Talk about a world premiere

Today I sent out the link to the HD download of My Shanghai to our Kickstarter backers. I think this is our real world premiere. In the U.S., our backers come from Oregon, Washington, Alaska, California, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Colorado, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia,  Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine. And those are just the ones I know about!

Then there’s Guam, which is both part of and beyond the U.S. The rest of our worldwide support comes from Canada, Australia, England, Germany and China.

Vimeo screenshotI mentioned in my update to them (Project Update #26) that one year ago today, we had raised $736 toward our $20,000 goal. A lot changed in a month, and a lot has changed in a year.

The world has a new documentary.




Which is why they don’t call it MattressStarter

In My Shanghai, Virginia talks about how her mother always hid money in her mattress, just in case. Thankfully, we didn’t have to do that.

Another round of thanks goes to our Kickstarter funders aMy Shanghai moves from production to premiere screening.

A whole bunch of folks contributed $25 to $99, with our appreciation:

Lee Babb  •  Laurie Barlow  •   Floride Bartell  •   Barbara Jo Carlson

Jason Cordova  •   Cheryl Croasmun  •   Michael Gandsey  •   Keren Green

Jamie Hurst  •   Josh Leake  •   Ken Lemm   •   Michael Levitt

Roza Leyderman  •   Marieke Lexmond  •   Lance Mayer  •   Suzanne Olsen

Nat Palmer  •   Viki Posidis    •   Melissa Pugh   •   Nikki Pyne

Cecilia Reid  •  Jenny Schrader  •   Mike Stahl  •   Larry Starke

Sherwood Oaks College   •   Deborah Stenard-Bowman   •   Connie Taylor

Dave Weisbord   •   J’hon Williams  •  Ruth Witteried

Backers who contributed $100 or more are listed in the closing credits of the film (please see “Closing Credits” posted in MY SHANGHAI JOURNAL a couple of days ago). Included there, too, are some folks who may have donated a little less but helped in other ways.

If you backed My Shanghai with a ten-spot, we’re still very grateful! Ten bucks is a show of faith, and that we found in abundance, not in our mattresses.


Closing credits

As 2013 comes to a close, I’m raising my glass to everyone associated with My Shanghai. So many people have generously supported this documentary. On behalf of the My Shanghai team, I give our most sincere thanks.

If you worked on the film, gave us materials to use onscreen, consulted, researched, held an umbrella over my head or kicked in $100 or more through Kickstarter or otherwise, you will likely see your name listed below.

IMPORTANT! LAST CHANCE! If you see a misspelling, want to alter or eliminate your name, PLEASE tell me now! I can consider TINY CHANGES up until SUNDAY, JANUARY 5th. The master print will be made shortly after that.

MORE EXCITING! We have begun submitting to film festivals. Until we hear something…. well, let’s just say we’re a little superstitious. Hopefully, we’ll be screening at a film festival near you. The running time is 57 minutes, so it’s not destined for theatrical release at your neighborhood cinema. We’ll keep you posted.

For now, just open that bottle of Tango Champán and celebrate knowing you’ve helped bring Virginia’s story to the world.

Where it all started: Virginia is a local celebrity at the farmers' market.
Where it all started: Virginia is a local celebrity at the farmers’ market.

First Straw Films


My Shanghai

A film by    P.H. Wells

Produced in association with     HD Loft Studios

Directed by     P.H. Wells

Appearances by

Virginia Lumsdaine McCutcheon

Ginny Palmer

Barbra Mousouris

John McCutcheon

Eric Palmer

Farmers’ Market Vendor     Gary Billington

Produced by

Producer     P.H. Wells

Executive producers     Joan Macbeth   •   Heather G. Harrison

Co-producer     Tierney Boorboor

Associate producers     Hal Croasmun   •    Bill Hurst

Story + Picture

Cinematographer     Ron Macbeth

Writer     P.H. Wells

Co-writer     Joan Macbeth

Editor     P.H. Wells

Colorist     Vashi Nedomansky

Assistant editor     Heidi Zimmerman

Mastering facility     Mission Control, Portland, Oregon

Filmed on location in San Luis Obispo County, California

Sound + Music

Sound re-recording mixer     Michael ‘Gonzo’ Gandsey

Sound recordists     Ron Macbeth   •   P.H. Wells

Composer, original score     Jonathan Geer

Composer, ‘Tango Champán’     Jonathan Geer

Music performed by     Austin Piazzolla Quintet and friends

Violin     James Anderson

Cello     Tony Rogers

Bass     Phil Spencer

Piano     Jonathan Geer

Accordion     Mike Maddux

Guitar     Adam Carney

Special Thanks

Archival research     Sarah Inglis

Artists     John McCutcheon   •    Irene Duguid Kilpatrick

Chinese calligraphy     Jiyu Yang

Chinese seal carving     Lu Kesi

Japanese print consultants     Thomas A. Crossland,   •   Andreas Grund

Japanese print publishers     S. Watanabe WoodBlock Print Co., Tokyo   •   Doi Hangaten, Tokyo

