“Ella,” a new short film produced by Mountain View native Eric Cook, tries to answer the question: When do we come of age? According to the recently released film, it’s the first time you hurt someone you love.
“Ella” centers on two Asian-American youth finding their places together in their small Midwest community. The film explores the quintessential themes of identity, peer pressure and heartbreak. Screened at the Kansas City Film Festival and the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival earlier this year, “Ella” premiered Aug. 27 on the online platform Short of the Week.
Nichole Bloom, an actress on the NBC sitcom “Superstore,” stars as Ella. Dan Chen directs. Bloom, Chen and Cook all graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
Cook had worked on and developed projects with Chen previous to “Ella,” and the two were looking for a new project when Chen pitched “Ella” as a concept for a larger feature film.
“(‘Ella’) is really personal to (Chen), and I immediately latched onto the idea,” Cook said. “It’s something that felt so relevant about stories that are not told in mainstream entertainment.”
Cook and Chen began working on the script for “Ella” last December. According to Cook, Chen would send over drafts for Cook’s feedback until the two found something they were both happy with.
After developing a final draft for the script, Cook’s role as producer amped up as issues such as casting actors and hiring crew members arose.
“(My) job (was) basically to take the script and figure out how to actually turn it into a movie,” the Mountain View High graduate said. “It’s like being the CEO of a company where you’re in charge of the bigger picture or, in this case, of taking the script and bringing it to the screen.”
From start to finish, it took more than a year to complete “Ella.” Cook and Chen worked on the script for a few months, raised money through the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter for approximately two to three months and filmed in Manhattan, Kan., over a three- to four-day period. After two months of post-production work, the film was ready to premiere.
“It was a very laborious process, but definitely worthwhile in the end,” Cook said.
Telling an untold story
Chen, an Asian-American who grew up in Kansas, wrote “Ella” to tell the untold story of being Asian-American in the Midwest.
“I want to share my experiences of growing up in the home of Chinese immigrants and journeying into the larger world of America,” he said in a press release. “It’s a story I’ve never seen before.”
Chen also hopes “Ella” will help increase the representation of Asian-American experiences in Hollywood.
“Until recently, the Asian-American community has struggled to lift each other up, and instead has looked to the outside world for validation,” he said. “Now we’re starting to wake up, and we’re realizing that we have a shared experience to build upon.”
Despite the film’s specific tie to Chen’s childhood, Cook believes there is a universal message to be found in “Ella.”
“Something I really connected with (in ‘Ella’) is the idea of trying to find your identity early on during adolescence,” he said. “It’s this very universal question that plays out in this intimate and personal way, and for me, that’s what really captured my attention.”
To watch the full 16-minute film, visit shortoftheweek.com/2018/08/27/ella.