundation. We discuss the possibility of receiving the funds through fiscal sponsorship. We also discuss our postproduction options with Infinite Frameworks, where Juan can get us in for two weeks of editing.

9 a.m. -- Joseph and Melissa (second and third assistant directors) join the meeting. Joseph brings us up to date on food-and-beverage sponsorship and product placement. We must place Yeo's drinks in the background in at least two scenes so the company will provide craft services. Melissa runs us through her prop breakdown list. She has located a Singapore Airlines cardboard cutout girl that we can borrow for Day 3 of the shoot.

An MBA's Starring Role in Moviemaking
Scene from Singapore Girl

10:30 a.m. -- We continue with Day 2 of secondary cast auditions. We meet with more than 30 actresses and models (the doorman is thrilled to let them in). Unfortunately, not one fits any part required.

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