I'm delighted to be able to share the insights of writer and director Christina Jun. Christina has competed several times in the 72 Hour Shootout, consistently placing among the top films. Listen to a few words from Christina here and read on to hear what she has to share:
1. In a short paragraph, please tell us a little about yourself, your background and your work.
After earning my B.A. in creative writing, I moved to NYC to pursue a career as a theatre actor. I was fortunate enough to work with theatres like the Miami Theatre Center, the Goodman and the New American Theatre. Simultaneously, I wrote and directed a number of films, which earned screenings at multiple festivals including the Asian American International Film Festival and HBO's Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival. Two years ago, I made the switch to directing and writing full time. I am currently an MFA candidate at USC’s School of Cinematic Art and recently completed the theatre directing summer workshop at the Yale School of Drama. I current reside in Los Angeles.
2. What are the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of your work and why?
I think the most challenging aspect tends to result in the most rewarding aspect of my work. Because my films are often Asian American or female centric, a lot of hurdles can arise in the process. Everything from casting to distribution is more difficult because you have to dig a little deeper to find the right collaborators and platforms. But the most rewarding aspect is when you’ve completed the film without making any compromises and having kept the integrity and your intention for the story intact.
3. How do race and/or gender and/or diversity play into your work?
Race, gender and diversity are the driving forces behind everything that I do and this exists in my work in two ways. First, because I’ve been in the industry both on and off camera, I am acutely aware of the lack of representation in both areas. As a result, I make it a point to find the appropriate voices to tell each story that I am working on. For example, if it is a female-centric story, then both talent on and off camera will reflect this.
Ironically, the second way race, gender and diversity plays a role is the blatant opposite of this: complete color blind casting and hiring. When a story is nonspecific to any gender or race, I cast and hire the best, most talented cast and crew regardless of their ethnicity, sexual preference or gender identity. What happens as a result of this is a gathering of unique and diverse artists that strengthen the story in ways that I could never have pre-planned if I had sought out a specific cast/crew based on gender or race.
4. What are the best and worst things that have happened to you, within the context of race or gender issues in entertainment, and what did you learn from them?
By 2012, I had been a professional actor for roughly 4 years. Though I had worked on several theatre productions and commercials, it was evident that in a majority of them, I played stereotypical Asian characters like, the manicurist or the concubine. The auditions I was called in for were no different. In the rare case that I auditioned for roles that were not Asian or Asian American specific, I usually didn’t book it. I remember often questioning my own talent and wondering if I would ever be good enough to play anything but stereotypes.
Then in that summer, AAPAC NYC released an article (read it here) with a statistic that reflected a mere 3% of the roles in the past five Broadway theater seasons went to Asian American actors. This works out to 54 roles of the 6,639 that were cast.
This was the best and worst moment of my career. I realize for the first time how dire the situation really was. I think before seeing the numbers, it was more of a vague feeling rather than a concrete understanding. But it made me realize that first, I wasn’t the problem but rather the industry that I was trying to maneuver in. Secondly, it made me realize my true goals as an artist. It became evident that this brick wall I was up against was a battle that a majority of Asian and Asian American actors were fighting and that as a writer and director, I could do something about it. That was the beginning of my shift from working on-camera to behind the camera full time.
5. If you could share a single sentence of advice or insight for others in the entertainment business, what would it be?
If you’re in this business, you’ve clearly chosen a life of art and expression over practicality. So, DON’T COMPROMISE and never let the current shape of the industry dictate your voice and vision.
6. As you know, AAFL TV promotes works that seek to effectuate positive and constructive social change through the medium of film. Do you think filmmakers have an obligation to create diverse and/or morally and socially conscious content? Why or why not?
Yes, because film is not purely entertainment. The portrayal of communities and people in film/TV directly contributes to the society that we live in. For example, I played a Chinese character in a theatre production in Miami where there is little to no Asian community. After a show, a Caucasian woman approached me with her adopted 3-year-old Vietnamese daughter and asked if she could meet me as she has never met an Asian woman in person before. The mother was concerned that because of the lack of an Asian community in Miami, her daughter would never have a tangible access to her culture. I believe Film and TV have the power to bridge this void and absence of identity and culture in our society. With authentic representation, Asian and Asian American culture and people would be more accessible to our society and stereotypes and misconceptions would be eradicated.
6B. What are the biggest challenges you face as a filmmaker and how do you deal with them (please list only non-criminal means of dealing with said problems)?
I think like many independent filmmaker, financing and exposure is the biggest challenge. But as an Asian American, female filmmaker, I believe the industry is making a great effort towards inclusion. So there are countless grants, labs and initiatives available that will support you in cultivating your vision.
7. What are the most sage words of advice you can offer to new and emerging filmmakers?
Take everything with a grain of salt. Every rule that you learn may not work for you. So definitely take the time to understand how things are done but don’t forget to figure out how they can work for you.
8. Does your advice change at all if I ask you to focus on women and/or minority filmmakers? If so, why and how.
I would also add that though the feeling of being disadvantaged or marginalized because of your gender or ethnicity is completely valid, what you do with it is completely up to you. It’s important to understand the current state of the industry that you are a part of but never let that be a reason to be discouraged. Rather, let it be the motivation behind the stories you tell: so you can change the game rather than be its prisoner. Every time someone tells you your Asian American centric story isn’t relevant because it’s niche and has a limited audience - instead of giving up or compromising your vision, let that be the reason why you tell that story. So that through it, you can broaden the audience and make Asian American stories mainstream.
9. What is the single most fun moment you've experienced in the entertainment industry?
I think I have the most fun when I am directing on a set where there is great artistic chemistry among the cast and crew. Because though I believe what we do is vital to the progression of our society, at the end of the day, we are doing what we are most passionate about: storytelling. So, it’s important to enjoy the process and not take it too seriously.
10. What is the single most obnoxious moment you've experienced in the entertainment industry?
I often find myself in conversations with straight Caucasian men about the difficulties of being a minority woman in the industry. They counter the conversation by saying that they wish they were a woman or a minority so they could have a specific voice. These are, hands down, the MOST OBNOXIOUS experiences I have on a regular basis. Because this solidifies the misconception that they are not participants to the issue at hand. That discrimination, stereotypes and just the sheer lack of representation is our battle alone. When in fact, it is an issue that everyone should contribute to, in fixing.
11. What lies ahead for you in terms of the entertainment biz?
As a director and writer, the subject and story are what attracts me most. Because of this, I find myself drawn to a variety of projects including fiction film, documentary and theatre. In the next few months, I will complete a short film, begin production on another as well as start development on a full-length play.
12. What does the phrase "Ethical Is Beautiful Be Beautiful" mean to you and your work, if anything?
It means to not compromise your integrity or your vision. Often it’s tempting to accommodate or abide by how the industry currently is because it’s easier to not make waves. But standing by your beliefs and acting on them in a steadfast way is vital to the growth and progression of both the industry as well as our society.
Want to learn more or connect with Christina? Check out her SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS: