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.

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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!

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Crazy Rich Asians review

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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.

Film Review – I, Tonya

 

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I, Tonya is based on the true story of controversial 1990’s figure skater Tonya Harding played by Margot Robbie. This is a dark comedy with lots of mature content as Harding was seriously abused by both her mother, LaVona (Allison Janney) and boyfriend/husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). There are some heavy, dramatic, jaw dropping scenes where the audience screamed and squirmed with anguish as the scenes of abuse were depicted realistically, with intense emotional impact.

The movie presents a pretty bleak view of Tonya’s upbringing and the intense scrutiny she was under by the media and the public when she rose to compete at her highest level- the 1994 Winter Olympics, and the attack on her rival, Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver).

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The real-life Harding has given I, Tonya, her approval, as the film portrays her as a person shaped by abandonment, abuse and is empathetic to her fighting spirit, as she was often looked down upon, being a girl brought up by a single mother with very little money. All she wanted was to be loved as her life was often plagued with abuse, rejection and disappointment. Harding has said that in the film version she didn’t go up and confront the judges about her skating scores, she did that privately in real life, and that she doesn’t swear as much as the film portrayed her to be, that was obviously for dramatic effect.

The film was made with a $11 million budget, and Margot Robbie is impressive with her skating ability and her dedicated, heart felt, gutsy portrayal of Harding. Robbie even herniated a disc in her neck while skating and was so overwrought filming a violent scene with her on screen husband (Sebastian Stan) that she stormed off the set screaming. The film is enhanced with special effects in a few key places – the triple axels and adding more people in the audience.

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Overall the film is impressive with Australian director Craig Gillespie at the helm as the whole cast is outstanding, performance-wise, and they all resemble the actual real-life people they portray. Snippets of them are showed at the end of the movie and during the closing credits. Margot Robbie and Allison Janney deserve to be nominated for the SAG and the Oscars – fingers crossed they’ll win. I rate this movie 8.5/10.

Photos courtesy of I, Tonya, the movie, LuckyChap Entertainment.

 

 

 

 

Diversity Spotlight – Interview with Monica Sayers

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Monica Sayers, is an Australian-Chinese actress and yoga teacher who has worked extensively in different performance mediums over the past 15 years in Australia, the UK and Ireland. She has worked on a number of television series including Love My Way, All Saints, Home and Away, The Clinic (Ireland) and The Royal (UK) and Sydney Theatre Company’s Australian Graffiti and Chimerica and is currently starring in Melbourne Theatre Company’s Hay Fever. 

JOY: What is your cultural background?

MONICA: Chinese with dash of Incan blood! My great grandfather was part Chinese and South American.

JOY: When and where did you graduate?

MONICA: I studied The Journey at Actors Centre Australia in 1998, before graduating from the NIDA acting course in 2004.

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JOY: Who were your role models growing up & why?

MONICA: My mother Barbara was a very big role model in my life, as were my 2 grandmothers, May See and Lily.

Barbara sang in talent quests, was a model for fashion house, Mr Simons, and met my father whilst singing in the band called Parker. They fell in love and became a duo, playing in RSL clubs, cabaret venues and cruise ships. I grew up watching my mum perform regularly whilst holding down a full time job and run a household – I thought she was Superwoman! She was creative, witty, charismatic, yet she was down-to-earth and pragmatic.

My grandmother May See was an extraordinary woman of strength and dedication to her family’s survival during challenging times in China and Hong Kong. She had learnt to speak English at a young age – an invaluable tool utilized time and time again throughout her life. She fought tooth and nail to protect her kids and mother from the Communist party and was courageous and daring in her efforts. Her memoirs have been published by my aunt – Phoebe Sayers, a book called ‘Tomorrow is Another Trial’ a truly unbelievable recount of May See’s journey and her mother’s (my great grandmother’s) life.

My grandmother Lily was the happiest person I ever met! She would smile and laugh mid sentence and just light up a room with her little cackle. She was an animated storyteller and very expressive and emotional. She could cry at the drop of a hat and was soooo in the moment – she could never hold a grudge for very long. She was always the first to laugh at herself and not take things too seriously.

I cherish all that I learnt from these three women and miss them all everyday.

JOY: What made you want to get into the industry?

MONICA: Seeing my parents doing their cabaret act over my childhood and into my young adult life, it made me think having a career in the entertainment industry was possible and not out of the ordinary. Sure they had other day jobs and needed to juggle parenting, but they just made it work. When my sister was born, they stopped doing the tours and settled down in Sydney, but continued to perform.

JOY: How did you get started in your career?

MONICA: I studied music, art and drama in high school; I was in the choir and I used to learn piano, ballet and jazz dancing. I took singing lessons – opera as well as contemporary. I did TV commercials and catalogue modelling. There was no way I was ever going down a different path really – but I made sure to get a few back up jobs to keep the bank balance (and my father!) happy. In my late teens, I joined an extras agency and did some time on Heartbreak High. It grew from there.

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JOY: Do you think there have been positive changes in the industry in regards to stereotype casting or do you think we still have a long way to go?

MONICA: I think in some areas we are making great steps forward to balancing out stereotypes but I also feel, because we do have those characters that are based on real people, it’s hard to break the mould. I think what’s important here is there’s nothing wrong with using stereotypes, so long as they don’t stay confined in that box. Let there be more information about the character come through – something that you might not expect from them. What I find interesting is the thing you’d least expect from something that looks a certain way. Not only do the audience recognise those stereotypes, but I think the wider community can learn from them too. There’s still a way to go yet but certainly heading in the right direction.

