CAAM Fellowship Wrap-Up

Panelists at the CAAM Fellows Showcase talking about the film and entertainment industries. L-R: Producer Karin Chien, writer Johanna Lee, writer Soman Chainani, Sheffield Doc/Fest Director of Programming Claire Aguilar, TV exec Steve Tao, literary manager Angela Cheng Caplan. Photo credit: Michael Jeong Photography.
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.

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 throughdirector Jessica Yu, producer Dan Lin, manager Angela Cheng-Caplan, screenwriter Iris Yamashita, and new media producer Nina Wallia.

Soman Chainani. Photo by Jennifer Yin.
Soman Chainani. Photo by Jennifer Yin.

“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.