This week I met YouTube personality, actor, screenfighter and online action cinema tutor John Nguyen. He may be just a few years in, but his work has already gained attention from a lot of people, especially the organizers of the star-studded Urban Action Showcase next month here in New York City (only another event I have to miss because of work *cries on the inside*).
I’ve lived in LA and the bay area all my life and like a lot of Chinese kids I grew up on Jackie Chan. I started off in the mainstream with Hollywood, hustling for the agents and auditions and stuff. Came to realize I’m mostly here for the art and not the business so when the digital indie revolution came about (while I was in pharm school), I saw that it’s really doable now. Some unforeseen life interrupting events came up and I just left my job up in SF and moved back home to LA. I’m taking it as a sign and opportunity to really invest myself into the passion again.
JN: My martial arts background is pretty varied and convoluted now, as it is with a lot of guys in this field, I guess. Started off in modern wushu while at college, afterwards I saw that I needed to keep an open mind and expand into the other arts like TKD, Karate, the MMA staples, Tai Chi and others. Soon as I graduated I saw my friends back in LA were starting to make it in the stunt field. Pure stunt isn’t really what I’m after, but it gave a lot of hope that it’s not just some childhood pipe dream. I started off with bit roles in front of the camera and realized no one in mainstream filmmaking knows anything about good action so I went behind the camera and picked up all the hats. Guess it’s been about ten years now. Too off and on, especially with pharm school in between that really took its toll. Just finished that so now I can put energy back into this with a solid financial base.
JN: Oh, no. That was just to keep moving and not stop and drown. My final goal is still ofcourse mainstream distribution type work. But I decided not to hustle for bit roles that DON’T expand my skillset (primarily acting). But that’s always a slow thing going and especially while I was up in SF in school I wanted to just keep doing SOMETHING and tried out a niche I hadn’t seen yet online. Particularly something I personally wanted when I was starting off and wouldn’t have had to spend so much time rediscovering things by myself that were already being used on HK sets. Then it just turned out to be kind of fun and a stress reliever. It also strengthened my friendship with Jeff (Lee) and we’ve been doing other business-type projects outside of it now. Recently the tutorial show’s been getting me some contacts and offers so it’s kind of opened up my eyes to great utility of it as a presence creator. Plus, it’s just FUN, haha.
JN: Demetrius (Angelo), the organizer and a really cool guy, contacted me through the channel and we talked it out. It originally started out as a possible pure choreography workshop but then Jeff Imada confirmed his attendance so they switched me to the filming aspect, which is still cool and sounds fun. I’m learning a lot more about reaching out and trying to spread the word on things, now, too, something I never really tried to do, haha.
As for the workshop, we’re pulling in directing, DPing (directing photography), stuntwork, EXECUTION of choreo (something I don’t think I see emphasized enough), editing and others. It’s really going to be geared towards the filmmaker who wants to work with stuntfighters but also for stuntfighters who want to learn the production side on the indie level. I also think a lot of established directors could learn a lot from it, too. I’m trying hard to emphasize the dramatic performance within the fight in a down to earth way, so that could be really useful for filmmakers who entered the field from the traditional route rather than the grassroots stuntfighter route. I hope to help them start seeing the fight break down into beats and evolutions and no longer just a blur of violence in front of their eyes.
JN: Right off the top of my head Christopher Nolan would be one. I LOVE that he emphasizes practical production over VFX even for giant set pieces that sound impossible. The fact that he sacrifices elaborate cinematography and avoids ADR for the sake of bringing out the best natural performances from his actors just tells me that this man knows exactly what his own priorities are.
So working with him on bringing that same level of depth to action sequences to blend into the narrative would be exceptionally rewarding.