Photographic archives courtesy of     The McCutcheon & Lumsdaine families

Andy Archibald   •   Greg Leck   •    Rick McGrath   •   Rurik Nystrom   •   Allen Wooten

National Archives, U.K.   •   The Internet Archive

Grassroots publicity     Leanne Collins Miller


Brittani Axtell      •      Roy Baley      •      Lynn Aberle Brown      •      Lynne Bunch      •      Stephanie Burchiel      •      Delia Davies       •       Marina Mousouris Delio      •      Marla Hayes       •       Carol Hovsepian       •       Mary Hurst      •      Dick Jaffe      •      Barbara King       •      Diana Lumsdaine      •      Dawn Ellen McConachie       •       Vern McKimmey      •      Melva McLean      •      Barbra Mousouris      •       Michelle Muldoon      •      Diane Palmer      •      Virginia G. Palmer      •      Randall Platt      •      Rick Schmidt       •       Dana Sears      •       Pedram Shawd      •      Jerry Van Fossen      •      Luana Vargas      •      Gloria Walker      •      Alan Wells      •      David Wells      •       Edward Wells       •       Hannah Wells      •       Mark Wells

A toast to the tango

Tango ChampánQ: What’s got more style, the tango or champagne?

A: Why choose when you can have both?

Both, as in “Tango Champán” by Jonathan Geer.

If you’ve visited our Facebook page in the last couple of days, you’ll know we’ve been soliciting title ideas for for the closing credits music. On request from the producers (or was it the writers?), Jonathan wrote a dashing little tango to wrap up the film. I asked him to choose the title from our Facebook suggestions… okay, I planted a few, but our fans threw a lot more into the pot. (Before you say it was too hard to think of a name without hearing the music, did you really wait until after your kids were born to name them?)

My favorite was “Breakfast at Jimmy’s.” Joan begged for “My Shanghai Tango.” In the end, Jonathan chose the most exotic, and who can blame him?

Besides, we’re half a block away from celebrating the end of production and the beginning, we hope, of My Shanghai‘s voyage into festival space. Virginia is almost 94 and she can’t wait to see it.

Champagne all around.


© 2013 My Shanghai LLC  •  All rights reserved

Like our new look?

Here’s where you’ll find all the latest goings-on with My Shanghai.

We have a new format to disguise the fact that we’re still bloggy-based (sshhh!!!), so our posts don’t appear on the front page anymore. It may take a few days to get it all set, but you’ll still get to read all about what’s new around here.

Yeah, in fact, so much is new that some of us have been too busy to write about it. Sound, music and color are currently farmed out to our expert crew — Gonzo, Jonathan and Vashi, respectively. Joan and I are headed to Santa Monica next week to attend the American Film Market (AFM) — which we consider an exploratory mission, not a marketing mission per se. But you never know… and Heidi will connect all the dots at the end to finish — yes! — the whole picture!

Keep you posted.


P.S. Thanks to everyone who has liked us on Facebook. We like that.

Color takes flight

Where better to announce the latest addition to our crew than at 39,000 feet?

Image - Version 2

Meet Vashi Nedomansky, a Los Angeles–based editor who will handle My Shanghai’s color correction and grading.

Born in Czechoslovakia, Vashi defected to North America with his parents when he was five years old.

“My father was a professional hockey player in the NHL and my mother a photographer and artist,” Vashi says. “I grew up in Toronto, Birmingham (Alabama), St. Louis and Detroit, then graduated from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor with a degree in Film and Video Studies.”

Vashi didn’t head directly to the movie business, however. Like dad, he took to the ice and played pro hockey for ten years.

His career eventually shifted back toward the arts. Since 2001, Vashi has edited seven feature films, including An American Carol for David Zucker (Airplane, Scary Movie), many short films and documentaries, and hundreds of commercials for Volkswagen, Electronic Arts, Bud Light, and all five branches of the U.S. military.

