Megan Lee, star of Nickelodeon’s Make it Pop and Kollaboration alum, joins Minji Chang for a Coffee Break to talk about what she’s been up to. Megan shares about her busy schedule shooting Make it Pop in Toronto, making new original music (and her new single Stronger), and her origins in Kollaboration. We love Megan and you will too after this interview!
Improv Artist Will Choi joins us for a coffee break to chat about an epic (and FREE) improv comedy show that he put together taking place Friday, May 27 at UCB Sunset in Los Angeles. Scarlett Johansson Presents: AAPI Heritage Month will feature several of the top Asian American improv teams in the LA area, as well as am APA superteam of UCB regulars (ScarJo will not be in attendance)! Check out more info on the event on its Facebook Page
Producers: Minji Chang & Marvin Yueh
Director: Dennis Chang
Production Assistant: Jimmy Hang
Camera Operator: Westley Kang & Andrew Kim
Editor: Marvin Yueh
The Flash executive story editor and writer, Kai Wu, didn’t originally want to be a writer. While she was growing up she used to think, “I guess I’ll be a Red Lobster manager, or something like that.” Born in Taiwan, Kai moved to the US a the age of 7 and raised in a small American town. However, her life changed upon seeing the movie Casper on the big screen. The movie not only pushed her to become a writer, she loved it so much that she also has everyone’s favorite friendly ghost tattooed on her skin. Since then Kai has made a career as a television writer and risen in the ranks by making waves on critically acclaimed shows like the deceased Hannibal and CW’s hit show The Flash. Jes Vu caught up with Kai recently to chat about her career.
What made you end up in TV writing?
I kind of fell into by accident. I didn’t really watch TV growing up except for Full House—I only watched movies. I worked at Gersh Agency, was an assistant in the Motion Pictures Lit Department, and went into development—I wanted to be in features then. I was really lucky there was a point someone had to help someone out. One of my co-workers at Gersh—an old co-worker—knew a showrunner, and said I’m looking for a writer’s assistant [job]. And he knew I wanted to be a writer, so he passed my resume along. I interviewed and I was very lucky to get the job. But I had no idea what writer’s assistant meant in TV. So I took it. I hated television because of that routine of going in every day—and I was a crappy writer’s assistant because I had no idea what I was doing. But I was also the showrunner’s assistant, which I was great because of my agency experience, so they didn’t fire me, thank goodness! After that, I didn’t want to be in TV again, but then I got a job on Burn Notice as Matt Nix’s assistant. I learned so much there, and from then, TV popped for me a little. People were responding to my TV samples more than my features, so I just went with it.
Your first staff writing gig was on Hannibal for Bryan Fuller—How did you get involved in Hannibal as well as The Flash?
I was, and I still am Bryan Fuller’s biggest fan. As a fan, I was obsessed with his work. Wonderfalls is my favorite television show, and I loved Dead Like Me. Through all my assistant jobs, I had met this woman named Kath Lingenfelter—an amazing writer—she wrote on Pushing Daisies. I knew Hannibal had gotten picked up, and I asked Kath if she would pass my resume on because I wante to be a writer’s assistant for Hannibal hoping that there would be this show called Mockingbird Lane. Bryan was at NBC, and I was hoping he could staff me for Mockingbird Lane. So I went to interview Bryan and Jesse Alexander for Hannibal. Miraculously, they offered me a staff writing job.
What was that feeling like getting your first gig?
I’d worked so many years and I never worked freelance—no one ever promoted me. [Bryan Fuller] didn’t have to. There was no reason for him to give me a chance, but he did. I was ecstatic! On top of that, it was Bryan Fuller. I’m like his biggest fan, so I was all smiles. Like wow. It’s a little surreal. So I got on Hannibal and very quickly you realize that it’s work too.
Now you’re currently on The Flash. Had you read The Flash comics or watched any of DC Comics’ animation before getting staffed on The Flash?
Before the job?—No. The night before the meeting? —a crap ton. It was really tough only because they literally asked “Can you come and meet tomorrow?” From 8 o’clock that night to whenever the meeting was the next day. I had read so much. I knew Arrow because I was watching Arrow a little bit here or there. So I was trying to go back an episode, trying to watch episodes The Flash guest starred on, and then I was going through all the villains and history. It was overwhelming because I guess they reboot their continuity a lot—so I was like what was happening? There was a lot of information to be consumed in that in that 12 hour period. Whenever I go into a meeting, I have to be overwhelmed by information, so even if it doesn’t come out, it’s in my subconscious. I was still watching episodes and reading stuff an hour before the meeting.
