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.


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

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