Asian Voices in Film and Television

Asian Voices in Film & Television

May 18, 2024 A DGA Asian American Committee Event

On May 18, members gathered in the Guild’s Los Angeles theater as the Asian American Committee (AAC) hosted a day dedicated to increasing Asian representation and bringing together the DGA community and allies to discuss the state of the film and television industry. The event, Asian Voices in Film & Television, featured three panel discussions dedicated to exploring this subject, including a "Spotlight Conversation" with Director James Wan.

The afternoon began with a welcome from Committee Co-Chairs Kabir Akhtar and Kai Kim.

“The AAC has been a driving force in advocating for more authentic Asian narratives and creating opportunities for underrepresented filmmakers within the DGA and across the industry,” said Akhtar.  “This event is a continuation of the committee’s efforts to foster honest dialogue, build connections, and celebrate the immense talents Asian directors and their teams bring to visual storytelling.”

“Throughout today’s panels and conversations, you'll gain valuable insights from trailblazing Asian filmmakers sharing their journeys, the nuances of telling culturally specific stories, and the powerful impact of representation,” added Kim, who then turned the proceedings over to the first presentation of the day.


Asian Voices in Film and TelevisionMaking Avatar: The Last Airbender

In the day’s first panel, Making Avatar: The Last Airbender, where Directors Michael Goi and Jabbar Raisani discussed their part in recreating the beloved animated series as a live action Netflix series during a conversation illustrated by clips from the show and moderated by Director Kim Nguyen.

Goi spoke about the distinctly Asian influences of the show. “You very rarely have the opportunity to work on something that so boldly represents your heritage. In that opportunity, you want to take advantage as much as possible of what you can do when placed in that position. Being able to represent that there is that breadth and depth of Asian Directors was important to carry forward on with this show.”

Raisani addressed the challenges of remaining true to your craft with added pressures of the popularity of the source material. “It’s a huge show to figure out, but we now have a blueprint of what people liked and what people didn’t like, and at the end of the day we just have to figure out how to do our own show, so a lot of it is in the filtering out part of the feedback and stay true to your passion and how you went on to making the show in the first place.”


Asian Voices in Film and TelevisionThe Value of Our Director's Team

The second panel, The Value of Our Director's Team, focused on the partnership between Directors and ADs, and featured insights and advice about collaboration from Director Nisha Ganatra and her 1st AD Lon Takiguchi, who worked together on the series Deli Boys, and Director Dinh Thai and his 1st AD Ken Wada who teamed up on the series AZNBBGRL in a conversation moderated by 1st AD Lucille OuYang.

Following a presentation of clips from their collaboration, Thai and Wada spoke about filming the Freeform pilot for AZNBBGRL.

“It was a 12-day shoot, a 6-day prep, and Ken has become my big brother since then,” said Thai. “He has taught me a lot, and mostly the thing we talk about that is really important is the patience we have for each other. I don’t know everything, and I try to prepare as much as I can for a shoot, but you count on each other with having so much in your brain and also having to articulate. We go out into the world and roll the camera together.”

Wada reflected on the representation of the show both in front of and behind the cameras. “To be on this type of show and work with this group, actually meant the difference.”

Ganatra and Takiguchi shared some of the secret sauce of their working relationship.

“Comedy is very hard to get people funny when the environment is stressful, but Lon has a way to get everyone calm,” said Ganatra. “Lon is really great with not letting you see that he’s got his eye on the clock and with everything else at the same time.”

Takiguchi expressed why it’s easy working with Ganatra, “Our sensibilities are the same. It makes what we do so much easier and makes time go by so much faster. It’s productive and great how we share these sensibilities and want to run the set together like for example making sure it is safe, but that everyone is having a great time.”


Spotlight Conversation with Director James Wan

In the final presentation of the day, Director James Wan engaged in a one-on-one “Spotlight Conversation” moderated by Director Yoko Okumura, where he shared his experiences in the industry.

Illustrating his process, Wan spoke about technology not taking over your craft.

“I am very much an OG-school type of person,” admitted Wan. “I love my old school practical approach – whether it is scribbling down an idea on a piece of paper – or scribbling ideas in Notes on my iPhone. I used to carry a notebook where I would do sketches in, but now I do my sketches in my iPad, and I find it good. I’m not opposed to technology, but I do think at the end of the day it’s just another piece of equipment and tool. If you can use it to better to tell your story, that’s great, but it shouldn’t take over your story.”

As a noted Director in the genre, he also touched on his approach to horror, and said, “I am known as the guy who makes the jump-scare movies, but for me, it’s all about building up the creepiness and tension-building that I love more than anything. That is the hardest part to do in a horror film. Cheap jump-scares are easy to do. Great, effective jump-scares, those are hard to do and the journey to get there is more important than actually getting there.”

