Interviews: QNS Makers

Winnie Cheung

Director and Editor

Where were you born?

Hong Kong.

When did you guys come to Queens?

In ‘88. We moved here when I was two, into Astoria. From Astoria we moved to Rego Park when I was in 3rd grade, but I’ve only lived in Queens up until college.

Do you have any siblings?

No, I’m the only child.

Where did you go to High School?

Forest Hills High School? Yeah. I took the specialized High School test and I only got into Brooklyn Tech and my mom got pissed because I didn’t get into Stuy (Stuyvesant High School) and she didn’t want me to go to Brooklyn Tech and learn to be bad. That’s such a typical Asian mom thing. Forest Hills is a really good High School. It was long ago. We graduated in ‘04, ten years. It is our official 10 year reunion (for Junior High School, Winnie went to Russell Sage).

What do you do as a kid during your summers in Queens?

I went to Ming Yuan (a private school in Elmhurst). It was by Newtown High School. In the mornings, there were two educational class, so I did Chinese and math. Then we got a break and in the afternoon it was activity time and I did drawing. I had a feeling it was a way to get me out of the house, like babysitting. They needed a babysitter.

Winnie Cheung at 5 pointz

At 5 pointz.

What does it mean to be from Queens?

I am so proud to say I’m from Queens. I live in Brooklyn right now, but I’m from Queens. And I really like the fact that so many people that live in Queens are immigrants that moved here from a different country. So everybody is trying their best to earn a living and my parents got me to the point where I’m past earning a living, I do well, and now I’m trying to pursue something on top of that. And I feel like Queens, the community of people, who always surrounded my family gave me the work ethic to have this opportunity.

Would you say that is the American Dream? Or would you even call it the “American Dream”?

I think the American Dream in the broadest term, is to be successful and as long you put the work into it, you will be successful, but the word successful means so many different things in so many cultures and generations. I know my parents wanted me to go to Stuy (Stuyvesant High School) and be a lawyer, something with a steady income, they wanted me to go to an ivy league school.

So what do they think now?

Oh! They are fine with it. They realized that, I’m just trying to do me. They have come around to it, which is really awesome. They were really supportive when I wanted to do a short [Dear Lucas short film].

Were they supportive during college when you didn’t study to be a lawyer?

Well, one of the biggest things was that I got a full ride. I wasn’t wasting their money because there wasn’t money to be wasted and part of it was they didn’t have a good grasp of my college life. I was always a really independent person and I stopped showing them my report cards in junior high and I was doing well and told them not to worry. Once they saw that I could take care of myself, they laid off and now they are being more supportive and they are like, “When is your screening? What are you working on? What’s going on?”

Were your parents strict when you were growing up?

They were. When I was younger. To the point where I couldn’t go to parties. I had to be back before sunset. I had to stay home all day. Just school and home. My dad’s best friend is Hakka. And their daughters, they couldn’t date until after college. I’m sure its not like that anymore. They start you off like that. But the thing is, you are in America at some point some of those cultural values is going to seep through and as a parent you gotta roll with things and as long as your kid turns out fine that is the best you can hope for me. A large part of that is not with the parents, it’s more you showing them that you can take care of yourself. Not stand up to them.

How do you think Queens has affected who you are?

I can think of how it has affected how I eat!

Oh! And now that I’m living in Brooklyn, I feel like all the food is overpriced because they’ll be like have you checked out this awesome thai place? And I’m like yeah, if you go to Queens, it’s half the price and just as delicious and you don’t have to deal with the crowds. I was hanging out with my parents, and I was thinking I can see myself living in Elmhurst, it has really good food and it’s right by the train station.

Shabu Shabu

Shabu Shabu

Snake stew in Hong Kong

Snake stew in Hong Kong.

 Okay, so how about this. How does being from Queens contribute to your craft?

I think growing up in such a diverse neighborhood, I was never afraid to submerge myself, I think that is the one reason I love traveling so much I get to see so many cultures and this is something you do in Queens all the time with your friends. Forest Hills was cool like that, I had all kinds of friends under the sun. And I feel comfortable being in something a little more diverse.

So do your parents still live in the same house in Rego Park?

No, they moved out after I left for college. They sold the house and bought an apartment. I wasn’t home anymore and they didn’t need so much space. Now they don’t have to shovel snow. My dad is getting old.

That’s another thing. I don’t know if it’s a Queens thing, but a lot of people in Queens experience that, worrying about your parents. It’s a different mentality than sending them off to a nursing home. You want to make sure they are good. But at the same time because we are living in a westernized culture we want to do our own thing as well so it’s this dichotomy.

Do you struggle with that?

Definitely, every once in a while I think about moving to the west coast, to LA or Hollywood, but I’ve really held off.

You don’t think your parents would be okay with that?

They would be supportive because they are my parents, but recently they told me to move back home and I told them, “Sorry I love you, but no” because deep down I know they want a very traditional Asian household.

You have a big family, right?

My mom is one of seven children. Four in America. Three in Hong Kong. I just saw the other three when I was in Hong Kong.


