Becoming an Asian-American Filmmaker With Writer and Director, Erica Chan
Owen Shapiro 00:04
Welcome to Kino Society with Owen Shapiro. In today’s episode, we have Erica Chan, an Asian American writer and director who grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada.During her time at UNLV she was recognized for her work and was granted the Emerging Filmmaker Award. She knew there was more to learn and pursued her masters at Florida State University at the College of Motion Picture Arts. Welcome to Kino Society, Erica.
Erica Chan 00:40
Thanks for having me.
Owen Shapiro 00:41
So Erica, would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself and why you want to pursue a career in film.
Erica Chan 00:47
So I’m a writer, director. And what I primarily work in is the camera department as a first assistant camera. I’m in IFC local 600 as well. The reason why I wanted to pursue film was because I feel like they’re powerful, and they can change the world.
Owen Shapiro 01:08
So what made you want to pursue a career in film?
Erica Chan 01:11
Well, film was the only thing that made sense to me, I did a lot of arts like I’ve done like dancing piano music. So when I first was introduced to editing in high school, that’s kind of that kind of got my that’s where I started getting interested in film, because I putting pieces together to create a bigger meaning. And stories were so powerful. And when I went to college, and majored in film, that was the only thing that made sense to me, and learning more about it, it I just knew that’s what I was supposed to be doing.
Owen Shapiro 01:45
So what about anything before Did you ever fall in love with film before,
Erica Chan 01:51
before University in high school, I guess my parents had a film camera, and I would just shoot things. They weren’t any good. It was just me filming whatever me and my brother and sister did. So I would say that was the extent of my moviemaking before High School.
Owen Shapiro 02:09
So what’s an average workday like for you.
Erica Chan 02:12
So I work typically 12 hours a day. So I guess we would arrive to set and I would take the card out of the camera truck. And I would build the camera. And pretty much my second AC would be setting up the monitors and everything. And the DB tells me what we need for set, such as like what lens and where the location is going to be. And whether we’re going to be on sticks or handheld, or what the shot basically is. And the rest of the day pretty much is that over and over different spots, different lenses. So that’s pretty much what we do that throughout the day.
Owen Shapiro 02:48
So you’re also a writer, as well as the director, what’s your writing process.
Erica Chan 02:54
So a lot of my inspiration comes mostly from my life. My most recent short film that I had written was about a my grandma who had passed away a couple years ago. And it’s about a grandma and the grand daughter and the granddaughter coming to learn that her grandmother is no longer strong and has to come to terms with you know, coming of age is like a second coming of age for elderly people, you recognize that, you know, the people who have taken care of you are now growing and you have to take care of them. And so it’s recognizing that the stories about a grandmother and a granddaughter, and how the grandmother is really stubborn, and the granddaughter is always, Mino braiding her about, you know, why are you doing all these things, and the grandmother is trying to prove to herself that she’s not getting older, and she’s not getting weaker. But you know, we come to a point where we recognize that with our parents and grandparents, and, you know, they’re, it’s just part of life.
Owen Shapiro 03:59
So what’s your favorite parts of being good director? And what’s your favorite part of being a writer as well,
Erica Chan 04:06
I think the ability to choose what you can do with your vision is the best part about writing and directing. You get to make choices about your voice and be able to express it the way you want to. When you’re in a different position. You can’t always do that. For example, I’ve shot a couple of things. And you can’t, it’s a different kind of position that you have to be in. You don’t get to choose everything. And as a writer and director, you can decide how you want the characters to be what you want it to look like and where the shot is.
Owen Shapiro 04:43
So I will go into away from your work for bits. What’s your favorite movie?
Erica Chan 04:48
That’s such a hard question to answer, but I would say one of my ultimate favorite movies would be Princess Mononoke. Okay, have you seen it?
Owen Shapiro 04:55
Yes, absolutely. Yeah, I love that movie. Yeah, I believe I’ve seen all of music, his films.
Erica Chan 05:01
Yeah, I think the favorite thing I, what I love most about that film is that I feel like there’s so many movies with antagonists that are just pure evil. And in this movie, it doesn’t really have that you have an antagonist, but she’s a real person. And it’s just kind of forces against each other. So she there are, you know, there we have so many superhero films where the antagonist is just, they’re just evil without reason. And I feel like in life, people affect other people in different ways that can be seemingly evil to one person, but absolutely okay to another. Does that make sense?
Owen Shapiro 05:36
Yeah, definitely. I also really loved that movie. Yeah, how about directors, any of them in particular, that you really like?
Erica Chan 05:43
So one of the directors that I’ve been following is Patty Jenkins. And I feel like I saw her. So I had watched her at this award show for local 600. So I’ve also in local 600, as a first AC, and I went to this award show, and I found out that she was also an AC. And so that’s kind of like the pathway that I’m feel like I’m pursuing. I’m first in the camera department. But I’m also pursuing a career in writing and directing. So that’s one director that I’ve been recently following.
