I should start off by saying that filmmaking was never something I gave a thought. I never even really thought of filmmaking as a career through high school and beginning of college. And then when I would people with their super fancy cameras, I just thought it was like violin: an incredibly expensive art. How could I ever try this out?
I would say that throughout high school, YouTube began to have an increasingly prominent influence in my life. It starts in 7th grade with Nigahiga when he uploaded his first 4 initial videos. They were so silly and looking back at them, the quality was definitely no good; but they were engaging. Then comes the era of Wong Fu. Watching Strangers, Again and How We Never Met helped this high schooler in puberty and the feels. I will always remember how relatable these videos felt (even though I had never been in a relationship at the time) and it won’t be until much later that I realize why Wong Fu was so attractive: I was seeing people like me, Asian American, on the screen. Something that had never happened in mainstream Hollywood movies in 2009.
This influence will only continue to grow as I go through college. Starting senior year of high school, I started watching beauty guru videos. This started from exploring Frmheadtotoe’s channel after seeing her star in Wong Fu’s Away We Happened series. As someone who was always told only “stupid” girls and girls who didn’t take school seriously would wear makeup, makeup was an unexplored domain and little did I know that even if I wanted to wear makeup, my monolids made it difficult to follow current beauty trends. Frmheadtotoe showed me that door, always giving tricks on how to use monolids to our advantage and promoting self-confidence and self-care. Several years past, I’m now watching channels like clothesencounters, ilikeweylie, Tina Yong, and meejmuse. I’ve expanded my repertoire of Asian beauty gurus, no doubt, but I find myself now watching less of their makeup tutorials; I’m watching their Q&As, their vlogs, their motivational talks and the reason these are so attractive to me is because I am more confident that I’m hearing from people who have more similar identities and backgrounds to me.
Along the way, I’m seeing the YouTube community surface, and these content creators will oftentimes reference their subscribers and their fans. YouTube allows them to connect with their subscribers and develop a more intimate relationship with them unlike the mainstream “celebrities” that would always be surrounded by security and paparazzi. As I see more collabs between creators happening, I can’t help but yearn for a very similar supportive community around me, and it’s amazing that so many Asian American YouTubers are coming together to put on more big-scale projects and to increase the exposure of Asian Americans on media. I mean, I first saw Randall Park in Wong Fu’s Too Fast short and now he’s the lead actor in Fresh Off the Boat! So much advancement and exposure has been achieved in the API community, and I really do believe that YouTube has played an integral role.
In 2015, two friends and I took a spontaneous trip down to LA to attend the Jubilee Project conference. I’ve always admired Jubilee Project in their heartfelt and sometimes heart-wrenching videos (recently they partnered with NBC Asian America to make videos surrounding the Asian American identity). Jubilee Project and film has nothing to do with what I’m studying or doing in academics, which is engineering. But something about the community and the life lessons I could learn from them urged me to go (I very much believe this was God’s doing, and experiences like these continue to tie me to my faith). I already have a post on this entire event, and it continues to be an influence on my life. I’ve even put up the pamphlet from the event on my wall next to my Hamilton playbill.
But I left the event with some nostalgia, yearning for that specific Asian American YouTube community. As I delved deeper into the Asian American community at Stanford, I became engrossed in learning about Asian American issues such as representation in media, and the need to have greater cross cultural, inter group communication. This comes side by side with the greater awareness of politics and current events around me. Before I knew it, I started adapting a more political, activist attitude. AND at the same time, I was starting to see the YouTube community open up even more about touchy subjects like these. Here is when BuzzFeed comes into the picture. They aim to have viral videos, and they post a ridiculous number of videos everyday on YouTube. And from the hundreds of videos I’ve seen, I’ve noticed that a good number of them have involved in encouraging self-confidence and looking inwards at one’s own identity, whether it be regarding race, body image, gender, sexuality, etc. I’m sure that BuzzFeed videos will often leave their viewers empowered to be loving and accepting of the diversity of identities. This, on top of stellar animated movies such as Inside Out and Zootopia that are so timely and culturally nuanced, makes me really believe in media’s power in our society, especially film.
After the Jubilee Project conference, I realized it was high time for me to just dabble in filmmaking. I took a film production class fall 2015, and it was amazing! Six assignments, and not all of them necessarily had us pulling out a camera to film, but the ones that did, I was very proud of how they turned out. (Though I must say, my repertoire in KDramas is helping me greatly in finding good instrumentals to play in the background of films).
