Our Guest Today: Lawrence Chau
Lawrence Chau is an award-winning TV host with credits spanning Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada and the US. In America, he is most known as the host of the paranormal series Ghostly Encounters (Destination America)
In this episode you’ll learn:
Lawrence’s origin stories – his upbringing and early days as a journalist before working as an actor and producer
Lawrence’s latest work “Justice for Vincent” as a writer and producer – and why it isn’t only about social justice for Asian Americans
How Lawrence has been able to promote his film “Justice for Vincent”, the success and challenges that come with marketing an independent film
The making of “Justice for Vincent” in just two days!
What’s next for Asian American films (Lawrence’s prediction)
What it’s like to work as an Asian American actor, producer, and host
The 2020 Oscar and the winning Asian film “Parasite”
Watch Our Interview
Interview With Lawrence Chau | Justice for Vincent | Actor, Writer, Producer and TV Host – Powered by Happy Scribe
You’re really good at talking about anything as I have witnessed the BAAFF, which is the Boston Asian American Film Festival relatively recently. So to kind of give you an idea of some of the things they kind of keep popping up because you’re so diverse. It made me think about your film. Well, the film you’re in, justice for Vincent, by the way. You’re an actor there. But I think you’re also more heavily involved, also on the side of production as well. Is that correct?
I wrote and produced, executive, produce and star in it and kind of moved mountains to make this little passion project come to life because we shot it surprisingly in two intense long days. It’s like a really high quality short film and we were supposed to shoot for three days. We lost a day of production and things always happen. We do indefinite film and we managed to knock it out in two long days, which is a bit of a stunner.
It stunned me because I’m like, I’m in I don’t want to say the lowest budget film, but it took us when I talk about my documentary film, people are like, really? Three weeks on the road and then we got like an hour of these guests time to be like, It’s such a joke.
Documentaries are totally different beasts. But when you’re doing a dramatic film, we knew we were under the gun. So we had a lot of scenes to shoot and we just had to be really tight with our organization. And thanks to the crew, we ended a record. We managed to pull it off and it was a lot. Oh, my God.
I mean, I’d love to dive right into that. But as a heads up, some of the areas I really want to also talk about are I mean, you possess so much of this information. I’m sure people come to you all the time for this. It’s just making films is one thing, but getting notice is something else. That you attend these events. So you are a marketer, you’re writer, producer. You have so many hats on which many people in the industry don’t get too experienced.
It’s funny, I look back at my background. I started out in journalism and then I went off to Hong Kong with my degree in $2,000 and two suitcases. And I always wanted to break into show business. But my first career break was actually in public relations. And while I was a PR consultant and kind of on the rise in the corporate world, doors to show this start to open up. And I was always cognizant of the fact that you always make lemons out of lemonade. Although that’s a bad way to describe a good career in PR because it was a really good company. It was a great people. We did great, huge events in Hong Kong. But you harness those skills and down the road they always come in handy I should have went to film school, but then the journalism training was so valuable because it taught me how to write. It taught me how to be disciplined with interviews. It helped me with my first break in show business, which was as a TV host in Hong Kong and then later in Singapore. So everything you do in life it’s kind of funny how somehow those tools fall into your toolkit and you end up using them.
Yeah, that’s so interesting you mentioned that because I could name, really a bunch of other majors I would rather study in school than computer science and math. And part of me feels like I wasted a decade in advertising and marketing. But now those are the skills that people are willing to pay for. Plus now when it comes to think about it, like, I saved so much money on marketing because I had those skills to build websites, to run events, and it served me hugely.
It does. So all those young ones out there.
Exactly. Listen up to the grown up.
This thing goes to waste. It’s like Chinese food. You can always make a dish out of it. Exactly.
I know. It’s so funny. My mom is staying with me for a few months and then I just watch her cook, like, oh, the leftover has become new food somehow.
I know, right?
It’s like, what, she got peppers to the leftover yesterday and it’s like a brand new dish.
Yeah, that’s what it is. Life is like that. Anyway, you need the yeah, sure.
Of course. And I just want to make sure that I’m not sure if your wrists are resting on the table. I heard some echo sound, staticky sound. I just want to make sure that we’re oh, really sorry. It’s okay. No, I didn’t hear banging noises. Well, Laurence, welcome to the show.
Thank you for having me.
I’m really glad that you’re here. It took a while for us to schedule this because you’re very busy guy who’s traveling on multiple continents all the time. But your presence, your film, and I would say the panel discussion that happened at the Boston Asian Film, asian American Film Festival a few months ago really left such an impression on me and was you and four or five other people. And I really enjoyed you pinpointing some of the issues that we’re dealing with related to the film. But also you have this bigger vision for kind of Asian American sort of people working in the industry in general. So I’m really excited to kind of prepare for this conversation.
Thank you. I really appreciate that. I have a tendency to talk a lot because I used to be a talk show host. I can’t wait for you because some people.
Some people are like, Please stop talking. Not really. There are people who talk. I’ve interviewed people in certain industries. Let’s just say that they’re used to having a monologue or kind of stand on the podium and give a speech. But I found what you presented to be very interactive, that whatever you said was aiming at the audience. And I love the fact that you’re so transparent and honest thanks.
About whether it’s journalism, which is my original background, TV hosting, and now acting and filmmaking, you have to connect with your audience. And people ask me, you wore so many hats, where are you going to go? I’m just a storyteller.
I love the title.
Yeah. It’s probably the easiest way to set me up. Just a story teller, whether I’m writing it, producing it, hosting, acting, something, you know, I’m just telling a compelling story that hopefully resonates with audiences and people, and honesty is the best policy.
You have a lot of experience and everything. You just described acting, producing, writing, executive producing, which I know is a very different role, you know, with money, finance, marketing, a lot more hats involved for that particular role. And could you actually maybe take us back to when you worked as a journalist? You mentioned that that was a degree you didn’t quite expect.