Do you think Queens has affected your aesthetics and vision?

Living in Brooklyn, there are a lot of people that come from different places and there is this Brooklyn identity that people can really latch on to, but for me since I grew up in Queens, I don’t feel comfortable with that, or it’s that I just don’t identify myself as “Oh, I’m Brooklyn”, so I feel a little removed from that community, but I am still able to interact with them and it gives me, not like an extra up, but I can see through some of the bullshit.

So then why did you move to Brooklyn when you came back from college, back to New York City?

One of the biggest reasons is that Brooklyn has an art community. I’m sure there is one now in Queens. Ridgewood is getting really big. It’s spilling over. I moved to Brooklyn for many different reasons. It’s actually pretty expensive to live in Queens where I grew up in Forest Hills. There are a lot of one bedrooms or two bedrooms, but in Brooklyn, there are 3, 4, 5 bedrooms and lofts.

How would you like Queens to be represented? How do you think Queens is represented?

I don’t think it is represented right now. It’s really not on the map, besides Ridgewood. Sunnyside a little bit. I think a lot of people think it’s pretty lame. Family-oriented. Not much to do. You don’t go out to Queens to party. It’s either Manhattan or Brooklyn and there’s a little truth to that. I guess I want it to be represented as having a lot of really good cheap food.

I have some statistics on Queens. 138 languages are spoken here. And 2.3 million people live here.

Right! How could a county, a borough with 138 different languages be a boring place? Holy moly. There are a lot of stories, histories, and culture. There is a lot of different people here, but that’s the thing, there are a lot of immigrants here involved in their day to day lives, getting bills paid, that it is hard to come together in a bigger sense, but I do think it might be up to the younger community to make that happen.

When I tell people I’m from Queens, they think it is really far away. People don’t mind going to Brooklyn, but they wouldn’t dare come to Queens. Why do you think that is?

I think it’s because they don’t find it hip. It’s hip for me because growing up you know the spots. And those spots aren’t necessarily hip, but they are awesome.

I feel like I know something that people don’t, it’s not advertised, it’s through word of mouth, you could have a really good day in Queens, it’s just about knowing the right people to take you around and in a way that is much cooler, it’s like being in a secret society.

I feel like Brooklyn is known for the artists, a community, artisanal stuff, organic living, going back to how New York was, this natural holistic lifestyle. It’s “Brooklyn made” and there aren’t a lot of this “Queens made”.

Does it matter where you come from in regards to where you are now? And who you are now?

For me it did. I feel so lucky to come from a different culture and now finding my way in this Brooklyn artist community. I had another identity before that. I feel like for other people, it’s kind of their first identity as an adult. Like Oh, Brooklyn, I can see myself here.

And for me, before Brooklyn, I was from Queens, that was it for me, and to be able to understand that, and to be able to step back from the Brooklyn artist community, and understand there is so much more to New York than Brooklyn. I feel like a lot of people hardly go outside of the world they know.

So do you feel like you live in two worlds then? If so, are they separate worlds?

Yes, I do, definitely, in a really good way. They are kind of separate. Like here, today, I am doing a Queens day. I am spending time with my family in Flushing. I am doing Queens things. Like my Queens crew. I feel like when you hang out with people from Queens, there is a certain kind of vibe, but I don’t know if it’s because we all grew up together, or it’s a Queens thing because everybody who grew up here came from a family that immigrated here, all of our families are modeled the same way, working class families trying to make it.

Does one identify with their birthplace versus where they are currently reside as an adult?

You identity with what you choose to identity with, what makes you feel good about yourself, that is what you are going to identify yourself with and so fortunately, I like all those things, I love being from Hong Kong, I love being from Queens and I love the fact that I am living in Brooklyn right now, so I can’t particularly choose one aspect of where I have lived to be the one thing that defines me, it is definitely an amalgamation of all those things.

What does it mean to be raised in Queens versus moving here?

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who moved to Queens as an adult. Everyone who I interact with or talk to has been raised here. Well, the only people I know that moved here as an adult were my parents! I always try to plan a Queens day with my friends who have never been here. I just think people don’t know about it, it’s like a big hole in the wall.

One thing that I know about myself is that I love showing people around Queens, if you are not from New York I rather show people around Queens than Brooklyn or the city. One really cool spot is Gantry Plaza Park, it has one the best views of the skyline, I’m don’t know where other people go to see the skyline, but I go there there, it’s really fun in the summer, and right around there is P.S.1 and 5 Pointz. And food wise, I take them to Penang because not many people eat Malaysian food. Or just walk up and down Elmhurst, there are so many good eats.

Now let’s talk about work, I know about Dear Lucas, but how would you describe it to a stranger?

It’s a narrative, short film, it’s 18 minutes long, and it’s a science fiction, fantasy, time travel short film.

Why did you do it?

So I got into film. And then I realized I couldn’t afford film school. It was a year or two after Vanderbilt, I decided to apply to AFI (American Film Institute) and I got in. And ultimately I decided not to go. It’s in California and one of the reasons I didn’t go was because of my parents, at that point I didn’t feel comfortable doing that.

