STARTING SOMEWHERE: An Interview With Art School Dropouts Founder, Actor And ‘Director Senpai’, Joey Min
Just shortly after announcing their newest ten-dollar ‘Thank You’ campaign on Kickstarter, the team at Art School Dropouts found themselves in lucrative straits as their crowdfunding platform accrued more than enough funds to throw a pizza party for a cast-and-crew screening and commentary for their feature film debut.
This brings us to the official trailer now online for Yes, Auntie!: My Asian Auntie Season 2, produced and directed by in-house creatives Joey Min and Stephanie Pham who also star in the film. The plan is to the release the film in serial format just as they did with the first season in 2016 – only now they’ve amassed enough materials to weave together a feature-length format, marking a debut milestone for the team since the birth of ASDO in 2009, and prior to its affirmation just a few years ago.
For this and for as long as I’ve been following Min and his work to date, I felt it necessary to cast a spotlight on his efforts. Plus, he comes from a group of people who’ve strived toward independent film ever since I started corrupting my sister’s computer with tricking and shortfilm.downloads from the now-defunct Bilang website…
…man, those really were the days. Enjoy!
Some of the biggest highlights in the last several years I’ve noticed in your progression with Art School Dropouts is not only seeing your team grow, but also spanning and networking with other groups and individuals from time to time – notably with Robert Samuels – a certified veteran of Hong Kong cinema in the stunt field. You guys were also there when Stephanie got to cheese it up with Jackie freaking Chan for a screening of The Foreigner. What goes through your mind looking back on this and the past year and years before up to this point as you maintain your current trajectory?
Sometimes, I look back at the things we’ve done so far and I recall the story of the Red String of Fate, that we are all inevitably tied to the people in our life. Art School Dropouts started as a simple blog, where a friend and I, both artists but of different mediums, that can share our art to the world. He was actually part of the first “team” I made. We parted ways and I continued pursuing being a content creator before the term was even coined.
Getting to my current team was, I believe, inevitable though there were a lot of heartaches along the way. I know that there will be more but I hope that people that I’m supposed to meet will give me the lessons or the support I need to keep taking who wants to come with me to the highest peaks that we can. Only time can tell where we can go…and as scary as that maybe, it’s also very much exciting.
Joey, you started out in the early two-thousandsies emerging with other turn-of-the-century artists and creatives keen on the general love of Asian film and action cinema – you yourself being a martial artist and ultimately surrounding yourself with other martial artists who love film and are determined to make independent, untethered and inspired, self-styled, unabated content. In terms of the challenges you’ve faced then compared to now, how would you view the current industrial atmosphere for independent and online content creation?
I honestly believe that smaller content creators can deliver a specific genre that we’ve never seen before. Studios will still be around but I think Hollywood will fall. Right now, there have been immensely successful online creators in different media and bigger business have been taking notice and now are invading the same social platforms. This will create some change and evolution to the nature of the indie production, but like all markets, things will change and new place will open up for those that are willing to trek to find it.
For us, we know what we’re trying to do as a brand, and what we’re trying to sell as a company. That’s something I’m learning everyday but I believe that I created a good foundation and based it on honesty to show people what I, and the team that I created, are about: We love martial arts for the sake of martial arts. We love the movies and shows that helped us love martial arts for the martial arts. And me personally, I love the nitty gritty of martial arts. I’d rather see a Karateka doing Ippon-Ken in a fight scene or Kung Fu shapes choreography than tricking and flipping. I suppose what I’m trying to do isn’t innovation but a renaissance. I’m just another martial artist showing the world how I love it and hopes that more people do it.
In between your travels with ASDO and in the course of us getting to cross paths once in a while, one of the foremost locations in which you’ve made yourselves present is the Urban Action Showcase and Expo now going into it’s sixth year. You and your team have entered the showcase for a few years now, I think, and in 2016 you ultimately took home six(?) awards. For those not in the room or generally new to the UASE, in terms of the entries, how would you best describe the competition you face at this event?
At first, I did think UASE was a competition for me, but it was during that year when we won actually seven awards and what Demetrius Angelo said in a speech that really changed my perspective. The thing is, the barrier of entrance for UASE is a large range; and I know some people feel as if THEIR work was being cheapened being in a showcase with lower-budget, lower-skilled projects. I admit I was one of those for a bit but when Demetrius pointed out that, “we all started somewhere and wanted to create UASE to give a way for the newer talents to learn from the experienced ones,” shook me to the core.