This film production class was just a taste of what I find enjoyable. I kept pushing off the thought of doing filmmaking because 1) I’ve never even talked about filmmaking with anyone, especially my family and I had no idea what my family would think, 2) I thought I just liked filmmaking for the community I saw on YouTube, and surely I can find that elsewhere, and 3) I never get a break all year long, going from school to internships, back to school. But little did I know what would happen in 2017.
Fall 2016, I applied to a d.school class called Movie Design as a means of wanting to revisit the experience I had in the film production class, as well as to have a quick fun class in my schedule. However, at the first day of class, within 30 minutes I felt overwhelmed. This class was often referred to as a sprint (also think of red bold italic), only running for 4 days, but guaranteed to be hella intense. Even while I was going to school, I was so anxious about these impending four days where I’d just be filming and editing, editing, editing.
But it happened! Let me tell you, I was dead exhausted, but I wouldn’t have changed it for anything. While filming, I found myself bursting with ideas of what sort of dynamic and body language the actresses should use when confronting each other. When editing, part of me so wanted to take a break and let other members of my team take over, but the other part of me was exhilarated. I felt my creative juices flowing, as if they had been plugged up in the time I was coding my systems assignment the week before. I would say it was a very similar happy high that I would get in my rehearsals when Echappe Quartet was still a thing. I definitely feel that I have been trying for so long to find something collaborative and creative, from musicals to UI/UX design, but maybe it’s filmmaking that has hit the sweet spot. Even on top of that, this short sprint of a class…it’s like it kept telling me “filmmaking shouldn’t be hard. Anyone should be able to be creative and make compelling films that evoke strong personal messages to all of us.” The limit shouldn’t be the equipment you have or that Final Cut Pro software you can’t afford; the limit should be your will.
Usually, I can be critical of classes and the way that they’re taught, but the ending of the class left me on cloud 9. As director/editor, I found that even with lack of experience in filmmaking, there was a general respect from the teaching staff and the peers of everyone’s opinions. When I look back, I also felt this way in my film production class. And this really isn’t something to be taken lightly! My professor last year had a film that was nominated for an Oscar, and from Movie Design, we had a double Oscar-winning producer and the designer of the d.school space! When I think about how our teaching staff came to our shooting location and gave us hands-on tips, I can’t help but feel so grateful. Oftentimes in movies, we just think about the people on the screen, and we take for granted the people who come up with the storyline as well as give the film its ambience and vibe through edits and angled shots. I find this mutual respect rare and precious. I also find myself feeling so proud and happy with the work that is produced, and I’m so proud of everyone who was in this class and spent hours at night filming and changing the storyline of their plots. Okay, CS makes me want to pull my hair out and while there’s a huge sense of relief and accomplishment when a program is finally fleshed out, it’s so different form filmmaking where I feel that I can really admire each inch, each nook and cranny of the final product. It’s honestly really disappointing to think about how technical and creative sides of products stand so separately. For me, it’s always been a dream to work at Pixar. But being a software engineer at Pixar isn’t going to mean I have any say in the story aspect nor is it going to mean I get to let my creative juices out in that way. As a result, I am experiencing dissonance between the work I challenge myself to do with the work I’ve found myself dabbling in and enjoying. But, I digress. Anyone at Stanford who is looking into filmmaking even as a fun class (nothing to do with pursuit of career), I would so highly recommend FILMPROD 106 & ME 207.
After I showed someone my final product from the d.school class, she immediately asked me, “Is filmmaking something you’re interested in pursuing?” As of right now, I can’t give her a sure “yes.” It’s such a new idea that my mind is entertaining, but my interest has been piqued for sure. Even to the point where I’m considering applying for the JP Fellowship over the summer. It’ll conflict with my internship but we’ll see what happens if this does pan out 🙂
So what is the point of this post? I think if anything, I want this to be a reminder of how the sweat blood and tears of filmmaking… I found to be worth in the past few times I’ve gotten to do so. I’ll keep thinking about media and its impact, and I’ll keep thinking about what media technology can do for the good of society. I hope I can be critical of film and media and its emerging technologies such as VR/AR (getting a taste of this in my communications VR class as well as watching Black Mirror eep!). But in the meantime, here’s the result of those blood, sweat, and tears from a few weeks ago!