Interview with Australian martial artist & actor Maria Tran

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Maria Tran is an Australian-Vietnamese. Her work includes short films such as “Enter The Dojo”, “Gaffa”, “Hit Girls” as well as Hollywood legend, Roger Corman’s upcoming mix martial arts movie playing killer assassin Zhen. Tran also starred as Yoshiko in the Chinese action film “Death Mist” in 2014 starring Bruce Leung (Kung Fu Hustle). In 2008 she acted in “Downtown Rumble” Kung Fu action micro-series on JTV-ABC TV and her short film “Gaffa”; another action comedy, won Hoyts People’s Choice Award for the Joy House Film Festival in 2013.

Maria Tran won a “Breakout Action Actress” award at the 2013 Action on Film International Festival for her portrayal of the character Charlie Vu in the female assassin comedy, “Hit Girls”. She also played supporting character “Mai Le” in Logie award-winning children’s ABC TV series “My Place”, stunt double for the character “Petal” in ABC’s TV series Maximum Choppage – Australia’s first Kung Fu comedy and acted in her first theatre production called “It’s War!” directed by Alex Lykos.

What made you want to do martial arts & acting as a career?

I recall growing up and being bullied quite often in school. I was called “Ching Chong” or “Gook” at times and the bullying became physical in an incident where I got slapped in the face, my hair pulled and I was shoved around a group of girls. The moment left me shocked, frustrated and confused why I was subjected to such treatment and it left me angry. My parents must of picked it up and suggested that I try martial arts to learn self defence to protect myself from those cases.

In 1998 I enrolled in Tae Kwon Do in a local school based in Cabramatta and become quite invested in it. Martial arts allowed me to let go of my external inhibitions, become stronger, with more focus and discipline. I performed my craft during school show and tells, spoke extensively about it, and I noticed that I carried myself differently; with a strong air of confidence and since that moment, no one ever confronted me again.

Acting came around in 2007 during a local project I produced called “Maximum Choppage”. It was an independent movie made by predominately Asian-Australians from Western Sydney. It was during this time that my acting bug was ignited and only several years later did I publicly embrace my passion in this, as prior I was unsure about my abilities and being Asian sometime means you have to make choices that also make your parents proud.

What were the challenges you found when you started?

I love martial arts but loathe begin boxed into this. After a string of martial arts short films and movies made in China and Vietnam, I was beginning to be labelled as the “kung fu girl” and nothing else. I was pigeon holed as a “stuntie” which I had no accreditation for, which in turned infuriated the stunt community as well. I wanted to be seen as an actor but didn’t have enough dramatic credits to show for as well as not formally trained. The challenges can be felt immensely when you are doing things the less conventional sense and going against the grain. I found that I had to gear myself psychological for the fight; the fight and rebuttal against all the subtle forms of racism that people often questioned if it was real or imagined.

Who were your role models growing and why?

My roles models stemmed from the martial arts action cinema of the 80s and 90s in Hong Kong. I grew up huddling around the TV during family gatherings to watch VHS tape of Jackie Chan’s latest flick or get excited seeing female fatale onscreen action queens such as Cynthia Khan, Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock. Film and television at that time was super white; a Country Practice, Neigbours and Home and Away with storytelling that just doesn’t gel with who I am. But Hong Kong cinema allowed me to think of the possibilities and the relief that Asian faces were heroes and heroines in their lives and adventure in other places in the world despite the dire lack in Australia.

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What has been your career highlight/ highlights?

My career highlight would have to be being invited to work with my long-term idol; Jackie Chan on the movie “Bleeding Steel” as it was shot in Sydney in mid 2016. Screen NSW gave me the call to take part as a stunt attachment and be around on set and learn the ropes. It was an insightful experience to see the difference between the Chinese way of filmmaking; which is fast pace and intuitive in comparison to the Australian way; which was much more structured and formal. Both had its pros and cons and seeing how cultural differences also affect how people relate to each other. Regardless, Jackie Chan is perhaps one of the most humbling person I’ve ever met. He takes on multi roles, works very hard, pushes himself and people and makes it a duty to look after everyone. It’s a reminder to me that if everyone took the time to implement what the value in human beings, the world would be a better place and things like “racism” just won’t exist.

What do you think about Colourblind casting in Australia? Are we getting better?