He saw the work that people submitted, not as if it’s marketable, but he saw what all of us started this for, passion. The thing is, we’re all in this together. I see what I could do now and there are days that I look back at what I did at 17 and that hits home. I was a terrible filmmaker, incredibly bad martial arts performer, lacking actor, and horrible writer. I still am but as much as I was then! I learned the ups and downs and I want to create a production company to work with new talent and give them a chance that I never got when I was younger. It’s the way to raise the martial arts family, you know?
You guys have a pleathora of energetic and colorful material in your arsenal of works and I know for some of your projects like others it takes time to get off the ground what with crowdfunding being a factor. Your 2017 webseries, The Forgotten Kingdom, was also a bit efforting on that part. Talk about what goes into producing a webseries like that and some of the plusses and shortfalls that go into making a webseries happen.
Aw man, that was…hellish to say the least. The thing is, we wanted to see how much people really saw value of our work. I feel like a lot of people coming into the indie action scene are faaaaar too unskilled and knowledgeable in the basics of production….and that was made clear doing The Forgotten Kingdom. The thing about YouTube is that, it’s a free service for both watcher and creator.
We have been putting out quality Youtube content but it wasn’t enough to prove that we could do “premium” content. The thing is, maybe our viewers never really wanted premium content from us, just the consistency of the work with the love and devotion that we put into it was enough and they’d support us in other ways. The Forgotten Kingdom was a crazy production where we had, what we called, “hell week,” which was color coded by Steph to point out how hellish a day would be. Now that we’ve done it, we’ve learned so much on all fronts: on the creative side and properly crafting a story and knowledge of the topic (since apparently, I’ve been out of touch of the modern day LARPing scene), the production side and all the problems of budgeting, scheduling, planning for pitfalls, and marketing. And since then, we got a better connection with our fanbase and our company to have a better vision of the future for us.
While I don’t think that The Forgotten Kingdom was too terrible for people, I consider it a big failure. But with every failure comes a lesson and I hope that people will find that My Asian Auntie Season 2 is a culmination of what we’ve learned from those mistakes. While still daunting, My Asian Auntie Season 2 was SUPER FUN to work on with a bigger cast, crew, scope, and story and I really hope everyone enjoys it as much as we did making it!
Your next push at the moment is the second season of My Asian Auntie – first of which premiered in 2016. I’m only a small percentage Asian myself so I’m not exactly in the loop from a cultural standpoint so it’s only fitting for me to ask – Talk a bit for us about the phoenomena behind such a persona and the sort of tropes and eccentricities that go into its assembly and portrayal.
Aiya, where to begin? Actually, I know, my mother. Being raised in an Asian household where my parents are immigrants, they held onto the teachings of the “old country”. It was like an ever moving line in the sand where it separated cutting judgement from actual care and affection.
You’d get rules like, you have to finish your plate of whatever I give you, but at the same time, you’ll get the, “you eat too much.” While frustrating, I found it funny and that’s what Auntie really is. She’s comical; a cartoon character caricature of what I can stereotypical-ly write for a strong Asian woman who is family…..and break that concept.
There have been movies with men crossdressing as a woman but as a disguise, Auntie is au naturel. She’s a kung fu master with a full set of plot armor that can defeat anything that’s written against her, but she’s just trying to enjoy her retirement. She’s incredibly loving and supportive to her niece when it comes to women empowerment, but all hell breaks loose if she steps out of the house with too-short shorts. She’s a contradiction and that gives me the silliness of situations to expand the storyline, but the story isn’t all centered around Auntie.
I wanted to point out the fact that we are focusing on this part of her life because maybe her whole life was training up to all of this, probably the greatest adventure she’ll have, is her being part of a family. But in all honesty, Auntie started out as a joke, something of a running gag for our Youtube channel, but a lot of our viewers really liked her so I went ahead and created a universe for her in my head and I wanted to flesh her out. Like what Leroy Nguyen said, I took a joke and ran as far as I could.