Yeah, I remember in high school, I had a secret desire, like a lot of people, to go breaking a show business. But those kind of dreams you never really dared to utter in a very conservative, Chinese working class upbringing. And I always was good at the arts, writing, English, history. And I joined the student councilman high school. And I was their PR guy. And I thought, I’m really good at this. I should consider going into public relations. And the way to get into PR or communications was journalism school. So I graduated one of the foremost journalism schools in Toronto, Canada, and thought, well, I knew early on that I didn’t want to be a hard news journalist, like, oh, no, what am I, dad?
What am I?
And my parents are already upset that I didn’t go to medical school. And so I graduated and I won a scholarship. And I was like, it should have one story of the year. Everyone thought I was going to be this hard news journalist, whether for a newspaper or television. And it was. One of my instructors, when he saw me, very kind of conflicted, and he says, Lauren, there’s no shame in pursuing entertainment journalism, because that was my other interesting wish list. And I kind of took that really to heart. And I went off into the working world with a degree in journalism and thought, well, I don’t want to be a hard news journalist and I want to break into entertainment journalism. As a kid, I love entertainment, and I would sit there with my VCR people, that’s how far we’re going back. And I thought, well, my life is going to be like a checklist of dreams. And I said, checklist a would be PR. So I went to Hong Kong and I broke into public relations with a wonderful company there that specialize in large scale sporting and entertainment events. And I kind of helped flourish the entertainment division of the PR agency.
I was meeting a lot of entertainment people and that was really exciting me. And then as I became more and more well known NZ and press conferences, and I did a lot of things. I was writing from egg, freelance journalism, entertainment articles on the sides. I was asked to perform in plays. I started to write songs for some of the candles up singers, English lyrics and everything kind of just started to snowball in Hong Kong. And as my PR career elevated, the doors to show business started to open up too. And somehow here I was in Hong Kong. This took things like this foreign CDC kid, Canadian board, Chinese hanging around with, like running into Sandy Lab and Andy Lau and Jackie Chan and all these crazy people and behind the scenes of the Hong Kong Coliseum and sometimes interviewing them. Sometimes our events would hire them to perform. And then eventually TV, the main station there, offered me a job as a part time TV host. So here I was leading a dual career as a PR consultant and a part time TV host and still juggling all those entertainment things on the side.
And then what really opened up was when Singapore found out about me, because I could have stayed in Hong Kong to actually become an actor, even people approaching me if I could see a singer. But I couldn’t read Chinese. And my Chinese has the accent of North American accent. So I decided to jump ship to go to Singapore and pretty fast became kind of like an overnight TV sensation. I became the host of their showbiz, their number one entertainment news show. I became their anchor in a month, and then a month after that I became the senior producer.
What year was this, by the way?
This is like moving way back to the late 90s into the was a good ten years in Asia. So yeah, it was a wonderful, wonderful time. And then I got to host some of the biggest TV specials in Singapore, like the Singapore universe. The Silver Screen Awards, their first National Day event. I was guest starring on shows like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, singapore. I acted in romcom dramas. My final gig was hosting Hollywood Square, Singapore. And then I went back to Canada and I said, well, I have all this experience. What can I do in North America as this Canadian Asian guy who’s a TV host. Actor? It was like ten years have gone by and the doors are still as hard to pry open as they were. It was really hard. Still.
Wow. Yeah, that’s an interesting transition because I was going to say that somebody else oh my God, I can’t believe this name has just disappeared on me. But Donnie Yen, who was born and raised in Boston. I don’t know him personally, but I know his sister who has been interviewing on the show, kind of a similar experience where he left when he was 1819 years old to go to Hong Kong and pretty much stayed ever since. But do you think that’s unusual path? Do you think it’s a path maybe some of the Asian American actors are kind of forced into because the opportunities are more in Asia?
Yeah, I do. I think it was back ninety s, two thousand s. There was a huge wave of Western Asians going to Asia to break in the show business. Whether it was Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Taiwan, wherever. All the more power. If you were multilingual, if you could read and speak Chinese, all the better. But yeah, it was because of the lack of opportunities in North America. I felt that. And if you managed to break it and then the dream was always to see if you could come back to home, North America, and see if you could get a career here. Because this is home right there. You’re always regarded as a foreigner, even it could be a household name. So then I locked out. I landed a gig called Ghostly Encounters, which is a paranormal program that I was serious host of. And it was kind of groundbreaking because I was one of the few Asian male hosts of an entertainment type program in North America. And that show has been the theme from Titanic. It just keeps going on, just keep buying it. And I’ve been picked up in America, Canada, England, Asia.
When I moved to La. I had that under my belt. And it was really hard trying to start from scratching Los Angeles again, which led me to my short film that you saw in Boston, justice for Vincent. And I decided to kind of seize the reins and say, well, if I’m getting lost in the shuffle here and it’s hard to cut a break because what happens in the industry is that if you have a lot of credit here, those roles always go to the people with the most credits because they’re most recognized. And if you’re a newcomer coming in, it’s still very, very hard. Unless you have the cachet of someone like Donny Ann or Jackie Chan or Michelle Yo. Breaking a new Hollywood is extremely, extremely hard and relegated to a lot of peripheral roles, which was the norm for people of color for a while. It’s only recently that the paradigm has shifted where Asians are now getting more screen time. Ever since the success of crazy, rich Asians and always Be My Baby. I love alcohol, so these kind of things are now changed. But if you’re going back in time, they weren’t there for us.
And also, even now, I think this is one of the areas that you really started to surface and talk about in a very transparent way. Basically, there is an issue. But I think I’m kind of curious, naturally, thinking about what are some of the solutions possible? Or we as Asian Americans, what can we do to help each other out? Or other people who are not necessarily Asian Americans, who are interested in the cause or are trying to kind of shift the paradigm? Or what are some of the things that you think we could do or even start to think about differently, like from a mindset shift perspective?