So I really wanted to create something I could own. And I wanted to start editing short films and features and grow as an editor, but I realized that no one gives you cool projects if you don’t have anything under your belt and so I was like fine, I’ll shoot something myself and I’ll edit it. I’m an editor by trade. What I get paid for are commercials and promos for TV. I’ve worked for Cause and Effect and VICE. I love editing all kinds of stuff, but I found that I was at a point where I was just doing web videos, promos, 30 second long stuff, and I just wanted to challenge myself.

How was shooting it?

I’m not going to even think of the conceptualization of it because it’s always been in my mind. From the writing, we started in November of last year and finalized it by March. Started putting out feelers for people. The main people. Leslie the producer. Clint the DP.

I was trying to find a shooting studio for the lab scenes but at the end of the day I couldn’t find anything that fit into my budget and so I started looking at recording studios because the sound would be insulated and we found this really cool guy, Jim, who was willing to rent out his studio for five days and so we transformed his recording studio into a science lab. It was five days prep. Two or three days prep and we shot for one day at the Forte. So actually we rented it out for four days. And immediately, the day after, we packed up and went out to Long Island.

Did you find the script on Reddit? Or did you find the writer on Reddit?

I found the writer on Reddit. I tried to write it on my own and it just wasn’t happening and I didn’t really know any writers. So I decided to take a chance. I posted a premise and then interviewed people, asked them according to the premise where do you see this going? And then Zach, really cool, stuck out to me immediately and he took care of the dialogue and we developed it together and he would send me drafts and I would give him feedback. It was such a great collaboration. It worked out well. I was like I’m going to look for a stranger and we are going to collaborate. And it was totally cool. And actually he ended up coming to set and helping out, for free, he didn’t have to do that, but he just wanted to do it. Basically everyone pretty much showed up to set and worked for free, like holy moly, people do that.

Table reading of Dear Lucas

Table reading of Dear Lucas



Who are some of your favorite film directors?

Wong Kar-wai. He is badass. I really relate to him because I am a little Eastern and Western, one of both and Wong Kar-wai is a lot like that and obviously he shoots in Hong Kong and China, but he is very influenced by French New Wave. He is so unique because he’s not just some Asian director; he has managed to find his voice and identity in his work and that is something I want to find in my own work. Eventually if I ever shoot another thing, I would really want to do it in Queens or New York City and part of it in Hong Kong.  And bring that to an audience that might not have seen that stuff before, like people in Hong Kong who have never seen New York.

Anyone else?

P.T. Anderson. He did Boogie Nights, The Master, Punk-Drunk Love, Magnolia and Hard Eight.

The common denominator between Wong Kar Wai and P.T. Anderson is that they are really focused on character and sometimes the narrative might feel a little lost, as in you watch it and you’re like what just happened, there is no beginning or end, but you know the person really well, that is like your relationship with people, there’s no beginning or end, it just happens. It’s a slice, a slice of life, a moment with somebody. And they both do that very well.

Who do you admire in photography? You reference Vivian Maier. She seems like an artist who practiced her craft, every day.

She never even thought about being a published photographer. Her photographs are so gorgeous and they were only discovered recently, the negatives were holed up in some attic somewhere. I can definitely relate to her, I like taking photos every day, not to show people, though I post it on my Tumblr, I do it for myself, so I can look back at it. On a bad day I can look back and say I did something. I’ve done stuff.

When did you start doing photography? And what camera do you use?

Right after college, my ex-boyfriend that I moved to Dallas for, got me a camera, a Nikon D40X. And I decided to do the 365 project, a photo every day, it pushes you to do it every day and it’s worth it. D700 and I usually carry around my X100. It’s more portable.

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I like how you do a “hit-list” on your blog of your top five picks and link out to a larger Flickr album of your travels. Do you do this with every trip of yours?

I don’t think I came up with that, but I like lists. I have lists of lists. And I didn’t do it with my road trip because I just really loved everything from it. The Great Western Wild road trip. That was my favorite road trip.




You wrote on one particular Tumblr post, “Sometimes I feel like such a creeper, but I feel like I can deal with that”. Do you remember that?

Vancouver. A couple. They were kissing. Lying on a hill.

Why do you feel like a “creeper”?

Because I’m just taking photos of people that don’t know they are getting photographed. And if I do have to ask, I ask with the biggest smile in the world. I think a lot of it has to do with making them feel comfortable in your space because pointing a camera at someone is very nerve racking. I think a lot about photography is not technical, but about access and being able to do it.


One last question. Who do you turn to when you need inspiration?

My friends. All of my friends. Even if they are not in the same field. I think it so important to find inspiration by those around you. The fact that they are working so hard on their craft, it makes you want to be good at your own work.

Find out more about Winnie on her website, check out her beautiful photography on her blog, and visit the official website of Dear Lucas. The short was featured on Film Shortage and Creative District. World premiered at Northside Festival.