It occurred to me when I got an invitation to the opening of Flash Cuts, a film editing and recording studio in Silverlake, that since I met studio chief (and head bottle washer) Walt Louie, I’ve wanted to sing his praises to everyone I know. He’s done so much for the Asian American film community in his own quiet way that he deserves a bronze head—or at least a plaque—on the corner of First and San Pedro. Smart, talented, generous, and—as the title suggests—really nice. I’m happy to report that with the official opening of his state-of-the-art editing facility in his own beautifully renovated building on Glendale Boulevard, he’s finally proven the old adage about nice guys finishing last to be completely wrong.
I first heard Walt’s name when Amy Kato told me she had this film buddy who was a runner. Being a crazy marathoner myself, I was curious to meet this Asian guy who seemed to love running marathons more than anything. Walt is not just any old marathoner; he holds the hallowed title of L.A. Marathon Pace Leader. For those of you who have never trained for a marathon, a pace leader is someone who sacrifices his own running to lead a group of 20 or so contenders on hundreds of miles through eight months of grueling training, sharing his solid guidance, valuable experience, and most of all, support and encouragement mixed with lots of sympathy. It’s a selfless job, and you’d never catch me doing it.
What Walt is to neophyte runners, he was to me as a first-time filmmaker. When a partner and I got a Civil Liberties Public Education Project grant to do a short film on writer/activist Michi Nishiura Weglyn, we figured we could handle everything ourselves—except for the editing. Luckily, we found someone to do the rough edit without too much problem until he and his wife had their first baby within weeks of our scheduled completion date and first screening. We had bits and pieces of a film that was no-way, no-how ready to be shown. In a panic, I asked everyone I knew in the film community if they knew someone who could help us. Besides being short on time, there was one other hitch: we didn’t have much in our budget to pay this savior.
Like a knight in shining armor, Walt appeared (with the help of wonderful friends Denice Kumagai and William Hoy). Here was an experienced, knowledgeable, and talented editor with a wonderful reputation going back to the seventies at KQED in San Francisco. Having edited such Asian American classics as Arthur Dong’s “Forbidden City,” among countless others, Walt was now cutting commercials and trailers for major motion pictures. Amazingly enough, he said he would be “honored” to work on our little film. What I later realized he meant was that he feels honored to help people in our community get their untold stories out there. He is passionate about other peoples’ passions.
With a busy editing schedule, Walt worked evenings and weekends to get our film done in time for that first screening. He cut, re-cut, added just the right music, and made the pictures come alive. What’s more, he even fed us fruit and pastries when we spent hours in his office finalizing the project. He was not just an editor; he was advisor, support team, and friend. Above all, we knew our film was in good hands. And as far as the sticky discussion about money (here was someone whose advice alone was worth thousands of dollars), he left the amount completely up to us. As he put it, “Pay me whatever you can afford.”
At the opening of his studio last Saturday (where you could find anyone who was anyone in the Asian American film community), I asked actress Amy Hill to tell me what she liked most about Walt. She paused for a moment (probably because she was thinking that there are so many things) and said, “He’s extremely generous.” She explained that she bought Walt’s old house, and when she asked him how much he wanted for it, Walt said in his characteristic giving way, “How much do you want to pay?” She laughingly retold her answer, “Walt, I want to be your friend forever. Maybe we should get an appraisal.”
It’s not only his generosity with money that makes Walt so special. He has a generosity of spirit that’s as unselfish as I’ve ever seen. He makes it a point to help people in need. He volunteers his time to hold teach-ins at Visual Communications to talk about filmmaking. Why he even thought to ask filmmakers who were out of work to help lay the wood floor when he was remodeling his building —figuring who better to earn a little extra cash.
Walt’s latest contribution to the world of Asian American film is a project for which he has been helping his filmmaker friends John Esaki and Amy Kato by devoting his time off and on for the last several years. “Stand Up for Justice” was made a few years ago as a film drama based on the true story of Ralph Lazo, the young Latino who chose to spend three years at Manzanar in support of his Japanese American high school friends. Already in distribution as part of an educational curriculum, the film is now being released for the first time to the general public as a DVD, with the added feature of a documentary about the making of this fascinating story. Its launch and reception is being held on Valentine’s Day, Sunday, Feb. 14, at 2 p.m., at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy. If you hurry, you can still buy your tickets for the screening at www.vconline.org or call (213) 680-4462 x32. It’s a chance to learn more about this unique camp story and to see the passionate work of this master editor and truly nice guy.
Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.