Owen Shapiro 06:15
So you feel like you connect with the track? She went? Yeah. And do you think like her background shows in her works as well?
Erica Chan 06:23
I’m not really sure if, but I feel like any kind of knowledge that you have in other departments always just strengthen your ability to collaborate with others. So I’m sure it shows in our work in ways that we don’t even see. You know, like there are, knowledge is power, and being able to work with others and understanding how they, the language of a cinematographer, the language of an editor, knowing those kinds of things can only make you a stronger director.
Owen Shapiro 06:54
So what would you say to someone who wants to enter the world of cinema,
Erica Chan 06:58
I think that a lot of people become deterred. Because a lot of people talk about how there’s so much competition. And I think that you can’t really listen to anybody else. But yourself. And if you think that you can do it, that you should just do it. There’s nobody stopping you. But you.
Owen Shapiro 07:17
So going back to your your works, is there anything in particular that you’re most proud of, or that was maybe really tough to get through, but you’d like the result of the most
Erica Chan 07:28
recent thing that I have was a couple of years ago, that’s public would be something called Don’t let a takeover. And I did it when, in 2016, when I felt like a lot of people were arguing and pointing fingers and blaming each other for the state of the world. And I felt like that’s not really productive to be pointing fingers at each other. And I feel like a lot of things that divided us was because of fear and misunderstanding of our differences. And I had felt that if we were to overlook those differences, and listen to each other that together, we could overcome a lot of things. And I’m really proud of that piece. I feel like it turned out really well. And it looks really good.
Owen Shapiro 08:16
Is there any john reserve in particular? That’s your maybe interested in trying outs? Or Oh, yeah. Would you like to stick to a particular one? Sure.
Erica Chan 08:26
I feel like you know, people always ask you, what kind of stories do you like, right? And like, what kind of stories you want to tell. And I started thinking about the kinds of genres that I actually enjoy the most. And I really enjoy fantasy. So I kind of feel like if I were to be able to choose what kind of genre I could be in, in creating, it would probably be sci fi. And I had a short film that I had shot. It’s not edited completely yet. We’re working on the visual effects, but it’s called lost in time. And it’s a time travel short film, about a daughter who has a sixth sick mother. And she tries to go back in time, but gets lost in her work.
Owen Shapiro 09:05
So do you think that sci fi is a bit more difficult than doing other genres? Mostly? Because?
Erica Chan 09:12
Oh, absolutely. So this, the grammar short film that I was telling you about involves two characters and one location, a house pretty much right like inside the kitchen in the backyard, it’s very simple. So I mean, when writing, you kind of have to consider your kind of resources that you have, because if you don’t have anybody funding you, then you’re kind of limited in how much you can spend. So I wrote that short film, because I wanted it to be limited in locations. So we could take two days to shoot. So it’s about six, seven pages, because I didn’t want it to be too long, because the longer your script is the more days and then of course, the more money the last time was a six page script as well. But I had budgeted two and a half days to shoot it and it had three I guess essentially three characters, because one of the actors was a twin. So I had twins so that we could not do as much visual effects. But cutting this, it’s taking so much longer because I have to do the visual effects as well. And that’s just a whole nother element that you add. So the more things you add to a story, the more time and money it’s going to take.
Owen Shapiro 10:23
So they’re both about six pages long as he said, but do you think that maybe the sci fi one is going to end up being a bit longer as a short?
Erica Chan 10:32
I don’t think so. Because if you if you write it correctly, where you’re spacing out, spacing it out on the page, typically, when you write out a script in the format that it’s supposed to be, and you’re not like, cheating and squeezing too many action lines together, it should read out to be one minute a page. So when I do my writing, I kind of write long, because I just rather be safe than trying to, you know, I mean, like you can do like a crazy action line that is in reality, like two minutes long. But on the page, it’s one minute, you’re just kind of tricking yourself and lying to yourself that you can actually do more when it requires more than what the page is saying.
Owen Shapiro 11:10
Oh, sorry, fi and fantasy tend to be lumped up in the same category. Well, actually, after recently, it’s been sci fi and horror for whatever reason, but sci fi fantasy, do you think that those two makes sense?
Erica Chan 11:23
Yeah, I guess they could be interchanged. I mean, I kind of think of fantasy, more like Harry Potter. And I kind of think of sci fi to be more like time travel, or things that have to do with like science, I guess. But I could see why they would be intertwined. You know, I guess I don’t I don’t think it bothers me that they’re interchangeable as much.
Owen Shapiro 11:48
Yeah, that makes a bit of sense. Me sci fi in order, not so much.
Erica Chan 11:52
No, but I think the reason, I guess like people bunched up together, because I don’t know, maybe they’re kind of the categories that aren’t, maybe they’re overlooked.
Owen Shapiro 12:02
Maybe they’re like a bit more niche like horror fans, your hardcore horror fans and hardcore sci fi fans, but you’re not gonna find many hardcore drama fans or comedy fans,
Erica Chan 12:12
I guess that’s true, like drama and comedy are more of the two categories. And then you’ve got like, it branches out from there.