“Filmmaking has allowed me to cross paths and work with the most diverse group of people,” Vashi says, “and in that aspect I have been both lucky and grateful.” From an industry perspective, Vashi delivers all of his projects through post production to broadcast and distribution. From My Shanghai’s perspective, he just delivers. You’ll find more of his work at

Oh, about that 39,000 feet — I’m en route to Austin Film Festival where I’ll catch up with my co-writer/exec producer, Joan Macbeth. My Shanghai isn’t quite ready for the festival circuit, but we are.


Fall brings a global perspective

So long, summer. We like a change of season at My Shanghai. We’re bringing on people to get this little film into shape for the big show…. er, festival circuit… which we plan to begin in early 2014.
Meet our new assistant editor, Heidi Zimmerman, who will be in charge of all the specs and codecs to finish the film. Heidi grew up on the east coast, moved to LA and found her way to Portland. Welcome, Heidi.

Heidi Zimmerman, assistant editor

Heidi Zimmerman is a picture editor with over ten years of post-production experience in narrative films, documentaries, commercials, and clip shows. Heidi received a BFA in Film/TV Production at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She has worked with major entertainment companies such as Universal Music Group and Warner Brothers. Under the mentorship of Academy Award winning editor Pietro Scalia, Heidi cut her first feature documentary, 40 Years of Silence, about the 1965 mass killings in Indonesia. Since then, she has cut a wide range of independent feature projects. From urban gardening in Detroit to Haitian development after the earthquake, her work continues to bring inspiring and provocative social justice stories to audiences around the globe.


Shanghai on the Willamette

Geography quiz: what river runs through Shanghai?
Virginia would tell you it’s the Whangpoo (or Huangpu in today’s spelling). But I’m beginning to think it’s the Willamette. Willamette_Writers

At least, my Shanghai finds its home on the Willamette, the river that runs through Portland, Oregon. And tomorrow night, Portland will get a taste of My Shanghai when we screen our Kickstarter trailer at the Willamette Writers Conference FilmLab.

It’s exciting, screening for a big crowd. A first for us. Joan Macbeth and I will be doing a Q&A afterwards to field all those questions. How the project got started, what about the filming… we’ll be ready. Especially if this comes up —

“What river runs through Shanghai?”

FilmLab, Willamette Writers Conference

7:00 pm Friday, August 2, 2013

Portland Sheraton Airport Hotel, Mt. Adams Ballroom

You don’t have to be registered for the conference to come. Short films, food and beer. Bring your questions.


Deep into sound

My Shanghai’s talent pool just got a lot deeper. With the success of Kickstarter, we’ve now met one of our goals: bringing a top sound editor onto the project.

Meet Michael Gandsey, sound designer, re-recording mixer and owner of T2 Audio in Portland.

Michael Gandsey
Michael Gandsey

Originally from Burbank, Michael grew up with the music and film industry in his back yard and has been working in professional sound since 1980.

He’s got plenty to say about sound:

“Unlike images on film or video which cannot in themselves produce sound, sound has the unique ability to evoke an image. It is the supreme conjurer of the imagination and emotions.

“Sound is powerful stuff. Most of the sounds we hear are registered subliminally, but we instantly ‘place’ them when we hear the rush of incoming tide, the clank and hiss of a steam radiator, the whirr of the dentist’s drill or the cawing din of blackbirds descending.

“We locate these sounds in our mind’s past… we can smell them, and feel their shape, mass, and texture. This is important information. When sound is linked physically to place, it has the capacity to deepen both the sense and the memory of that place.

“… More important is the capacity of a sound to evoke unlimited pictures in the mind, to interject the listener into the picture, to play with the scene, to write alternative scripts.”

Among Michael’s many film and television credits: Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester, Far from Heaven, The Hunted, Hear and NowOn Paper Wings; and The Revisionaries for Independent Lens, Buried Alive, National Geographic Explorer, Nova and The American Experience. Current work includes sound design for The Winding Stream, a feature music documentary-in-progress about country music’s legendary Carter and Cash families.

The McCutcheon family has its own legend. You’ll hear it from Michael Gandsey.


© 2013 First Straw Films

24 and counting

At 3pm last Friday, with 24 hours and 2 minutes left on Kickstarter, I posted the first in a series of hourly thank-yous on our Facebook page. Since many of you are not on FB (for good reason, I’m sure), I’ll share them here.

