Jeremy Lin's rise to NBA stardom has been well documented. But not every rags-to-Rockets story deserves its own documentary, and certainly not a Sundance-approved one at that. As improbable as Lin's actual professional ascent has been, the making of Linsanity, opening at the Center for Asian American Media's CAAM Fest tonight at 7 PM, might be even more so. We spoke with director Evan Jackson Leong and producers Christopher Chen and Allen Lu about the lucky breaks (like, for instance, your subject becoming an overnight international sensation) it took to bring Lin's story to life.
San Francisco: Was it tough with a smaller crew, dealing with such a massive phenomenon like "Linsanity?" How did you get the footage you needed to make a compelling film?
Evan Jackson Leong: Obviously we had a lot of footage with him [before mid-season 2012, when he became the starting point guard for the New York Knicks]. But then when he started playing so well, it was covered by every sports outlet out there. You basically have to get the rights to all that stuff and get your own footage of him during that period; a lot of the stuff is what everyone else is already filming.
Christopher Chen: "Linsanity," was one of the most covered media events in recent memory, so there were cameras rolling everywhere.
SF: When the "Linsanity" ordeal began, you were in the middle of filming. How did that change the way you were envisioning the film?
EJL: It started as webisodes. We knew that when you make a film, getting it out in theaters is a whole other level. The internet is a lot less daunting and easier to execute on a low budget.
CC: A game or two into "Linsanity," we realized it deserved a full feature film. We were going in one direction, but we definitely took a left turn.
SF: Everybody involved in the making of the film (including Jeremy Lin, who's from Palo Alto) was raised in Northern California. Was it helpful to share a common background?
EJL: We can definitely identify with the community and environment Jeremy grew up in. There's something to be said for the Asian-American story in the Bay Area. I could really connect to how much Jeremy trained growing up. Working out, playing ball, and that ethic of his. It's the same sort of atmosphere and swag the Bay Area has.
CC: Allen is [Lin's] cousin, so he has a unique relationship with him. Most of us met him through filming, though. I noticed Jeremy while he was still in high school. Being an Asian-American kid myself, I thought it was an interesting story, so I followed where Jeremy went to college. During his junior year, when he started making waves, I thought it might be an interesting documentary subject. Evan and I got together and approached the family, and after many attempts at trying, we finally got them to agree to it.
SF: What was your initial reaction when you found out Linsanity would be at the Sundance Film Festival?
CC: I called these guys and said we have good news and bad news. The good news was we're going to Sundance. The bad news is we have to work through our Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Allen Lu: I was anxious not knowing how it would play out in front of an audience. Then when we got to Sundance and saw people who didn't know basketball and didn't follow Jeremy Lin who came up tearfully thanking us? I was personally blown away.
SF: When Lin signed with the Rockets before this season, did it throw a wrench in this process at all, considering "Linsanity" happened when he was on the Knicks?
AL: I think Evan captured it really well. The Rockets stuff is kind of our denouement, but it's not a centerpiece.
CC: The Knicks was one chapter in the journey, so there are many to be written in the future. The Rockets are Jeremy's next chapter.