Joy Yang - A Female Asian Filmmaker in Hollywood - Everything I do is sort of bold
Coming from a traditional family in China, Joy Yang surprised all her family and friends by applying to Tisch School of the Arts in NYU to study film. One of her high school teachers told her that it did not make sense to go to an art school after graduating from a science education stream in Raffles Junior College in Singapore. Convinced that films are a great medium for inspiring and influencing others, she pursued this path with full conviction. Fast forward 10 years, she has worked in the office of Robert De Niro, learnt acting from Barbara Bain, assisted the director of Die Hard Renny Harlin in filming blockbusters in China, and had the experience working with top producers and directors in Hollywood. As a rare Chinese filmmaker in Hollywood, her work has been recognized in a slew of international film festivals. She is currently pursuing an MBA degree in Cambridge University in London. This is her story.
(Original dialogue edited for brevity and clarity.)
What’s the boldest thing you did in your life so far?
I think being an artist is to be bold, so everything I have been doing is sort of bold since I started filmmaking. I have learnt to face my own dark side and make it bright in my art. It takes a lot of courage.
I have always pursued my own path from climbing Kilimanjaro to going on a road trip in Africa, from working in Alibaba Pictures to starting my own independent film projects, but I always have a clear purpose. Now I am in an MBA program because I want to learn how to make the art of film more accessible to the mass media. My family does not really understand anything I am doing now as they value stable jobs and a stable life.
What’s your experience as a female Asian filmmaker in Hollywood?
What the #metoo movement reveals to the world is real. And it’s just the tip of an iceberg. I definitely feel it’s hard to get opportunities as a foreign minority female filmmaker, but
I am proud to be a woman in Hollywood. I am confident that my cultural background can provide different perspectives and distinguish me from mainstream film makers. It’s an asset to me.
I was born and grew up in China and China is in my blood. The Chinese film industry is prospering and is in great shortage of good film makers, especially those with overseas experience. Hence it opens up a lot more opportunities to me.
What’s the most challenging thing in your filmmaking career?
Standing by my own voice as an artist instead of being influenced by the mainstream is not easy, especially in Hollywood where there are always many commercial projects. I once took a Emmy-winner’s class and insisted on doing a comedy adaptation project completely in my own way, different from how it was normally done. The project turned out to be a success and won the professor over and gained a lot of traction and recognition in USC film school where I was studying. When you are on your own path, you are destined to be lonely sometimes when no one supports you, but you have to explore yourself in order to know who you are. And eventually you can still find your audience. I am proud of how far I’ve come to pursue my voice and my passion.
Besides the internal struggle, the work itself can be very challenging. I oftentimes have to create projects from minimal budget. There are a million decisions that need to be made as the producer and the director of a film project. By making every single decision with a clear intention I can arrive at a place that represents myself.
What purpose do you find in filmmaking?
Film is a medium for me to break boundaries. It’s a tool to create a new world nobody has never seen before through narratives. The influence can last many generations. It’s my dream to inspire people and make them think.
I believe that to live is to experiment.
What advice do you give to your younger self when you first graduated from high school?
I could have been bolder. Hahaha.
The elite culture in Raffles Junior College was simply not my thing. I did not want to follow the norm. I wanted the freedom to explore what I am really good at and how to make use of it. Once I found that I had better sixth sense around feelings, visuals, literature, music, drama and stories. I realize that if I put all these elements together it would be film. And I loved the creative and inspiring environment film schools provided.
What do you want to achieve in your career?
I want to make films that can both represent minority’s voice and break technical boundaries. As an entrepreneur, I want to create a sustainable business using artistic creativity, and bring good art to more people.
How do you manage stress and take care of yourself?
Exercise and travel. I don’t separate work from life because I enjoy my work so much that it is fun. I also learnt to be vulnerable, accepting the so called negative emotions, understanding them and then turning them into something good for me.