The initial story concept for “The Earth Below” was pitched to me as an adaptation of Madame Butterfly that takes place in a dystopian world where men no longer exist. I was excited by the project because of the opportunities it presented—it was a chance for me to write a female lead character and create a story in a science-fictional world. The challenge was tying it to an Asian-American theme.

When we (Christine Chen and I) decided to make “Ya Albi,” a film about a Syrian refugee, we knew that we may be dealing with a topic that could be political or controversial. We didn’t care about that though, because we just didn’t see it that way. We just wanted to make a good film about the human condition through the eyes of an immigrant that was relevant to today’s world without any political agenda.

I’m so proud of this film. We all worked so hard and so well together.

From the very beginning, we did some serious pre-production. This is one of the first films we were able to meet together and discuss the look of the film. We looked at examples of lighting and coloring to pinpoint the kind of look we wanted.

When Christine first approached me with what would become Ya Albi (My Heart), I had to literally tell myself to play it cool. She probably doesn’t know this, or that I had written her name down on my wish list of directors I’d love to work with after seeing “A Bird’s Nest” two years prior. I guess I played it cool enough … thankfully!