Earlier today, I had a chance to sit down with Tom Huang, the filmmaker behind Dealing with Dad, which will be screening at Laemmle Monica Film Center (schedule) from May 19 through May 25. I’m biased, I’m an extra in the film, but there’s plenty of other people that can tell you that Dealing with Dad is one heck of a film. It’s been featured in festivals across the country, and has won awards in at least a dozen of them.
Huang will be fielding questions from the audience after evening shows and the Saturday afternoon showing. But first, read our interview, lightly edited for length and clarity, below.
Damien (DN): I’m here with Tom Huang, the writer, director and producer of Dealing with Dad. Dealing with Dad is playing at Laemmle Monica Film Center on 2nd street tomorrow through next week.
Tom Huang (TH): That’s right, that’s gonna play Friday, May 19, all the way through next Thursday, May 25th.
DN: Dealing with Dad is for lack of a better way to phrase it, it’s sort of a light look at a family that’s struggling with a dad dealing with dementia. It’s sort of weird to say a lighthearted look at it, but because you’re looking at it through this through the adult children’s eyes. There’s some craziness and zaniness that makes it a little more lighthearted, I think, then I thought going into seeing it.
TH: It’s actually about depression more so than than dementia.
It’s based on my experience, trying to get my dad out of depression. It took us about eight years. And part of the reason was, when I first saw it, I didn’t understand what depression was. And then once I got a better idea took even longer time to get my mom and my family and his friends to treat it like a disease.
In a lot of immigrant communities, depression and mental health is considered a weakness, or an emotion. So people don’t do anything about it. And it’s hard for me to get my parents to go to the doctor, if they break their leg or get a concussion or something; and even harder to get him to see a doctor about depression, which they just considered an emotion. But once I was able to get everybody on board, it was easier for me to get to give my dad support he needed with the encouragement from friends and family.
I get that I get a lot from people who watch this film: surprised that it’s actually funny and entertaining in that way. But it’s really based in reality. It’s based on my dysfunctional family, and the kind of crazy parents I had, and the kind of relationship I had with them.
We are a family that whenever there’s holiday dinners (Thanksgiving or Christmas) and people come over; they’re just really excited to see us because they want to see what kind of drama is caused for that for that holiday party. I think a lot of the comedy just comes out…it’s rooted in reality.
And when I first started making the script I really wanted to be about what it’s like when I came home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, and saw my cousins who I’m very close with, and my brother. We would just sit around and make fun of each other, and poke each other. That’s how we show our love. So it just makes it a safe place to do all that. So that’s really the basis of why I wanted these kinds of discussions and dialogue to come up in the film. And it just happens that, the characters are like my cousins, they’re just funny. And so it makes for funny lines and great quips.
DN: So I said in our pre interview that I would see if this organically came up, and it does…well it sort of does. I was an extra in the film. I spent an afternoon with with the main cast member and some of the other cast members. And it was very funny. We had a good time. Hanging out in that room during COVID. Mask on for like 10 minutes while we were getting direction or waiting for the camera to be moved. Then mask off so that we could film the scene.
It was a very fun four or five, six hours, however long we were there. We all had a good time doing that. Still when I went to see Dealing with Dad for the first time at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival last year, I wasn’t expecting to laugh as much as I did. I was waiting to cry for most of the film, which I did twice, by the way…
TH:…for good reasons, hopefully. Yeah, I think that’s what a lot of people were surprised by. And when I cast this film, I wanted a cast that could be both funny and serious. And I find that when I’m casting actors, that it’s easier to find someone who’s funny, they could do drama, as opposed to finding a really good dramatic actor who understands humor. That’s what the first thing I was looking for a lot of these cast members: what their experience with humor is? Are they funny?
The main lead Ally Maki…I saw her on the show called Wrecked on TBS. And every time she’s on screen, she’s really terrifically sharp and funny and commands the screen. And I said, “Oh, that’s the kind of person I want.” And I looked at her other work and saw that she could do drama as well. And so that really made us feel more that she could be funny in one scene, make everyone laugh. Then just turn around on demand and be really serious, and make everyone cry, which is really the beauty of this cast.
By the way, for people that are reading, Damien does an excellent job of raising his hand.
DN: I go, “hmmm” too!
TH: That was that was good. Yeah, I picked up on that…very much the method actor. He understands PTA meetings.
But I think that room was so fun, because Ali was there, obviously, but the person playing the PTA mom, Julie Burke is also terrifically funny, comedian, and actress…as well as all the other actors that are in there. Funny people, I think, when they recognize other people are also funny, the chemistry just just picks up immediately. And to see that kind of magic is really fun, both on screen and off.
