Evan Jackson Leong is the director and cinematographer of Linsanity, the new documentary feature about NBA star Jeremy Lin, which made its successful world premiere at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. This long-developed film follows Lin’s life journey of faith and family from his childhood to college at Harvard and then to the NBA as he rose to superstardom with the New York Knicks. The film documents Lin’s many challenges, victories, and setbacks.
Linsanity is available on home video on Tuesday, January 7, 2014. Leong (1040: Christianity in the New Asia, Manivore. BLT Genesis) recently shared his experiences on making his documentary.
How did you shape the filmmaking process while balancing storytelling and chronicling Jeremy’s story?
Structure is always a challenge. We basically formed that in detail when we started editing. After what happened to him, everyone knew everything about him, so we shaped the film to tell a story everyone knows. We had to figure out the details for the storyline. We could have made it five hours or 10 minutes. Overall, we needed a concise presentation. For me, ultimately, we had the idea to structure like the film Groundhog Day where Jeremy was constantly reinventing himself. First high school, then college at Harvard, and then in the NBA with Golden State, the “B” leagues, and then New York. Every time he stepped into a new arena, he had to prove himself all over again. People were doubting him again. It kept getting bigger. It was crazy to see Jeremy’s roller coaster of emotions. He definitely used that on the court.
Are you thinking of a possible follow-up documentary on Jeremy when his NBA career is finished?
That’s possible. He can find it hard to be himself at times. Being in front of the camera was like work to him. It’s definitely a possibility. Someone’s going to do it.
With all the traveling you did during filming, it felt like the crew became like a family together just as Jeremy’s family supported him throughout the film.
We had no budget for this project. We just knew we had a great story to be told. At first, I thought it would just help us find another project. Then we knew what we just have to do is find a way. In Taiwan, I slept on the floor for five days. This film was something I just wanted to get it done. There was so much spirit. Great spirit. A tough road. Sometimes you feel you have no idea what you’re doing. I would take vacation days and weekends to work on it.
How satisfying was the film’s big break at Sundance premiere in 2013?
The passion for independent films was evident there. Making it to Sundance is many filmmaker’s dream. For us it was a great opportunity. We had no idea how it would be received. The coverage on Jeremy was hot and cold in the media. It would get hot just when you thought it was going to be over. Then we got in. We knew the project we had was good. That’s what you hope for in your career. Getting that standing ovation was so rewarding. We enjoyed how people commented on the film.
How was the collaboration with the NBA on getting footage of Jeremy Lin?
The relationship our producer Christopher C. Chen (The Year of the Yao) had with the NBA was key. They provided great support during our project and were always helping out with footage of Jeremy playing in the B leagues.
Did you name your Arowana Film production company after the freshwater arowana fish also known as “bonytongues”?
Yes, it’s named after the fish. I love fish!