I think it’s your story. It’s always the story, the script. I think it’s important to have stories that have sort of like an homage to your cultural heritage or your cultural dichotomy, which North American Asians do have for a bit of everything. But at the same time, I think the stories have to resonate to other cultures. It has to be a story that peels, that crosses all cultures. And I think that’s one of the tricks that will do it. Also. I think it’s breaking away from stereotypes. I think we’re tired of it. And I think maybe the people, the moviegoers are tired of it too. If you just keep feeding people the same schlock, it gets tired. Really. It’s boring. It’s tired. We’ve done the martial arts, we’ve done gangsters. We’re 364 dimensional people. Give us a chance to tell our stories. Which is one of the reasons why I did justice for Vincent, an adaptation of the Vincent Chimps story, because I saw that there was a wave, a trend where there we went from Asians good at martial arts and gangsters and servants. Rose. Observant rose. And then we went into comedy. Comedy broke the next wave with crazy occasions.
I thought that I still think drama is going to be the next door to kick down. And I said, Well, I wanted to do a social justice drama from an Asian American perspective, but at the same time stay true to what I just earlier. How do we make this story appeal to people of all color? It’s not just an AsianAmerican social justice story. It’s a social justice story, period. Yeah, that’s my thing. And Bankability, if it sells as crazy rich Asians did, then Hollywood gives you more chances. It’s all about show business is a business. If it can be Bankable, that’s where when the profits start coming in, that’s when Hollywood shifts.
It’s funny that you mentioned that because Crazy Rich Asian, I get their books and they’re famous writers involved and their faces that people are finally familiar with. But I think he chose a very challenging topic. I think justice for events is something that hits people very hard, but something that you really have to experience and see. And I think we’re in a way, I feel that we’re responsible to know the story. And there people talk about the difference between kind of do you forgive versus forget. I think these are part of the stories that it’s impossible to forget and should never be forgotten. You chose a very I find it a difficult, like, a challenging topic. Whereas crazy, rich, Asian, it’s just entertainment. It’s me and my girlfriend, some popcorns, and I don’t remember anything happens otherwise. I’m good looking girl and guy involved, right?
And a lot of those cast members are my friends from Singapore. I did the red carpet reviews in Hollywood. No, you’re right. I had the chance because I was working actually on a romantic comedy for Future script. And I remember my manager at the time said, no one wants an Asian romantic comedy. What are you doing? Don’t waste your time and money. Anyway, we know what happened there. And I said, well, what’s the other story that I wanted to do? And it’s the instantaneous story. And this is a story that’s haunted sat in my gut for decades. I’m not the only writer or filmmaker who has wanted to do this story in a dramatic form. And I took the chance to do it. And I know it’s not a documentary and a lot of creative liberties were taken. So it’s an adaptation. It’s a document, if you want to call it. So I took chances there, and it’s dramatically telling, but it’s not an easy topic to talk about because it’s a hate crime perpetrated against an Asian American that sparked the largest Asian civil rights movement in America in the 80s. How do you do that in 15 minutes, right?
And I was like, oh, my God. It was tough. But when I wrote the script, my thing was, what was the message? What’s the message? And the message was, it’s universal. A mother’s loss is a mother’s loss. Hate is hate. Injustice is injustice. And it doesn’t matter if you’re Asian American or Jewish or African American. Middle Eastern hispanic a hate crime or LGBTQ. A hate crime is a hate crime. And that commonality undercurrent of injustice. And it binds us to unites us together. And I know we’re living in politically charged climate right now. And I didn’t want to kind of make a film that pitted Democrats versus Republicans that was I think it’s. Regardless of your political affiliation. Is that if you can see that there is the compassion of loss and the injustice. And if that can bring people together regardless of your party lines. I think that’s the way to move forward as a society. I think divisive society is very I don’t know, it’s scary for me. It’s very disturbing. It’s just fuse wrong. It just fuses wrong. And so I took a chance.
I’ve been trying a lot with the film.
It’s been a year on the road at film festivals, and we’ve done well, we’ve done a lot of awards and stuff like that. And I understand that it’s not an easy topic. My greatest reward of doing a film is when a lot of the audiences, particularly nonasian, they don’t know about this story. And they saw it. And African Americans have come up to me, hispanic people have come up to me, jewish people come up to me. We didn’t know. We didn’t even know that there were hate crimes. And really, I get goosebumps thinking about it. And the most compelling person who came up to me, she said, morris, I confess I harbor a little bit of racism, but your film changed me. I totally see things from a different perspective now. And that was the greatest reward of this. You can debate the facts and the historical components of my film and my dramatic embellishments and creative liberties, but the fact that it affected people and in that way, it was the greatest reward I’ve ever received. It’s shocking. Someone actually confessed that they were actually trying to racist and this film changed their viewpoints.
Interesting. I know sometimes those moments kind of you have that brief moment to discuss with some person, somebody I would love, you know, imagine you’re like, you know what? You said there was a woman in this case, it would be great to grab a drink with her and sit down and be like, okay, what were you like before? There are some selfawareness courses that are taught in corporate America these days. But if people don’t have the selfawareness, how do they even know they need to be in a self awareness course? But this woman realized something deep inside and like you said, she confessed. And that’s really powerful something that was triggered by the film.
I think racism is a strange thing because sometimes everything is very superficial. It’s broad stroke. You hate someone because of the color of their skin. It’s so ridiculous, right? And then often racism is intertwined with economics during economic hardships. You blame a certain demographic for economic difficulties, which is happening right now. Right now, 82 was the Japanese auto invasion in Detroit compromising the automotive automotive industry. Suddenly it didn’t matter if you were Japanese or Chinese, you’re just seen as Asian. You were seen as a threat. That broad stroking, that superficial broadbuster. And that happens now, too. One of those things that my call to arms. But it was through the power of film and storytelling that you can affect someone. And like I said, I hope it was the compassion and the understanding that altered people’s perspective. And I’m just glad that people from other cultures came up to me after the film festivals. And we’re very grateful for the right word, but enlightened by the fact that there was this story that seemed to that they all said it deserves to be told. And I know right now there’s a lot of filmmakers who are probably in the works of doing a full feature as well and all the power to them.
