1) What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?
Last year, I directed a short-documentary web-series for NBC Asian America called Wear I’m From – which showcases narratives of immigrant men and women who express their personal beliefs and cultural connections through the clothes they wear.
Our premiere episode featured a Lao refugee from Argentina who described the significance of her bracelet, which was made from an unexploded bomb that was dropped in Laos in the 1960s.
I helped develop the series with an old friend of mine, Ruby Verdiano, who works with NBC News as a freelance correspondent. NBC bought the idea, and the next thing I knew, I was on a plane to New York to shoot all the episodes. It was an amazing experience! I celebrated with a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of wine in the Lower East Side.
2) How did you get into directing?
I started directing when I was 15 years old at a non-profit after school program called “Youth Sounds” in Oakland, CA. My mentors encouraged me to direct my first short film called “Inertia” about a group of students who rebel against their math teacher.
The film was accepted into 17 festivals across the U.S., including the Newport Beach Film Festival and the San Francisco International Film Festival where it won the Golden Gate Award in the Youth Category. With my prize earnings, I bought my own Panasonic DVX100b and a pair of Sennheiser Lavaliers and began shooting short documentaries and music videos around the Bay Area.
3) What is your most recent project?
I recently directed a spec commercial as a fellow of the Commercial Directors Diversity Program, which is partnered with the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP). Through the program, we receive a small grant to direct our own spec commercials and I wrote my idea for Homeboy Industries – a non-profit organization that rehabilitates formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women. The spec features the journey of a man who tries to get his life together after prison. He finally gets a chance to work at Homeboy Bakery, where we begin to see his life change for the better. The main character is played by Richard Cabral, who worked at Homeboy in real-life before becoming an Emmy-nominated Actor.
4) What is the best part of being a director?
Everything. I love being creative and taking command on something I truly believe in. It’s so incredible to be able to turn what’s in my head into something people can actually see and enjoy. It’s also freeing to know that I’m allowed to be completely wrong and say F— it! Sometimes little mistakes turn into something even better than what you originally planned. That’s why I love art: it’s fluid and never just one thing, it’s always evolving. I would hate to do the same thing over and over again. With film, we get to think on our feet and make something cool happen by asking ourselves, what if?
5) What is the worst part of being a director?
Everything. I would say 90% of being a director is tough. You start off with a great idea. Then, you slowly run into roadblocks that frustrate you creatively, and you rigorously prep only for something to inevitably go wrong during the shoot. But then, at the end of the day you sit back and say – that was amazing, let’s do it again! It’s that 10% of feeling proud and fulfilled after a long shoot day that makes it all worth it.
6) What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, TV movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
My current career focus is in commercials and music videos. I love how short-form content gives me the ability to constantly create and experiment. That being said, my overall career focus is to direct anything that I’m passionate about, long-form or short-form. The format doesn’t matter to me, what matters is the story.
7) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you?
Gabriel Diamond was my mentor at “Youth Speaks” and he really pushed me stylistically at a young age. He showed us the Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry director series, and taught us to think outside of the box and take risks. He also knew I was a dancer and encouraged me to bring that into my filmmaking. It influences how I edit and how I analyze movement in the frame. It’s a nice balance because film school was focused on film history and theory. Gabe taught me about style and how to create freely. In a nutshell, he’s Spike Jonze in the Fatboy Slim “Praise You” music video. I still watch it sometimes when I need a reminder to be myself.
8) Who is your favorite director and why?
Spike Jonze inspires me a lot, career-wise and creatively, especially growing up shooting short films and music videos. He reminds me to have fun as a filmmaker. Bend reality. Change the way these stories are told. Be different. I also love the fact that he can be an Oscar winning director, but he can also dress-up like an old lady and prank people on the street for Jackass. Artists create because they want to create. They’re not constrained to just one thing. That’s what I aspire to do – I want to make work that I’m passionate about.
9) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
My favorite movie of all time is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, my favorite TV show is Black Mirror, and my favorite commercial is Channel 4 Paralympics “Meet the Superhumans.”
10) Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I grew up in Oakland, and moved to Los Angeles after college for an internship at Spyglass Entertainment. I held an additional internship at HSI Productions where I PA’d for the first time on a Chris Brown music video set. My first job was assisting a below-the-line agent at The Skouras Agency, which gave me a birds-eye-view of the industry because I watched every commercial that released for three years straight. I then moved on to assist the VP/executive producer at PRETTYBIRD for two years, where I dove deeper into the commercial bidding process. Lastly, I became the executive assistant to Michael Mann for a year as he was developing a few projects.
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