Diversity Spotlight with creative & actor Kathy Luu

Kathy-and-Pink-Poodle

Kathy Luu is an actor, director, photographer, writer and designer. Born in Sydney to Vietnamese refugee parents, she studied law and film at UNSW, before becoming an actor. Creating innovative short content videos and visuals for social media is part of Kathy’s creative practice. She is inspired by work that is bold, funny, unique, playful and crazily creative. Her film The Real Zombie Housewives has won international awards for its originality and comedy.

She can be last seen acting in the NBC comedy The Good Place, and domestically recently wrapped on the first Asian- Australian lead rom-com, Rhapsody of Love as the lead and associate producer.

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1) Who were your role models on T.V. & film when you were growing up? 

I grew up on a lot of Hong Kong TV and cinema (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon style). These TV shows were epic adventures – adventures that were absolutely romantic in the sense of characters going on journeys bigger than themselves. It was like Asian Star Wars for character journeys. Despite going through so much pain, heartbreak and mishaps, these characters still had so much dignity, honour and love – and even the antagonists you felt for. It was pretty much like watching philosophy, ethics and human behaviour classes disguised as films!

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2) Who inspires you and why?

My late mother inspires me. She escaped Vietnam with my dad and came to this country at 21 without knowing the language or money or any family, and did everything to create a life and a living. She had such a strong spirit and a love of life, and was the kindest, sweetest and most loving person I knew. There’s a story of her making her very first paycheck in Australia for one months work – she got paid in cash and was so happy that she somehow left her wallet with all the money on the bus on the way home! She was crying at the bus stop and a kind woman saw her and called the bus company. The wallet was found and they went together in a taxi to collect it, and all the money was still there! She was extraordinary in heart and courage. I try to live more of these traits of hers every day.

Kathy Luu

3) Do you think there’s enough diversity reflected in Australian film and T.V.? (If no, why not, what do you think we should do to make change / if so why do you think that?) 

I feel we all know the answer to this! As mentioned below, if my co-star and I are the only Asian-Australians to be kissing on screen in the history of film here, there is something very wrong. We have an industry stuck in it’s old ways, an industry that has failed to keep up with the changing society around it, and thus failed the community it’s meant to serve. But things are changing rapidly, people are now being woken up to the truth of these old systems, the inherent biases, and no one is putting up with it. I have to give my utmost respect to my BIPOC industry friends who have stepped up fiercely to bring this awareness about. Awareness is like turning on the light in a dark room, and if the dark room is a metaphor for the industry – what will key decision makers in that dark room do now that they can see? 

I also feel filmmakers should start listening to their true hearts more. Not echoes of the heart of a white dominated film industry. But listen to your deeper heart that is of your experience, DNA, culture, something uniquely yours… each heart is different, the idiosyncrasies of who you are and your dreams will guide you to create work that is made of your diverse combination of being – you will not follow the old system. This will bring diversity not only in nationalities on screen, but also in ideas, stories, ways of telling the stories – there’ll be new stories and they will be diverse in every way. But we all have to be brave enough. So how to make change? Be brave and listen to your true heart more. And follow it through!

Something interesting to consider: Buckminster Fuller said “You never change things by fighting against the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.”… so maybe it’s also time for us to build a new industry model.

And lastly (I have been contemplating this question a lot!), I feel we have to come together and celebrate our achievements more, celebrate each other more. There are a lot of BIPOC performers, as well as story makers now with more coming into the industry, and what we can do is love and celebrate each other’s achievements more. Love each other, care for each other, look out for each other and show the world what we are capable of, set a better example other than what we’ve been up against, because we know better. We (diversity) are where it’s at now. We’re the future of this industry.

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4) What was your last acting gig and why did you want to do it? 

My last gig was on romantic comedy feature Rhapsody of Love earlier this year. I’ve known Joy Hopwood the director for quite a few years, and have admired her determination and desire to write uplifting funny stories. So when the opportunity came up to work on a project that cast diversely, that wanted to break Asian stereotypes while telling a love story (I’m a romantic at heart), it was a no brainer. I honestly don’t think I’ve seen two Australian-accent speaking Asian-Australians fall in love or kiss on our screens, but yes unlike what we don’t see on TV, it is a fact that we do fall in love and make out in Australia 🙂

Damien Sato, Benjamin Hanly, Kathy Luu

5) What have you been doing during Covid19 to keep yourself creative? 

I have been doing a lot of cleaning actually, which I have found very creative and cathartic. I feel as humans we all have so many gifts inside us that we don’t get a chance to open, so Covid was a good time to unwrap these. It’s been a great chance to update my dreams too – dream new dreams! Saying that, I did manage to create a 5-part short content series called “Love In The Time of Covid-19 Love Song Dedications” as a segue for a friend’s streaming channel. It was an ironic silly fun show as we didn’t even play music, we just showed the titles of the dedications! The idea was actually better than the results, but I nonetheless was still pleased to come up and create something so ridiculous and apt for our times.

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6) What are your favourite films and why? 

