The brainchild of writer/director Michael Smith, “The Doubt” was born from a conversation he had with a friend who lamented that she had given up acting because it didn’t seem to be a practical profession for an Asian-American woman to pursue. Smith enlisted the help of his old college friend Vincent Francone and the two hammered out the first draft of the script in one month in the fall of 2004.
According to Francone, the film “tackles issues of class, race, persona, reinvention and other such abstractions.” Dramatizing these themes was not easy and the script went through many revisions over the course of the next six months. Smith states, “We were still re-writing the script after we had auditions for the film. We had a couple of complete read-throughs of the script with the entire cast present, which we videotaped. Vince and I would then go back and watch the tapes and alter the dialogue so that the characters corresponded more closely to the actors portraying them.”
For Francone, the script is a “metaphorical statement about love and identity and the inability to maintain either. People get together in the biblical sense, they meet, they laugh, they do their best to impress. Often they exchange transitory passions and rollick in the horizontal way. Maybe they even find themselves in love. Sadly, for reasons unknown, these affairs don’t usually last. Damn, it’s getting harder to find any kind of love these days. The Doubt knows this and so the love story is an attempt to comment on the quandary.”
Smith knew that the success of the movie would hinge on the casting, in particular the actress who would play Linnea Chiang. “We really lucked out with all of the actors but especially with Mia (Park),” Smith says. “I wasn’t exactly sure who was going to be able to pull off this character but as soon as Mia walked through the door, I knew she was the one. She seemed to really identify with the part because, just like Linnea, she’s a musician and a martial artist. But more importantly, Mia has this quality of being very tough and very sensitive at the same time and that was exactly what the script called for.”
Production on the movie began in the summer of 2005 and proceeded on sporadic dates over the following months until October, when the bulk of the movie was shot. Smith hired Daaimah Mubashshir, a recent graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, as cinematographer. Together, the two worked closely to develop a visual style that would complement the action. Mubashshir describes using handheld cameras and natural light to create what she terms a “stylized documentary” look for the movie.
Smith concurs: “For me, there are two important aspects of the story. There’s the stylized genre part of it and then there’s a more realistic, almost-documentary quality to it. I was very interested in juxtaposing these elements: taking archetypal characters and scenes and butting them up against the kind of people and situations you encounter in every day life. A lot of the humor in the movie arises from these juxtapositions. So, for some scenes, we had stationary cameras and elegant point of view shots; for others, we used a handheld, cinema-verite approach. But I didn’t want to be systematic about it. We just went with what felt right at the time.”
Mubashshir adds that “ the beautiful colors and lights in the tobacco store scenes” were her favorite part of shooting and that she and Smith were able to come up with a look that was aesthetically exciting even with limited means: “Despite the lack of color and space, the scenes in Joe’s office visually steal my heart every time. I believe that Michael is a true director. He knows instinctively how to direct himself, therefore letting us, the cast and crew, shine beyond our own vision.”
In spite of their limited budget, the filmmakers were also able to gain access to many prominent Chicago locations, including the banks of Lake Michigan, legendary north side bars like The Hideout Inn, the Up Down Tobacco shop (with its awe-inspiring interior design) and, perhaps most impressively, the historic Rockefeller Chapel in Hyde Park (where the film’s action climax takes place). “The Rockefeller Chapel scene was definitely the most complex scene to shoot,” Smith says. “We had about 30 different camera setups and we had to work very fast because we only had permission to shoot there for one day. But we had a very detailed shot list and the actors were well rehearsed, so I was pleased with the way we were able to go in there and knock it out. Visually, the scene actually ended up exceeding my expectations.”
Production on the movie wrapped in January of 2006, when Smith and Park went to Hong Kong to shoot the final scene of the movie. “Everyone I talked to seemed pretty incredulous when I told them we were going to Hong Kong,” Smith notes. “They would say, ‘Why don’t you just do it in Chinatown or do it with a green screen?’ For me, there was no other choice. I knew from the very beginning that the last scene had to take place at Victoria Harbour and that we would shoot it in such a way that the audience would have no doubt that we were in Hong Kong. It does seem a little crazy to spend that kind of money on plane tickets when you’re making a no-budget movie but, then again, you have to be kind of crazy to be an independent filmmaker in the first place.”