Seven Questions with Debbie Vu

Debbie Vu is the director of Roll, Pin, Punch. Two MMA fighters, both women of color, spar with one another while flashbacks haunt their every punch, every kick, every takedown. These moments illustrate their motivation behind why they took up the sport in the first place.

1. Who are your film influencers?

My own personal experiences fuel my screenwriting. I grab the viewers’ attention and keep them engaged and wanting more. I am not the biggest movie fan because that first act takes way too long in most movies but Christopher Nolan and Ben Stiller are among the directors out there whose work I admire. Bong Joon Ho gives me hope as an Asian filmmaker. Quentin Tarantino’s notoriety and fame are what I want for myself but I do not enjoy his work like others do. I want to be someone’s favorite director. I want to move people into action. I want to inspire. I want to share my life experiences. The good ones. The bad ones. The ugly ones. I don’t want others to suffer the way I did just to learn a lesson. If I can reduce every one of my experiences into lessons and share them through my craft to help spare others of the pain wrought by our circumstances, then I know I made a difference.

2. What are the toughest aspects of making a film today?

The toughest part of making a film is getting enough funding to pay everyone fairly. Personally, I make it my mission to ensure my team is paid for their hard work, skills, and experience. If you are working with no budget, recruit your filmmaker friends and make it clear right away that it’s on a volunteer basis and see if anyone still wants to pursue the opportunity. Barter yourself and your experiences with others and help out where you can so that one day, you can call upon those filmmakers you’ve met who will hopefully show up for you.

3. Best advice you’ve received as a filmmaker?

It is actually the worst advice that I have received that made me the award-winning filmmaker that I am. They said, don’t use your own money. I did. They said, don’t use your own home. I did. They said, don’t put out your work publicly if you want to enter it into film festivals. I did. These nay-sayers think they are helping but they are actually hindering other filmmakers in their journeys. But those limits that others put on me helped me see where the boundaries were so that I could break them.

4. What does it mean to you to be a Black filmmaker or to create films with black stories or characters.

I am a part of underrepresented communities. I have felt constant oppression as a bipolar Asian American woman so I connect with black folks and their stories because of their pain, suffering, and resilience. I grew up in an abusive household which I find has been relatable to a lot of my friends and family of diverse backgrounds. We have all experienced pain, trauma, and love. Creative outlets give us room to cope and engage with our past. We have shared life experiences and it is up to us to listen to one another to learn more about ourselves and to connect with others and build out our support system.

5. What does it mean to you that your film is on Aspire TV and other platforms?

I create media that people can relate to. I will explore opportunities to get my work in front of viewers. The bigger the audience, the bigger the impact. I am grateful to be recognized and appreciated for the work that I do.

6. Advice you would give the next gen following you?

Volunteer your time, skills, and effort on no-budget or low-budget productions. Being on a film set is automatically a great networking opportunity. You get to know folks in the industry locally. If you do a good job, you will be remembered for future productions that are more than likely paid. Typically if I am crewing up and/or casting, I think back on the people I have worked with and I reach out to them to offer them opportunities. They get first dibs. If you can’t find your community organically, use social media to seek out your future collaborators. Hire your friends. Work with your friends. Build out your flock and soar together.

7. Are there any inspirational films, articles or books that you would recommend to go deeper into the topics and themes in your film?

Go to a fighting tournament. Notice how the fighters move and glide. Look for the sweat beads running down their faces. Watch as they use their full bodies to win. All those hours spent in the gym for months and months or even years, condensed into 3-minute rounds. Putting everything they have within to defeat their opponent in the ring. I wondered what all goes into preparing for that day. I thought about how someone gets into a fighting sport. What was their spark of inspiration? And that was the spark for me to write “Roll Pin Punch”. Just thinking about what inspires others to dive into something with an endless amount of passion that carries them throughout their journey.