I’d love to do a feature of some of it too, but I don’t know who’s going to do it. But I think whoever does it, it’s just a wonderful opportunity to relay this part of American history. Asian American history.
Yeah, absolutely. I felt kind of fun because every day you’re bombarded by these so called news, breaking news, and when I heard the story and I read it and with a ticket in my hand, I was just thinking like, wow, I’ve never heard of the story before.
Yeah, because the reason is my background is a little different because I didn’t come to the US. Until around two thousand s. And so I grew up in China and Beijing.
And it’s interesting when I shared your film with some of my close friends, and I can see that people who grew up here and lived here ran a bell, but they can’t recall many details. And I was kind of clueless and I felt like being a Chinese person from China, that it’s like something I really should know. And I feel like I was being taught a lesson in a way that’s not just about that’s not revengeful, but it’s about understanding history and really deciding what we need to know to move forward. I think that’s really what we ought to think about.
Yeah. I think the older generation know of this story. The younger generation, maybe not. I know there are some it’s taught in some Asian American schools, social studies programs and things like that, but yeah, I’m glad that there’s like a whole new audience who don’t know of this story. I always thought that I want to do this Asian social justice story and I was like, wow. I was sat there, I’m like, people are going to challenge me. Why do you want to do this? I go, well, there are African American social justice stories and there’s a lot of Jewish social justice stories. There’s a native social where’s ours?
Where’s ours? Exactly.
They need to tell ours too. Right. So that was my two cent.
Yeah. And I love the fact that you also worked as a show host and really in many spectrum on every walks of the entertainment industry. Because when we think about people who are leading the charge as interviewers, having their own shows, like there’s Oprah, Alan DeGeneres, and there is an Asian person household name you can point to, to say, wow, that person, we should be watching this person show.
And I really try to think it more broadly these days, as I am in my mid thirty s now. I’m thinking it could be you one of us. That’s actually the kind of the theme.
I think we’ll get our show together. No, I think despite the climate that we live in politically and socially, on the flip side, really, there is more diversity. And I guess my hope is that the powers that be stopped relegating us to peripheral roads. It’s like the main host and then the secondary host is Asian, or the lead actor is white, and then the secondary actor is asian when it comes to a mixed cast, why can’t it be the other way around? So that’s my hope. And I think that part of you asked earlier, how can we effect this change? I think it’s getting into those positions of power, whether it’s as a writer, as a producer, as a director, and that’s how you affect change. Sorry, I’m going to get off my soapbox here. Am I a bit freaky today?
No, not at all. But I think there are more opportunities today than ever before of anybody who I’m sure you heard this millions of times, anyone with a smartphone, with a computer, internet access, you can create anything. And I have my YouTube channel, I just subscribe to yours and people are stepping up and I don’t it’s so funny. I wanted to write it down, but I learned about this particular production group. Start with W, but it’s a completely Asian Asian American production team. And I remember learning about them also through Bath and came home. I was thinking, they’re too young for me. But then I start watching these Asian American stories and you just crack up. Like, one is called Guess Her Age from like 14 to 30 in Bachelor.
Was that this company that’s really funny.
Yeah, I have to send it to you. But all of a sudden, immediately before I saw the subscribers, because I’m not like a numbers person, I thought to myself, they’re very purely Asian American. They probably have like 500 followers and there’s a cap, there’s a ceiling to how relatable they are. And I was surprised to see over 3 million, which is over time, when I first discovered them, was like hovering around like 100, 200,000. All of a sudden, they’re just people who are their viewers are very diverse. So all of a sudden I realize there is an interest. Like you said, we’re storytellers. And if we tell good stories, that’s not just about ourselves exclusively Asian American, there is an audience and there’s so many proof points already.
Entertainment is, like I said, storytelling. If you’re making people laugh, if you’re getting people excited, adrenaline is rushing or you’re making them cry, you’re doing the right thing. Yeah, it’s good. And I think those old schoolers who are in the positions of power, they need to let go of that old way of thinking that it’s not so much a race thing as it is a story is good and it connects and it resonates, and race becomes a peripheral that becomes a secondary thing. And that’s why I think we should strive towards to kind of level the playing field.
Yeah. I’m curious to kind of maybe check in with you on something that like a project I’ve been working on, which is after I shot my film, which, by the way, I am the host and I am interviewing influential people. I travel around the US. And I’m proud of it. But that project was. Supposed to come after the book I wanted to write, which is not exactly like a handbook for Asian Americans. It’s about a handbook, a book that’s filled with emotions, but also tactical solutions, perhaps, and suggestions and mindset changing techniques for Asian immigrants anywhere in the world. And, you know, speaking and speaking with someone like yourself, I feel like you’ve chosen possibly the hardest industry for Asian Americans to break through. But yet, you know, you grew up in Canada, I assume, in an immigrant family. What are some of the things now that comes to mind that you wish you knew or all these kind of reflections and learnings? I’ve had personally hit me so much in the past five, six years.
I would say you have to find your tribe fast. Young is better. Surround yourself with people who have similar interests and will support you. And also you have to have the honesty and audacity to say, this is what I want to do. And then the second part to that is, well, how do I go about doing it? And that means honing your craft and networking and creating your own projects that you’re doing. Because when you create your own projects, it really is an affirmation of self belief. It takes a lot. Like, people have no idea how much, not only time, but just emotional, spiritual energy that you invest in an online talk show. It’s a film, it’s a record, whatever. Yes, money is always a difficult thing, and yes, the workload is hard because it’s like freelancer. You have your day job, and you got to do this whenever you have free time, and then you have no life. But the hardest part is the emotional, spiritual part of it because you’re going against the winds of naysayers parents, skeptics friends. You’re breaking conformity, and you’re harnessing this engine in you that says, no, I believe in myself.
