How It All Started: The Choice to Follow Film

Finding the origin is always a difficult process.  The root of all things is an incredibly challenging task, and as I continue on this fresh journey, I try to think back at the exact moment where I knew film and writing was the career I wanted.  I can’t safely pinpoint where I felt the movie making business was my calling, considering there were so many moments that added to this decision.  But no matter where it exactly started, what’s more important (to me at least) is to convincingly focus on my motivations and reasoning.  There are many reasons why people go into the entertainment industry that may seem somewhat superficial.  Regardless of any of those reasons, people do what they do.  But for myself, a recent graduate of a Christian-based university from southwest Michigan with a degree in secondary education and social studies/history, it’s very important that the life-changing decision I made has solidity and a strong base to remind but also push me to keep going no matter how hard it gets.

Movies have always been a huge part of my life, even when I was a little kid.  There was nothing more invigorating or monumental when my mom would ask that simple question, “what’s playing at the movie theater?”  It was an excuse for me to spend countless hours finding movies and show times my mother and I would escape to.  I started experiencing cinemas at a very young age, and though it was a rated R film starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock stuck on a bus, it was quite magical.  There was no better time spent than being at a theater.  The strong scent of freshly cooked popcorn, the subtle sounds of fizzling soda, and the ever-so freezing temperatures that hit you like a cold brick wall when you enter your assigned screen.  The anticipation of your movie slowly arriving with the added environmental elements from theater radio or pre-show entertainment to the over-emphasized but astutely incorporated display of sound quality from Dolby digital. They were all friendly reminders that I was where I really wanted to be.

To most, film is a piece of entertainment, generating laughter or excitement from what is transpiring on-screen.  But all those crucial emotions that one may receive while watching a movie, I receive just being there.  Films are not just an escape or a reason to find thrills.  Movies are a way of life, providing pieces of understanding, perspective, and pure informative art.  When one witnesses something undeniably moving that does more than just show, but recollects past memories in your life or spiritually transports your own soul to another being, you know you’re watching more than just your average Hollywood film.  Just like a fine piece of literature, a powerful cinematic experience can empower one to see differently, think differently, and act differently.  It can change lives.

Though few may disagree with allowing such a media outlet or piece of anything affect you in such strong ways, I tend to see such powerful influences as a form of passion and love.  There are differences between infatuation and love, and it’s important for every person to know when they are infatuated or in love.  Since I was a kid, I was always thought movies were just an infatuation.  Growing up within in a Christian household, we were always supposed to have movies or anything entertaining at an arm’s length.  To some degree, you can call that hypocritical, but we were allowed to watch movies, but we weren’t allowed to love movies.  Within the church-going world, watching movies might be okay, but loving movies, no, that’s a dangerous line we may be walking.  The uncontrollable amounts of sex, drugs, and violence that were overflowing the screens were a clear sign to many Christians that movies were sinful.  And throughout my experiences as a movie-obsessed, church-instructed boy looking for some sort of explanation, it became clear to me that movies are not something serious, but more of a hobby.

This understanding became more of a beaten notion within my head as I continued to grow older, and my love for writing and filming when I was a kid disappeared, that could just be more of a reflection of life’s unfortunate hand that was played in my family.  Regardless, my attitude towards movies was “enjoy it, but don’t fall in love”.  So that’s what I did throughout my middle and high school years.  I only enjoyed movies, but I tried not to fall in love.  Even though I increased my financial investments in theaters and DVDs, I told myself I didn’t love them.  Even though a Saturday night out with a few friends eventually turned into a Wednesday night by myself, I told myself I didn’t love them.  And even though all I could keep within my head were actors, directors, writers, and their respective work instead of mathematical equations, historical facts, or scientific theories, I kept telling myself over and over again that I didn’t love them.  I even contemplated selling my entire DVD collection that I had incorporated and built through years of dedicating my money into a format that eventually would die away anyways, mainly because I told myself I didn’t love them.

But as I entered my college years, and I finally was able to stand on my own two feet about my passions, my faith, and my understandings of life, I realized, wait, I think I love movies.

Shit.

This wasn’t good.  But what was worse was when a few friends told me that I might have some talent that may garner towards success in film.

Even bigger shit.

I mean, this was the one thing that I was told throughout my life that it was evil.  That sinners and satanic people alike controlled this industry to brainwash our minds with filth, forever guiding us towards an eternity of hell and fiery demise.  How could I ever choose a career in a field where I’m going to die forever?   (*Note: You may think I’m exaggerating or being overly dramatic, but I can prove it to you by playing a few sermons online).  It was like I was married to this one ideal, but was cheating on it with some hot, gorgeous mistress that all I wanted to do was be all over it.  I wasn’t sure exactly what I wasn’t suppose to do, but after my 10 months on the island of Palau, and ironically enough serving as a missionary, I decided that there was something in film that I might be able to involve myself in.

Then came February 2012.  With even more irony, my faith-based university brought in a Hollywood producer to speak to us students about his relationship with God, and how it helped his path towards the entertainment industry.  What?  That’s possible?  I usually tend to disagree with the whole idea of going to an ultimatum worship service where if your attendance is not present, you will eventually be fined, because nothing screams out Christian spirit like missed worship dues, but I did go.  And after an hour of listening to this man speak, I realized that it was possible.  I concluded that it was realistically achievable to love God and love film.  It was a revelation.  It was majestically eye-opening.  It was the first time in my life where I felt accepted and understood.  Where I stopped listening to all the loud and brash offenses that we’re coming out of people’s mouths for years, but finally tried to listen to what truly wanted, and that it wasn’t selfish nor ungodly.  It was life changing.

