Since his initial efforts of the early '90s, independent film producer and screenwriter James Schamus has learned a lot about international culture through his frequent fruitful collaborations with celebrated film director Ang Lee. "I can order a beer in Chinese now," jokes Schamus "and not just by saying Tsing Tao. I can actually say 'beer' in Chinese." Multilingual restaurant beverage ordering jokes aside, Schamus has been a key component in the production of some of the most provocative and intriguing independent films of the '90s, often recognized for taking necessary risks to bring challenging stories by innovative filmmakers to the screen, as well as consistently forsaking conventional confines in favor of artistic freedom and vision.
Take a look at any list of important independent films of the past decade and it's likely that Schamus' name will appear somewhere in the credits. Aside from his collaborations with Lee, Schamus has worked with such notorious filmmakers as Todd Haynes and Todd Solondz, often producing (through his Good Machine production company) fiercely defiant and shockingly compelling films that may otherwise have been lost in a sea of mediocrity and studios unwilling to take the needed risks in bringing these stories to light. Aside from his work with Solondz and Haynes, Schamus' most enduring cinematic relationship may lie with Lee, with whom he has collaborated as screenwriter on all of Lee's films except Sense and Sensibility (on which Schamus served as co-producer). Schamus' keen ability to capture the complex emotional intricacies of characters in difficult situations has been a driving factor in the success of his scripting of Lee's films, including The Ice Storm (1997), Eat Drink Man Woman (1994), and the phenomenally successful Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), which was produced by Good Machine and earned Schamus Oscar nominations for Best Music (Song) for his lyrics to the film's "A Love Before Time" and Best Adapted Screenplay (along with co-writers Wang Hui Ling and Kuo Jung Tsai). Not speaking the Mandarin language in which the film is presented, or in which the original novel was written, Schamus describes the experience of writing the film as both rewarding and nerve-wracking. "It was weird because on the one hand, I was writing an original screenplay because I didn't know the novel...And on the other hand, I knew that I had to maintain fidelity to something I didn't know."