Karen Lin has always been interested in the movies and helping change the world for the better. While attending graduate school, studying Public Policy, she directed her first short film. Karen currently works as a freelance music video producer and has her own production company, ZuZu films, where one of her goals is to create projects that shine a positive light on Asian Americans.
CCB: When did you realize you wanted to work in the film industry?
KL: I had always loved movies. My father used to take me to movies all the time and I noticed this pattern when doing my projects and papers in college and in grad school that everything seemed to be related to the media. While in graduate school studying Public Policy I decided I wanted to direct my first short film on super 8mm and after that I was bit by the film bug. I didn’t want to go through life saying, I really wanted to be a director but I never tried. So after I finished grad school I headed straight to Hollywood.
CCB: How did you break into the industry?
KL: I interned during the summer between my grad years at NBC in Program Standards. One of the women there became a mentor and she told me if I wanted to really learn the business when I got out here I should work at an agency. The next year when I came down I looked in the classifieds at the back of the Hollywood Reporter and Variety and I faxed in my resume and got a job at Abrams Artists as the assistant to a top agent there. After nine months I realized I really wanted to be in production so I put the word out and landed a three week temporary job as a PA (Production Assistant) on Con Air which ultimately turned into a nine month job where by the end I became an assistant accountant.
CCB: How did you learn about filmmaking? Was most of this on the job training?
KL: Most of what I’ve learned about filmmaking has been on the job, watching the people I work with. I also have taken a few classes at both UCLA Extension and LA City College. It gave me a chance to start shooting and realizing that you learn by doing.
CCB: Have you been able to apply anything you learned studying Public Policy in college to your current profession? Does your interest in this subject matter crossover into your films?
KL: What I studied in Public Policy was essentially identifying and problem solving social issues like poverty, education, health, etc. As a producer I still identify and solve problems so I think the analytical skill set is similar. The reason I decided to go to Hollywood too, is that I realized while in school that working in policy is dealing with government red tape. In addition working in media policy meant regulating someone or some program. I wanted to make social change and the best way I felt I could do that would be to create programming whether it be in the form of a film or television.
CCB: What is life like working as a freelance producer on music videos? Is there steady work or is it a constant hustle?
KL: I’ve been working in music videos for about five years now so work is actually fairly steady. I usually work on a job for two weeks and then am off a week, and then back on. In between I take advantage of my downtime to work on my own directorial projects. There has been a lot of hustling though over the years and on the directing side I continue to hustle.
CCB: Can you talk about your film Perfection?
KL: Perfection was my first 35mm short film which I shot a couple of years ago and premiered to festivals in April 2004. It has traveled to over thirty film festivals across the country and has won a few awards along the way. It’s a very personal project that I am very happy with how it turned out. I have had the honor of sharing it with so many people. I’m wrapping up post production on a spoken word video which features poet Kelly Tsai. When I saw Kelly perform earlier this year I approached her to see if she would be interested in being in a spoken word video. Basically the project would be using music video techniques of an in camera performance and melding it with narrative and documentary style photography. The project is entitled Bystanding: The Beginning of an American Lifetime and it’s a peace poem that will be out in festivals next year. I also have two feature projects in the works. The Children’s Hour written by my sister Janet Lin, a coming of age story of a fourteen year old Asian American boy set in Vegas after a virus wipes out all the adults. And Love Tour a Taiwanese language foreign film about a Taiwanese American fifty-something widower whose children send him back to Taiwan on a matchmaking tour to find him a new wife.
CCB: What qualities do you need to succeed as a music video producer, as a director?
KL: Producing music is not brain surgery. It’s problem solving. That and being able to work with people. Filmmaking is a collaborative effort. For both producing and directing you have to keep at it and persevere. Too many people give up too easily --- you have to really want to do it for it to happen.
CCB: Do you have any advice for people interested in becoming producers?
KL: Take on opportunities that come your way. Absorb and learn from those around you, stay humble, and keep at it.
CCB: What is the most difficult part of your job?
KL: It is not the most stable job and you have to learn that things come and go. You also have to have a thick skin and not take things so personally.
CCB: What has been the most rewarding thing about the job so far?
KL: I love what I do!! I know that’s more than a lot of people can say about their jobs. I love collaborating with people and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
CCB: One of the goals of your production company, ZuZu Films, is to help feature more Asian Americans on film. Do you feel as though there are more positive portrayals of Asian Americans on film now?
KL: Yes, I feel we are making progress with some characters in television like Sandra Oh’s character in Grey’s Anatomy. Then again, I feel like we are taking steps back when shows like Lost or Heroes have Asian characters, rather than Asian American characters. I was disappointed to find out on Lost that Daniel Kim and the actress playing his wife only spoke in Korean (except in recent episodes). Still, we are making progress. I just hope to put more faces on the screen and make people comfortable with seeing Asian Americans on screen.
CCB: What are your career aspirations?
KL: To direct studio features films and enjoy life.
*See what Karen is working on at her website: zuzufilms.com *