Asian Americans have been a silent voice in American Media since the birth of cinema. While many other demographics have found a way to break through to mainstream markets, few filmmakers and actors of Asian descent have risen to the top.
Asians currently make up the majority of the world’s population, and continue to be an untapped market in the United States. That’s why during all of May, Reel Chicago and Reel 360 will be highlighting Asian Americans who continue to influence the entertainment industry in positive ways.
ABOUT RICHARD SONG
Born and raised in a small southern town in China, Richard is a producer, cinematographer, and entrepreneur based in Chicago. In 2017, he graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a B.A. in Cinema Art & Science. His storytelling interests, highly influenced by his immigrant experience, focus on the cultural differences between the US and China.
Richard founded Eleven04, a local film equipment rental house based in Chicago, in 2016. He also founded Indie Co-Lab, a Chicago indie filmmaker co-working space, in 2019. Richard wants to use his business skills to help more filmmakers tell their stories sustainably.
Eleven04, owned and operated by Richard Song, is not only a place to rent equipment and studio space, but it also runs “Indie Co-Lab,” where individuals can take advantage of the resources the company offers. Founded by Song in 2016, then a Columbia College student, the company started as an alternative to larger rental houses for fellow students looking for equipment. Since then, Eleven04 has transitioned into a 10,000 sq. ft. location on West Hastings, close to Chicago’s Cinespace Film Studios.
MISSION STATEMENT: Eleven04 was built by filmmakers for filmmakers. We are proud to help equip, and support, the filmmaking community by offering accessible, professional tools and resources to help them #KeepCreating. Our latest addition to the company, Indie Co-lab, our in house membership based, co-working space, has given us the platform to further support the local filmmaking community while fostering the spirit of collaboration. Our renters can think of our staff as an extension of their crew; we’re here to make their jobs one step easier.
In addition to their membership-based “Indie Co-Lab,” Eleven04 also offers programs such as the “First Backer Initiative” (FBI) designed to support independent filmmakers in the community. The program provides equipment and studio space in order to kickstart new films. Colin Parker, writer and director of the locally produced indie film The Pleasure Matrix, spoke with us about his recent experience with Eleven04 and their FBI program.
“Eleven04 treated our team like family. Not only did they help us host a great event to raise money for our campaign, but they collaborated with our Production team to ensure we have the resources we would need to make a great film.” (Colin Parker, Writer/director). Eleven04 also held their first annual Playback, which hosted over 200 student attendees across 10 Chicago area schools.
Playback, also known as The Chicago Student Filmmaker Summit, included a student film screening and a two day pitch event for future projects. Their most recent program, Story Forge, calls for creative stories in the form of pitches and scripts during the COVID-19 Stay Home mandate. Local filmmakers can send stories to the Eleven04 community for votes, and the winning story will be funded and produced by Eleven04.
What first inspired you to open up Eleven04? Both of my parents are entrepreneurs, and they actually met and had me because they started a business together. From a very young age, I have always wanted to start my own business. When I was a junior at Columbia, I started thinking about what I was going to do after graduation, and I didn’t really see a clear path for me, so I decided to create my own path. With my passion for film and business, Eleven04 was a natural outcome.
What made you decide to stay in Chicago after moving to the U.S. from China? Honestly speaking, I wasn’t so fond of Chicago in the beginning, and I came here merely for school. I really like Chicago now; granted, I’m still not used to the winter yet. I think the thing that’s most important for me is that Chicago is big enough by Chinese standards (I call my hometown with around 3-4 million residents small), but not too big like New York or LA.
My family lives in Shanghai now, which is a mega city with 20+ million people, so I don’t necessarily want to live in another super big city. Also, we have a compact, yet robust film industry here, and I like that better. Overall, I thought Chicago was a good place for me to start my career.
How much does being an immigrant and Asian American Filmmaker influence the projects you support? A lot. Because of my background, I find stories that are diverse and inclusive simply more attractive because I resonate with them better. I think that’s also because I didn’t grow up watching a lot of American cinema, so regular mainstream movies/projects don’t excite me much. I like art-house films that focus on diverse subjects. I’m really looking to support/produce more projects that explore diversity and inclusivity.
Richard, what inspired you to start the First Backer Initiative (FBI) program? Back in school, I produced a lot of projects, and I always tried my best to obtain the most budget possible. I remember being able to raise around $6-8k for each project. With all the free equipment and crew, with that much money, a student production can let their imagination run wild. That’s one thing I found empowering as a producer to provide to my crew. A big part of that fundraising effort is from crowdfunding.
I also realized how many limitations people face immediately after graduating from film schools. Therefore, I thought of starting a project where I can do my best to help emerging filmmakers succeed by giving them access to equipment, and provide some support for their crowdfunding efforts. In fact, we are working on upgrading our FBI to make it better, and we are looking to launch the upgraded FBI after the quarantine.
Richard, what are some personal projects you are pursuing in addition to managing and maintaining Eleven04? My passion is still filmmaking. We do make an effort to participate in more productions through Eleven04, but we are more a rental house than a production company. I’m working with some directors to develop more narrative projects, and hopefully we can start our production arm sooner than later.
One of the feature projects I’m working on is actually about the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. We have been developing this project for quite some time now, and I’m pretty excited about it. My director and writer are Egyptian Americans, and they taught me a lot about the social issues in the middle east, and I also got to learn more about Arabic culture, which I never had any chance of learning growing up in China.
I’m also working with some writers to develop stories relating to the Chinese international student experience. That hasn’t gone too far just yet. It’s a complicated topic to discuss that I, myself, don’t even have a solid opinion on just yet.
Richard, what are some changes Eleven04 plans to make after COVID to ensure a safe work environment? Ever since the first time I heard stories from my family and friends about the coronavirus outbreak in China, we started preparing for this. From the very beginning, we have taken this very seriously, and we have tried our best to source PPE from China through my family and friends, to protect our employees and our clients.
First of all, we are implementing strict protocols on equipment cleaning, including 72-hr quarantine on equipment, and a thorough cleaning using disinfecting solutions.
For our employees, we are asking most of them to work from home whenever possible. When we have to come in to the office, every employee is required to wear a face mask (we gave all the employees enough face masks to wear whenever they are outside of their residence), and upon entering the building, everyone has to clean their hands with hand sanitizer or do a thorough hand wash. On top of all that, everyone is also required to maintain 6ft of social distancing regardless if they are wearing masks.
For our clients, we are trying our best to send out complimentary PPE and hand sanitizer to keep them safe. We are also providing contactless curbside pick up starting on May 4th, and all our processes are paperless, so there is no need for any contact in the entire process of renting equipment from us.
We are closely following guidelines from the government on a daily basis. For me, there’s nothing more important than ensuring my employees and my clients are safe and healthy. I’m not sure about other cultures, but having Chinese parents reminding you to stay safe on an hourly basis definitely makes you take this as seriously as possible.
Katharin Mraz is a contributing writer for Reel Chicago and Reel 360.