I love thoughtful science fiction movies – a good one makes you think and feel something more on a whole different level. I’m a big fan of foreign cinema too – the story and filmmaking is different to mainstream US cinema and usually more intimate – it’s a luxury to pay $17 and get to glimpse and experience a totally different world and culture and feelings for two hours, very interesting to me! And lastly, romantic comedies –  nice light-hearted spritz for the soul!

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7) What advice do you have for anyone wanting to break into the entertainment industry? 

Do it for the right reasons. Do it for a personal reason. Be full of passion, joy and really really love and enjoy what you do – that is the fuel you need to get break into anything. I have actor friends who break into it early, and other who don’t. You might think it is sad if you don’t break into it straight away – but life is all experience. So trust your journey.

Secondly, a more practical advice – consider the idea of making a meaningful feature film, or create your own work or media. Don’t break into the industry. BE the industry. This will literally make our industry more diverse immediately too. If you get picked up by a big agent and land a netflix series overseas, then great. But if you’re here, don’t wait around. Go learn how to make films, find out what you love, check out other parts of the industry that interest you, check out other parts of life that interest you, go to do other fun things, go enjoy your life and being you – this will all add up to your acting and more.

And thirdly, be an artist. An artist in the sense of connecting to yourself and bringing something forth that is yours. To be attracted to this industry already means that you are full of ideas, dreams, stories and creation of new worlds. We are much more than we realise. So connect to your artist inside and bring forth something new for our industry and this world. Humanity needs nourishing food. We need you!

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8) Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time and why?

Being a thought-feel-creative-compassionate non-leader leader and visionary in my art, practise and work. Continued great collaborations with friends and peers. And beautiful happenings and experiences that I can’t even imagine yet.

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9) What is your motto that you live by?  

Choose life. Be easy, be playful. Reality is only temporary. And always say yes to dessert.

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Diversity Spotlight: Q and A with Tsu Shan Chambers

Tsu Shan

Tsu Shan Chambers is from a Malaysian-Chinese heritage, who originally trained at NIDA and has certifications in Stage Combat, Theatrical Firearms and Yoga Teaching.  An AFTRS alumni in producing, Tsu Shan was selected as one of Screen Producers Australia’s prestigious “Ones to Watch” in 2018.  She produced feature film ‘Unsound’ that premiered at the AACTA qualifying Mardi Gras Film Festival and recently won ‘Best Australian Feature Film’ at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival.  The online action drama that she wrote and produced, ‘The Wild Orchards’, won 2 out of 7 nominations at the 2018 LA Webfest, including nominations for most Outstanding Drama, and her as most Outstanding Actress.   Tsu Shan also won ‘Best Ensemble of Cast’ at the 2016 World Film Awards for her short film ‘Tragic Enough’ where she played the lead role.

  • Who were your role models on T.V. & film when you were growing up? 

I love musicals so was always a big fan of Julie Andrews.  Sounds corny but I watched ‘The Sound of Music’ countless times growing up.  I also really enjoy reading English classics so love watching their film adaptations, especially anything with Emma Thompson and Colin Firth (I’m a big Mr Darcy fan).  I don’t remember seeing any Asian Australians on mainstream TV or film growing up but got to watch a lot of foreign films with my parents.  I’m a fan of Jackie Chan (his work ethic is inspiring and he’s actually a good singer!), Gong Li and my most favorite to this day is Michelle Yeoh.  So very talented with a diverse career crossing over both Asia and the West.

  • Why did you want to get into the entertainment industry?

I didn’t know much about the industry growing up in Darwin.  But I loved reading and watched a lot of TV.  Drama classes, singing in choirs or playing the flute in orchestras was also where I simply felt the most joy.  I was also passionate about public health and spent a lot of time volunteering in hospitals and the like when I was a teenager.  By the end of high school, I actually got into full-time musical theatre and Medicine.  But, yes…the typical Asian parental thing happened.  I chose the ‘approved’ way but picked Optometry instead. Eyes are much better to look at all day.

I spent a lot of time working in third world countries which is where my interest in women’s health and minority groups developed.  Regardless, I always had a pull towards the creative arts but it wasn’t until I had 3 children and they got a bit older that I decided to give my creative aspirations a go.  Whilst it hasn’t been an easy transition or juggle with “life”, I found I can still make a social impact through the arts.  It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

  • Who inspires you and why?

Aung San Suu Kyi  – the female Burmese politician and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate (Michelle Yeoh did a wonderful performance in her biopic ‘The Lady’).  Suu Kyi gave up her freedom to bring democracy to then military-ruled Burma. She became an international symbol of peaceful resistance in the face of oppression (I think this is partly why I like Star Wars so much).

My other heroine is Joan of Arc.  She was a peasant girl who ended up leading the French army to victory against the English during the Hundred Years’ War.  Incredible.  It was one of the main reasons I travelled to France during university. (Milla Jovovich did a great job in the movie ‘The Messenger’ which was about her).

  • Do you think there’s enough diversity reflected in Australian film and T.V.? 

Frankly, no.  But it’s getting better.  I still feel it can be tokenistic.  i.e. The token black man or Asian appears. Or scenes in commercial television are not realistic to what it’s like in multicultural Australia.  But at least there is a conscious effort.  I get excited when I see genuine ‘blind casting’.