I have a vision, and I want to commit to this vision. And for some reason, I think if you’re sincere, you’re passionate, and the quality of what you’re doing is good. People gravitate towards it. I managed to harm it with justice for Vincent. I didn’t know. You don’t know, but the script I wrote is my first film script. I worked at TV, and I never did film, and I was getting creatively stifled as a TV host, and I wanted to act, and I wanted to go into filmmaking. And it was so hard getting a break. So I said, Well, I’m in Hollywood, and I might as well do it myself, and calling up a lot of friends and networking at events. I mean, our first person to play Lily Chin, Vincent’s mother, was such a hard, hard role. The film is she really is the heart and soul of the film. And I managed to get Elizabeth Song, who was the foremost Asian American actress in America, and she’s been at the Joy.
She passed away.
I saw weeks before weeks before began to film. She couldn’t do it. She got sick and sadly passed away. And then her friend Niche and came to us through Elizabeth, and we were so lucky. And then we had a stunt guy. I sent the script to Code Blindly. And I remember I ran into a middle hallway once, and he was biracial Korean, Asian American. I had no idea what a powerhouse he was.
Avatar Two and Wonder Woman. And Transformers. And he came on board to help us.
Why do you think he said yes?
He said it’s exactly the same thing I did, which was there are no Asian social justice stories coming out of Hollywood. And he was so moved by the script, and he didn’t know the story either. And he took time off Avatar, too, and to help us choreograph he took a chance. But it goes back to when you have that take, that legal safe with the right tools in your toolkit, somehow people gravitate towards you. Something about it.
I don’t know, because maybe this is because Lawrence, when we’re all human beings, at the end of the day, we all know where we’re going, and there are documentaries about we should walk each other home, right? And yet we act as if we are so just such individuals. We’re so independent from one another, we don’t need each other. But perhaps that you’ve taken the leap of faith to tell a story that’s never been told before or never even sought to be important enough.
There was documentaries on it, okay. Not a dramatic adaptation. And I was able to meet some of the people behind those works, which was really moving, and I met a lot of the real social activists involved in the case. So I’m sorry I interrupted your question. Go ahead.
Yeah, no worries. I think really was thinking about the reason why the stunt I believe his last name is Brown, or even even Brown.
Yeah. People think he’s Mike, but he’s actually Korean American.
Yeah, have Korean. And because you said people gravitate towards what you’re doing, perhaps in parts, what I’m doing is that I think people are curious and people that may not have the opportunity or the time or whatever it takes or particular skill sets or the community to thrive, and they want to witness someone else doing that. And it’s almost like an actual, real documentary on the fold. Right. You don’t know.
I mean, when you’re doing, you don’t think, oh, you really don’t think about these things. I don’t think anyone really thinks about it. It’s like, if it everyone takes chances. This show business, like you said, is the hardest industry, because you could take a chance and you could fall flat on your face.
You could do a wonderful no one sees it. It could become a success. There’s no guarantee. It’s not like a traditional career where you get a degree. You find a job and you land one and you’re fat. It’s just a constant gamble. But I don’t know. I think we have to support each other. I realize that show business is really competitive and it always baffles me when there are segments of the Chinese community. Some are really supportive of you and then others aren’t support because they’re competing with you. That always confuses me. And I realize it’s because the pie is so small for us. I get it. It’s very different. I remember going to Korean Friends film screenings and then the outpouring of community and it’s very different. Every cultural thing has grown dichotomy, but at the same time, I get that it’s a competitive industry. So I don’t know. I hope that we are supporting each other.
Let’s talk about that for a second. It’s really fascinating because I often hear as a woman, how come there are not more women truly supporting each other in the corporate world? And I tell them, because the slice of the pie is already so small. There are only so few female executives. That’s why you see women pulling hairs and cat fights everywhere.
That’s the reality. We can’t even admit it. We can’t even talk about it. Which makes it even harder, right? Like, women can’t talk about the fact that they don’t have time to get pregnant. They certainly won’t have time to raise their children. And that the stake is very high and you keep climbing. You can also fall flat on your face. Internal politics. You get kicked out. But I want to take a second to talk about Parasite real quick because.
We do here’s a helicopter. Can you hear it outside? Is it bothering you know what?
It was the funny thing. I can’t hear it right now. There’s some staticky noise. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I was like, is that a heater or air conditioning?
Someone doing like a lawn grass outside.
Oh, that’s why I was like, that’s.
Not your mind or no, I would.
Try to edit it down a little bit, but it’s okay. I feel like this is kind of a real try to close another screen. It’s okay. I think I’m going to try to pick it up. It’s fairly constant. It would be harder to edit. But imagine like, you and I could be standing in the street right now having a friendly conversation and it’s got to be background noise. Sure. Yeah. Let it be natural. This is my confession towards watching Parasite, to be honest, because everyone who recommended the film to me are American. In particular, Caucasians. Okay? So when they recommended this film to me, keep in mind I grew up in China. I watched Hong Kong films, like for the first oh, my God, 20 years of my life. So when I watched it, I was like my immediate reaction is like, yup, get that check. Nothing surprised me, you know, like, I knew exactly. I almost could predict where it was going to go until let’s just say there are some surprises.
It’s refreshing for the non Asian audiences, right? No, I have the same conversation. Like my Caucasian friends loved it more than I loved it. I think it was a great job. I enjoyed it a lot, but it wasn’t like, oh, my God. But for them, it’s like, oh, my God.
Oh, my God. Did you know? Seriously, people, I heard America’s having extended conversations about the levels of society and like, justice. And so that happened and I was like, oh, this is cool. I had no idea I was going to win Oscars. And then to see a sea of Korean producers and writers on stage, that was stunning because they took it was wonderful. I felt so good about it. I love the speech they gave us. Like, this is a movement. Things are changing. And I sat there and thinking. I watched on YouTube, by the way, because I wasn’t really watching it live. And I felt the movement. I felt like, well, we’re Asian. Asian American. This is so great. And then 5 seconds later, it’s like, man, next year better be Chinese.