After a year of fighting this thought within my head, and fearing the eventual decision of going into film, I finally decided that it was time to make this commitment and follow my dreams.  Two problems.  First, I had to tell my family.  Before I continue on with this, I must explain to you the weight of this decision not on my own life, but for the loved ones, as the community that I belong to (Korean-Adventist) doesn’t see film and the entertainment world a respectable career.  Heck, being a teacher wasn’t all that great either.  People were not going to look at my decision as an honorable or a noble choice, but more of an immature and self-centered decision that will eventually make me into a non-church going, unstable heathen that will not be saved.  But you know, people can surprise you.  I had plenty of supporters from that supposed judgmental community happily encouraging my path to following what I truly love doing.  It was confusing, but yet amazingly sufficient.  But even more than them, the love and support my family provided after they finally were convinced that this was what I really wanted to do was when it all made sense to me.  The stars slowly aligned, and once I had obtained my family’s blessing, I knew there was something happening here.

Great!  My family was on board.  But wait, I’m a 5th year senior graduating from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, MI with a certificate in Secondary Education and a bachelor’s in Social Studies.  That screams out filmmaker.  I spent my entire collegiate career studying and working for something I decided not to follow.  I have no film or art classes, nor have I spent any summer taking internships, courses, or even shooting anything worthy enough to be displayed in my portfolio.  I truly had no platform to stand on.  All I had were my abilities and my persistence.  I read a few books on screenwriting, read a couple of websites about filmmaking and the industry in general, and the knowledge that I gained on Entourage.  Though Entourage really does help, I had no clue where to begin.

I decided that the best way to get my first foot into the door was to apply for a job/internship.  Except no hires someone for a job unless they have experience, so really my only option was an internship.  So all I had were a resume, a cover letter, and Google.  I searched for over 50 production companies and studios, looking for potential summer internships that I could somehow miraculously be accepted for.  From 20th Century Fox and Universal, to working with Martin Scorsese and Ridley Scott, I applied to all I could.  Sent my information to film festivals, agencies, and internship programs.  I was concurrently writing my cover letters, applications and resumes while student teaching, so the shear stress and heaviness of all the work eventually got to me, making this seem all so pointless.  The only hope that I found in any of these programs was this beautiful student symposium program at Telluride, a top 10 film festival throughout the world that has gained its popularity and acclaim for its purity to the art form.  It sounded amazing, and it was one of the few opportunities where I didn’t need any film experience, and I could display my one decent skill that I thought I had, which was writing.  Unfortunately, I would competing against hundreds, if not thousands of applicants throughout the world, and this was the year that they were only accepting 25 from their usual 50.  Great.  But of course I applied.  And after I applied, my wavering confidence would follow its typical course in depleting itself after a few days.  And my wavering confidence was met with plenty of credentials, as I had not heard from any internship program.  When I would hear from a few, it would be denials or interviews that led to denials.

March and April had gone by and I had nothing solidly planned after graduation.  Life was becoming a complete disaster.  And though there are million of worse situations that someone could’ve been in, to my defense, there’s something extremely scary about a unknowing future after making a completely risky decision.  I began to make back-up plans, and eventually applied to teaching jobs for the upcoming school year.  I wasn’t sure yet if anything was going to happen, but I had up my mind that Los Angeles wasn’t in my future plans, and I would be smart and stay in education for the time being.

And then May 6th arrived.  After my graduation had finished where I felt stress-free for the first time in almost a year, I was at a hotel with a few close friends just relaxing and enjoy our mini vacation.  Checking my email on an addictive basis, I updated my inbox, but this time, I saw an email that made me hold my breath.  It was from Telluride, and this was the acceptance/denial letter that I had completely forgotten about.  But as I opened it, my eyes were directly caught upon one word within the large amount of text.  The word was “Congratulations”.  I was in disbelief.  Shock really.  I couldn’t believe that I got accepted to the Telluride Student Symposium program.  I felt so unworthy, so miniscule compared to the other potential applicants, but somehow, they felt confident enough that I deserved to be one of those lucky 25 members.  It was incredibly humbling, but yet so gratifying.

That same week, I got a phone call from the Robert Evans Co. at Paramount, asking me if I was willing to join their internship team for the summer.

In a matter of one week, my life had completely changed.  I went from staying in Chicago and looking for teaching jobs, to living in L.A. and working at Paramount for the summer and moving back in October to follow my dreams and work in film and write.

Some may call it a miracle.  Some may say it was hard work meeting opportunity.  What would I call it?

I don’t know.  But no matter what it is, I do know this is what I have to do now.  Who knows how this all happened.  I can easily say that God wanted this for me since I was born, and it just took some time for me to finally see that.  I can also say that this is what I want, and I’m going to achieve it as long as I work my tail off.  Regardless, I’m happy.  I’m finally at a point in my life where I’m truly happy and proud.  I’m enjoying so much in life, even at the most difficult times because I’m doing something that I love.  It is unstable, and it most definitely is a huge risk, but this is my one chance to take advantage, and I’m not going to let myself or anyone else make excuses for why I shouldn’t.

The interesting thing about this whole journey (that’s just starting) is that it was a simple question made into a complex situation.  Sometimes we as humans love to over complicate things, making assumptions and prejudging situations or people to somehow promote better reasoning.  I was told constantly that Hollywood is full of terrible people doing terrible things, and when I finally came out here, I realized how untrue that is.  Yes, there will always be people actively engaging in unhealthy activities, but you can find that in any circle.  If there’s anything that I’ve learned through all this is that you have to do what makes you happy, and the people who know you the best will see that happiness and confirm to themselves and to you that this is the right decision.  Do what you love, and love what you do.

My path into film has just begun, but I’ve never found such joy in my life.

I leave for Telluride tomorrow.

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