To change it?  It is multi-factorial but key creatives can start by making content that leads the way in that area. All the projects that I write or produce have diverse casts as the leads.  And I’m not just talking about ethnic diversity.  I also mean diversity in ability, sexuality and gender.  From a public health perspective, this is something I’ve been involved in well before I started working in the entertainment industry.

It may not be initially deemed as ‘commercial’ to create such projects in a conservative marketplace and it is much harder work to get up.  But it has been proven that such diverse projects can be an economic success if the right support is given.  It all starts with ourselves and removing the politics.

  • What have you been doing during Covid19 to keep yourself creative?

Prior to Covid-19, I worked very long hours around the family.  So, to actually have a ‘forced’ break was a mixed blessing.  My hours ended up dropping down to a more sustainable normality.  Rather than juggling Optometry/producing/writing/acting, I swapped out Optometry for home-schooling 3 kids.  ‘Getting creative’ took on a whole new meaning.

Even so, I still made time to do a polish of my 1hr TV pilot (loosely based on my experiences volunteering with the blind judo athletes during the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games).  I continued further development work on my producing slate.  There were opportunities to do a lot of self-tests, be part of an online theatre reading, watch industry seminars/masterclasses on Zoom and I finally got through a number of industry podcasts on my ‘to-do’ list.

I also started mentoring an emerging filmmaker through the WIFT MentorHer program as well as being matched with another amazing producer mentor in Melbourne.   It’s such a wonderful initiative.

Chambers Family

  • What made you want to be a filmmaker?

I was cast in a short film 6 years ago that was based on the domestic violence that can occur between Asian mail-order brides and Western men.  Not having produced a film before, I agreed to take on that role, simply because it was an important story to tell and it was aligned to my public health aspirations.  I really enjoyed the process and was surprised to find it similar to running a business which I had a lot of experience in.  It was an astounding light bulb moment of “Why had I not done this before?”

  • What are your favourite films and why?

The Sound of Music– I love musicals, the humor and range of emotions the story takes you to – it’s timeless.  It’s about not giving up.  It’s about following your heart – “Climb Every Mountain”.

Love Story– I discovered during my Producing studies at AFTRS that my thematic is love.  Shouldn’t have been a surprise but there it was. I remember watching this movie over and over again when I was young.  “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”.  The theme song is divine.  Choose love, not fear.

  • What inspired you want to make Unsound?

When I was in my early teens, a young deaf boy who was very close to my family committed suicide.  I became even more determined to make a positive difference to the lives of minority groups.  UNSOUND was the first long-form project that I started to develop together with writer, Ally Burnham.

It is a coming of age romance drama with themes around deaf culture and gender identity. Auslan sign language is a feature of the film which is also unique to audiences and visually captivating to watch.  Our team believes that “love is love”, regardless of your sexual identity, ethnicity or abilities.   After premiering at the Mardi Gras Film Festival this year, the film recently won Pride Foundation Australia’s ‘Best Australian Feature’ at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival.

Both lead actors are from the LGBTI+ community, one being a deaf actress, Yiana Pandelis. Our other co-lead actor, Reece Noi, is also half African Caribbean. Our key supporting actors are also from a diverse background. Christine Anu is Indigenous, Todd McKenney is LGBTI+ and an Auslan ambassador and Paula Duncan dedicates her life to helping those with disabilities.  We also employed deaf actors to play the deaf characters and behind the camera, we had Transgender and Auslan consultants, many crew with disabilities or whom identify with the LGBTI+ community and a close to 50/50 split between females and males in the crew and cast.

We want to use screenings to establish, drive and build a social movement with the film at its core and be a tool for corporates and organisations looking to raise awareness and discussion around issues of disability or sexuality.  Check out the trailer and look out for it  in cinemas later in the year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c85aXHth_uQ

  • What’s the biggest lesson you learned from making that film?

Trust your gut with making sure you are working with the right people and say no a lot earlier.

  • Where do you see yourself in 10 years time and why? 

Working with the United Nations and as an actor, writer and producer on aligned projects around the world.

11) What is your motto that you live by?

Make a positive difference, one life at a time.

Director Producer with key cast UNSOUND

“UNSOUND World Premiere at the Mardi Gras Film Festival”.

 

The Script of Life (feature film) interview with leading actress Erica Long

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ABOUT LEADING ACTRESS – ERICA LONG (who plays Lana Ong)

Erica Long is a Chinese/Taiwanese Australian actor who graduated from UNSW with a law degree before deciding to dive into the industry. She has been in such films as Pearl Tan’s “The Casting Game” and Joy Hopwood’s “The Script of Life”. She has also appeared in Tsu Shan Chambers’ digital series, “The Wild Orchards”, which generated 9 award nominations at LA Web Fest 2018 and is also one of the Executive Producers of Serhat Caradee’s latest feature film, “A Lion Returns”.

 

Q.1. What made you want to break into acting as a career?

I was terrified of drama in high school and always got a nose bleed whenever I had to perform. I was so filled with dread that one time, I hid in the toilet until my drama teacher came to find me. These memories from high school were like stains that refused to go away. Once I finished my law degree, I decided to challenge myself by taking a short screen acting course at NIDA. And gosh was I surprised – it was extraordinarily fun, I got along really well with everyone in my class, and I felt like I could give a voice to multiple people and live multiple lives in one lifetime. That was when I caught the bug!

