Women is...: Jessica Yu, Independent Filmmaker

Jessica Yu, Independent Filmmaker

profession: Producer, director, writer. "Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien" received an Oscar for best documentary short.

born: Feb. 14, 1966, in Los Altos Hills, Calif.

education: BA, English, Yale University. "I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I just knew I liked studying English. And they had a really good fencing program."

the basic story: Fell into film production because she needed a job with flexible hours in order to compete in fencing -- a sport she has since given up. Worked on commercials in San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles, where she learned the ropes of documentary work. Entered the national spotlight with her film portrait of Berkeley, Calif., writer and poet Mark O'Brien and his life in an iron lung, as well as her humorous and poignant Academy Awards acceptance speech. She currently lives in Glendale, Ariz., with writer/husband Mark Salzman.

inauspicious beginnings: "My very first job was on a pasta commercial, arranging frozen noodles on a plastic fork for six hours. It was incredibly humbling."
true confession: Threatened to fold up her director's chair. "I credit the experience of making 'Breathing Lessons' with re-igniting my faith in the idea of making films. I remember telling all my friends, stupidly, that this was the last film I was going to make. The process of fundraising was just so enervating. Then, of course, making the film was so rewarding -- and I was so happy with it and happy that Mark liked it -- that the drama went out the window."

current project: "The Living Museum," a documentary of New York's Creedmoor Psychiatric Center. "There's such a strong feeling of community and goodness coming out of this place. I think the film will explore that area between art and healing; not art as therapy, but as a way to find some meaning and beauty in what seems like the most traumatic and terrible experiences."

past projects: At 31, she's made six films, including "Breathing Lessons"; "Men of Reenaction," a feature documentary about Civil War buffs; "Better Late," a short about an elderly man preparing to propose marriage; and the humorous short, "Sour Death Balls."

on diversity in the film world: "I haven't encountered any situation where I felt I was denied something solely because I was an Asian and a woman. In independent films, there's not a lot of money, and it's really your own motivation, your own hard work that determines how far you go." Still, she says, it was "startling" to be one of only three minorities at the Academy Awards nominee luncheon.
how the Oscar changed her life: Helped launch other projects. Oliver Stone is talking with her about a feature film on Mark O'Brien. "There are so many opportunities, and it's slightly jarring for someone who came out of the independent world. I find that as much as we like to bitch about not having help along the way, there's something very strengthening about working in your own little circle and making your own decisions."

film tastes: Eclectic. She admires Ang Lee for his "realistic" Asian-American characters. "Sick," a documentary on the life and death of a super masochist, also impressed her. "It's so memorable because it exceeds your expectations, it really surprises you. That's what I look for in films."

tech savviness: "I don't really cruise the web a lot. If I have a specific research need, I'll run some sort of search." And she can finally afford digital film editing equipment.