Coverage continues this week with Art School Dropouts as they now work to proliferate their latest webseries, Yes, Auntie!, which is also setting up a feature edit premiere at the Museum Of The Moving Image next month.
From what I’ve gathered, the ASDO members will be in attendance for a Q&A at the January 4 screening, including one Stephanie Pham who has been with the group for several years now. She’s become one of the most vastly prolific talents on both sides of the camera and from a background of intellect and versatility, and poise that I’ve come to admire in the last four years and having shaken her hand on at least two occasions.
Greetings Stephanie and thank you for taking the time to talk to us. How has the past year been for you up to this point?
Hey Lee! Thank you for wanting to chat with me. This past year has been full of its ups and downs but it has been pretty busy on the Art School Dropouts front and I am extremely proud of all that we have done this year. Personally, I have just been so focused on work so I have been pretty busy myself as well, plus I am a bit of a workaholic.
I wanna tackle the goods here: Looking at you, right off the bat you’re freaking gorgeous. You’re a model – 1st runner-up at Rutgers in 2013 for Miss Vietnam, and also a BA in Science, Pharmaceuticals and Healthcare…and you can kick my ass. You’re a martial arts champion medalist, you’ve repped the U.S. twice and of all things, you’ve chosen to act and entertain people. Was that always sort of how you mapped your trajectory? Or was this all sort of by chance?
Acting wasn’t one of my goals in life. It was something that I had always been interested in but I never thought that I would be where I am now. Then again, a lot of the things that I have done was not according to my plan. Growing up, I was always the “Taekwon-do girl” but through my experience in martial arts, I also learned that I need to take those opportunities no matter how unknown they are to me. So that is kinda how I got into pageants and modeling and then into acting, the opportunity was there and I wanted to try something different and challenge myself. I don’t want to be a jack of all trades, but a master in everything I do. Whether its modeling, Taekwon-do or acting, I want to be a master of it all… or as proficient as I can get. [laughs]
Give us a timeline, if you will. Tell us about your first time upon meeting Joey and what led you to become a member of Art School Dropouts.
I had graduated from college in 2015 and had started working at a medical communications company for a few months. But it wasn’t a fit for me. I just couldn’t do a 9-to-5 type of work schedule. So I quit, got my real estate license, and then joined an acting class. I met Joey and the Art School Dropouts team on December 28th, 2015. We were having a lunch meeting at a ramen restaurant and I just remembered Joey not talking to me the whole time. And having no experience in the industry or acting, I was just eager to get out there and just do something so I just talked to everyone there. Basically, Joey was upset about something and didn’t want to talk to anyone. Then he and I got into a little dispute about bubble tea places, we ended up going to my bubble tea place of choice, and almost got into a fight with some rude people. But since we were the only ones standing our ground, we kinda had a moment of acknowledgement and that’s how we became friends.
We had chatted over the next few weeks or so and I basically said that he had great content but doesn’t market it. He’s lacking the business side to his work. And that’s how I got to start working as part of the team.
What’s the fondest memory you share with this group?
In my 3 years with Art School Dropouts, that is an incredibly hard question to answer. There are just so many great memories. I am just going to list 3.
1. Meeting Jackie Chan because… well its JACKIE CHAN!
2. Winning 7 awards at my first HBO Urban Action Showcase Film Festival.
3. Taking our first Art School Dropouts vacation to Orlando, Florida. We worked for one day there, went to Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios, played DnD, and just had a really fun time. And the drive there and back was not bad at all.
In my interview with Joey earlier on, he says you became pretty integral behind the scenes in handling camerawork. Do you partake in other duties behind the lens? Do you see yourself directing someday?
Behind the camera, I do a lot of shooting. For example, I shot a good chunk of our Forgotten Kingdom: A Kung Fu LARP Story series. But I handle a lot of other things as well. I am technically the business side of Art School Dropouts but I also handle a lot on the production front. I think my biggest strength is pre-production. I am very organized and I enjoy getting the production set up. If Joey has an idea or script, the second he greenlights it, I get to work and ensure that the project gets done. I don’t really see myself directing but who knows. I do have a script or two in the works but I think when it comes to production, I work better as a support.
Art School Dropouts has so far collaborated with a number of folks partaking in independent film, most notably with Hong Kong cinema veteran, actor, martial artist and filmmaker Robert Samuels. Talk about the first time you met him and what that meant for you at first glance.
The very first time I met Bobby, I was attending an event with Joey and it just so happened that we sat next to Vincent Lyn and Bobby Samuels. It was kind of a very unexpected moment for me. Honestly, I didn’t really know what to do but smile but I was just hoping that one day we would be able to work with both of them. When he agreed to be a part of I Need A Hero, the stress was on.
