When you watch an Alberta Poon film, the first thing you notice is the color.
The hypercolorful, vivid palette of amethyst, shimmery coral and lime green of her short film It's Lit has the aesthetic of a stoner Lisa Frank sticker book, while a satirical PSA that she directed for protest support group Snack Bloc has a bold palette of royal purple, goldenrod and ruby.
The first thing Poon notices is the lighting.
Poon is a self-described "mood-slash-light psycho." On her first date with her boyfriend, the pair were hanging out in a hotel room lit by a lamp with an LED light bulb.
"I was like, 'I can't even sit in this room,'" she says. "I made him make a makeshift, like, fire hazard of jackets and coat hangers to block the lighting from my face. That natural attraction to mood and tone just came through with my filmmaking."
Her favorite light in her house is a midcentury globe lamp hanging over her couch, where she edits. It's turned on a lot these days, as Poon is spending more time at home.
She's currently working on a TV pilot and is in post-production for Crouching Comic, a film she wrote with Katie Nguyen, Willamette Week's 2021 Funniest Person. Inspired by Poon's and Nguyen's own lives, the film is about a woman switching careers and trying to enter the standup comedy world. The film was made over Labor Day weekend with an entirely Asian cast and crew. Its release date was pushed back because of COVID-19, but it's set to come out in the fall of 2021 or early next year.
"When I realized I had met so many cool, creative Asian people, I started being like, well what do they all do?" she says. "I was like, dang, I think I have a film crew here."
Poon fostered her friends' talents, hiring people she thought were stylish as stylists, for example. As a result, she ended up with a crew with a range of experience: Some had never been on a set, while production designer Adri Siriwatt had been nominated for an Emmy.
"Being on set was like nothing we've ever experienced. We've never been in a space like that. I've been in a lot of BIPOC-only spaces recently," she says. "But an all-Asian space—which we are the least-represented demographic in film and television—to come together and make this short, it was really magical. We had boba sent to set and literally everyone, like, freaked out."
Advocating for and employing more people of color in the film industry are two of Poon's missions. "I think it's important that the people that tell a story should be the people's story that it is," she says.
Though Poon does most of her work digitally, she has a massive whiteboard she wheels with her from room to room. "It's important to have a physical, tangible thing you can touch to step out of the digital world," she says. "It makes it seem like less work. When you're sitting at a computer you're like, 'This is work.'" Right now, her whiteboard is covered in notecards for a pilot she's working on, with cards for a log line, concept and theme, the setting, heroes, and "wants vs. needs." "This is very typical narrative storytelling elements that you need to tell a good story," she says.
2. Library Books
"I love the library, because I love returning them, because I hate stuff so much," says Poon. "I'm damaged by my mother, who's an immigrant. Immigrants that hoard is a common cliché, which I didn't know as a kid. I thought it was unique to my parents, but it's not. Because my mom did that, I have both sides. I could see myself having the same issue as her, but then I do what she never did, which is to get rid of everything." Poon always has a stack of books that are either works of fiction or "literally how to be a filmmaker," she says, laughing. Among the books she's currently has: Fleabag: The Scriptures, Now Write! Screenwriting and Dear Girls by Ali Wong.
3. Midcentury Lamp
Poon is obsessed with the prized lamp that hangs over her couch. "It's this vintage, cool midcentury lamp, but the light in there is so soft and warm," she says. "I will die if I enter a room if it's just overhead fluorescent lighting." Before becoming a filmmaker, Poon spent years as a musician, fronting the band Reporter. "I remember going to people's houses in the 2000s, going to punk houses. There'd be a lamp with an exposed light bulb, and I'd be like, 'Where are my sunglasses? This is disgusting,'" she recalls. "Even though I don't have a lot of money, like I buy the right light bulbs." So much of filmmaking, Poon says, is mood, tone and "painting with light."
4. Her Dog Terpene
Poon's dog Terpene usually sits on the couch with her while she edits, but last spring he was the star of a short film she entered in an Oregon Film contest, where people could submit films about being stuck at home. In Poon's video, she tries to teach Terpene to skateboard.
5. "Corner of Hell"
Poon uses her home office for storing equipment. "This is technically my office, but I never sit in here. This is where everything goes to die," she says. In what she calls a "corner of hell," film equipment, such as a camera kit, lighting and a camera grip, is stashed with a director's chair that Annie Tonsiengsom, producer of Crouching Comic, brought to the set for her as a gift. There's also musical equipment from her decade playing in Portland bands. "When I shoot bigger projects, I'm not the shooter, I'm the director," she says. "But when I do small projects, that's a one-man band."