I think the Australian film industry have always been veered towards their Anglo-saxon audiences for decades, hence there’s always been an inequality between white and diverse actors. In addition, there are moments in the casting system that allows for ethnic roles to be taken away in favour for those who are privileged enough to enter prestige acting schools and can afford to focus on this craft for several years. From my experience, I’ve had several instances where I would see roles made for a particular culture casted to those from another ethnicity, quite possibly because “All Asians looks the same” mentality and if the majority of the Australian audiences can’t pick out the differences, then that’s fine. The truth stand that it is not, and I think there is a movement happening in Australia from the Asian demographics that with time, will lead to change.

What do you think about the diversity issue in Australian television / Film / Theatre?

It’s still an issue that affects all Asian actors as well as stories from this demographic. The issue is multifacet as well as still unexplored. I feel like sometimes when us Asians mention the word “diversity” we are perceived as attention seekers in the media eye. But this is what we want, and why is it such an issue when we raise our voices? Is it possibly because mainstream prefer to stereotype Asians as submissive, nerdy, quiet types? If this is so, I think we still need to continue the movement for change, inspire and activate more people in understanding the issues and find our own ways of representation.

Where do you see yourself in five years time? (What more do you want to achieve in your career?)

In the next 5 years I see myself internationally in China and Vietnam in both acting and filmmaking roles in their movie system. In 2015 I worked on Vietnamese blockbuster “Tracer” and this movie got released all over Vietnam as well as across Australian cinemas and it just shows that maybe to bring more diversity on Australian screens is to think laterally and work internationally. I still see Sydney, Australia as an anchor for my career and possibly delving in more TV series and movies roles as well. Of course there’s also the big smoke of Hollywood that I will venture off to; with broad imaginations that one-day I can also play a super hero of some sort.

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Interview with Jeremy Fernandez about Diversity in Australian Media

Jeremy Fernandez grew up in Malaysia before his family migrated to Australia when he was 13. He is an Australian journalist and a television news presenter with ABC News 24. Fernandez joined theAustralian Broadcasting Corporation in 2000 working as a producer for ABC Local Radio. He has worked as a voice-over artist for Seven Network and has worked with CNN International in London, UK as a writer and a producer before joining ABC again in 2010. I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeremy on behalf of The Equity Diversity Committee about Diversity in Australian Media.

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Who were your role models on TV / film when growing up here in Australia? 

Some of my earliest role models were actually teachers. I often wished to be as knowledgeable, articulate, patient, and generous as many of them were. Some of these early role models had grown-up poor, or disabled. Many were women. Some were gay, young, elderly, religious, atheist. And they had different skin colours. The diversity didn’t strike me as remarkable. It was only in my mid-teens that I noticed my reality was barely reflected on screen.

What gives you joy and satisfaction in your job each day?

I’m surrounded at the ABC, by some of the cleverest, most hardworking people in the industry. So I’m regularly star-struck.

I love the varied nature of my work: One day I’m writing & researching; And the next, I’m on air with rolling news for 3 hours.

I get the biggest buzz out of breaking news, particularly on location as a presenter and reporter. Interacting with viewers in real life, or on social media, is great. For all that’s changing in this industry nothing beats face-to-face time.

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Did you experience any barriers trying to break into Australian journalism & broadcasting?

I consider myself very lucky to do the work I do. Of course, there were those who told me not to go barking up the wrong career tree. Most of them weren’t being mean-spirited. They wanted me to know that this was not an industry known for its diversity. I came into it with both eyes open, and tried my luck anyway. I will however, admit to being dogged about proving wrong, the guy who told me, “Don’t worry. There’s always SBS”. I love SBS, of course. But it shouldn’t be the only source of media employment for the large fraction of Australians who were born overseas.

Do you think there’s enough diverse representation in Australian media / TV / film? (If not, what changes would you like to see?)

I’ve had a great run with the ABC. But even ol’ Aunty will admit there’s work to do, as there is in much of corporate Australia. I think we need more indigenous voices & faces in the mainstream media. I’d also like to see diversity understood more broadly. Intersectionality between race, gender, sexuality, disability, wealth, and age is more than we can necessarily see with the naked eye. But it harbours a tremendous amount of valuable lived experience.

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What advice would you like to give to up and coming journalists and for those breaking into television?