Well, we had a crutching tiger moment that we haven’t had a North American moment. It’s interesting. I had the same reaction with crazy, rich Asians. I mean, I love the fact that it was so successful. People from all walks of life, the box office is huge. They love the film. But for a Chinese guy watching that story, we’ve seen that story lied in a ton of Chinese movies. I lived in Hong Kong. It’s always like, rich boy, bring home the peasant girl and family objects.
You’re like, this is my wife. This is what I witnessed.
But for us, we micromanalize it.
The fact that it’s translated into all these other cultural groups, I’m happy for it.
I know it’s part of that. It’s like it almost feels trivial, even though that’s kind of a very cruel word to describe that. But to us and what also hit me, by the way, is when I remember the name of the gentleman who directed Parasite, and he’s clearly famous. When he got on stage, I felt like he was very sincere. But at the same time, he gave away a lot of the sort of how he got famous of several he named several American directors, all sitting in the front row about who recommended his film over the course of God knows how long could be 1020 years. And being named, we’re being picked. The idea of, like you said, people in power picking someone like us who is still unknown to the audience, that’s kind of a way in. And you kind of keep climbing that ladder. And so it really makes me question, by the way, of seeing a film winning Oscars versus, for example, seeing a film, you know, Bath, I think about like, how much weight we put on, whether we should even go see the film, where the impact of the film shouldn’t be judged based on the awards.
I don’t think it should be based on the environment where how many stamps of approval it has received. But I think we as human beings got to be a little bit just be more self aware, be more conscious of the world we live in and then be able to choose content and who we follow more wisely. I mean, I don’t mean to think of such a profound statement, but I constantly think about these things because then we keep falling. We can’t cut through the noise of thinking.
Yeah, I understand that perspective. That’s the thing with Hollywood, those cornflake seals of approval, they mean a lot because it’s money. It’s a revenue booster, and people are just swayed by that. I mean, that’s the consumerism of show business, isn’t it? Right. And I don’t know if there’s a solution to that. It’s really you do a wonderful art piece film that’s critically to go watch it versus something that starts winning Oscars. I think most people are going to go see the Oscar film. That’s just the nature of the beast. That’s human nature. Is it right? No, not necessarily. I mean, is it the right way to gauge a barometer to go see a film or not? I don’t know. It’s really funny. You flip it on the other side and it’s like, well, the caucasians have been making films all these years. How refreshing is it for them to see their own films? Right? They’re probably sitting there and seeing all this again, right? And then you see an Asian American film or African American film from a different culture, slumdog millionaire. It’s kind of like a culture. It’s a shock to them.
It feels so good. It’s a culture, a refreshing shock to them.
So be it. Let them get shocked.
Let them get shocked. And you’re right. Then you don’t realize that that there are now hundreds of thousands of films on Netflix, hulu, that if you flip through them, you realize actually like the ones that you end up flipping through are the ones with big household names or Adam Sandler, Brad Pitt, like they are films that you’ve never seen before, right? Just like you said. And then you think, I’ve seen this. Oh, I haven’t actually seen it. It’s just so similar to like 300 other films that these people have. So you’re absolutely right. But a lot of the signals or whatever is not getting picked up crazy.
I watch a lot of Netflix and stuff, and to me, it’s a story. I get hooked in by the story and then it’s almost like you realize it’s all Caucasian, which is fine, it’s a UK show, whatever. But then you go, wait a minute, different cultural groups could come up with a compelling story and wonderful acting and great directing, too. And you kind of like one race. Can it be a multicultural cast?
Exactly. I mean, I even see that in animation. I’ve interviewed people who deliver Big Hero Six and all, but for example, from a year ago, this animated short called Bow. Like Bow?
Oh, yeah, Bow.
It just made everybody I mean, I was crying like a bitch. It’s just like a look around. Everybody was crying, you know, people of all cultures. And it just it moved me so much to watch that the whole thing was like five minutes. And then I ended up looking up that woman who basically produced a film and actually animated all the characters, like the original character designer and this skinny Asian woman you’ve never heard of. I followed on Instagram. Her Instagram has like 500 followers. Then I traced back to her origin story. She’s only been interviewed a few times, where Pixar turned her down several times, did not give an internship, where she didn’t really get picked. And it’s crazy. And then yet this is like one of the most successful shorts. That is so Chinese, right?
Yes. Baffling is like, what is happening here?
Oh, boy. You’re hitting into some difficulty. No, you’re right. As we make these advances into diversity and the landscape is changing, how hard is it for an Asian American or an Asian from overseas to break into the Hollywood industry? It’s still very hard. It’s still hard. It’s like you could have the most compelling resume and the greatest work. I still think you will be almost like Scrutinized more or Second Guess more. I remember when I first moved to I had a huge portfolio, showbiz hosting. I interviewed all the big stars. George Clooney, Mariah Carey. And I won a lot of hosting awards and stuff like that. And it was like, you meet people in some powerful plate positions in Hollywood, and it’s like, he’s Asian male. He was a female Asian. Maybe he would take a chance because the babe thing right?
And this is going back a few years, so I guess it’s harder for us. It still is. I don’t care what people still like. It’s still harder.
The babe effect. Yeah, he’s male. It’s very hard.
They think, well, is he going to resonate in the Midwest? Think about it’s.
A big deal.
The market is going to tune in or they’re going to turn off. It’s a weird thing. I don’t know. I’ll be honest with you. Since you’re a host of your own show, I do think it’s easier for an Asian woman to break in as a show of his host.
Oh, I think so. I know that for a fact. I think it’s as a show host and entertainment business. But I’ve been told many times, not just to me personally, but the fact that Asian women have it, they say, much easier. Even living just everyday life, living in North America.