DN: The movie you did before this, Find Me…the star of the movie was you. When I met Ali, and someone mentioned that she was on a TV show. And I knew Echo Kellum, who is in one of the superhero shows that I watched…because I watch superhero shows. Anyway,I was sort of surprised because several of them were established actors in Hollywood. Is this a sign that this film was a little farther along in your filmmaking career, or a reflection of the script, or what?
TH: Find Me has name cast as well. Sara Amini, who played the lead role in that film as well, is now starring in CSI Vegas as a coroner. And then Kirby Howell-Baptiste, has been in Killing Eve and started a show CBS. The thing is, we’re in Los Angeles. And there are so many talented, great actors in Los Angeles. You go to Target and the person at the cashiers is probably a great actor or actress just waiting to be found. We have just a great choice of actors.
I would like to think that people really like the script. When we we look around and see people that we think might be appropriate for the role and send it send it out. I would say that 50% of time people will at least read the script because they liked the idea and want to do something interesting, which is helpful.
In this case. Ally Maki knew a lot of people so that helped us get our foot in the door. We also have Hayden Szeto stars in it, he plays one of the brothers. He’s in Age of 17, which is really great movie. She and him were really great friends. And so when she asked me about what people I was looking to cast, I said, “Oh, we’re looking at Hayden Szeto.” She’s like, “Oh, I love him. We want to do a movie together.” And she texted him. And she said, “Hey, go read the script.”
In addition, she was asking about people who would play other roles and I said, “Well, we’re looking for someone like Karan Sony for for the role of Gordon the doctor, but I don’t think we can get him.” And she says, “I know Karan like, I’ll send him a text as well and see if he’ll he’ll look at it.” Karan has starred in films like Deadpool and on TV a show called Heaven’s Helpers. he’s really huge. But he’s also interested in helping out interesting diverse films. And so when she showed him the script, he really liked it and was willing to come on for just two scenes.
In the case of Echo, one of our producers works with Echo on a lot of stuff. And so we asked her if she could just send it to him and see if he was willing to help. And it just turns out that he liked the script and said he’d be willing to help. So a lot of it is kind of who you know. And also, hopefully, you have a strong script. But I think it’s always the case, if you’re doing something in Los Angeles or New York, that there’s always a chance you get someone with some name credit just because of the proximity.
DN: Can you share a story with us from the filming? Something that was maybe especially interesting or amusing that when people are watching the film for the first time, they’ll be like, “Oh, yeah, this is what he was talking about.”
TH: So we actually shot in a house in Diamond Bar, which is about 45 minutes east of LA in a suburban area. We shot in August of 2021 and we shot in an old house. I wanted an old house…an old suburban track kind of house.
And my producer actually knew someone who had a house they let us use. And it was perfect. It looks like they stopped buying furniture in the 90s like my parents did. So it worked out really well. But if anyone’s been east of Los Angeles, in August; it’s like Phoenix out there.
And so we had this old house with very weak air conditioning and about 20 people inside of the house during COVID. So it was about 95 to 100 degrees there once things got going.
And so we had these scenes where the actors are supposed to pretend it’s cold in the house. So they’re all bundled up in their puffy jackets or whatever. And it was actually really hot. So big credit to my actors. When you watch the film, you can’t even tell that they’re hot in there. But as soon as we yell “cut,” people throw off their jackets, run outside. Fans go on. Ali had an ice pack she kept in the freezer, she wrapped around her body to cool herself down. Sometimes she wore it during takes because it’s so hot there. And then as soon as we said. “Okay, next shot.” Everyone trudges back in and puts her jackets on and just goes at it. It was quite a scene, people dealing with the heat. Credit to my cast and crew for really enduring it without complaint and making the film, still making the film, as great as it looks.
DN: I guess…I was lucky we had working air conditioner for my scene.
TH: That’s right. All right, you had comfort at the church.
DN: I’ll have to remember that if you’re ever low enough on your actor list that I’m asked again, make sure that I’m in a scene with air conditioning.
TH: Just put it in your contract.
DN: So if you enjoyed listening to Tom and I talk… you’re going to be at the evening and the Saturday afternoon screenings for a q&a afterwards at the Laemmle theaters in Santa Monica.
TH: Yeah, we’re playing seven days. Friday night, Saturday night, Tuesday night and Thursday night. I’ll be at all Those Q and A’s. In addition, at the Saturday afternoon at 130 showing. And we might have some cast members pop in as well of special guests or extras, you know might come up and…
DN: Hey, I’m listed on the cast list. When you email us, the emails say “cast.” You don’t say “cast (and Damien).’ i
TH: (Laughs) So if you can’t make it to ask us questions. And then we’re also available on iTunes, Apple, TV, Amazon and all that. You go to our website at dealing with debt film.com for information and a trailer. Also, if you go to dealingwithdadfilm.com/streaming There’ll be a list of where you could rent or buy the film.
All right. Well, thank you so much. I’ll probably see you at one of the performances next week or showings. And maybe see some of you too.