Erica Long by Kathy Luu

 

Q.2. Who were your role models when growing up and why? 

I love Ang Lee – his films, his story and his perspective of the world. As a Taiwanese artist who studied in and later struggled for years in America, each piece of his work is incredibly different yet at the same time, they all explore the idea of repression and being an outsider (outsider in society, outsider to oneself, outsider to one’s family and culture etc). I find his work fascinating, universal and reflective. I also find his persistence inspiring – to me, he is the embodiment that our journey as creatives is a marathon, not a run.

Q.3. What was your last big acting job? (The Script of Life)

I was cast as one of the leads in Joy Hopwood’s feature film, The Script of Life. I’d worked with Joy previously and she asked me to go in for a read with the lead, Callum Alexander. At the time, I thought she just wanted to watch Cal’s performance live (he had auditioned via self tape) and wanted a reader in the room so she could focus on his performance. As it turned out, the read was part of my audition for the role of Lana Ong. It’s funny how the universe works sometimes – unbeknownst to Joy at the time, Cal and I are good friends and I was Cal’s reader when he put together his self tape! After that afternoon, we had a few more script reads together and Joy decided she would keep me on. I was over the moon when I heard this.

In terms of being on set, I loved working with the whole cast and crew. Everyone was always relaxed, playful, professional and happy – we had blunders here and there but we always managed to straighten our faces, stop laughing and keep going. The film is set in Spring but we shot most of the film during winter and I distinctly remember all of us trying to keep each other warm by finding random blankets / jumpers (seemingly out of nowhere) and passing it to each other! It was like we were one giant happy family.

Q.4. What changes have you seen in the last few years in regards to diversity?

The past few years has seen an abundance of conversations regarding diversity in the industry. In addition, the successes of movies like Crazy Rich Asians, Black Panther and Always Be My Maybe has demonstrated that there is a huge audience for a diverse cast. I think major studios, networks and streaming services are finding themselves increasingly incentivised by the audience from the bottom-up and senior management from the top-down to write and produce projects that more accurately represent society, whether that be in terms of gender, race, disability, sexual orientation etc.

We are also starting to see a similar movement in the Australian industry. Shows such as Hungry Ghosts, Chosen, Pulse and Cleverman (just to name a few) and plays such as The Big Time, Chimerica and Australian Graffiti indicate that there are now more diverse people who occupy roles both behind and in front of the camera and stage and that the industry is now trying to reach a position where representation is no longer talked about because representation is the norm.

 

Erica Long in demin Jacket - The script of Life

Q.5. How can we maintain diversity in the entertainment industry?

I think it is important for people to continue to challenge the traditional image of who should be cast in a particular role and ask “what if” a person of colour or a person of a different gender or sexual orientation played that role instead? By doing this, I think we will be able to distribute more opportunities across the field and ensure that creatives across all fields are able to develop. By ensuring that the talent pool is able to upskill and be recognised by the industry, we will be able to prevent talent from dropping out of the game prematurely. Ultimately, if we remain open to new voices and trying new things, beautiful stories and voices which have hitherto been unheard or unseen will start to emerge.

Q.6. What quote do you live by and why?

At the moment, I’m living by Will Smith’s quote “Don’t chase people. Do your own thing, be yourself and work hard. The right people – the ones that really belong in your life – will come to you. And stay.

Q.7. What do you find doing in your spare time other than acting to maintain wellness?

I love to spend time with my cats (Creme Brûlée and Souffle). I also love to travel and often find myself daydreaming and researching about my next destination. Lastly, I go to boxing sessions with my friends – nothing too serious, more boxercise than anything but it’s great fun! I have a love / hate relationship with this last one but I find that it helps me deal with any stress or pent up frustration / anger I may have at the time.

Q.8. Who is your favourite actor/ actress and why? 

Peter Dinklage, hands down. He’s just such an inspiration – he’s an animal rights’ advocate, he’s extremely talented and charismatic and he’s someone who has made it in the entertainment industry without ever compromising his own code. I was listening to a speech that he gave and he said “Don’t search for defining moments, because they will never come. The moments that define you have already happened, and they will already happen again. Don’t wait until they tell you you are ready. Get in there. I waited a long time out in the world before I gave myself permission to fail. What did Beckett say? “Ever tried, ever failed, no matter, try again, fail again, fail better.” The world is yours. Treat everyone kindly, and light up the night.” I love this.

Q.9. Where do you see yourself in 10 years time? 

Gosh, that’s a long way away! I would love to be a series regular on a science fiction / speculative fiction or courtroom drama show (along the likes of Rake, The Good Wife and The Handmaid’s Tale). I’d also love to be spending time with my future family and my fur babies (my two cats).

Q.10. What advice do you have for the next generation?

As actors, we often don’t even hear the word “no”. Instead, we battle through a lot of silences. There are a lot of days when I feel inadequate and I’ve recently realised that the only way I’ve managed to drag myself out of these days is to live life. Life is happening all around us – make friends, spend time with family, travel and delve into a hobby that’s not acting. Love yourself, love others and love life.