I met kanye Chung years ago. And she said, yeah, it was easier for Asian female newscasters or hosts to break in because they were considered like the babe. The China doll was always harder. We were relegated to business news or computer technology news or whatever. But it’s changing. I think Asians has done a great job in that they actually finally cast Asians that aren’t stereotypically. Stereotype. They actually had an Asian guy. My friend Pierre with Ad from Peer Punk from Singapore. And Henry Golding was a very leading man. There was a great mix. We, as Asians, know about it. We go to China or Hong Kong? Taiwan. We see the mix. We don’t just see Asians, but a lot of the white casting people, they have a very narrow lens of what an Asian person is, an error perspective, which is like, no, I know.
And then they tend to look very kind of similar to one another. And of course, every time I go back to Asia and people without me naming names and people recognize these very famous Asian American particular actresses, all Asian people are baffled by how are they picked. Do American people find them very attractive because they’re not considered very attractive in Asia?
Right. It’s a very different perspective. In Asia, they love very pretty boy, cutesy girl. But in America, they like the more sexy model types. Right. It’s a very different thing. But I still think but which is again, it goes back to the point, well, why is it okay for the white acting community to have all types? They can have goofy types, caricature types, leading man, rugged types, sexy types. But then back in the Asians, it’s like, oh, no, it’s a certain type. It’s only a certain type. Like a couple of types. Very ethnic or very what was the term? Multiracial mixed. But things are changing, so we’ll see. I don’t know.
I’m excited for the change. I think the change is definitely happening. Like you said, when the slice of the pie is ready. So small. How many types can you really fit in there?
Yeah, they tend to go with what sells before. Just follow them old.
Which kind of sucks. But at the same time, I think it’ll broaden and it’ll get better. So I don’t know. Yeah, it all comes down to the quality. Whether it’s the script or the person’s acting or person’s directing, producing, whatever. If the quality is good and it translates to a diverse range of audiences, then I think your goal yeah, for sure.
It’s funny that I’m familiar. I know we haven’t really spent a ton of time together, but I feel like knowing you through different events and watching your film makes me feel like we’re close. So we’re talking in a very honest way. I think by nature, you’re a very optimistic person. If somebody could see you in a panel, they will feel that right away. And I want that to come through.
I never know how I’m being received. So thank you.
No, you’re smiling a lot. You’re getting to the point. Instead of dancing, I don’t find you kind of dancing around an issue. You’re like, this is the issue, let’s talk about it. There are some potential solutions. These things I’ve tried didn’t work. I find it really refreshing when people talk in that manner. So I do respect your time. What’s next for you? How can people find you? What are some of the projects that’s.
A year, more than a year. Constantly traveling is really exhausting. I’m going to probably do some more writing. I might revisit the rom.com that I was working on. I might do a horror script because I’m the host of Ghosting Encounters. I have a following there, but I’m okay. Most people who have had a film on the circuit and a lot of words would jump ledge into acting. I think I might do more writing. I don’t know. We’ll see.
Yeah. It looks like your journalist roots of writing writing more.
I think it’s also age. You realize the reins to true power in Hollywood is creative control, and you’re behind the scenes pulling strings.
Yeah. And also, not everybody can write, so might as well take advantage of your toolkit. Right. Like what you just said earlier, I.
Was kind of like, I want to do it all, oprah’s career. I want to be a talk show host, and I want to be able to act, and I want to make films, too.
What’s wrong with that?
I think it’s just a matter of just keep plugging at it and getting more successful and known. America is a tough jungle. Getting that break is really hard.
It’s just hard.
I got breaks in Hong Kong and Singapore coming to it’s harder. It’s just harder. It’s just so many people are competing, and so I don’t know. I just think that you just have to keep at it.
Yeah. Well, I’m excited to hear what you’re going to work on next, so who knows? Who knows? Through our connections, common connections, LinkedIn podcasts. And if there’s anything that we I personally can do to help you and please let me know. I will be very honored, and this kind of opportunities are exciting.
Likewise. Jeez, I’m so moved here. No, thank you. I appreciate it.
This is wonderful, and I hope you feel better. Lawrence, I think you’re great. I couldn’t even tell that you haven’t been sleeping.
Now we know who’s lied.
No, because you’re connected for me, if I sleep three 4 hours a day, I would not be functioning. I don’t think I can respond to questions intelligently at all.
That’s been my life. Three 4 hours a day.
You’ve been traveling. When are you going to stop traveling?
It’s pretty much I think we have our last film festival maybe this month at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood, and then I’m going to call it a rapid wrap.
Honestly, how often did you have the trial in the past year? Like every other week.
There was a time when I was going for cities four weeks, and it was exhausting. It was east coast. West coast. It’d be like New York to San Francisco and into Philadelphia. It was intense.
Would you say that actually do you think? It had obviously very positive impact on the film? What was your expectation going in versus what ended up happening at the end of it?
That’s a good question. When I first did you really don’t know. And then we started to win awards at the beginning a lot. There was a streak. We were winning, and that was wonderful. Towards the tail end, not as much, but that’s fine. My only kind of like, oh, I wish you won a big festival like TIFF or Sundance or Con. That would have been like over the moon. Right. But I can’t complain. I mean, we’re at about 25 accolades from my first short film that I wrote, produced and acted in, so I’m okay, I’m not complaining.
Oh my God, it’s so funny. I keep promising I’ll wrap it up, but I feel like I love some of these rapid fire questions where people really want to know these things. And I have some filmmakers following me because of my journey in the past couple of years. But as I learned, the marketing process is so expensive, not to mention time consuming because you can’t really do much. You can’t really do these interviews like we’ve been trying to schedule them as easily. So do you have to then organize your own trips and pay for your own trip?
You do. Most of the very, very, very few film festivals will offer you a stipend. Most of it is out of your own pocket. And that’s like a double edged sword, is that if you create a film that is of high quality and start waiting, you better have a big reserve of cash to start driving.
Airfare hotel meals. Yeah.
It’s very expensive. I know a lot of my family friends. Toward the end of the year, I can’t traveling my no more money.