It was a last minute type of shoot and we were really trying to prove ourselves to him that we can be a good team to work with. The shoot turned out great but we still weren’t satisified because we knew we can do better. But on the other hand, Bobby liked working with us and we just couldn’t believe it. We just kept saying to ourselves, “It’s Bobby Samuels… BOBBY SAMUELS!” Even now, we can’t thank him enough for giving our small production a chance.
Your newest project, Yes, Auntie! is coming in 2019, and this webseries – also to mark your feature film debut… it’s got a crazy cuckoo load of help and participation from up to SIX indie banners along the East coast. We’re talking all friends and fellows of film with all these moving pieces. What is it about the My Asian Auntie that makes her such a phenom and draws in so much filmmaking muscle from guys like Robert and other driven creatives like Hector [Soria] and Leroy [Nguyen] and all those involved?
It’s funny because we never intended My Asian Auntie to get this big. To us, we were going to use this series to practice and build up our skillsets for bigger productions next year. We wanted to make a Thank You web series to our fans that really loved the first season. Even now, I am not really sure why people love My Asian Auntie, but we knew it was a series that would be a great Thank you as a lot of fans have requested another season up until now. The second series came about when Bobby told me that he wanted something big for 2018. He wanted a short film. Joey, being the overachiever, wanted a web series for Bobby. So we went into our “Lockdown” mode, and just focused on the script. We have built up quite the film family with all of these other groups and decided we needed to do something that would bring together the other teams. And it just so happens that My Asian Auntie would be a great story to bring everyone in. It’s an action comedy series so our film days were hectic but fun for everyone on set. It wasn’t too serious and we tried our best to highlight everyone as best as we can. I think we just got really lucky to have such supportive friends involved in this project.
My Asian Auntie essentially began in 2016 and now there’s a sequel. Going forward, would you guys be able to forsee a third installment or even possible character-based spin-offs?
Joey and I have already talked ideas for a third season but it really depends on if there is a demand for another season. I guess we will have to see.
I mentioned this to you during a Facebook live video with you and Joey but for readers I wanna bring it up again and ask about what other ideas you guys might have in store — Mine was for a follow-up to a short you guys did in March called Lady which is a more darker, grittier pivot in vision. Even more to that end, where would you like to take her character, if you could?
We still have a lot of other ideas in the works. Next year, we are hoping to film another feature length web series and some more well produced shorts. It honestly really depends on our budget! [laughs] But for Lady, I am curious to see how much darker we can take it. I think its a great role to change up the content on our channel. Also, I think it is great practice for me as an action actress since the last few years, I have focused more on the behind the camera type of work. I have had more fight scenes in My Asian Auntie than I would have in a single year. So I am excited to see what we release in 2019.
You’ve definitely branched out to other groups and creatives in the course of your creative stride. Meanwhile, your home, as I understand it, is with ASDO, and you guys have seen some great adventures, some highs and even some lows. You, specifically, have been a lioness – the way I see it. I love that you’re there for Joey and to be as fluid, formless and shapeless to adapt to any obstacle, and yet solid as fucking rock when you need to hold shit down. As we approach a new year with new hopes and ideas, what are some of hopes and aspirations – maybe even some lessons you take with you from here on?
YES, AUNTIE! - BTS Stills
I learned so much this year, especially while working on My Asian Auntie. Next year, I really hope to film another feature and hopefully have an actual working budget for it! [laughs] And hopefully building up a team for Art School Dropouts so its essentially not just Joey and I doing everything, That would be a dream if we didn’t have to wear so many hats. Essentially I have a lot of hopes and aspirations for the next year but let’s just see what the new year has in store.
Do you have any moviegoing plans of your own this year?
I want to see Wreck-It Ralph 2. I know it’s already out but I just don’t have time to go and see a movie since I am working all the time. So I would really like to see that movie. [laughs] I know its not martial arts related but its the first thing on the top of my head.
Thank you so very heck of a much for sharing your story with us. You are an absolute darling and I absolutely hope to see you again this year. On that note, do you have any final thoughts to offer readers as we exit this interview?
Thanks for reaching out and interviewing me! And I hope everyone can give Art School Dropouts a chance by watching our videos and checking out our new series, My Asian Auntie Season 2: Yes, Auntie. It isn’t a huge hollywood produced film but it’s the best we can offer to our fans and I hope they love it. And finally, with the year ending soon, I want to wish everyone happy holidays and a happy new year!