September 26, 2018 | ° F

Actor to showcase film at festival

Upon returning from their honeymoon, James Huang and his wife, Elizabeth Sandy, decided to make a film depicting a couple going through a divorce.

But the film, “Starting from Scratch,” which is actually a comedy, does not focus on their relationship, instead it reflects an earlier and distressing time of Huang’s life.

Huang, a University alumnus, said years before he met his current wife, he went through a state of depression after a bad breakup and being audited by the Internal Revenue Service.

“It’s a heart-learned lesson to get dumped, go through an audit and have all these haunting examples in form of receipts remind you of some of the mistakes you made,” he said.

The film won best feature in the comedy category at the Asians On Film Festival, and will premiere at the New Jersey Film Festival on Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. at Voorhees Hall on the College Avenue campus, Huang said.

During the rough period in his life, Huang said an idea began swimming in his head for a film that would reflect his situation. He began writing the script after he moved in with his future wife.

“I guess I was at the start of the generation with people that were really quick to get married and thought we understood financial strains, and thought we were going to make so much money in five more years,” he said. “But I guess that’s reflected in our divorce rate.”

Huang said he and Sandy essentially played themselves, but in a tough situation that many people have been through. He said his wife’s character was still rooted in her essence and personality.

“I never really viewed my character of Ally to be based on another person, rather a character that evolved from a tough situation that loosely mirrored life,” Sandy said. “Ally is a mish-mash of elements coming from James’ experience, from my own experience and from just observing people in life.”

Huang said he read an article in The New York Times stating the three factors in divorce were sex, money and religion — subject matter that is very relevant to the film’s main plot.

“It’s a heartfelt comedy. … There’s a lot of humor in tragic moments,” Huang said. “When you’re going through a tough time, people around you and your own self try to look on the brighter side.”

He said the film deals with breakups: how different men and women really are, how women systematically try to recover from breakups, and how men continually self-destruct and pretend everything is all right yet neither are really OK.

“It’s just opposite ways of dealing with things, and there’s a lot of humor in that, and film reflects that,” Huang said.

Huang said he made the film with blood, sweat and tears and used virtually no money, but the primary purpose for the film was exposure. He said the most difficult part of the process was self-financing the film.

“It was art imitating life, but later became life imitating art as we went broke making this film,” he said. “We are still happily married, going strong and very broke.”

Both husband and wife are working actors. Huang has been in many TV shows such as “Lost” and “NCIS” and is a recurring actor in “General Hospital.” He has also been in films such as “Skyline,” “G-Force” and “Eagle Eye.”

His wife, a native Australian, has also been in films and TV shows such as “Parks & Recreation,” “The Young and the Restless” and a prominent Australian show titled “Neighbours.”

The rest of the cast and crew were close friends of Huang and Sandy, all of who still auditioned for their roles. One of the cast members is another University alumna, Sadie Alexandru, who recently had a recurring role in “Mad Men,” he said.

The premiere of his film will be his first time returning to the University campus since he graduated in 1998, he said. On his return to campus, Huang said he plans to speak in a class that he took: “Introduction to Film”.

Huang, who majored in theater arts and minored in cinema studies, said that he wanted to act in high school, but was focused on athletics. He began his acting classes as soon as he became a first-year student at the University.

“I had so much fun in the acting classes, and it was so much more interesting to me to read great works of fiction than the natural science classes and math classes,” he said. “As far as majors go, it was not only challenging but incredibly fun.”

Apart from being the captain of the Tae Kwon Do club, Huang said he also participated at the Cabaret Theatre, but his first performance after he graduated began on the day of his graduation at the George Street Playhouse, hours after he received his diploma.

“I stayed in New Brunswick for the following year and performed every day for that school year,” he said. “[It was about] 200 shows, five days a week for young audiences. It was a major extension of my education, almost like a fifth year of college.”

Al Nigrin, founder of the NJ Film Festival, said the festival begins today and will run until March 2. He said the festival runs on select Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and will run every weekend for the first three weeks with the exception of Super Bowl weekend.  

Nigrin, executive director and curator of the Rutgers Film Co-op — the presenting organization of the NJ Film Festival — said tickets are $9 for students and includes free food. He said that Huang’s film was nominated in the best feature category.

Huang said his goal is to submit his film into 20 other film festivals and wants it to be screened in theaters, but that depends on who picks up the distribution. He said most independent films go directly to Netflix or Video on Demand.

“Working together as husband and wife was a real test — and we feel that we passed it with flying colors,” Huang said. “We have been fortunate enough to have a very similar mentality and work ethic that allows us to completely trust one another in our marriage and in our work.”

By Julian Chokkattu

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