I’m so broke. It’s crazy. Also, you’re traveling during busy seasons and some film festivals may not be as big, but you can’t predict there may be, I don’t know, a football game going on.
Right. They want you to show up to be an ambassador for your film, and they do want that input from a filmmaker, but at the same time, it’s very expensive. And you kind of know if you start winning awards early on or in the middle, you kind of like, oh.
It’S going to be you can see it coming.
And then if you’re not, and then you say, okay, I don’t have to tend every film festival. You can pull back a bit.
It’s expensive. Yeah. It is.
Oh, I’m so glad I asked these questions. It’s juicy. I love it.
But you know, the best thing about Film Festival I’m glad I did it, is that it’s actually awards are great and everything like that, and it’s really meeting people like you, building relationships. That’s the best part. I mean, some festivals I’ve gotten made friends for life, and those are the best moments of the journey.
Yeah, exactly like you said. Same thing for me. For podcasting, it’s expensive, and we’re finally able to bring down the cost a little bit and develop YouTube content. But when we go to show up to a city, people we interview open up their doors, we see their kids, and we become lifelong friends, and we follow them to different places. I mean, I’m thinking of all these, like, Cirque du Soleil artists that we ended up showing up in my film, and we’re going to see them in Germany now. Like you said, it’s an incredible feeling to realize. It’s just like you said, it’s about the tribe, it’s about the connection and the network beyond anything else.
Oh, can I just say one last thing?
Yeah, please. I got time.
Yeah. So I played the civil rights activist in the film, and most people know Helen Zia, who is the foremost civil rights activist involved in the case. And it was creative decision to cast myself in it because I didn’t want to be a replica of the documentary who killed Vincent Shin. And it was a calculated decision in a sense that there were a lot of it was a composite character, sort of like it shouldn’t be a male or female. That wasn’t the point. But there were a lot of also male civil rights activists behind the scenes that weren’t known. So that’s why I kind of stepped into that role. But also I stepped into the role because my acting coach discovered this. Is that why did you want to put yourself in that role? And I realized that Vincent’s mom was reminded me of my mom and her struggles of discrimination. And she had legal battles, she had a very hard life, was very unhealthy, and she was like her protector. And in my role, as you see me in the film, it’s like I’m like the protector. And it was a subconscious thing that I wouldn’t even worry about.
Sorry, you don’t have to put that in there. You can edit that out.
No, it’s very important because some people.
Are a bit shocked, like, why isn’t a woman there? So that’s that was a creative decision.
I think it’s so important. My favorite questions to ask actors are like, how do you relate to the character? And sometimes after someone’s been in the film, especially TV series in the US. For, like, ten years and 100 plus episodes, you almost become that person. Some people say they have. How do you separate yourself from the character that you. Inherited for so long.
I remember when this story broke and I was a student, and then I was just haunted by it. Like, it really affected me. And I was in, like, a very white dominated journalism school, and I felt such a cultural misfit. It haunted me. It haunted me and it just sat with me. And I remember when I graduated from journalism school in Canada, I’m going to go off to Asia and be around my own people. And there was discrimination and communications for people like me. So I don’t know. There’s a lot of reasons. Okay, this is here we go. The point of my wheel. If you’re a creative person as you are, you’re motivated to do something that fulfills your soul. There’s a creative juice. Something is tugging in you. It’s like it needs to be fed. And oftentimes it’s buried in your subconscious. You don’t even know why you’re really, really doing it. But there’s always an impetus. There should always be a pure, heartfelt reason for doing something that you are going to invest your time and money and resources into doing it. If it comes from a good place to your place, that’s the right project.
And you have to find out kind of why you are doing this.
Yeah. It kind of triggered, obviously, a lot of thoughts because I don’t have kids and I love to have kids, but let’s just say it’s not as easy as people think. They just snap a finger and you have kids and this is going to be it for the rest of your life. And because of the situation and kind of that I’m in, and watching half of my friends having children and you lose contact with them right away, very quickly, rapidly, I find myself friendly people such as yourself and other super creative people who are traveling constantly, creating film projects and building companies, and they’re so fulfilled. They’re so happy with what they’ve done. It’s very rewarding and very clarifying for me to realize that just like there should be diversity in the film industry for Asian actors. I feel like there should be diversity to how Asian immigrants and Asian Americans and Asian people in general can choose to live the life that suits them. That it’s okay to. Like you said. Time and your financial resources to pursue what you love to do. Because, yes, I think being a parent is just a wonderful thing.
But on the other hand, I mean, I didn’t even ask you. I just assume that you’re kind of pursuing so much of what you’re doing.
Lonely past, girl. It really is.
It is. It’s very hard. I worked as a consultant for years, and the travel and the stipend and all was sexy for me for two days, literally. And the rest of it was very lonely and very difficult.
It’s worth it to you, right?
Yes. But most of my friends are all getting married and stuff like that. Here I am traveling. It’s like such a foreign thing for them because a lot of my closest friends are not in show business. So you’re kind of like that oddball guy.
No, they live vicariously through you. That’s what’s happening.
Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t know. I mean, you do it because you have to be true to you, right? So you take the road, less travel. It’s a hard road, but you do it because you love it.
Yeah. You’re here for a cause, too. I mean, it’s not just a film that you produced, but you’re here to delete a life that’s very different than, like you said, becoming a doctor or lawyer. Like the scheduled path, the expected outcome.
I would get physically sick if I had to do something I didn’t love. No, really? Like muscle spasms. I would be sick.
I would be physically ill. Yeah.
You’re doing us all a favor here. So do what you love and keep showing up for your work, because it’s just exciting to talk about and to know that the change is happening. I mean, when you have parasite, the change is happening right now with people like yourself. It’s part of that movement. You don’t have to be part of that crew producing that particular film, but I think we’re all I hope so.
We contribute in our own little way. It’s a short film. It’s not a big, sweeping, major feature epic, but there are many films under.
Your name, and there are going to be many more to come.
We’ll talk more again.
Yes, for sure. Lauren, thank you so much for your time.
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