Don’t do it if you’re just looking to get your mug on screen. It gets old very quickly. Learn to write well. Develop an eye for detail. Be OK with shift work. Be inquisitive- ask the ‘dumb questions’ everyone else is afraid to ask. Be respectful of your subjects & audience, even if you disagree with them. Dream big, but also be honest with yourself. Define success your own way. And don’t be afraid to change your mind.

Photos courtesy of Jeremy Fernandez (ABC TV)

Q & A with The Family Law’s Trystan Go

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Introducing The Family Law‘s Trystan Go, the actor whose credits also include The King And I and plays Benjamin Law in the small screen adaptation of the best-selling memoir about life on the Sunshine Coast in 1990s, Queensland.
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Joy: Congratulations on a wonderful performance and season of The Family Law on SBS. How did your acting career start?
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Trystan: It all started when I was in a play called ‘The Quiet Brother’ which I did in the quaint little country town of Harrietville. The play was a dark, period drama about the Chinese gold field riots so it was quite the opposite of this cringe-worthy comedy, ‘The Family Law’. I guess I caught the acting bug so I took various classes at NIDA and Brent St to broaden my knowledge on performing. Since then, I’ve done several other plays and was recently cast as The King of Siam’s eldest son, Prince Chulalongkorn in Opera Australia’s ‘The King and I’. Performing classics like ‘Getting To Know You’ with Lisa McCune and Teddy Tahu Rhodes at The Sydney Opera House every night was one of the most sumptuous experiences of my life! ‘The Family Law’ was my first breakthrough role on screen and I’m so glad that I’ve had the opportunity to work in Theatre, Musical Theatre and Television!
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Joy: Who were your role models in film and television growing up in Australia?

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Trystan: In primary school, I watched Play School. Even my Grandma would marvel at the fact that there was someone with Asian heritage on television. This is why I’m loving that channels like SBS and ABC are introducing and promoting multiculturalism in the media. I also admire Jay Laga’aia from Wicked The Musical for his versatility in performance as he has done films, television, theatre and music.
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Joy: What would your dream acting role be?
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Trystan: I think any role that is wacky and unique is the role I’d enjoy playing, which is partly the reason why I loved playing Benjamin Law so much. I mean, how often do you get to dress up in a watermelon costume, with a stark red face and dance around in front of hundreds while playing the clarinet?! Then again, I’d also love to play a really dark, serious and scary character…maybe a Chinese ​Phantom from ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ as there has already been ​an African-American one.​ Or I could move up the hierarchy and play The King of Siam in ‘The King and I’. So I guess you could say that I would be happy with any challenging role that is thrown my way.
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Joy: Do you think there’s enough diversity in Australian Film and TV?
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Trystan: Growing up in the 21st Century, I haven’t seen too much diversity on our Australian Screens. Of course there would be the odd Asian typecast here and there but apart from that, I think our screens are lacking a bit of ‘colour’.
Australia is an incredibly multicultural society, however I don’t think that this is reflected enough in Australian productions. It would be wonderful to see an ethnic lead in an Australian feature film or sitcom​.​ This is why I am so pleased that Matchbox Pictures has produced ‘The Family Law’ and that I’ve been a part of this ground-breaking production.  It’s a sitcom about an Australian family which just so happens to be Asian.
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Joy: Where would you like to see yourself in 20 years time and why?
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Trystan: I definitely would want to be in more productions, however I’d also really love to run a major hotel chain​ as I’d practically bathe in warm dessert buffets and international canapés. I might even make use of the 50metre heated pool​ before hand!

 

Q and A with Fiona Choi from The Family Law

The Family Law  is a six-part television adaptation of Benjamin Law’s 2010 collection of personal essays on SBS. (Thursdays 8.30pm) The show focuses on his parents’ marriage breakdown and how the young Benjamin Law copes through humour. It stars Fiona Choi who plays his mother, Jenny Law. I had the pleasure of interviewing Fiona for Equity magazine 2016.

