When an idea sparks, it takes more than passion alone to transform it into a flame. From acquiring financial aid to finding resources and support to good old fashioned luck, there are countless factors that kindle a creative project into being, or snuff it out on the spot. The struggle to have an original idea realized can be unrelenting, and it’s one many emerging filmmakers know all too well. In an industry centered on crowd-pleasing blockbusters, remakes and sequels, many independent filmmakers are left to their own devices and funds to fuel unconventional artistry. Add in a slew of politics and predetermined constructs, and the odds become particularly stacked against female, trans, and non-binary filmmakers.
It’s estimated that of the top 500 films made in 2019, only 14% were directed by women. And that was a record high. And that was a record high. While male-domination within the film industry is beginning to teeter, there is no question that women, trans and non-binary filmmakers continue a lengthy and arduous fight to have their distinct voices heard. And even for those directors lucky enough to have the stars align behind their work, the challenge to maintain control of their vision until they cross the finish line can be a frustrating crusade.
The film world has never been more ripe for change and fresh perspective. That’s why Lexus and ELLE joined together on a project called The Spark, which is aimed at driving the work of female and non-binary identifying filmmakers to the forefront of the conversation. In the summer of 2021, a group of emerging directors got the opportunity to pitch their original stories to Lexus and ELLE, with the chance to turn their idea into a short film that would be screened at the 2021 Women in Hollywood Awards. With the financial and creative support of Lexus and ELLE, one chosen director would not only be able to realize a film through their own lens, but have their work showcased before some of the finest and most influential forces in the industry today.
For Tiffany Frances, an independent filmmaker from Los Angeles, The Spark was a pivotal opportunity to see her work realized and the embers of her idea ignite. This is how “Another Day” was brought to the silver screen.
From a sea of filmmakers, The Spark chose five innovative directors to develop and present an original story concept inspired by a theme that spoke to them. The goal: to partner with a director with an intuitive eye for character and strong sense of storytelling in a short film format.
The submissions from the five filmmakers—Mary Evangelista, Elina Street, Isabella Tan, Tiffany Frances, and Kajal—proved nothing short of extraordinary, presenting a wide array of both personal and socially explorative stories. Each creator put forth distinctly compelling narratives that stood as a testament to the reservoir of genius brimming in the independent film industry.
In conjunction with a panel of award-winning film professionals, ELLE and Lexus embarked on a review process that examined each director’s creative vision and storyline. The deliberations took into account all elements of the film pitch: concepts, characters, story beats, visual inspiration, locations inspiration, and even the production scale. Choosing which film would get the green light gave Lexus the chance to bear witness to and support remarkable talent brewing within the storytelling community.
Ultimately, only one film could be made, and that film was Another Day—the surreal sci-fi brainchild of Taiwanese American director Tiffany Frances.
A NEW LUMINARY
Raised in an area of Los Angeles known as Hacienda Heights, Frances is a Taiwanese-American writer and director of narrative film, commercials, and music videos. Her forté as a director lies in character-driven, dramatic storytelling that explores the authentic stories of women and marginalized voices through lyrical visuals.
In just the last five years, Frances has amassed an impressive body of work. Her short film Movement for National Geographic garnered over 1 million views on social media. And her AFI Directing Workshop for Women film, Hello From Taiwan, was the recipient of The Future of Film is Female grant, winning the Grand Jury Prize at the Taiwanese American Film Festival, the Best Short at LA Diversity Film Festival, the Best Drama and Best Director at SeriesFest; it was also screened at MoMA’s FOFIF series in partnership with Chanel.
After a decade in Brooklyn she recently returned to Los Angeles where she is in the process of developing a series as well as two feature films. Yes, two. Needless to say, she’s been busy.
Despite the attention her work has been amassing, she (along with countless other filmmakers) has witnessed firsthand the ongoing hardships both within the industry as well as those going on around the world. “It simply hasn’t been an easy road,” Frances says, candidly. “After this year’s #stopasianhate movement, there’s been a deep consciousness in Hollywood to finally begin representing Asian-Americans with integrity. In this very moment there’s never been a better time for us, yet there’s still a long way to go.”
Yet Tiffany remains positive about the future of diversity in filmmaking as minorities of all walks are beginning to take the spotlight. “We’re at an interesting time in the film industry where there’s a hunger for new perspectives and how to tell their stories in an authentic way. People are finally really paying attention to what’s happening behind the scenes,” she explains. “It took me a long time to recognize that I do have a place here—my voice, our voices have a place here.”
FROM SPARK TO FLAME
In Another Day, Frances tells the story of Julie, a young scientist who has spent her life working on technology to bring back a close friend she lost at a young age. Julie succeeds at creating a device that will bring his spirit back at the age he would have been in the present. The caveat: He can only stay on earth for one day. “Life is so precious and fragile and beautiful,” says Frances, when asked why she chose this subject. “I know I’m not alone when I wonder what it would be like to spend one more day experiencing the beauty of this world with someone we lost. It means so much to me that I could delve into this story, and talk about the meaning of life and friendships with everyone who was involved in this film.”
In the weeks after Another Day was given the green light, Frances, with the support of the Lexus and ELLE creative teams, shifted gears into production to bring her script to life. Pre-production came with many hurdles—from casting the touching friendship that anchors the narrative, to finding the surreal and scenic location where the film takes place. Steered by exceptional teamwork, Another Day began filming in Los Angeles one early summer morning in September 2021, with a crew largely flown in from NYC. “The first day of principal photography was absolutely packed, but it was filled with pure magic,” Frances says. “When I arrived on set in Malibu, there was this beautiful misty coastal fog that stayed there the whole morning. It set the tone for the rest of the day.”
But while the location was a dream, production was not without its curveballs. Knowing that actor R.J. O’Young also had Taiwanese-American origins, Tiffany devised to have him write a letter on screen in Chinese. The only caveat: R.J. didn’t know how to write in Chinese. Seeing this as a prime occasion to tap into her culture, Tiffany reached out to her mother for guidance. “She sent me a video of herself writing,” she remembers. “I noticed she also annotated how to write each word on a separate piece of paper, because stroke order is very specific. I was so moved by her help.” R.J. studied the writing, but when it came time to film the scene, he struggled to remember the precise stroke orders. So Tiffany stopped what she was doing and practiced with him. “It was this strange zen moment of writing Chinese together. A very unexpected moment while everyone else around us was moving at lightning speed. He nailed that scene,” she says.
Throughout filming, Tiffany not only jumped in to guide her team, but her team backed her every move, with her vision acting as a tenacious force commanding the helm. “I felt incredibly supported on this project, from creative development on the script through production,” she says. “As a Taiwanese-American female filmmaker whose sensibilities don’t always fit into the traditional marketplace in Hollywood, having ELLE and Lexus advocate for me liberated me to tell this film in an authentic, personal way. I’m emboldened to continue to tell stories with my own female gaze and stay true to my vision.”
THE FUTURE OF FILM
When The Spark program set out to collaborate with the ingenious voices of female-identifying or non-binary storytellers in film, it came as no surprise there was a wealth of extraordinary talent ready to be championed. By helping to bring the vision of one filmmaker to fruition, the initiative underscores the importance of empowering creators who challenge convention and bring authentic, unheard and underrepresented stories to the table.
“It’s more important than ever for women to be encouraged and endorsed, as directors, as storytellers, and as people who can influence the cultural landscape,” says Frances. “There’s a deep sea of gorgeous, intimate, unique, intriguing, fascinating stories that remain untold. And honestly, it’s time to dive in.”