short film, big step

‘Major Nobody’ is major break for Port Townsend author, artist

Luciano Marano
lmarano@ptleader.com
Posted 10/16/20

After many years of seeing his stories only in his head and in black-and-white on the pages of his books, Port Townsend author/musician Robin Ray Lum Cheong is finally making pictures.

His debut …

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short film, big step

‘Major Nobody’ is major break for Port Townsend author, artist

Posted

After many years of seeing his stories only in his head and in black-and-white on the pages of his books, Port Townsend author/musician Robin Ray Lum Cheong is finally making pictures.

His debut short film, “Major Nobody,” shot entirely in Port Townsend, was an official selection at the recent 2020 Social Justice Film Festival, part of the “Block 23: Poverty in America” offerings, and received much praise.

The man himself was called “a cinematic force to be reckoned with” by Mike Buchman, of Solid Ground’s Groundviews Blog, who highlighted the film’s “beautiful scenery and perceptive commentary.”

Lum Cheong, who releases work under the name Robin Ray, is a musician, songwriter, screenwriter, poet, novelist and blogger.

Although he’s a lifelong movie buff, “Major Nobody” is his first serious foray into filmmaking.

The movie (about 15 minutes long) centers on a homeless man suffering from mental illness and a history of abuse who must decide whether he wants to stay as free as a bird or surrender to being institutionalized.

Lum Cheong was the screenwriter, director, editor, composer, cinematographer and lead actor — as well as the inspiration.

“It’s very autobiographical,” he said. “I was homeless before I came to Port Townsend. I was homeless for years before I came to Port Townsend and then I was homeless here. And I stayed in a shelter and then eventually I got this place at the San Juan Commons.”

From his new home, described as “a collection of 50 spacious apartments for seniors (age 55-plus) in a park-like setting,” the auteur had continued his prolific publishing rate of a book per year until a stall lead to his shift to movies.

“I started thinking about it because I got into a deep funk where I wasn’t writing anything,” Lum Cheong recalled. “I didn’t publish anything last year ... and it’s always been my goal to publish something every year.”

The short was made, Lum Cheong said, with a very particular audience in mind.

“I made the movie for the Port Townsend festival specifically,” he said. “Everything in it has to do with Port Townsend and I wanted to make the deadline for the Port Townsend Film Festival because I was hoping to be a shoo-in.”

Though “Major Nobody” was not chosen for inclusion in the 2020 PTFF lineup, it did find a home soon thereafter. Two, in fact.

“I sent it around to different companies ... and two festivals have picked it up so far, so that’s pretty cool,” Lum Cheong said.

“Doing the film, it was anaccomplishment,” he added. “It bothered me, of course, that Port Townsend wasn’t interested in it, but other people were. Especially, I’m getting attention from social justice kind of concerns because the film does have a very heavy theme to it, which is homelessness and mental health.”

Both are subjects with which Lum Cheong is intimately familiar.

“I have a long history of homelessness; very long history of homelessness,” he said, rattling off the cities in which he has lived on the streets and in cars: Los Angeles, Nashville, Rhode Island, New York, Seattle.

In Port Townsend, though, Lum Cheong has had a steady home for two years and found the perfect backdrop for his first film.

“It was shot downtown. There’s my sleeping on a park bench downtown — I had to set up the camera and do it really quick, obviously, guerrilla filming, right?” he laughed. “I shot a lot of it up at Fort Worden because you’re by yourself up at Fort Worden; nobody is going to bother you up there. Out by the hospital there are scenes; completely, 100 percent Port Townsend.”

The difference, he said, between the satisfaction he gets from writing novels and short stories (he has published nine books) and making a movie is one of scale.

“Movies encapsulate everything,” Lum Cheong said. “Obviously, when you write it’s black and white, it’s paper and there is action that is written in front of you. When you have a film there is writing again, but then there’s also the music and the acting and there’s this and there’s that. If you want to get into cinematography as an art, or set design as an art, all of those different things combine into film. So it’s like a combination of all arts.”

The fledgling director admits he isn’t completely happy with the movie, though.

“I wish the movie had more of a story to it, more of a conflict,” he said. “It’s the person’s own conflict about whether he should stay free or turn himself in, and dealing with the madness of being on the street all the time. But it’s a man-vs-himself kind of story and I was wondering: Is there enough conflict there?

“’Spider Man 2’ had a man-vs-himself conflict, but it was part of the whole movie. Spider Man was questioning whether he should continue as Spider Man, but then that was actually part of the whole concept where it’s like, yeah you better, you have to save the world.”

But while his own protagonist may not be saving the world, Lum Cheong’s film is not without stakes. He hopes audiences leave “Major Nobody” with a specific takeaway.

“The homeless and the mentally ill are people to not necessarily be scared of,” he said. “I say not necessarily because there are some homeless people it’s better to go across the street, let’s be realistic, if you see them coming cross the street, because they’re unpredictable. But not all people should be lumped into that category and a lot of homeless people are trying their very best to get themselves up off the ground like I am — like I did.”

The latest news about Lum Cheong’s work and upcoming projects can be found at his blog: www.seattlewordsmith.wordpress.com.

His most recent book, released in 2018, is the seasonally appropriate collection of horror stories “Obey the Darkness.” Many of the 15 tales (three novellas, two novelettes, and 10 short stories) contained therein feature international settings, including the author’s birthplace of Trinidad and Tobago, as well as Bangladesh, Brazil, Europe, and Mexico, which lend some of their folklore and legends to the plots.

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