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Qu.1. When you were growing up in Australia, who were your role models in film and television?
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Fiona Choi:
Growing up in Melbourne during the 80’s & 90’s, role models were scarce. There was the occasional Asian actress who made it in American shows/movies, like Joan Chen in The Last Emperor & Twin Peaks, and later Lucy Liu in Ally McBeal and Ming-Na in ER; otherwise it was the Chinese actresses starring in the Hong Kong soaps my parents rented from the video store.  There was certainly no one on Australian TV that looked & sounded like me, so the whole idea of even considering a career in entertainment seemed so unattainable.  When I first started out, seeing an Asian on TV was such a novelty –  the big joke among my friends was that people would often come up to congratulate me for my work in All Saints or Miss Saigon or Blue Heelers, when it hadn’t been me at all, but another Asian actress.
Qu.2. What made you want to be an actor?
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Fiona Choi:
I grew up watching glamorous movie musicals and that’s what I wanted to do – dress-up, sing, dance, make people laugh and cry.  Then I discovered I loved to connect with people, to tell stories that make us realize we are all driven by the same needs, fears and desires.
Qu.3. How did you get started in your career?
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Fiona Choi:
I started my career in theatre.  My first big show after graduating from WAAPA was the musical RENT starring Christine Anu & Rodger Corser.  The show is set in New York City, and the original Broadway company was 50 percent African American, so ironically when it came to filling those roles in Australia/NZ they had to turn to Asians & Indigenous performers to create their ‘rainbow’ cast.  I have also worked for Black Swan Theatre Company in Perth, Melbourne Theatre Company and was in the original Australian production of Mamma Mia!  All these shows were specifically looking for multicultural casts, so I guess being an Asian actor has helped me as much as it has at times been a hindrance.
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Qu.4. Do you think diversity is becoming more apparent in the film and TV industry here in Australia?
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Fiona Choi:
Things are definitely moving in the right direction.  Early in my career I felt like I was truly going to fall through the cracks.  At first, I only got auditions for the stereotypical Asian roles – immigrant factory worker, prostitute, nerdy student – and when I did get the part I would always cringe hearing myself speak these preposterous lines in the exaggerated accent.  That wasn’t my voice at all.   But I never got the opportunity to audition for those roles I thought I was the right type for – the industry just couldn’t picture their main protagonists looking ethnic.  I was lucky to break out from those constraints occasionally – my breakthrough television role was a 6-week stint on Neighbours playing a character named Laura Wallace.  She wasn’t written as Asian at all, just an Aussie girl dating one of the main cast, and I was stoked that they didn’t feel the need to change her last name to ‘Wong’ or ‘Chan’ when they cast me.
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Today the big difference is the increasing predominance of creatives (writers, directors, producers) that are ethnic or understand & respect the multicultural voice.  That want to tell that story. People like Benjamin Law, Lawrence Leung  & Tony Ayres. Their voice is authentic, so not only are more shows being produced that speak about the multicultural experience, but the characters are well-written.  Even though Jenny Law speaks with a heavy Chinese-Malay accent, she is actually the most fully realised, three-dimensional character I’ve ever had the privilege to play.   I am truly looking forward to the next step though, to see Aussie actors of all colors play the main cast Detective or Wife or Love Interest without the need to even mention that they might come from a multicultural background.
Q.5. What do you do when you’re not acting?
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Fiona Choi:
When I’m not acting (or trying to find my next acting gig) I’m raising 2 sons so that keeps me pretty busy.  I am also a freelance casting director and director.   I do the occasional singing gig, and look forward to recording and touring with my music one day.
Q.6. What advice would you give to up and coming actors?
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Fiona Choi:
I would encourage up & coming actors to just be themselves, to find what is unique about you and be true to that in your marketing and auditioning.  Particularly for those from different multicultural backgrounds. I believe it’s our time on Australian TV & film – audiences are looking for unusual and authentic, so don’t try and mold yourself into an existing ‘type’ – create your own type.
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Qu.7. What would you like viewers to take away after watching The Family Law?
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Fiona Choi:
I hope that viewers from all backgrounds and cultures will laugh, cry and recognize their own crazy & love-able family in the characters of The Family Law.  Yes, the story is told through the adventures of a Chinese immigrant family, but at the end of the day their struggles and triumphs are universal and I hope this show points out just how ‘the same’ we all are.

 

How to do Crowdfunding successfully

Today’s Vivid Ideas event, held at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Sydney) was about crowdfunding –How We’re funding Creative Work Now.

Sponsored by The Walkleys and Actors Equity / M.E.A.A.

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This was a great session for anyone trying to successfully build a crowdfunding campaign. There were four fantastic speakers who’ve built successful campaigns.

