By BELLA LAWRENCE
Upon receiving a bachelor’s degree, the desire to identify a pathway toward career success is understandably ubiquitous. For students pursuing a major or minor in film and media studies, this path can be a little more winding and less straight forward.
Taking this into consideration, Colorado College’s Film & Media Studies Department hosted an event for all majors, minors, and interested newcomers on Tuesday, Sept. 24. American filmmaker Andrew Ahn, currently an artist-in-residence at CC, gave a presentation on his path to success and advice for the aspiring filmmakers in the audience. The presentation included screenings of two of Ahn’s first short films, which he wrote and directed in the pursuit of his masters of fine arts in film directing from the California Institute of the Arts, as well as the pilot episode of “This Close,” his first paid directing job.
“As someone who is making film and really engaged in what it means to be a citizen artist, I realize that having a successful film career isn’t just about what I make, but it’s about the kind of work that I can support a community of filmmakers to make,” Ahn said. For this reason, Ahn hopes to help facilitate a community at CC in which student filmmakers can showcase their respective experiences and subjectivities through their art.
In order to demonstrate how this artistic development could serve film students moving forward, Ahn shared what he calls his “career trajectory.” For budding artists, he validated that the questions of “how to be a filmmaker,” and “sustain yourself” is really “complicated, difficult thing, to wrap your mind around.” Through the screening and discussion of some of Ahn’s early work, he expressed the hope that “you’ll get a sense for kind of the ladder that I’ve been climbing,” as filmmaking is “not a very direct path, and also very different from person to person.”
Ahn received a dual bachelor’s degree from Brown University in Biology and English — a path he followed because he thought he should, not because he was the most passionate about it. “It wasn’t until I took film production classes at Brown on a whim that I got hooked,” he said. For undergraduate work, he wasn’t able to “end up majoring in film at Brown because it was too late,” but the production classes he was able to incorporate in the final semesters captured his curiosity. After graduation, Ahn decided to pursue a graduate degree in film.
The first film screened was “Andy,” a short that Ahn created in his second year at CalArts. “The film that you’re watching now,” he said by way of introduction, “is what I like to call my first short film, because all the other ones I buried in the ground.”
“Andy” is a snapshot in the life of a young, Korean-American boy spending the day at a shopping mall with his parents. In reference to the impetus behind the script that would become “Andy,” Ahn remembers two distinct conversations. The first, “was, like, write what you know, and then the other was a story that a friend of mine told me about a friend of hers who, as a child, had been sexually abused in a shopping mall,” Ahn said. When this young boy “told his dad about it, his dad told him not to talk about it because he was afraid that his son liked it.” Ahn paused, and then said, “As a gay man, I didn’t know how to process that information.”
“Andy” is meant as an artistic exploration of not “necessarily the abuse itself, but kind of the aftermath and the way that trauma is dealt with and especially in a Korean-American cultural context, in a family context.” It was through the Korean-American identity that Ahn was able to tie in his own experiences.
The next short that he screened was “Dol,” or “First Birthday.” This film was more explicitly queer, and dealt with Ahn’s personal anxiety that, “if I were to have a family, if I were to have a child, I would really want my parents to be a part of that child’s life. But I wasn’t out to my parents.” “Dol,” Ahn’s thesis at CalArts, not only made it into the Sundance Film Festival, but was also the catalyst that he used to come out to his family.
After the success of “Dol,” Sundance Labs asked Ahn to submit a script for a feature film. It was after this point that he “could see how this was how I can take advantage of what I’ve accomplished so far to leverage myself into a potential career.” In 2012, he started writing the screenplay for his film “Spa Night.”
Ultimately, the success that Ahn found from films that tapped into his personal and artistic identity that allowed him to achieve professional recognition.