You’ve worked with very difference shows and networks. How is Hannibal handled vs working at the the CW and The Flash.
Even though Hannibal is [a network show], it’s essentially a cable show. I think it’s just how explicit it needs to be, and I think with Hannibal…it was a lot of subtext—we’re always talking about things without talking about them. Every conversation with Will and Hannibal was something about them…it’s all circular, which that’s the kind of writing I actually like. With CW…I assume it’s like what writing for a big studio movie is because you’re reaching a wider audience. You have to be clearer….There’s also 23 episodes instead of 13.
I think that was the hardest adjustment for me, but I don’t think one is better than the other. It’s just different ways of writing. What’s fun about the CW—[The Flash] is lighter, so we are able to go super light, just the funnest situations will get on the page. With Hannibal, it’s a lot more cerebral in your head. It doesn’t need to be a lot of plot, it just had to be a lot of beautiful philosophical talk. So that’s different too. And I think that’s the show.
How has being a woman of color play a role in the writers’ room for you?
I think The Flash…some people will disagree with me—I think The Flash is incredibly diverse in that half the staff is women, and that itself to me is diversity because people focus only on race. I am the only one on the show that is non-white, but I can offer something. But as a woman, I can also offer a point-of-view. I’m incredibly proud to be on a show with so many women.
That’s also more interesting that it’s a comic book-based show and there’s so many women involved.
Yes! And kudos to all the DC shows. Arrow has women…Legends of Tomorrow…Supergirl has a lot of women, so it makes me I’m think it’s great. It frustrates me a little bit when people focus just on race. We get a lot of comments like “we need a writer of a certain race…we need more diversity.” If you look at the statistics of Hollywood, women make up 30 percent. We [as women] are a minority group to men…to straight white guys. So that’s an accomplishment. To me, it’s a testament of [The Flash showrunner] Andrew Kreisberg in hiring so many women. Aside from that, I think it gets too narrow or people just focus on one group, to this one race. As to any other “diversity” trait that may qualify…if you’re a gay, white guy, to me, you’re “diverse.” You’re able to offer this outsider’s’ point-of-view….I think we’re making progress. Could there be more? Yeah.
In that respect…how has TV changed since you first started your career as an assistant?
The way people write scripts. I remember going to a panel where Shonda Rhimes said if you write characters descriptions and you write everyone’s race out except for the white person—then you’re fired. Because it implies that white is the norm. So either you put a race for every single person—white, black, Asian—or you don’t at all. And that is something I notice I do too. Even for me as a minority, I still do it—Now, I’m very careful. If I’m naming race, I’m naming the white person as well because that’s not just a given. So I think [writing] is changing. Also, describing women not just by how they look. I mean, that is huge. I remember reading an old script I had and I was like “Good God, I can’t believe I’m doing it too!”—And I’m a woman too. So much of it is subconscious.
What advice do you have for those who want to be a writer like yourself?
Make sure you write. Because I think a lot of people don’t write. They’ll stop at one or two scripts. Also, my friends are going to hate me for this…with all the noise about diversity, and more women…yes, there’s all these things we can fix, but sometimes complaining about them without doing anything just doesn’t work because you’re relying on someone else to fix the problem.
If there’s a problem—and there is a problem—you keep on writing. If I get up there, I make sure it is balanced, so that’s how I can change it. Right now, don’t let those things deter you. Don’t focus so much on it. Be aware, but make sure when you have the chance, you’re fair and you’re even. I feel like there’s a lot of people that’s like “This is unfair!”—Life is unfair. Hollywood is definitely not a bureaucracy, so I have no idea what they were getting into. But you can do your part when you have the power.
With that final note, what advice would you give to people that you would have given to your younger self starting out?
I’ve seen a lot of assistants get bitter when people get ahead. They’ll be like “oh that person got ahead because of that connection.” Again, this is Hollywood. This is life—it’s not fair sometimes. Just stop worrying about other people, and worry about yourself. It took me a while too. You’ll carry a lot of negative energy, and I truly believe negative energy affects you. As soon as I let go of that, it’s kind of like “You know what? I need to focus on myself and not who got ahead of me.” It’s easier to say because in that time, you’re working so hard as an assistant, people are getting promoted before you—But that’s all just noise. At the end of the day, you’re doing this because you love telling stories, so go write your stories!