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DAN ILLIC (A RATIONAL FEAR) Dan spoke of the importance of having a successful pitch to start off with. His goal was to make satirical comedy online and he needed 50k to do this. Dan firstly made a pitch video which he stresses has to be of decent quality. As your pitch video reflects the quality of your campaign and your end product. Dan also had unusual, eye-catching rewards : $200+   ( You’ll be a V.I.P. and gain access to every live show) $500+  (You’ll be a V.V.I.P. and have access to every show and a drink with a      member of his team) $1000+ (You’ll receive a t-shirt with the words “I paid $1000 for this” printed on it) $2000+ (We’ll do a show just for you!) $5000+ (You’ll get to have coffee with him on his dinghy boat) Getting key, influential people on board helped Dan’s campaign as he got Ed Coper (from GetUp) who helped him spread the word and he instantly got 12K overnight thanks to Ed. TOM DAWKINS (StartSomeGood) Tom’s StartSomeGood takes on any project that likes to make some good for the world. He said that crowdfunding isn’t new, in fact, crowdfunding helped build the Statue of Liberty in New York. Even though crowdfunding is easy money, you have to plan your campaign and most successful campaigns take approximately 90 days. (30 days in planning – leading up to your campaign, 30 days for campaigning and 30 days fulfilment followup). He stresses that your crowdfunding starts with your immediate community – friends, family, relatives, peers, (i.e. the yellow part of the circle) and it builds outwards, tribes – associates, work colleagues (i.e. the red part of the circle) then to crowds – social media connections, crowds etc (i.e. blue part of the circle).

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An important part of your campaign is your story. Ask yourself, who are you selling your story to? Know your audience. He gave us some interesting facts. SUCCESS RATES OF OTHER CROWDFUNDING PLATFORMS Kickstarter has approximately 44% success rate Pozible has approximately 50% success rate IndieGoGo has approximately 9% success rate He stresses that crowdfunding isn’t about “crowds” and when you list your campaign on one of these crowdfunding platforms, you can’t expect them to be like the whitepages where you list your event and expect the site to do the work for you and your audience will magically appear. No, you must use it only as a tool. Use your event as a reward for reaching your goal. You will fail if you don’t have a good pitch or you don’t have a community to pitch to or you don’t have any great offers. You will know if you have a good campaign if people share it with others. For example they will share it on social media – like Facebook or Twitter etc. If people don’t share your campaign, then this is a good indication that your campaign or pitch is of poor quality because people aren’t spreading the word. Motivations why we part with money: * to get more money * purchasing / shopping for an item * positive social outcome * express relationship – we want to support a friend / community. Your campaign must successfully connect with people.

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NATHAN EARL (PLONK) Nathan successfully aligns crowdfunding with brands. He successfully teamed up his web series The Plonk with Tourism (e.g. Tourism N.S.W.)  He made 22 episodes in 28 days. Each episode is 3-7 minutes. He spent 9-10 months speaking with marketing teams and companies. He was the one in power, making sure corporate companies were of a good fit to his show. He didn’t give out the desperate vibe of “please back my show.” Nathan was in control and he stressed the importance of brand integration and distribution of his web series. Once distribution is in place the first time, it will then be easier to make a second series. DINO DIMITRIADIS (APOCALYPSE THEATRE COMPANY) What is important for Dino is to build an arts community around theatre and to make sure artists (actors) are paid. His story pitch is – Artists need to be paid, artists should not work for free. Dino said the conversation needs to be bigger than the pitch. (I totally agree with Dino and his pitch for this was powerful, ETHICAL and convincing, as I always like to pay / reward / feed my actors). He says so often actors end up doing Co-op / profit-share which often works out to be nothing, some artists are lucky that their transport costs are covered. Artists need to be paid. Dino’s first campaign was 5K for 15 days. He exceeded his target because his conversation was about paying ethically. He blogged about this regularly to his audience and shared his story on Facebook. He said once his vision was endorsed by key people at M.E.A.A. (The Media, Entertainment, Arts, Alliance) the message then spread like wildfire. He made sure his story was also featured in magazines, pin up boards, posters etc. This session was highly informative and useful. Like always I like sharing things I’ve learned. I hope you’ll find the above information useful to build your next crowdfunding campaign. Spread the joy!