This second season was news to a lot of people several weeks ago – myself included – in that were already filming it, and it just so happens that you’re giving it a feature film approach. Dennis Ruel’s own debut, Unlucky Stars, was released in full for free after a year and some change dealing with some major litigatory issues with the film’s now former distributor. That being said, and not to vilify all companies in the same format on my end, does the decision to release a full feature film online for free come easy for you guys as opposed to fishing the film markets for a worthy distributor?
Knowing Vlad and the guys that worked on Unlucky Stars, I think that there was a bit of a mistake on their approach. All of these guys are INCREDIBLE performers when it comes to action…anyone in the KNOW knows that. But I think that’s the point: the people that KNOW them are the only ones that really know about the work. The Stunt People and all of the early 2000’s action teams were around BEFORE YouTube.
These guys trained and became the power house performers that they are, but they didn’t have the audience that knew about them to actually purchase their movie. Maybe a distributor could have helped them market more but yeah, I don’t think that would have helped. By the time Youtube really was a platform for them to use, they were already working within the industry and had to put their time and effort in their career and didn’t have the resources to put into the social media marketing. Just a sign of the evolving market, but it’s a shame because they are AMAZING performers and I urge everyone reading this to check out Unlucky Stars since it’s free and support these awesome guys. If what they did was like a tribute to My Lucky Stars, well Yes, Auntie is for Yes, Madam!. ☺
Talk about filming My Asian Auntie and some of your favorite memories from working on that first season.
Actually funny thing, this was the first project that Steph learned how to use the camera. I met her because she wanted to be talent but all of this taught her the basics of filmmaking. And look at her now, she’s getting some dope ass cinematic shots while I get to direct, and to me, that’s pretty awesome.
Now that I think about it, there was a lot of firsts during the production of My Asian Auntie Season 1. Before we started making the Auntie series, I got a curious email from now Kamen Ramen co-founder Gee Javier. Seems like he messaged both Andrew Kim and I separately about questions on how to get into making fight scenes and what not, and I invited him to do a practice session with me. I jokingly asked him if he’d want to come over CHRISTMAS EVE since I made this dark humor joke about me being alone during the holidays….and this guy actually came, [laughs].
And let me tell you, it was TERRIBLE. Gee was a full fledged fighter at this point in time being a Golden Glove champion and all, and we ended the day feeling a bit weird. Still, I invited him again to actually film something but something clicked in my head to translate the fight choreography into a way that he would understand and after one simple suggestion, SHIT POPPED OFF. I swear, it was at that moment that I will say that Gee became my BEST PERFORMER. It was funny though because he was still in fight mode and you could FEEL his fighting spirit. Granted that everything is still premade choreography, Gee’s training had his fists hard as mountains and the impact was still painful.
Throughout the years, he was better in conveying the hits through acting and not through actual hits but yeah, there was a part where I choreographed myself, taking a spin roundhouse and jump knee to the gut and I was bruised for a few months. It really is funny when you think about how things turn out when you look back at stuff.
Your first season had aunties fighting gangsters, aunties fighting aunties and other kung fu masters. What awaits season two for your fans and followers on Youtube and social media? Any guest appearances forthcoming?
Well, the second season happens roughly after the first. We get to see what Auntie’s situation is and why she HAD to deal with the gangsters of the first season. And if people have seen the trailer, they know that Bobby Samuels (student of my idol, Sammo Hung) is part of all of this.
Actually, the funny connection of Bobby and I is that my Sifu used to work for him back in Hong Kong during the 80’s…so even more in that crazy concept of the Red String of Fate I stated earlier. Anyways, we were actually pretty surprised that Bobby AGREED to be in a granny wig and skirt. I looked up to this guy and now he’s part of my movie and I thought that was nuts. It was also a treat to choreograph for someone that was an old school kung fu guy like me. I think Bobby can still kick some butt on screen.
Also, we collaborated with all the East Coast action indie peeps that we could! We have everyone from Kamen Ramen up in North Jersey, Team One Take from New York, R4 Films from Philly, Team Red Productions from Virginia, Rising Tiger Films with Leroy Nguyen… I couldn’t have done this project without my indie film family. I have friends that are professional stuntmen along the east coast but I still felt like I have to prove myself by doing somewhat a studio-level project to ask them for help. I feel bad asking them time out of their hustle to help us with ours, but the community is filled with really kind people that believe in the small videos that we do so we hope that in the coming year, the talent we get to work with will reach new heights while we work to help others out too!