For more of Kai, follow her Twitter @chinoiskai! Otherwise, catch the season finale of The Flash tomorrow night, May 24 on the CW at 8pm ET/PT.
This is it! This is our last interview from the 2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) organized by Visual Communications. In this segment, we chat with the crew behind Breathin’: The Eddy Zheng Story about the life of Eddy Zheng, a former convict turned activist and community leader. We talk to director Ben Wang, composer Scott “Chops” Jung, and the man himself about the making of this brutally honest documentary.
Thanks for listening to our interviews with the filmmakers of the 2016 LA Asian Pacific Film Festival. Keep checking back on kollaboration.org for new video, audio, and written content about the Asian American community.
ABOUT THE FILM:
BREATHIN’: THE EDDY ZHENG STORY is a documentary feature about a Chinese immigrant who became the youngest prisoner at San Quentin State Prison and later one of the nation’s most recognized leaders on prison reform and youth violence prevention. Eddy entered the criminal justice system at 16 years old with limited understanding of the English language or the U.S. judicial system. After spending time in the California Youth Authority, he was transferred to San Quentin State Prison as soon as he turned 18. While in prison, Eddy learned English, earned his college degree, published his poetry, and transformed into a nationally recognized leader—inspiring youth, activists, and politicians on issues of prison reform and youth violence prevention. As an advocate for Ethnic Studies in the prison college curriculum, Eddy was sent to solitary confinement for 11 months, where he garnered support from community activists and leaders. Even as Eddy fought systemic injustices, he continued to fight an internal battle. Spending nearly two decades in prison left a physical and mental toll on him, an all-too-common phenomenon for the incarcerated. What is more, Eddy had to reconcile with his family, for whom the shame and stigma of prison caused a lifetime of secrets and lies. Despite being released from immigration custody in 2007, Eddy has been ordered deported to China and awaits the final court decision. With the looming possibility of deportation, Eddy must negotiate what it means to “live freely”—attempting to rebuild a family, reconcile with his victims, and make a lasting change in society at large.
This is the second to last of our interviews at the 2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) organized by Visual Communications. This time we talk with the Matthew Abaya, the director of the supernatural action thriller, Vampariah, his star Kelly Lou Dennis, and his editor Lawrence Iriarte. We talk about the multi-cultural inspirations behind the vampiric creatures of the film, Matthew’s journey from directing shorts to features, and advice for up and coming filmmakers.
ABOUT THE FILM:
MAHAL (KELLY LOU DENNIS), AN ELITE MONSTER HUNTER, patrols the sinister streets of San Francisco as members of the undead lurk in every dark corner of The City, preying on unsuspecting humans with their bloodlust. Bampinay (Aureen Almario), an aswang (a supernatural, vampire-like creature from Filipino folklore), embarks on a serial killing rampage on men who sexually objectify and use women.
We chat with director William Lu and the stars of his debut feature Chris Dinh and Julie Zhan at the 2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) organized by Visual Communications. Chris describes the “love triangle” that he had to navigate to get Will to do this film with him, Will’s background with VC’s “Armed With a Camera Program”, and the trials and tribulations of night shoots during pilot season.
ABOUT THE FILM:
Lonely, mild-mannered Cameron (Christopher Dinh) is content racing around the dark streets of Los Angeles as a late-night courier for his slick boss, Eddie (Billy Sly Williams). Then one fateful night, an important client, Martin (Kelvin Han Yee), asks Cameron to pick up something very special at the airport – his daughter Jasmine (Julie Zhan), who is flying in from overseas. Cameron accepts the job, but isn’t prepared for the sparks that fly between him and the fiery beauty. While Martin’s thriving hot sauce business keeps him occupied at the office, Cameron and Jasmine find comfort in each other’s company as they wander about the city enjoying some of Cameron’s favorite dining spots. He shares his love of cooking with her and his dream of someday leaving Eddie to start his own food truck. However, he soon discovers that Jasmine is harboring a secret that may destroy her father’s trust. Unfortunately, Cameron also holds a secret of his own that threatens to derail his budding romance with her before it ever fully blossoms.