Thank you,

3pm Virginia McCutcheon, for being our hero, for opening the book on your life and going with the flow when clearly it was time for a Scotch.

4pm Ginny Palmer, for your candor, patience and determination. Oh, and for introducing us to your mum.

5pm Joan Macbeth, my friend, fellow producer and co-writer. We’d be nowhere without your talent, heart, energy and readiness to share the adventure. And your Best Western free night card.

6pm  Ron Macbeth. You deserve much credit for your camera work, team spirit and road-trip readiness, but we expect that from a Canadian, eh?

7pm Neil Wells, for just about everything I can think of since this project began two years ago. And I’ll make sure to stock the freezer with burritos before I go off again…

8pm Barbra Mousouris, for placing your trust in us and sharing your insights and wonderful stories. You’re the only person I’ve ever met with a hamster up her sleeve.

9pm John McCutcheon, for sharing your art and your indomitable spirit. You’re such an inspiration and I’m hoping maybe to talk you out of another of your paintings someday.

10pm Gifted composer Jonathan Geer, for agreeing to score the film. How I decided a tango musician from Texas was the right fit for a Japanese internment camp movie — oh, wait —

11pm Eric Palmer, for allowing your personal struggles to add to the depth of this film. Your bond with your grandmother is undeniable, your challenges both different and the same. I never had a chance to tell you I went to Chino Men’s Correctional Facility to take pictures and was summarily required to remove them from my camera. We do what we have to do. R.I.P.

10 seconds to go!
10 seconds to go!

12am Barbara King, for contributing in so many ways behind the scenes. I know Virginia thinks of you as her other daughter, so in an extended family sense you must be my other cousin!

1am Andy Archibald, for kindly sharing your archival photos of Virginia’s brother, Jack, who competed for England in the ’52 Olympics as a Modern Pentathlete. Well, what does one do after flying in the R.A.F.?

2am Dr. Jiyu Yang, for writing “My Shanghai” in beautiful Chinese calligraphy and for many afternoons in your company at the teahouse at Lan Su Chinese Garden. I only wish I had more time to learn the art of patience.

3am Dan Lu Kesi, for designing and carving “My Shanghai” into beautiful marble seals as your donation to the film. I’ll be careful not to use them upside-down. I’ll also review the concept of yin and yang and fix what I mis-posted last week…

4am Sarah Inglis, for your amazing and timely offer to delve into British Special Operations archives. Who knew we’d find spies among us?

5am Roy Baley, for the use of your beautiful garden by the bay. I really don’t hold you responsible for the fog.

6am The vendors at the Los Osos Farmers Market who appear in the film trailer — soupmakers Stephanie Burchiel and Brittani Axtell, and Gary “The Date Guy” Billington. Will we see you in the final cut? That’s like asking for the secret recipe…

7am Leanne Miller, for handling so much of our grassroots publicity and for being the first person to pledge on Kickstarter! You got it rolling and helped keep it rolling!

8am The good people at NW Documentary and NW Film Center. Sorry, I handled just enough equipment to make me dangerous.

9am Michelle Muldoon, for the opportunity to get my first producing credit on “A Rendezvous.” I’m not exactly sure how helping you make your postcards led me to believe I could make a film, but there you go.

10am Cynthia Whitcomb, screenwriter, playwright, teacher. If I hadn’t wandered into your screenwriting workshops and watched Ordinary People and Butch Cassidy and hadn’t written my first screenplay… see what you started? (right, Joan?)

11am Lynn Federman of the San Luis Obispo County Film Commission, for waiving the permit fee on our location shoot at the farmers’ market. I don’t know how we managed to be around all that food and not spend any money!

12pm Dean Piper, for allowing me to promote the film on internet radio Thanks for offering to give me my own show, too, but my hands are pretty full right now.

1pm Writers in the Rafters. The dedicated women in this group climb the little stairs over the coffee house kitchen twice a month. We do it for the writing, but that’s not the only thing. We do it for the coffee. We do it for the coolness factor of meeting in the attic of a coffee house, and the chill factor of meeting in the winter in the attic of a coffee house…

2pm Milwaukie Bomber. No, I’m not thanking a scary guy in a ski mask; it’s a real B-17 in my neighborhood. This WWII-era lady didn’t didn’t lose her nose section in a dogfight over Germany or her engines over the Pacific. She still has a story to tell.

