Seven years ago, Stephen Gong, Don Young, Sapana Sakya, Masashi Niwano and I sat in CAAM’s front office, and talked about how we’ve reached a critical mass. Asian Americans were now working and creating at the highest levels of the industry. Programs existed for funding and creative development, yet we weren’t addressing career sustainability or professional development. How do you get to the next level, or more importantly, how do you keep going?
This industry runs on the currency of “who you know.” For most Asian Americans, myself included, we didn’t know anyone when we first started. My parents were immigrants and engineers. Asian American presence in film & TV happened without nepotism. Yet, if we don’t have nepotism, at the least we need mentors.
“I was lucky enough to get to know my mentors on a personal level, to be invited not just into their workplaces but their homes. There is nothing more inspiring than learning that there are real Asian Americans with real lives thriving at the highest levels of this industry, and who have never lost their passion for the work.” —HARRY YOON, 2012 CAAM FELLOW, EDITING / MENTORS: LISA LASSEK, TROY TAKAKI, MARK YOSHIKAWA
I proposed, to CAAM, a simple idea: pair top-level Asian Americans in the business with emerging and mid-career talent. It was a way to grow our community from within. For those who know CAAM, an organization borne out of community activism, with a stellar history of launching innovative programs and discovering Asian American talent, it’s no surprise they jumped at the opportunity. Sapana Sakya, Public Media Director, came on board as my partner, and we got to work.
“[Other film labs’] focus on individual projects sidesteps the larger question of what it means to sustain a career as a film/media-maker. The tailored CAAM Fellowship really showed a commitment by CAAM to foster our growth as artists and helped us expand our notions of what is possible with our careers.” —ERIC LIN, 2013 CAAM FELLOW, CINEMATOGRAPHY / MENTOR: M. DAVID MULLEN
That first year, 100 Asian Americans applied for three spots. The depth and diversity of the applicants, as well as the deep hunger for mentors, was striking. We struggled over choosing just three Fellows, and incredibly CAAM increased funding to five Fellows that first year. Then the superstar mentors came through—director Jessica Yu, producer Dan Lin, manager Angela Cheng-Caplan, screenwriter Iris Yamashita, and new media producer Nina Wallia.
“The CAAM fellowship paired me up with a mentor who’s becoming one of my greatest and most valuable friends—Jessica Yu, who taught me that a career in entertainment is as much about talent as it is adaptability, resourcefulness, and endurance. The fellowship was one of the highlights of my professional career thus far, and I’m thankful to have been chosen!” —SOMAN CHAINANI, 2011 CAAM FELLOW, FILM DIRECTING / MENTOR: JESSICA YU
After that first year, Angela Cheng Caplan came on board as a permanent mentor, meeting with the Fellows at the start and end of each Fellowship. Angela asked tough questions and challenged Fellows to interrogate themselves. What internal obstacles have held you back? If you aimed for the moon, what would that look like? What aspects of success scare you?
“This program allowed me to look deeply at my own process and ask myself questions that forced me to grow as an artist. Acknowledging that I needed a mentor and knowing that one was out there gave me a renewed sense of focus and vitality. It also showed me a real path towards artistic collaboration.” —MICHELLE KRUSIEC, 2014 CAAM FELLOW, SCREENWRITING / MENTOR: SANDRA TSING LOH
We couldn’t be more proud of our Fellows, or more honored by our Mentors. Many have reached the next level in their careers, whether that’s getting staffed, finding representation, creating their own work, or diving into a new career direction. A few have gone on to work with their mentors, creating long-lasting friendships and collaborations.
“The most incredible part of the fellowship has been my ongoing working relationship with my mentor,Gina Kwon. As my CAAM fellowship was winding down, Gina hired me onto her first commercial and since then we’ve worked together on both feature and commercial projects. Last year, I co-produced a feature for her and we’re now developing a feature project together as producing partners.” —GEOFF QUAN, 2012 CAAM FELLOW, PRODUCING / MENTOR: GINA KWON
This year marks the 5th year of the Fellowship, as well as a period of reflection for the CAAM Fellowship. In the spirit of creating the most effective program, and in light of the constantly evolving realities of the business, we’re taking a pause to evaluate our impact, as well as the best way to serve Asian American creators, as aligned with CAAM’s mission going forward.
“It has been wonderful to work closely with my mentor, Claire Aguilar, on specific film projects—but I also benefited tremendously from the spontaneous and honest conversations that emerged throughout the retreat, concerning personal goals, challenges, and overall sustainability as an artist. CAAM has created a non-competitive and non-hierarchical context for honest reflection and discussion amongst filmmakers and industry folks; I left the retreat truly feeling part of, and supported by, an Asian American film community.” —KIMI TAKESUE, 2013 CAAM FELLOW, DOCUMENTARY DIRECTING / MENTOR: CLAIRE AGUILAR
—Karin Chien, Director of the CAAM Fellowship Program
Soman Chainani, screenwriter & author of THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD & EVIL
Scotty Iseri, creator of web series, app, and PBS series THE DIGITS
Angela Lee, producer of Cannes and Sundance selection SONGS MY BROTHER TAUGHT ME
Cindy Fang, creator & TV staff writer
Canyon Sam, author of SKY TRAIN and screenwriter
Johanna Lee, creator & TV staff writer, ROYAL PAINS
Harry Yoon, editor, NEWSROOM
Geoff Quan, line producer and producer, OBVIOUS CHILD
Kimi Takesue, filmmaker, LOOKING FOR ADVENTURE
Derek Nguyen, screenwriter & director, THE POTENTIAL WIVES OF NORMAN MAO
Ernesto Foronda, writer & director, SUNSET STORIES
Eric Lin, cinematographer, RUDDERLESS
Soham Mehta, editor and director,
Michelle Krusiec, writer,
Soojin Chung, producer, ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW
Agnes Moon, filmmaker,
Kiyong Kim, TV writer,
Tala Al-Muhanna, producer
Vera Brunner-Sung, filmmaker, BELLA VISTA
Franklin Rho, TV writer
Claire Aguilar, documentary film exec
Angela Cheng-Caplan, literary & talent manager
David Henry Hwang, playwright & screenwriter
Kourtney Kang, TV exec producer
Albert Kim, TV exec producer
So Yong Kim, writer & director
Gina Kwon, film producer & exec
Lisa Lassek, editor
Dennis Lee, director
Dan Lin, studio producer
Sophia Lin, independent film producer
David Mullen, cinematographer
Matt Porterfield, director
Quan Phung, TV producer & exec
Troy Takaki, editor
Steve Tao, TV producer & exec
Derrick Tseng, film producer
Sandra Tsing Loh, writer & performer
Nina Wallia, new media producer & exec
Iris Yamashita, screenwriter
Mark Yoshikawa, editor
Jessica Yu, film & TV director
Tanya Yuson, producer & creative exec
Editor’s Note: CAAM would like to thank our generous supporters, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Southwest Airlines, for making the CAAM Fellowship possible.