In part 2 of our interview with Atlanta based singer-songwriter Jae Jin, we ask him about the real issues, like his new hairdo, his reflections on the creative life, and telling his parents about his career as a musician.
Producers: Minji Chang & Marvin Yueh
Director: John Enriquez
Assistant Directors: Eva Hsia & Brianna Kim
Camera Operator: Derek Miranda & Jimmy Hang
Editor: Brianna Kim
Our next interview from the 2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) organized by Visual Communications is a fun discussion with director Lena Khan, and actors Danny Pudi, Karen David, and Jon Heder of the Grand Jury Award Winning narrative film, The Tiger Hunter. The crew talks about what it took to get the film made, what drew each of them to the story, and give their advice for up and coming actors and directors. In addition to best narrative feature, the film also took home honors for “best ensemble cast” and “best director.”
ABOUT THE FILM:
THE TIGER HUNTER is the story of Sami Malik, a young South Asian who travels to 1970s America to become an engineer in order to impress his childhood crush and live up to the legacy of his father–a legendary tiger hunter back home. When Sami’s job unexpectedly falls through and he ends up living in a tiny co-op with two oddball roommates, he must resort to constructing an elaborate charade with the misfit accomplices in hopes of convincing his sweetheart that he’s far more successful than he truly is…or perhaps ever could be.
THE TIGER HUNTER is an offbeat comedy-drama about Sami and his band of polar opposite roommates. As Sami tries to pull off the farce of a lifetime, what ensues is a series of adventures involving outlandish schemes, an arch-nemesis in an absurd office environment, and a somewhat functional Dodge Charger with a character of its own. Together, although their plans may contradict each other with terrible consequences, Sami and his rag-tag group must work together while meeting the usual host of obstacles-—the “usual,” that is, if back-alley brawls, trips to prison, or catastrophic LSD-related misunderstandings are just your usual, everyday fare.
We interview the cast and crew of the new supernatural thriller feature film The Unbidden which premiered at the 2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) organized by Visual Communications. We chat with director Quentin Lee and cast members Amy Hill, Akemi Look, and Hayden Szeto about making the film, advice for rising filmmakers, and what’s next for The Unbidden.
ABOUT THE FILM:
LAUREN (TAMLYN TOMITA), A MYSTERY NOVELIST, LIVES ALONE IN A CREEPY OLD HOUSE on a quiet, unassuming suburban street. Lately, she experiences restless sleep due to a progression of unexplained nightmares involving a bloodied and tortured man (Jason Yee). Their severity pushes her into a near catatonic state. As a reprieve and possible cure, she enlists her lifelong besties Kat (Julia Nickson), Anna (Elizabeth Sung), and Rachel (Amy Hill) for a Halloween séance. As horror film buffs know full well, women in the genre often don’t fare well. They are either killer bait or the big bad behind the supernatural shenanigans. In indie cinema filmmaker and Festival veteran Quentin Lee’s THE UNBIDDEN, the machinations of women drive forward a narrative in which an either/or back story rarely defines any woman’s character.
We continue our interviews at the 2016 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) organized by Visual Communications with a chat with Janice D. Tanaka, documentary filmaker and the director for Rebel With a Cause: The Life of Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga. Janice talks about discovering the amazing and badass life of Aiko, who was her mother’s best friend, and the drive to document her role in the redress movement for the unlawful internment of Japanese Americans in WW2.
ABOUT THE FILM:
VISUAL COMMUNICATIONS ALUMNUS JANICE D. TANAKA has been active in the film and media industry for over 30 years. Aside from working as a producer and educator, Tanaka has also served as the Manager for Diversity Development at Fox, where she worked on initiatives to employ professionals of color. Her works WHEN YOU’RE SMILING: THE DEADLY LEGACY OF INTERNMENT (1999) and RIGHT OF PASSAGE (2014) have anchored key moments in Japanese American history. Tanaka’s latest documentary feature, REBEL WITH A CAUSE: THE LIFE OF AIKO HERZIG YOSHINAGA, is an endearing and essential portrait of a woman whose discovery of premeditated governmental misconduct during the WWII was crucial — not only to the landmark 1987 coram nobis cases of Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Koramatsu and Minoru Yasui, but also the National Council for Japanese Americans Redress (NCJAR) lawsuit of 1983.