2:50pm ALL OUR PROJECT BACKERS. I’ve scheduled this post to publish at 2:50pm PDT, which is 12 minutes before the Kickstarter door snaps shut. No matter what happens, I appreciate every one of you, whether you’ve been on board from the beginning or just came across it last night. Thank you! You still have 11 minutes.

• • • • •

Thanks, everyone. Now back to work.


The little Kickstarter that could


We thought we could… thanks to you!



Fishermen’s four seasons

The spring has brought changes to My Shanghai. Beyond everything else, we mourn the passing of Virginia’s grandson, Eric Palmer, who let us into his life on camera and helped with the production. His obituary is online in the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

May has also been fundraising season. Our Kickstarter drive runs until Saturday at 3pm PDT. With 1 day to go, we still need pledges to reach the $20,000 goal. Can we do it? Yes, we can do it! All it takes is a bunch of people to say, “Hey, let’s do it!”

Kickstarter is open all night!

We have until 3:00pm PDT Saturday, June 1, to reach $20,000

But no matter what happens with the campaign, I’ve come to appreciate the way things fall into place when you’re meant to do something. You’re not sure why; they just do. Take, for example, Virginia’s furniture.

The tall chest sits near the stairs. It’s humble. Someone decorated these doors with a thick brush and a little pot of paint. Virginia says she never got around to having it translated, so I took a picture on one of my recent trips. I had to know.IMG_2246

Dr. Jiyu Yang is the resident scholar at Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland. He’s been a wonderful resource for many of the cultural aspects of My Shanghai — calligraphy, music, poetry. At first glance, he said it was probably a poem and was happy to translate it.

Now, for the falling into place part. My co-writer, Joan, and I decided months ago we would build My Shanghai around the seasons. It’s a traditional approach to a life story, of course, but what could be more natural? Especially when you loosen up a bit about what seasons are and what seasons mean.

The seasons have been here much longer than we have. We are required to adapt to them and not the other way around. The seasons don’t care what country we live in.

In the trailer, Virginia shows us her Japanese woodblock prints that she bought in Japan. “My three children all want them,” she says with a little laugh. “So it’s going to be difficult.”

Unlike the prints, the humble furniture doesn’t have a big role in My Shanghai. I don’t know if anyone will ever draw straws to see who gets it. But like any good supernumerary, it quietly serves the story. Here is Dr. Yang’s translation:

Fishermen’s Four Seasons

The seasons coming and going

Energy flows down and up

As fish jumping up the Water Gate

The Chi circles as yin and yang

The moon changes from new to full thirty days

Spring knows the fish streaming in the water

Summer sees the clouds pass through as dragon

Autumn finds the codfish quiet at the bottom

Winter is the time for harvesting fish

•     •     •     •     • 

One final note: we need your fish.



© 2013 First Straw Films

More adventures in radio

It was so much fun the first time, I’m doing it again!

W4CYToday, May 29 at 3:05pm PDT, I’ll be back on internet radio to go behind the scenes of My Shanghai. Take your mid-day break, pour yourself a cup of something and listen in!

A chance to talk about the film helps with the final push on Kickstarter, too. We’ve had some awesome new pledges in the last few days, bringing our goal within reach, but it will take a three-day sweep to bring it home. Mashable reports that only 40% of film and video projects on Kickstarter meet their goal, converting pledges to actual donations. The rest — the majority — have to regroup and find that funding elsewhere.

My Shanghai‘s 30-day Kickstarter campaign ends Saturday afternoon. Has it been fun? Yes. Would I do it again?

Ask me Sunday.


Cracking the K-nut

Attention screenwriters: we added a fantastic new backer reward for the Kickstarter campaign! Now, at the $1000 donation level, Joan and I will do a full evaluation of one of your screenplays. Both of us are experienced readers for competitions, and both of us have had more than a few of our own scripts torn apart by some of the best analysts out there. More details are on our project site.


It’s something I felt could add value to this funny business of asking people for money. If we offer a real service as a benefit for your supporting My Shanghai, then the perk is suddenly more than a token. I can’t tell you how much time I spent agonizing over what to offer with each donation category. T-shirts? You have to deal with sizes. Mugs? Pretty heavy to ship, though I want one. Posters? We have to print posters at some point, but you need mailing tubes…

Hats are essential. One size fits all, easy to mail, and I just happen to like hats. I’m waiting for the final design, a beautiful Chinese seal that my friend Dan Lucas is designing and carving with traditional Chinese characters. It’s gonna look sharp, red on a black hat. You’ll see the seal on the poster too… as soon as we get posters…

So, Kickstarter. It can be a hard nut to crack. Many thanks to everyone who has donated so far. A lot of people still don’t know about Kickstarter, or they want to think about donating and it slips their mind. Studio System News has a good article comparing Kickstarter to a few other crowdfunding sites. I explain that it’s like pledging to PBS, only there’s no bank of phones behind me and there’s no money in front of me if we don’t reach our goal of $20,000 by June 1. Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing deal.