JOY: How do you think diversity can be improved in the industry?

MONICA: Seeing people for their talent and skill and not for the colour of their skin, the sound of their accent, or the frizz of their hair.

JOY: What is your breakthrough role?

MONICA: I played Calpurnia in the satirical spoof Dead Caesar at the Sydney Theatre Company in 2007’s second season; directed by the amazing and passionate Tamara Cook, written by the Chaser team, Chris Taylor and Andrew Hansen. It was a hilarious piece and I got to sing on top of a baby grand piano!

JOY: Where do you hope to see yourself in 10 years time?

MONICA: I would love to try a hand in directing and possibly producing. Definitely still acting, perhaps in something of my own.

JOY: What advice do you have for future up and coming actors?

MONICA: Keep at it, don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it, find a way to make it work if this is why you live and breathe. Also, stay healthy, keep fit and sane (because it’s an insane business and world!) and have a laugh on a regular basis. Oh, and be super nice to stage management and crew – they are our rocks!! No one wants to work with a diva or an ass and word gets around quick so play nice people! 🙂 Also keep a healthy portion of reality on your plate – it’s easy to get swept away when things are flying high or to spiral into a black hole and not know how to climb out. Remember you are not defined by your job or a single review or lack of auditions or the number of awards you win! For me, acting is part of my life – a big part – but I know I need a balanced perspective to be able to have longevity in the industry and there are natural ups and downs. Be prepared. Take action and find other things that make you happy and fulfilled.

 

Photos by Joe Chan & Susan Le Strange.

Diversity Spotlight – Interview with actor Max Brown

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Max Brown is an Asian Australian actor (half Chinese-Singaporean / Anglo-Australian) known for his television roles as Robin Dawal in Neighbours, David Goldman in Glitch Series 2 and Kevin Dang in Secret City and the feature film We’re Not Here To Fuck Spiders (2017).

JOY: What made you want to get into the film/TV industry?

MAX: Story telling. Everyone in the industry has personal goals, but I reckon one thing we share is that we all watched a film or TV show at some point in our lives that had an impact on us and we’re all looking to recapture the moment that moved us and give it back to audiences through story.

JOY: Who were your role models growing up & why?

MAX: I was a bit starved for Asian representation so I grew up identifying with the majority white characters and actors on my screen, but thanks to my Aunty bringing over Hong Kong DVDS when she visited, I got to grow up watching Brigette Linn and Adam Cheng. That recent scandal where the Hollywood Casting Director said Asian actors were expressionless? They obviously never got to see Adam’s charm or Brigette’s depth and presence on screen. I watched their movies again and again as a kid and I still have them on high rotation today. I’ll also add Dante Brasco from Hook as a childhood role model! Such a bad ass. Ru-fi-ooo!

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JOY: How did you get started in your career?

MAX: I actually wanted to be a director and someone told me the best directors knew how actors worked, so I took a part time NIDA course which was being taught by Sam Worthington; he ended up convincing me to ditch directing and give acting a go. My first professional gig was a small part on Home and Away, which involved some complex blocking with cars and guns on my first day…it was a steep learning curve!

JOY: Do you think there’s a positive change in the TV/Film industries for more diversity?

MAX: A lot of actor friends from diverse backgrounds who were struggling for ages are now getting auditions and booking roles and that’s not because they all coincidentally became better actors overnight, it’s because diverse roles are finally starting to be written. The key word there is “starting”. It’s not just about upping the numbers but specifically writing characters that challenge preconceptions across all minorities. I’ve still had to say no to racially stereotypical roles as recently as this year…so we still have a long way to go until we achieve true parity in the industry. But we’re on the right path.

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JOY: Who inspires you in the industry?

MAX: All my friends in this industry inspire me, because I see their constant struggle to be recognised and contribute. Watching them hold down multiple day jobs, deal with the constant rejection and disappointment while still pushing themselves to improve…that always amazes and inspires me.

JOY: What are you working on now?

MAX: Wrapped a small role on the second season of the ABC Netflix series Glitch earlier this year and just got back from LA where I was in the final rounds for a lead character in a TV new series.That was an opportunity that came about partly due to the push for diversity we’ve seen recently, they’re definitely looking for more Asian faces on screen internationally. Coming up, I have a role in a queer short film starring Ra Chapman from new director Chloe Wong. It’s a great script that pokes at society’s views on queer behaviour.

JOY: What is your dream role & why?

MAX: I’d like to remake one of those old Hong Kong movies like “Lover Beware” or “Swordsman II” which also starred Brigette- I think there’s nothing like them in the west and I’d love to bring the ideas and themes from the Chinese fantasy genre to a new viewership. Hero and Crouching Tiger opened that door but they both portray a very stoic interpretation of Asian heroic fiction, and I think the “smiling wanderer” trope would be fresh. It would be interesting to see how the role of a gender fluid character like the Dongfang Bubai would be cast today.

JOY: Where do you see yourself in 10 years time? What do you think you’ll be doing?

MAX: Hopefully I’ll be a lot healthier than I am now haha. But I’m the worst with plans…I have no idea what next year looks like let alone 10! Helping to redefine the depiction of Asians in Western media and diversity in general, would be great.

JOY: What’s your advice for graduates / up and coming actors trying to get in the industry?

MAX: I’ve heard people call acting a marathon, and I reckon that’s good advice. Beyond talent and skill, succeeding in this business is about not giving up and outlasting those who do. Its hard and you’re going to hate it and have no money a lot of the time, but if you want it bad enough, you’ll eventually get a chance. Never give up and be ready for it when it comes.