Last week, I was honored to share the interview of filmmaker Paul Leach. This week, the second featured artist of What's Your Story? is Alex Chu, another amazing filmmaker working to make a difference in Hollywood. Here is what he has to say:
1. In a short paragraph, please tell us a little about yourself, your background and your work.
I am a filmmaker who grew up in Canada and Libya. I had a short stint working in investment banking in Asia right after college, which sowed the seeds for how I became a filmmaker today (short answer: if all you have is money and nothing else, you don't really have much to begin with). I grew up a musician, from playing classical cello in orchestras to guitar in a heavy metal band, and had parents who encouraged me to pursue any and all creative arts. I fell into filmmaking after many years of pursuing a professional acting career, when my first short film FORTUNE COOKIE MAGIC TRICKS, a gay zombie musical martial arts mashup, screened at a bunch of festivals worldwide. I'm currently in the midst of working on my second feature FOR IZZY, a drama filmed in a mixed media format that I'm really excited about that should be completed in 2017.
The teaser to the film FOR IZZY can be found here (which is currently in post-production and set to be finished in early 2017): https://vimeo.com/186195812
2. What are the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of your work and why?
The most challenging is precisely the most rewarding: experiencing that feeling of seeing a story come to life as a result of the cast and crew. Even on the smallest and simplest of projects, there's a million moving parts, like an old fashioned watch, all working intricately together in translating words on a page into something that an audience sees on screen. It requires the collective skill, tenacity and focus of everyone involved to make it happen, and that in itself is the most gratifying aspect, because it cannot be done alone.
3. How do race and/or gender and/or diversity play into your work?
It's not a separate thing that I comment on in my work. Or to put it another way, race, gender or diversity isn't the reason for the project's existence. If I have a female lead character, it's not because I want to comment explicitly about gender politics in the film industry - it's simply because of creativity:
We have 2,000 years of mostly white straight males as lead characters in their stories. We kinda have that locked down already!
That's why I'm surprised why more filmmakers are NOT going out of their way to write stories featuring anyone but straight white males, simply just to get the creative juices going. But then again, it comes back to the white privilege thing (particularly with straight white males) who have been conditioned to be completely unaware of how their own experiences are particular to them.
So if you're coming from simply a place of creativity, the diversity aspect is organic and not tacked on. That's how I've always approached my storytelling.
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?
Best: working with veteran Asian-American actors like Elizabeth Sung and Jim Lau, who have been working actors since the 1980s. Actors and artists like them who have had to undoubtedly overcome much greater prejudices and obstacles because of their cultural background have helped pave the way for my generation - this is what inspires me, and it's an honor to have worked with them and have met many of their contemporaries. Even though there's still a long way to go, we can't forget the progress that has been made so far as well, and that is in large part due to these very veterans of the business. To recognize progress is to honor their experiences and struggles.
Worst: honestly I have a hard time coming up with something specific within the entertainment context. I have experienced my share of prejudice in other contexts (on the street, in the corporate world, in school), but thankfully not within entertainment. That does not invalidate anyone else's experiences or the reality that there's still deep seated problems, but my own comparative experiences tell me that progress is being made.
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 able to laugh at yourself, you're more likely to have the honesty about yourself and where you need to grow.
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?
Obligation? No. Encouraged to? Yes.
Creators should have the freedom to pursue whatever ideas they want. It shouldn't be reductive.
But some of the most compelling projects you could work on is if you have something to say. It's the "why am I working on this?" that can be a rallying cry to build a fantastic cast and crew, to find crowdfunding backers, and audiences. We are all looking to be involved in something that is bigger than ourselves beyond the paycheck.
You want to encourage people, not force them. That's how you get folks fully invested in what you have to say because they want to do it, not because they have to.
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)?
Building a team of cast and crew. It's hard enough to put together *a* cast and crew, let alone a *great* cast and crew that sees the same movie/show in their mind. Biggest challenge is being patient and diligent about finding the right people.
The other is leadership. Filmmaking is inherently collaborative, and if it's your project, you are expected to be the leader. And as that leader you are entitled to nothing, yet expect everything from your cast and crew. No one is forcing them to work on the project (regardless of how much they're being paid). And no one is forcing the audience to watch your film. And being able to get your cast, crew and audiences to *want* to see the same movie you see in your head is hard. I have no easy answers for this, other than to try and stay honest with myself about why the project is meaningful to me, to do the best I can to communicate that to everyone involved, to get better at finding the right people for the right project, to learn from my mistakes, and to be accountable for my screw ups to set the example for others to follow.
7. What are the most sage words of advice you can offer to new and emerging filmmakers?
Be disciplined about everything - your craft, your business. Because motivation and inspiration are wholly unreliable since they will ebb and flow. And when you feel low, you have your discipline, habits and the people you surround yourself with to keep you going.
8. Does your advice change at all if I ask you to focus on women and/or minority filmmakers? If so, why and how.
No. In fact even more so. You will have even more reasons to feel discouraged. But it's your discipline that will make you better.
9. What is the single most fun moment you've experienced in the entertainment industry?
Being a director on a project may be the most gratifying work, but being an actor is by far the most fun job one can have, bar none.
On one of my first acting jobs, I was cast in an industrial video for a power company. It was one of those sexual harassment videos that HR would show to new employees about what is NOT appropriate behavior. In one of the scenes, I was asked to play strip poker in a control room that looked like a real life version of Homer Simpson's at the nuclear power plant. When you're half-naked on set at midnight in a control room at a real power plant, you know you've made it.
10. What is the single most obnoxious moment you've experienced in the entertainment industry?
Dealing with cynical people.
11. What lies ahead for you in terms of the entertainment biz?
Working on my next film project. It's one project at a time. I can't afford to think beyond that.
12. What does the phrase "Ethical Is Beautiful Be Beautiful" mean to you and your work, if anything?
Being kind, gracious and compassionate when you aren't expected to. That is beauty.