Now, as I’m writing, a mouse has run between the piano and a big chair three or four times. Each time I get up and move the humane mousetrap where he can get a sniff of the peanut butter inside. I love peanut butter so I don’t know why he didn’t run in there immediately. Should I leave it undisturbed and wait, or change out the peanut butter for something else more enticing? Some other nut, perhaps? Would he like a t-shirt?

Maybe I should just get out the camera and put him in the movie. Ah! There he goes, back under the piano…


© 2013 First Straw Films

When is an island not an island?

I’m no expert on Chinese-Japanese relations, not by a long shot. But my research for My Shanghai has prompted me to try and understand the issues underlying the serious disputes over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. China claims them as the Diaoyu, Japan claims them as the Senkaku. The potential mineral assets and fishing hauls don’t seem to account for the more than 300 times Japan has scrambled fighter jets against Chinese aircraft in the past year, nor the car-smashing protests that have sprung up all over China.

Islands in the storm: Senkaku or Diaoyu
(photo credit

An article by Ian Buruma in the May 11 Review section of the Wall Street Journal lays out the historical, political and cultural dynamics of it all especially well, I think. What strikes me is how symbolic these rocks are, and how fragile. One of them, known as Red Back North Island by the Chinese and North Islet by the Japanese, is said to be only 50 yards wide, the size of an Olympic swimming pool. So it’s not about the rocks.

Before World War II, Shanghai itself was like an island in China, carved out as a treaty port at the end of the Opium Wars in the mid-1800s — still Chinese territory (unlike Hong Kong), but ruled by foreigners, mainly British, Americans and French. This is the environment Virginia grew up in, an international city inside China.

Bill MCutcheon also grew up in Shanghai. He’s the guy who won her heart in Lunghwa camp and married her as soon as he could after the war. Bill worked for the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank, and his first posting after the war was Hong Kong. The second was Tokyo.

Virginia will be the first to tell you that even as the “incidents” between the Chinese and Japanese tore up the outskirts of Shanghai in the ’30s, even as the Japanese marched in to occupy the city after Pearl Harbor, even as she and her mother and many loved ones were forced into camps for the duration of the war, she carries no resentment.

“Fortunately there’d been a few years between being in Shanghai and having been in Hong Kong next, and then back to Japan,” she told me. “And the years had sort of healed a lot of people.”

Virginia made up her mind to embrace the arts in Japan. Her home today is filled with Asian art, both Chinese and Japanese, and she still practices ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging. Can a focus on the arts bring two cultures back together in today’s world? Buruma writes, “For much of its history, Japan looked up to China as the center of civilization.” And, “Before the Japanese invaded their country in the 1930s, many Chinese viewed Japan as a model of modernity.”

As I sit quietly at my desk on a Friday afternoon, I’ve just googled to find a picture I could use here. And up comes a headline on “China ships have entered disputed-islands waters off the Senkaku Islands: Japan.” Another incident?

My Shanghai is not about the Senkakus or the Daioyus. For us, the history helps to give a little more context to one woman’s life, her personal story, and her claim on the waters around her. And it’s not too much to hope that some healing can be found in the waters of the East China Sea.


© 2013 First Straw Films

Adventures in radio

Today I’ll be on the radio promoting My Shanghai and our Kickstarter campaign!

Join us at 4:30pm PDT on with host Dean Piper on his show, “Adventures of Pipeman.” My Shanghai gets its first 15 minutes of fame on internet radio. Thanks for listening!


Street cred

It’s official! My Shanghai is now listed on IMDb, the Internet Movie Database. They’re very persnickety and it takes a while to get them to accept your film without a good deal of verification, especially for new filmmakers, so it makes my day.

Back My Shanghai on Kickstarter as an Associate Producer or Executive Producer and be included in the IMDb credits. You’ll not only increase our chance of success but add to your own as well.

Joan and I earned our first credits on IMDb as Associate Producers on a short film, A Rendezvous, made by our friend Michelle Muldoon. When I created First Straw Films, I was able to list it, too. But I needed to submit a lot of qualifying information to them to add My Shanghai as a new title.

