Born to immigrant parents in New Jersey, Erin Li’s path to filmmaking began in the fine arts. Li studied painting at the Llotja School of Design and Art in Barcelona, Spain and her works have been showcased in New York and London. She discovered her love for filmmaking at Carnegie Mellon University while producing short films in conjunction with PBS and the School of Drama. Since then, she has associate produced Judy Chaikin and Hugh Hefner’s THE GIRLS IN THE BAND (Lincoln Center, Palm Springs Film Festival), Jorge Hinojosa and Ice-T’s ICEBERG SLIM (Toronto International Film Festival), and Nick Broomfield’s SARAH PALIN (Toronto International Film Festival) and SOUTH CENTRAL (in production).
Li recently directed and co-wrote TO THE BONE, a short film inspired by true events about child migrant farm workers in the U.S. Produced as part of Film Independent’s Project Involve Fellowship, the film was a Vimeo Staff Pick in 2013, featured on Upworthy.com, and screened at Slamdance Film Festival, Los Angeles Film Festival and the Hammer Museum. Her documentary short about transparent solar cells, CATCHING THE INVISIBLE LIGHT, was a General Electric / Vimeo Focus Forward competition Semi-Finalist. Li also directed L.A. COFFIN SCHOOL, a short film about a woman who enrolls in a controversial school that claims to teach people how to start life anew as part of her directing fellowship with Visual Communications.
She was most recently selected to participate in American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women (DWW) with KEPLER X-47, a short film she directed and co-wrote about a woman who attempts to escape from a human zoo exhibit on an alien planet 5,000 light years from Earth. She successfully crowdfunded the film on Indiegogo and is currently developing it into a feature. The short film will screen at AFI DWW’s showcase at the Directors Guild of America in May of 2014.
Q & A
If the world you created in your film became a reality, is that a world you would want to live in?
Do I want to live in a human zoo exhibit on an alien planet? Well, if the aliens feed me culinary delights, house me in a luxurious mansion, and clothe me in designer fashion... Kidding aside, Kepler X-47 presents an extreme version of present-day reality. I wanted to explore further the idea of humans being held captive like animals, but by choice. In the U.S., it is normal for people to be chained to their desks, to live in one box for most of the year. The workaholic culture here rewards a live-to-work existence. We have a higher rate of suicide, stress, anxiety, mental illness, and a lower lifespan than many other first-world countries. Most of us accept life as it is, without question, and are willingly chained by the pursuit of a tainted American Dream. I think the pandemic forced many to confront this. Ultimately, Kepler X-47 is an examination of humanity, the absurd living conditions we have created for ourselves, and how most people would choose security comfort over the unknown, even if it means giving up our freedom.
Name a Sci-Fi character you relate to on a spiritual level?
I’d say E.T. Home has always felt like an ephemeral concept. Perhaps it’s a function of growing up as a second generation Taiwanese American, or of living in different cities and countries as an adult. I’m on a spiritual quest to find home - within myself, with fellow Earthlings, and on this planet.
What if robots start making their own Sci-Fi films? Will you support them in their endeavors?
If they’re good, sure! Why not.
In 1996, Bugs Bunny recruited Michael Jordan and Bill Murray to form the greatest basketball squad of all-time, the Tune Squad; you’re Bugs, who’s on your Sci-Fi Tune Squad?
Assuming all would get along, my starting line-up would be: Ellen Ripley, Agent May, Angela Abar, Spock, The Shrike. Also: Data, Fennec Shand, Yoda, Boba Fett, The Mandalorian. I could go on.
You’ve gotta go through some bad ideas to get to the good ones. Tell us one of your bad ideas. How do you get past the bad ones to find your spark?
I don’t have any bad ideas.
When your brain is in the future and your body’s in the present, is that isolating?
My brain often rewinds to the past or fast-forwards to the future. If you know of a trick - besides meditating - to align my brain and body in the present, please let me know.
Is there a disconnect between the technology you make films about and the technology that you make films with?
There’s definitely a disconnect, because a lot of my projects are set in the future. I do love playing with anachronism and mixing analog and digital elements.
When you’re creating the props and sets that make a new world, where do you look for inspiration? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
I look to nature, dreams, books, the fine arts, fashion, and photography for inspiration.
Lightning round: Star Wars or Star Trek? Philip K. Dick or William S. Burroughs? Practical or CGI? Dystopia or Utopia? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
Star Trek, Philip K. Dick, Practical, Dystopia, Post Apocalypse.