27 Sep Q&A WITH JUWAN CHUNG, DIRECTOR OF BABY
The most important lesson I’ve learned on BABY is that as a director, you’re the captain of the ship, and if you want to gain respect from your crew and cast, you have to make everyone believe in the project. You never lose your cool, no matter how tough things get.
MYE HOANG: How does it feel to have your film in SDAFF as a nominated narrative feature?
JUWAN CHUNG: Honestly, it feels great just to be invited. I’ve heard many great things about the fest since it started and next thing I know, we’re in it. Hopefully we’ll have a great turnout and maybe walk away with an award.
HOANG:You were born in Los Angeles, studied in New York at the School for Visual Arts and then moved back to Los Angeles. What made you come back to the West coast?
CHUNG: I was born in Hollywood and grew up in and around Ktown. After going to film school in New York, I actually worked at De Niro’s Tribeca Film Center for a little over a year, and I tried to put together a low budget film back in 1999. I realized all my contacts were coming from Los Angeles, so after that project pretty much fell through, I knew that if I wanted to really make films, I oughta move back before it’s too late. Los Angeles is a film friendly town, bottomline. New York isn’t.
HOANG: Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
CHUNG: I knew I wanted to be an artist since I was a kid. My grandfather is an artist and he’s been a serious influence throughout my life. I actually started out in Animation and Fine Arts before switching to film.
HOANG: When did you start BABY and what inspired the story?
CHUNG: The idea for BABY actually came about around 2004 after I tried to make my 2nd film in NY and that fell through. The basic blueprints for the story were already worked out and when the project didn’t happen, I switched gears and focused on BABY. The story is loosely based on one of my friends who was in an Asian gang and sent away for 8 years for a home invasion robbery. I thought loosely basing a story on him, combined with events throughout the Asian community during the early 90s would be something people would want to watch. I knew that a West coast Asian gangsta flick hadn’t been done yet and we were hoping to be the first ones to really knock one out. The script went through about six to seven drafts and took about a year and a half to really tighten up.
HOANG: What was your biggest challenge in shooting?
CHUNG: Locations. Everything seemed to be almost perfect up until about a week before shooting – that’s when the universal law of film kicked in. Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. Our locations manager fell seriously ill and we lost about two thirds of our locations. That left us without most of our huge locations with a week before picture. That was pretty bad. So we ended up pushing the start date two weeks, but it still left us scrambling for locations throughout the shoot.
HOANG: Well if that was the case, I couldn’t tell! You still managed to pull together a really good film. Now how did you find David Hyunh who plays Baby?
I found David through auditions for the promo trailer we shot in 2004. He had just moved down from Canada four months prior to the auditions and it came down to him and another kid. David seemed a bit raw at the time, but I saw that he had some of the characteristics I saw in the real guy Baby was based on.
HOANG: Speaking of the “real guy” – has he seen the film, and what was his reaction?
CHUNG: He hasn’t seen the film, but he knows about it. He has been supportive of our efforts all the way through. He hasn’t seen the movie because after his release a few years ago, he was deported from the US. As far as the real guy is concerned, I didn’t really want to make the character just like him, he was just an inspiration. To me, the real kid, like Baby, represented all these Asian street kids who had it tough.
HOANG: After making this film, how do you feel about the next one, and what are the most important lessons you’ve learned?
CHUNG: I think if we’re lucky enough to make the next movie, we should approach it like it might be our last one, because you never know when the next one is coming. In short, directing and writing movies is fun; getting them made from scratch is hard. So I treat every movie like it better leave a long lasting impression in the viewer’s minds, good or bad. I think good indie filmmakers are willing to take that risk and create something that makes waves – that’s what’s going to set them apart.
The most important lesson I’ve learned on BABY is that as a director, you’re the captain of the ship, and if you want to gain respect from your crew and cast, you have to make everyone believe in the project. You never lose your cool, no matter how tough things get. Once they see that, they’ll work 16 hour days without any bitching or moaning. Basically, it’s all about keeping the cast and crew happy and focused. It’s like coaching a football team. I can only call the plays and you have to trust your team to execute them.
Mye is the former Associate Director of the San Diego Asian Film Foundation (now Pacific Arts Movement)