“My Shanghai” listing on IMDbPro

A key item was to complete the trailer and put it online. Last month I set up my own YouTube channel called Door104, uploaded the trailer, and there it is for all to see. It’s the same trailer here on the Kickstarter site, minus my little intro.

The second key item was to have an outside source talking about My Shanghai — someone else besides me, Joan, or my grassroots publicity organizer. The someone else for us was Del Weston, director of the AOF International Film Festival. Del featured My Shanghai in the AOF newsletter as “Kickstarter Project of the Week.” That gave us not only awesome publicity but essential street cred. Thanks, Del!

Take a look at My Shanghai‘s page on IMDb. If you’re a paid subscriber, here’s the IMDbPro page. Above is a screen shot of how it looks in the traditional layout. (They’re changing over to a new “improved” page design. Don’t get me started.)

We’re still missing some info, such as the production company, First Straw Films (oops) and our cinematographer, Ron Macbeth (coming soon). We also have in mind the names of some folks we’d like to join My Shanghai’s post-production team. I’m happy to add Associate and Executive Producers, too, who will get their own IMDb pages.

I invite you to spend a lilttle time on IMDb. Check out the links between people and their movies, movies and their people. One of those links may be yours.


© 2013 First Straw Films

Shanghai dollar days

Five dollars in Hongkong & Shanghai bank currency, issued January 1934. From Virginia's scrapbook. Photo by P.H. Wells
Five dollars in Hongkong & Shanghai Bank currency, issued January 1934.
From Virginia’s scrapbook. Photo by P.H. Wells

Too bad we can’t take Shanghai dollars. At least not like the fiver you see here, which came out of Virginia’s scrapbook. Before that, I’m sure, out of her mattress. Shanghai in the 1930s was safe enough for the Brits in the International Settlement, but you still had to keep a reserve of cash under the covers.

So it’s so nice to roll over and wake up to new Kickstarter pledges!


I get these little push notifications on my phone: “New Backer Alert!” Very nice. A week into our Kickstarter drive and we’re nearing 20% of our funding goal of $20,000. Not bad for our grassroots campaign, but we need to kick it up a notch to hit the mark by June 1.

Too bad we can’t take checks, either. Of course, we’re happy to accept legitimate donations of any kind for the film, but only credit cards count towards our goal. If you want to make a donation but are unable to use a computer, or if you’re having any sort of trouble completing the donation process, please email me at phwells @

Of course, I’d much rather you talk to all your friends, relatives, associates and social media connections about pledging contributions for My Shanghai on Kickstarter. Just ask them to click the big green button to “Back This Project” and follow the prompts.

We have 22 days to go. We love this project. You love this project. The funds are out there, not stuffed in mattresses, but in the hands of people who can help it come alive.


© 2013 First Straw Films

The drive is live, thank you

The countdown has begun! Our Kickstarter campaign launched today —


The drive is live on this very exciting link!

— which, if all goes well, will raise $20,000 for the My Shanghai budget. We’ll use the money for sound editing and mixing, color correction, and an original score by Jonathan Geer. Whatever is left over will help us pay for film festival submissions, travel, printing postcards and posters, coffee…

$20K in 30 days.

It’s tempting to break down your Kickstarter goal into an average daily pledge that you need to attract in order to collect your funding at the end. But like the statistical 2.4 children per American household, it’s not very helpful. 30 days is too short to have a “typical” donation experience. Anyway, I prefer to think about our needs in other, less mathematical terms:

20,000  ÷ 30 = 1,000 thanks per moment

Our backers will be rewarded for their generosity. This, too, is hard to calculate. They’ll get stuff, but mostly they’ll get thanks. Our DVDs and streaming downloads come with large quantities of appreciation. We anticipate a lesser number of official hats and VIP passes will go out, but these, too, come with an abundance of gratitude. At this moment, we’ve received $375 in pledges.

 375 = gratitude x abundance


Amazing, isn’t it?

You know what Virginia’s story is about. Please spend a little time on the Kickstarter page and consider pledging your support. Forget the math and do the moment. Oh, and tell your friends.

Thank you.


© 2013 First Straw Films

Trailer accompli

At last, the demo is done. The promo is ready. Trailer accompli.

I’ve posted it on Facebook too, so if you haven’t come and liked our page, this would be a good time! It’s also a good time to mention the Kickstarter launch sometime in the next week. This will provide My Shanghai the level of polish that only a crew of top professionals can give it. More on that when the drive goes live.