It’s been years (F’N YEARS!) since you filmed with guys like Fernando Jay Huerto and Jon Truei. I imagine you miss it as much as I probably do or maybe more, and I know this might come off as a bit unrealistic given everyone’s fluctuating schedules and priorities. But, do you and the gang at ASDO see yourselves branching out a bit more cross-country and maybe collaborating like you did? Or hopefully with others who make their way northeast?
Duuuuudddeee, I would love to work with Jon Truei as that kid is like a little brother to me! But like I said, he’s chasing dreams and hustle, and until I can pay him for his time, I feel uneasy asking him for it. But yes, we would love to work with everyone since we everybody in the same company than competition. There are like awesome performers out there right now that I would LOVE to choreograph for if they’re willing! Everyone from Ginger Trickster Ninja to Martial Club and honestly, it would be a great honor to have Master Ken be in one of our sketches, comedy, action, or both! Of course, that takes some money to get us out there, or them to us but if the chances are there, we’re gonna take it!
Beyond My Asian Auntie, do you guys have any other new or continuing creative plans for ASDO? I know for me, a follow-up to El Borracho comes to mind and I actually hope to see Stephanie and Angela return in a Legend Of Korra follow-up as well. And I’m certain I’ve pestered Angela at least once or twice about it in the past year on Twitter myself! ?
We’ll see! I think I still have a plethora of ideas and characters that have yet to come out of my brain but if our fans want us to revisit an idea, we’ll definitely take the time to think about it and see what we can do! Auntie was a special case but I hope that people really love the fact that she’s back and we can see what more we can do with past ideas. ?
Do you guys have any moviegoing plans of your own between now and next year?
Oh geez, I don’t even have time to myself while building this company together. Hell, I’m watching Legally Blonde right now while I’m doing this interview. It’s free on Youtube and shit, I can’t believe I haven’t seen this before. And if you get this in writing, it’s scented.
Given the time, effort and energy it’s taken for you guys to evolve as a self-sustaining unit, what are some of the biggest and most important lessons you take with you guys going forward, and I ask this particularly seeing as how the challenges of independent filmmaking are relatively unbiased as to who they take aim at and often at times the revolving door effect takes shape and people fall out. What keeps a collective like yours together for so long? Is the door open for more members?
I often see people come and go into these film circles and I think I can see why. There have been quite a few people that I’ve worked with and even my team itself isn’t the first iteration. Honestly, in this business of image and branding, there is a lot of vanity floating around.
From my experience, I’ve seen a lot of people use this medium to project and fabricate a version of themselves that they want to show to the public. A lot of these people just want to be stars and the sad thing is, they have nothing to offer or won’t make the effort to WORK to be a star. There’s a lot of inflated egos, malicious intentions, and well, lies. And honestly, the way we run our group isn’t full of holes either because all we can do is trust people that they are the better versions of themselves.
We hope that the people that have helped build the foundation and structure of our group holds that to more worth than some fling for attention; but only time can tell. People eventually show us who they really are and what they want from us and we’ll see who is worth our time and effort to work with. So, yeah, we’re always looking for more people to work with because there are talented people out there; we just have to sift through all the liars and fakes to find them.
I especially want to thank you for taking the time to answer some of these questions as we approach another year’s end. On that note, do you have any final thoughts or addendums to share as we exit this interview?
I know that someday, with the amount of work and passion that we put in everyday to our craft, we’ll make bigger and better projects; but while we get there, I hope that we could inspire people that have watched our silly little videos. I know it’s cliché, but I really do mean it: I’m happy if I could reach that one person out there to jump and chase their dreams. If any of our videos made you laugh on a bad day, or motivated you to run and jump and do jump kicks, or showed you that if some normal Asian dude that loves Kung Fu could make a life worth living that you could to….then that’s all we really need here at Art School Dropouts.
But feel free to get some of our merch. That helps us out too!
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.
YES, AUNTIE!: Joey Min's Feature Debut Pays Tribute To The Old School In The Official Poster | Film Combat Syndicate
January 3, 2019 @ 11:07 am
[…] spent a great deal of time and typing to help promote this project along with interviews with both Min, in-house producer and lead cast members and rising stars Stephanie Pham and Angela Jordan. To say […]