 

The Script Of Life has won best Romance Comedy at Amsterdam International Film Festival, Finalist – Best Cinematography Awards, World Film Fair Finalist 2020 and is set for release 14th February 2020 through Leomark Studios L.A. (distribution)

 

 

Me and My Left Brain Film Review

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What happens when you’re in love with someone and you don’t know how they feel about you, plus you have an audition in the morning and can’t sleep? This is exactly what happens to Arthur (Alex Lykos) in “Me and My Left Brain.”

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“Me and My Left Brain,” is Alex’s second feature film making his debut as a director. Malcolm Kennard plays Left Brain who Arthur airs out his insecurities to and Rachel Beck plays his best friend, Vivien. The three main characters play off each other well. Left Brain is intense with nice glimpses of bro-ish camaraderie between him and Arthur, which is appealing to watch. Alex plays Arthur who is down to earth and relatable; anyone who’s experienced insomnia and anxiety will see themselves in this character, like I have. There are wonderful similarities to Woody Allen in performance and style with Alex’s own intertwined into this feature, which is captivating and delightful to watch. Rachel Beck’s directed performance is outstanding. Many female audience members remarked afterwards how natural and effortless her performance was and how they loved her likeable yet fun loving character. There are many hilarious moments for audiences to enjoy!

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The screenplay is an original work written by Alex whose other credits include Alex and Eve (feature) and stage shows Better ManThe Negotiating Table, It’s War and the original musical Australia’s Game. Me & My Left Brain is an adaptation of the successful stage play A Long Night that celebrated two sold out seasons in Sydney and won several awards at the 2013 Sydney Comedy Festival.

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Alex has another feature and series in the works and is a writer / director/ producer of this generation and one to watch. Everyone should support such great talent, who is generous & gives a lot to the industry like he has.

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Me and My Left Brain is currently showing at Rtiz Randwick and selected Event cinemas.

7.5/10

The making of Me and My Left Brain

 

Me and my Left Brain with Alex Lykos

 

 

 

Diversity Spotlight: Interview with Sam Wang, starring in Skyduck (Belvoir St Theatre)

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Sam Wang studied film and law at UTS before training as an actor at Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School. His previous credits include The Chairs, The Mooncake & The Kumara and Hope & Wire. In 2019, he will be appearing in Runaway Millionaires, The Script of Life and Skyduck: A Chinese Spy Comedy as part of Belvoir’s 25A program.

  1. What made you want to be an actor?

S.W: By accident! When applying for uni, I picked a film and law degree as a joke for my third choice – thinking it’ll never come to that – and then ended up in it. Had no idea how to find actors for our first-year film projects so just acted in them and was hooked.

I then convinced my parents that taking acting classes would help my law career…it didn’t!

  1. Who were your role models growing up? 

S.W: Michael Jordan, Jackie Chan, Jim Carrey and Rowan Atkinson.

Also, can I say The Mighty Ducks and the Jamaican bobsled team in Cool Runnings? There was an Asian kid in The Mighty Ducks who was an ex-figure skater turned ice hockey player. As an adult, you’re like ‘well, that’s very different skillsets,’ but when you’re a kid, it’s like “he can do that jumpy-spinny thing! Of course he plays ice hockey!”

I think that’s why I ended up in the arts. It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about playing with MOFO style! (Disclaimer: in a way that wouldn’t work in any other real-life situation)

Sam Wang 2

  1. What made you want to write your play & what was your inspiration?

S.W: Since reading the book See No Evil by Robert Baer which was loosely adapted into the film Syriana, I’ve become fascinated with the role and influence of intelligence agencies on domestic and international politics (and vice-versa). So I really wanted to write something on that subject but since I’m not a real spy – promise – and couldn’t ‘openly’ plagiarise someone else’s memoir, a historically accurate drama wasn’t really viable. So I went with the next best option – a historical parody where truth was optional…like contemporary politics!

  1. Can you explain a bit of the process of how you got your play at Belvoir?

S.W: We pitched Skyduck for 25A in the first year and didn’t get in. I was ready to scrap the idea but at their launch party, I met Christine, one of the festival directors at Crack X, who convinced me to pitch to their festival in Newcastle. We did, got in, and that forced us to actually make the show! It had a great run, we got some great footage and then, with a very convincing letter from Pierce, the other festival director, we were able to submit a much more competitive pitch to Belvoir this second time round and were lucky enough to get in.

  1. What is your dream role & why?

S.W: Probably a character like Abed in a show like Community. I just really like Community…like really, really, really like!

  1. What do you think about the current state of diversity in Australian theatre, tv and film? (and how can we make it better? Do u think one medium is better than the other?)

S.W: It’s hard to be objective but it definitely feels like some really, really positive things are happening. I think what’s really encouraging is that tastes are slowly shifting. Audiences are more and more exposed to stories that are diverse and some of them are developing a taste for it.

Is it enough to justify from a purely economic standpoint, a business case for investing in more diverse stories right now? Maybe, maybe not! But it’s still a business risk. Of course you won’t get a hit show simply by ticking off as many ‘diversity’ boxes as you can…but if your competition can, and they do it well, then they’ll be changing the game and you’ll be playing catch up.