Our goal is to finish the whole documentary by December of this year, before Virginia’s 94th birthday. We’re looking at a running time of just under an hour. Now I’ve gotta run —



©2013 P.H. Wells / First Straw Films

The B-17 in my neighborhood

There are people, veterans, who can still tell us what happened to them in the Second World War. I met a few Tuesday night at the Wings of Freedom Museum in Milwaukie, Oregon. It’s a small building across the parking lot from the only B-17 bomber in my neighborhood.

The “Lacey Lady” B-17G at the Bomber complex in Milwaukie, Oregon
©2013 P.H. Wells / First Straw Films

How the Bomber came to Milwaukie is a great story in itself. Read this fabulous piece done three years ago by KATU News in Portland. The great plane has suffered a long decline, not for lack of love but lack of money. These old birds are expensive to maintain.

Tuesday’s event was a dinner to honor ex-prisoners war in WWII, particularly from Oregon. Three had come. We listened to stories of hunger and deprivation at the hands of the Germans. We listened to an actual recording of the last American transmission, in Morse code with the nearly simultaneous spoken transcription, as the Japanese attacked the Island of Corregidor in the Philippines in May, 1942. You’d have to imagine fifty of us, sitting at tables in a WWII museum, surrounded by the stuff of war — a .50-calibre machine gun, Norden bombsight, maps, flags, uniforms, medals and insignias, and the nose of a B-17G waiting for restoration — in silence.

We listened to Kristi Burke’s memories of her dad. He’d been shot down over Japan after piloting a number of successful missions. He never talked about it. He always wore long sleeves and long pants to cover his burns, to cover his past. Finally, as a grown daughter, Kristi asked the question: what happened to you in the war? They wrote the book together. Proof Through the Night recounts Ernie Pickett’s ordeal as a POW of the Japanese.

Virginia was also a POW of the Japanese, though she was never brutalized. She was a civilian and to my knowledge has never flown a B-29. Yet I’ve asked the same question: what happened to you in the war?

My declared mission is to share her story. My secret mission is to inspire other people to do the same — ask the question, record the answer, and put it on YouTube if that’s what it takes. There are people who can still tell us what happened in the war, but somebody has to tell the kids.


© 2013 P.H. Wells / First Straw Films

My stepfather, the spy

Virginia’s stepfather was more than a colorful character in her life. Bill Gande owned a liquor import business in Shanghai. He was a successful businessman and gave big parties at his home in the countryside.

When the Japanese invaded the city in December 1941, Virginia was working for Gande as his secretary and bookkeeper. “I knew he was a very big shot,” Virginia said, “and if he was arrested, that would be the last we’d see of him…”.

She hurried to the office that morning. Several cars were parked in front with the Japanese flag flying, soldiers at attention — “Frightening,” she said — and went past them into the building. Gande was in his office where the Japanese were going through his papers. “If eyes could pass a signal,” she said, “you know, ‘Get out of here.’ But I thought, no, I’m not ready to go. I want to be of some help.”

It seems Bill Gande was also a spy.

Bill Gande - Asiana
Excerpt from “Asiana,” July 1942

Virginia tore up some papers on her desk and left safely, but the Japanese arrested Gande and took him to Bridge House, the infamous prison where he and many other political prisoners endured years of torture. He was vilified in the July, 1942 issue of Asiana magazine, written as Japanese propaganda, denouncing him and several others as “criminals.”

Fortunately, his story didn’t end there; he survived and eventually married Virginia’s mother. But Virginia’s account left me with one tiny little dilemma: how do I document a first-person account of “my stepfather, the spy”?

Google returned two hits. One was for My Twenty-Five Years In Shanghai by J. B. Powell, who knew Gande as a fellow prisoner at Bridge House. He provides some chilling details of conditions in the prison and of Gande himself.

The other turned up a file on Gande in the papers of Norwood F. Allman at the Hoover Archives. I won’t know until Monday what’s in the file. No, the sum total of the world’s knowledge is not yet googleable. Yes, it’s a road trip to Palo Alto. Joan and me, writers/producers, any excuse for adventure…

But whatever is in that file, I don’t expect it to alter the film in any significant way. He might’ve been a big shot in British espionage, but Virginia is the big shot in our story. She’s the “my” in My Shanghai.


 © 2013 P.H. Wells / First Straw Films