Owen Shapiro 12:19
What do you think is the most interesting aspect of film for you?
Erica Chan 12:24
I think there’s two parts to that. And one, one part is being able to work on set with other people and problem solve. I think that’s one of the most, I think, I feel like when you’re able to work on set and make a living from working on set, I think it’s a it’s a luxury, because not only are you creating art and telling stories, but you’re you’re working with Well, at least the way I see is that I’m working on film sets with my friends. So we’re just shooting things and making things up together. And it’s really fun. It’s not, it doesn’t feel like work. And that’s why I think we’re so lucky to be in this kind of industry. This. The second part would be that I feel like stories are really powerful. When somebody I mean, if you look at some, you know, articles about what is it the Jennifer Lawrence with archery? The movie? It’s called
Owen Shapiro 13:21
Hunger Games, I believe.
Erica Chan 13:23
Yeah. So when hunger came, games camp came out, archery was up, they were waiting lists for archery, or when jaws came out, the fear of sharks went higher. So I mean, you could say there’s no correlation. But I mean, I think that movies are influential and influence the way you think in ways that you don’t maybe don’t even understand, I guess, and I think that’s, that’s something I’d like to contribute to the world in a positive way.
Owen Shapiro 13:50
That’s another argument I live in no impact that films have are more important than the literal impact they have on you.
Erica Chan 13:57
Mm hmm. Exactly. I feel like they can change the world. I mean, I was just about to say that, for example, even the littlest things can change your perception of the world, such as advertising, when you see advertising with a bunch of like, like one race, so you don’t see yourself being represented, which is how I felt growing up as a Asian American, that I didn’t really see a lot of Asian models, right. So I didn’t feel like I fit into the category of what was beautiful. And I think that really affects you in a certain a certain way. And I think that’s part of the reason why I want to be in the film industry, because I would like to have more representation. Going back to that story I was telling you about with my grandma, I plan on having that being an Asian cast. So a lot of the stories that I’m writing now that I’m trying to, you know, put a piece of myself in there so that I can put more representation out there.
Owen Shapiro 14:58
No, I’m also as a Something that bothered me but you’re an Asian American. So this might be a bit different for you was that recently menari? was for the Golden Globes put in the category of Best Foreign Language? Uh huh. And I was just kind of confused. Like, why is it foreign language in that foreign film?
Erica Chan 15:19
Um, I heard some arguments about that. I haven’t looked into it completely. Because I feel like there was some arguments about like American filmmakers being of color but being categorized as foreign. I think that was the argument. I don’t know if that was. I feel like that was the argument. But what are you saying? You mean, like foreign film versus foreign language? Like, what is the difference to you?
Owen Shapiro 15:43
Just like, for some reason, two Golden Globes instead of any other? I’m not sure if they just did it this year, or if it was previous years, but they had foreign language instead of just foreign film. Yeah. And also considering that the bat one of the Best Picture nominees in 2019, for the Oscars, and many other words was 1917, which is a completely British movie and entirely British movie that was never placed in any foreign film categories.
Erica Chan 16:19
Yeah, like, Yeah, I think that’s what it is that, I guess I would have to look into it more about that argument, but I haven’t really been. I haven’t been really I haven’t done like the thorough research about them, the categories and stuff. But I have read, like briefly past articles, you know,
Owen Shapiro 16:36
could you tell us a little bit about your work on the campus?
Erica Chan 16:40
But yeah, that’s actually where I learned visual effects. Because I asked the director, if I could help him with it, I actually had no idea how to do anything. And I told I told him, that’s all I just said, You know, I really would like to learn how to do visual effects. I don’t know anything, but you can just give me all like the really small, annoying tasks, right. And so I pretty much sat with him for about six weeks. And he like, gave me all the tutorials that were relevant, I washed all of them. And then he let me he actually let me do more than I had expected. He’s actually really awesome. Aaron Morehead, I did all the moons like I composite it all the moons in the movie. And that’s where my visual effects knowledge comes from.
Owen Shapiro 17:23
So any current projects,
Erica Chan 17:27
currently, I am trying to write a feature. I have a couple of ideas. I’ve already halfway written one, I’m not really sure if I want to continue and finish it or start this other idea I have. But I am also trying to make a lookbook for the grandma short that I had told you about. So hopefully those I would like to transition and start trying to direct more Because ultimately, it’s very difficult to try to do directing while also trying to make money as a first AC. But so I need to focus on trying to you know, be better about that.
Owen Shapiro 18:04
So how can my listeners connect with you?
Erica Chan 18:08
So I have a Instagram it’s called meandattie which has all the things that I enjoy, which is like photography and everything. So that’s my Instagram. And then I feel like that’s Yeah, that would be the one to connect with me on.
Owen Shapiro 18:21
That’s all for today. Don’t forget, you can subscribe to Kino Society on iTunes and Spotify.