By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The Seattle area’s own Bao Tran started out working for himself, scraping money and resources together to make short films. But thanks to ViacomCBS, he’ll have an easier time realizing future projects.
The communications company recently declared Bao Tran one of five participants, in ViacomCBS Director’s Initiative,” dedicated to building careers for talented directors from “underrepresented groups.” The award allows Tran to take meetings with network and studio executives, showrunners, producers, and other industry leaders; shadow a seasoned director on CBS productions; professional support including agent and manager procurement, branding, business development, and portfolio overview; and continued support. He’ll also, as part of a new wrinkle in the program, have a chance to direct a dramatic television episode.
All the above together could seem overwhelming, but Tran, who grew up the son of Vietnamese immigrants in Olympia and Shoreline, is no stranger to networking, and hard work in general. He thanks his bilingual household for a lot of inspiration and understanding. Speaking English alongside Vietnamese “helped me make connections about how people can think, express, and understand themselves in very different ways. A really important skill in storytelling.”
Asked which moviemakers inspired him to make movies, he’s quick to name Jackie Chan “because who doesn’t love kung fu movies? And as I started discovering [Jackie Chan’s] influences like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Fred Astaire, and Gene Kelly, I fell in love with movies as a whole.”
At age 12, Tran grabbed the family camcorder and began to record movies with friends. A lot of kids grab a camera as a hobby, but Tran kept at it, and attracted attention with his fifth short film, called “Bookie.”
Shot in collaboration with Tran’s close friend Nick Risinger, who agreed to act as movie producer, “Bookie” took about three years to make, because the two young men had to raise money and go to college, in addition to shooting around Queen Anne and Rainier Beach. But the process was worth it. Along the way Tran met the action film director Corey Yuen, who mentored him through the next phase.
“I’m fortunate to know Corey as a family friend, and he opened my eyes to the importance of story and character in action filmmaking.”
He used Vietnamese connections to travel to Vietnam and work on editing films. He cooked up a script for a feature film: A tale of three out-of-shape Kung Fu disciples who raise themselves out of decrepitude, to avenge their master.
“I wanted to explore these ancient martial arts themes of honor and loyalty through a modern, Asian American lens,” Tran commented.
Money for “Paper Tigers,” as the final film was dubbed, came through private investors and Kickstarter crowdfunding. Shooting covered many places on the Seattle map, including plenty of action in the Chinatown-International District.
Not that the whole thing went easy.
“We faced a lot of opposition and resistance from big studios, who didn’t think that audiences would want to see a movie led by people of color,” Tran explains.
“With the success of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and ‘Black Panther,’ we saw great potential for our film and forged ahead in making the movie we wanted to make. And now we’ve had an amazing reception since our release. It’s one of the top films of 2021 according to Rotten Tomatoes, and the Seattle Asian American Film Festival awarded us with both their Best Film Jury Prize and Audience Award. We are so thankful and proud that there is an audience out there for our movie.”
Asked about future plans, both with and after the Director’s Initiative, Tran sees an open road. “ViacomCBS shows are so widely-watched and beloved that I’m floored and excited that I will be part of it in directing episodes.
“Beyond that, Seattle is my home, but of course I follow where adventure takes me.I want to continue storytelling in film and TV with great stories that truly reflect me and my communities.”
Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.