I think this is already happening. It’s just a question of how far can it go and who’s voices are still being excluded.

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  1. Where do you think you will be in 10 years time? 

S.W: Hopefully still pursuing a career in this industry…fingers-crossed!!!

  1. What advice do you have for upcoming actors?

S.W: My favourite advice is that everyone’s running their own race…

Followed closely by stupidity is a very special quality…But then again, if you’re pursuing a career in acting…you probably have an abundance of it! Good job! And keep going!

Diversity Spotlight: Interview with Alex Lykos about his latest film, “Me and my left brain,” & his latest idea for the Oz film industry.

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Alex Lykos makes his directing debut, a new Australian comedy called Me & My Left Brain & is the writer of the successful Aussie movie – Alex and Eve.

Me & My Left Brain stars Mal Kennard as Left Brain (Catching Milat), Rachel Beck as Vivien (Hey Dad!), Chantelle Barry as Helen (Entourage) and Laura Dundovic as Sandra (Ruben Guthrie) as well as Lykos who plays the film’s central character Arthur – his second acting role after a brief appearance in Alex & Eve.

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J.H: What inspired you want to make, Me and my left brain?
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A.L: The making of Alex & Eve film wasn’t a pleasant experience for me. And coming from the theatre whereby we were putting on 2 shows a year, the process of filmmaking felt extremely slow. We spent 6 years in development and I thought that there has to be a better way. So for my next film I adapted Me & My Left Brain which I knew could be shot on a much lower budget and therefore get it made much quicker. 
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J.H: How did you come to choose your actors? (What was your casting process?)
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A.L: Being the writer of the film, I had a strong but abstract idea of what I was looking for. I put together a shortlist of names for each role and then met with prospective actors. For example, for the role of Left Brain, I planned to me with Mal Kennard for half-hour. Two-hours later, we were finishing each other’s sentences. The chemistry was instant. 
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J.H: Do you see a change in the TV and cinema landscape regarding diversity? 
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A.L: I think now there is a strong push at both the state level of government and an overall acknowledgement from the public that we are a diverse nation. And with more and more creatives from a CALD background, there is a shift in progress, which will gain momentum and down the road the shift will be exponential.
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J.H: You are one of this year’s judges for the annual Joy House Film Festival, what are you looking out for & what makes a great film? 
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A.L: I always gravitate to good story with interesting characters. Production values are nice but they do not make or break a film for me. If the story is good, I wont notice the production values. 
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J.H: You’ve come up with a great idea attracting the Australian public to come and see more Australian Films, what made you come to think of this and what is it exactly?
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A.L: The idea came to me as we prepare to promote our film. Whilst brainstorming ideas I thought, what if Australians could watch Aussie movies for free? So from there I thought of an annual government cinema voucher scheme.
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J.H: When is “Me and my left brain?” coming out, where can we see it? 
A.L: The film was scheduled for release 16th May. However, we understand that the federal election is going to be called for Saturday 18th May — which will make it tough as the country is distracted at this time.
We are speaking with cinemas for an alternative date in June. We are waiting to confirm this new date if it is possible.
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Alex Lykos video link:

World Film Fair (New York) – filmmaking & distribution

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The first World Film Fair was held in New York on 26th to 31st October, 2018. Joy House Film Festival was invited to attend this event and we submitted all our 10 finalists’ work and one of our own feature films, The Casting Game, to be judged among thousands of entries from across the world.

The opening dinner was held at Trump Hotel, 1 Central Park West, New York, where many filmmakers and directors from other international festivals attended. Here media asked, “what makes a good film?” & “what makes your film festival different from all the other festivals in the world?” My answers were, “a great story and the right chemistry of characters/ actors, especially the leads and the way the film was shot – cinematography.” (Key points I’ve learned from Australian distributors.) The answer to the second question was, “to spread joy through the many films selected and awareness in diversity – not only through the casting of the actors but through the story itself. My aim is for people to feel uplifted after attending my festival and hope for social change in thought, action and behaviour. To change people’s views – acceptance, forgiveness, kindness and paying it forward. These have been popular themes for Joy House Film Festival films and my own work.”

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The films were shown at The Producer’s Club in uptown New York and Cinepolis in Chelsea. They were screened on rotation from 10am to midnight over four days. Here I was lucky to meet some wonderful filmmakers from New York, Los Angeles and Switzerland. Jillie Simon, Markus Otz, Emine Dursun, Phillip Walker. They were generous in sharing their thoughts about filmmaking. Many shared the importance of choosing people well, ones who are positive and enthusiastic throughout filming and who can actually deliver, in terms of cast and crew. And the importance of selecting great talent. I admire Jillie Simon’s tenacity in casting Eric Roberts in her film, “Hungry.” It took great persistence and it paid off in the end as her film has been selected in many festivals and won over a dozen awards. Well done Jillie!

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On closing night, it was a great surprise that our 2018 Joy House Film Festival winner, “Joy and Heron” won best World Film Fair’s international animation award, and “Give me a minute” won best World Film Fair short film in Australia/N.Z/Asia & “The Casting Game” won best World Film Fair feature film in Australia/N.Z./Asia too.