He also dispensed advice about working with collaborators: “If you find someone that shares the same interests and values, and the kind of movies you want to make and stories you want to tell – that is truly the most important thing. I tell my young up-and-coming filmmaker friends, find someone you like collaborating with and do it. That way you put two brains together and put two egos aside.”

The day concluded with a reception in the DGA atrium.


See videos from this event in the gallery below.

ABOUT THE PANELISTS:
Making Avatar: The Last Airbender 
 
Michael GoiDirector Michael Goi
Goi’s directorial credits include the feature films Megan Is Missing and Voyeur; the pilot of Avatar: The Last Airbender; and episodes of Big SkySexy Urban LegendsPretty Little Liars and American Horror Story. He currently serves as a member of the DGA Special Projects Committee and is Co-Chair of its Digital Day Subcommittee. He also currently serves as a Co-Chair of the DGA Television Diversity Task Force and as an Alternate on the Western Directors Council. He has been a DGA member since 2015. 
 
Jabbar RaisaniDirector Jabbar Raisani
Jabbar’s directorial credits include episodes of Game of ThronesLost in SpaceStranger Things and Avatar: The Last Airbender. He has been a DGA member since 2014. 
 
Kim NguyenDirector Kim Nguyen (moderator)
Nguyen’s directorial credits include episodes of The Other Two, Never Have I Ever, Superstore, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Fresh Off the Boat, Survival of the Fittest and Mr. Mayor as well as sketches for Comedy Central and commercial campaigns. She has been a DGA member since 2012. 
 
The Value of Our Director's Team 
 

Nisha GanatraDirector Nisha Ganatra 
Ganatra’s directorial credits include the feature films Popcorn ChutneyLate Night and The High Note; and episodes of Deli BoysThe Royals and Welcome to Chippendales. She was nominated for the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Commercials in 2020 for her Bodyform/Libresse spot “#wombstories.” She has been a DGA member since 2007. 

 

Lon Takiguchi1st AD Lon Takiguchi 
Takiguchi’s Assistant Directing credits include Sean McNamara's feature film Soul Surfer; and episodes of LostUgly BettyHawai’i Five-O and Black-ish. In 2023, Takiguchi made his directorial debut with an episode of Disney’s Grown-ish. He has been a DGA member since 2001. 

 
Dinh ThaiDirector Dinh Thai 
Thai’s directorial credits include episodes of AZNBBGRLWu-Tang: An American SagaWarriorNew AmsterdamThe Good DoctorIn the DarkUnder the Bridge and Career Opportunities in Murder and Mayhem; as well as multiple commercials. He was nominated for the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Children’s Programs for his 2023 American Born Chinese episode, “A Monkey on a Quest.” Thai joined the DGA in 2020. 
 

Ken Wada1st AD Ken Wada 
Wada’s Assistant Directing credits include episodes of Baywatch HawaiiWeedsMajor CrimesThe MiddleMr. Mayor and the AZNBBGRL pilot. He has been a DGA member since 1996. 

 
Lucille OuYang1st AD Lucille OuYang (moderator) 
OuYang’s Assistant Directing credits include features such as Peter Weir’s DGA Award-nominated Master and Commander, the Far Side of the World, as well as Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally, Wes Craven’s Scream and Robert Zemeckis's Contact. Her resume also includes episodes of Mad MenYouth & ConsequencesCherish the Day and over 200 commercials. OuYang has been a DGA member since 1986 and served on the Asian American Committee since its inception. She currently serves on the Special Projects Committee and has served on the Western AD/UPM Council. 
 
Spotlight Conversation with Director James Wan 
 

James WanDirector James Wan 
Wan’s directorial credits include the features Aquaman and the Lost KingdomThe ConjuringInsidiousSawMortal Kombat and Furious 7. He has been a DGA member since 2005. 

 
Yoko OkumuraDirector Yoko Okumura (moderator) 
Okumura’s directorial credits include the feature Unseen; and episodes of Ball of Twine50 States of FrightGood Trouble and The Bold Type. She has been a DGA member since 2020. 
 

About the Asian American Committee:

The Asian American Committee (AAC) was created as a networking group to provide a forum for interests and issues that concern Asian-American Guild members. Through outreach efforts in the entertainment industry that emphasize career development and skills enhancement, the committee provides a variety of networking opportunities as well as screenings, seminars and discussions with industry professionals. The current AAC Co-Chairs are Directors Kabir Akhtar, Maureen Bharoocha and Kai Kim.

Pictures & Video

photos by Elisa Haber

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