The drive is live, thank you

The countdown has begun! Our Kickstarter campaign launched today —

kickstarter-logo-k-color

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

1

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.

phw

© 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 —

Enjoy!

phw

©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.

phw

© 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.

phw

 © 2013 P.H. Wells / First Straw Films

92 and counting

Virginia McCutcheon’s story spans three continents and most of a century. Join us for a sip of champagne and follow the making of My Shanghai, a documentary of love, art and survival.

I wish I’d met Virginia sooner. We have a family tie, but her stories hadn’t traveled my way. Now I feel very fortunate to have made that connection and to be given the rare chance to document her life.

The idea for the film took root about a year ago, after Memorial Day, 2011. Virginia was featured on the front page of The Tribune newspaper in San Luis Obispo County, California. Under the headline “POW of the Japanese,” Virginia described her internment at Lunghwa Camp near Shanghai, China, during World War II. What I learned about Virginia beyond her wartime experience would shape the film for me.

I recruited friends Joan and Ron Macbeth to be my associate producer and cinematographer. On a stormy day in June, we packed my Subaru with gear and headed to California. We had the luxury of shooting over four days. Virginia was a pro, elegant and open. Her family provided not only their full support but willingness to be part of the film. I had even secured a film permit with fees waived to shoot at the local farmers’ market.

Sounds like a basket of fresh strawberries, doesn’t it?

I’ll let you know how things are going. Not every day — you’re welcome — but I’m thinking a couple of times a week. Maybe three. Progress and pitfalls, insights and oversights, techie tips, maybe a recipe or two… for mixed drinks…

Welcome to My Shanghai.