World Film Fair best animation  World Film Fair Give me a minuteWorld Film Fair Best Australian Film

I went to New York with no expectations as I was just happy that our films were selected for exhibition and came back extremely proud and chuffed that our films were well received and won awards. We look forward to World Film Fair 2019.

DISTRIBUTION     

While over in New York I was fortunate to meet distributors outside from World Film Fair. I’d like to share some important food for thought & lessons I’ve learned, as I’d like filmmakers in my shoes to be prepared and receive contract deals too.

Firstly, always make contact before going there and show a press kit of your film, trailer and a private link to your film too. Some distributors may only have time to read your press kit and see your trailer, so carry a USB of the best parts of your film and your whole film too – they’ll probably have time to just watch 10 mins of your film with you. Others do watch your film privately.

Secondly, they’ll ask for the budget breakdown of your film. Who brought in what. Never give a budget based on in-kind work or evaluations, as I learned in Australia in my first ever distribution meeting, that the market value for some work is based on experience and to over value your work as first time filmmakers is perceived to be arrogant / narcissistic. So keep the figures real. Over here I was asked, “Were your E.P.’s on board in title/name only, where they bring in at least a fifth of the budget and finish their work when filming finishes or are your E.P.s on board fully-fledged, finishing after the festival circuit is complete and distribution, and have ownership of rights / profits etc?” Also distributors would like to see a copy of the chain of title – rights to the story and ask what each of you are currently doing.

During conversation, you’ll be asked what made you want to tell your story and why you’re the best person to tell that story. It’s also great to find a connection with the person you’re dealing with, like I did with one here. It’s important to show humility – we talked about how life is too short to hold grudges and the power of forgiveness, and we connected when talking about our fathers.

Once you break down any fronts/barriers a person may have and just be in the moment, (don’t go in with any preconceived ideas or perceptions or expectations, and if you have a good enough product that has won awards, and has been selected into festivals), you have a greater chance in securing a distribution deal. I hope this helps you in reaching your goals and dreams as filmmakers. Don’t ever expect things in life as you’ll be greatly disappointed, just enjoy the ride!

world film fair the producers club

Crazy Rich Asians review

Crazy Rich Asians poster

Crazy Rich Asians opened in Australia this week with a buzz. After making 25 million in its second weekend (U.S) it’s shaping up to be one of 2018’s best movies all year. The film has now brought in an estimated $76.8 million domestically, more than doubled the cost of making the film. A sequel is now reportedly in development.

Crazy Rich Asians is based on Kevin Kwan’s best selling novel of the same title and is the second film since Joy Luck Club with a majority Asian Cast. (That’s been 25 years!) Being of Asian descent myself, I’ve never felt so excited seeing an outstanding ensemble cast, with relatable characters, both lead and supporting, who I could identify with – especially the aunties in Singapore.

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This film has been celebrated as being ground breaking for everything being Asian-American in Hollywood to portraying strong, self assured female leads, challenging stereotypes about motherhood, womanhood and mother child relationships. Unlike Joy Luck Club, these women are not traditional, tiger mums or immigrant women, they are modern day strong women. I love the broad age range of these women portrayed on film and hope for more movies like this to be made, as it’s proved to be popular with the general public.

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It follows the life of Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and Nick Young (Henry Golding) as they travel to Singapore for Nick’s best friend’s wedding. Little does Rachel know that Nick’s family are royalty in Singapore and about to experience his life of living insanely wealthy. The whole journey is an eye opener for Rachel who has lived modestly in America (New York) her whole life. Rachel then meets Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) who doesn’t believe she is good enough for Nick. Here trouble begins for the lovebirds…

Most of the best laughs in the movie come from Awkwafina (Ocean’s Eight)

and Ken Jeong (The Hangover) as Rachel’s college friend Peik Lin.

This was a wonderful feel-good Rom-Com, one of the best I’ve seen

for a long time.

 

I rate this movie a 9/10.

 

Crazy Rich Asians trailer

 

Photos by Jimmy Yang & Crazy Rich Asians & Kevin Kwan.

 

Film Review: Hearts Beat Loud

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Hearts Beat Loud is a wonderful light hearted comedy set in Brooklyn about an ageing hipster musician who forms an unlikely band with his daughter before she heads off into college.

Frank (Nick Offerman) is a longtime widower and single father who runs a struggling record store in Red Hook, Brooklyn which he’s about to lose due to the lack of customers, and despite the support from his landlord love interest Leslie (Toni Collette).

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During a weekly jam session with his daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons), Frank secretly records a song they did and loads it up on a streaming service which becomes a hit. His only challenge is to convince Sam to give up college so they can give their band a shot.

Frank is faced with life challenges – his on again off again relationship with Leslie and his shoplifting mother who has early signs of dementia.

Heats Beat Loud has a wonderful supporting cast which includes: Ted Danson, Sasha Lane and Blythe Danner. This is a wonderful comedy with great natural performances from the whole cast. The music is catchy but not too commercial, written by Keegan DeWitt and performed by the two stars. 8/10

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Photos by Eric Lin/GunPowder & Sky and Hearts Beat Loud.

Directed by Brett HaleyDrama, 1hour 37m

Diversity Spotlight interview with filmmaker – Matthew Victor Pastor

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Matthew Victor Pastor (MVP) is an Australian filmmaker of Filipino heritage. An alumnus of the prestigious Victorian College of the Arts, his Master’s film I am JUPITER I am the BIGGEST PLANET (part 1 of the Filipino-Australian trilogy) was awarded Best Director. Bill Mousoulis the founding editor of Senses of Cinema has described Pastor as “the most dynamic young filmmaker I’ve come across in 35 years of indie film watching in Australia.”
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In 2013 he released MADE IN AUSTRALIA an independent feature film. It was awarded Best Guerrilla Film at the 14th Melbourne Underground Film Festival. In 2017 he released BUTTERFLY FLOWER (71 mins), an experimental feature film. At the 2018 Sinag Maynila Film Festival MELODRAMA / RANDOM / MELBOURNE! (81 mins), was awarded Best Original Score, and was met with positive reviews in Rappler amongst other publications. A pending release is MAGANDA: Pinoy Boy vs Milk Man (97 mins). These two films conclude the Filipino-Australian trilogy. Also in post-production is Repent or Perish (85 mins), which is the story of a young gay Filipino-Australian and his conservative family during the 2017 same-sex marriage plebiscite. I had the privilege to interview him for this month’s Diversity Spotlight.
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JH: What is your approach in order to make an outstanding three features in 15 months?

MVP: Social media and human are one. It’s how we communicate, and our news feed is directly linked to our emotions. It was while making MELODRAMA / RANDOM / MELBOURNE! (2018) a feature about relationships in the digital age, I decided to transform into a filmmaking machine. I threw away the conventions of filmmaking to be freer. In some way we are all now content creators, we are always making video and image for our audience. My preferred content is a narrative film, the ultimate status update!

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JH: What would most people like to know is how do you find funding for your film? Do you fund them with your own money or is it mainly sponsorships and grants?

MVP: Although I’ve received grants in the past, at this output it’s recently privately or self-funded. The positives about this method are that I keep 100% creative integrity. Melodrama is about a Filipino feminist documentarian and the misguided men around her, MAGANDA! Is about a drug-addicted filmmaker,Repent or Perish! Is about a young gay Filipino, his drug dealing sister and was made during the SSM plebiscite. We have just finished filming A Bigger Jail, about a violent man (who likens himself to an ‘Asian Jesus’) who is released from prison after 20 years. For these stories to be done justice with authenticity, our team needs complete creative control, something we retain since we do it modestly.

JH: Who were your role models growing up? 

MVP: It’s probably been said too many times but man, Jackie Chan. In terms of my aesthetic Shunji Iwai (Film Director).

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JH: How do you find your stories?

MVP: I feel if I’m not emotional about a topic it won’t have weight on the screen. For example with one of my soon to be released features Repent or Perish! (2018) we literally filmed during the SSM plebiscite. It was during an argument with my conservative Christian parents I decided to save my anger and frustration and write a script. Completed in February I am so proud of our brave Asian-Australian cast for telling a story that needs be told.

 JH: What makes a good film script? What motivates you to produce it?

MVP: If the idea has a visceral reaction in me, it’s worth pursuing. Recently my trigger emotion is fear, so I write from anxiety and fear. I’ve found solace for my own pain through watching films that I relate to, so this is my way of giving back.

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JH: What is your casting process?

MVP: Casting actors from our finally growing pool of talent in Melbourne has always been a tough process (especially with Asians)! I have a family of brave diverse actors who I’d like to do a shout out to. Celina Yuen, Alfred Nicdao, Bridget O’Brien, Yuchen Wang, Chi Nguyen, Kevin Pham, Slone Sudiro, Glenn Maynard, Joseph J, Rachel E. Zuasola, Michelle Ryel, Carol Pastor, Lisac Pham, Elliot Ng, Charlie Dao, Charlotte Nicdao, Khoa, Rachel Cecilio & Berlin Lu. When making a new film I cast from the family, and ask these people whom I trust for recommendations.

JH: What do you think about the state of Australian films and TV at the moment in terms of diversity? Do you think there’s been a change in recent years?

MVP: I’m seeing so much talent and it makes my job as a writer/director much easier. Are these talent getting a chance? I’m more interested in truth. Representing truth in the story comes from POC writers/producers/actors living inside their skin day in and out and telling it how it is. Movies like Crazy Rich Asians or shows like Fresh off the Boat mean so much to our growing communities and globally! We need more truth in Australia. Take a walk around Melbourne and see the truth. Take the truth and compare that with what gets screen time in mainstream media. Our eyes don’t lie.

JH: What is your current project?

MVP: We have just finished our first feature for 2018 titled A Bigger Jail (aka misery extravaganza) The film stars fellow VCA graduate Yuchen Wang amongst an amazing ensemble cast of Asian Australians. As for the second half of the year, I will head up to Sydney to collaborate with fellow Filipino-Aussie Felino Dolloso, who has written a great story which he will also star in!

JH: What is your goal? Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?

MVP: Dead or a filmmaker. My goal is to live for another 10 years!

 

Photos were provided courtesy of Zhuo Yang, Evangeline Yin & Matthew Victor Pastor.