Evan Jackson Leong is a 6th generation Chinese American filmmaker who is currently in post production for his first feature film SNAKEHEAD. Since starting out under Justin Lin on Better Luck Tomorrow, Evan’s body of work consists of artists like Jin, Far East Movement, Michelle Phan, and Jeremy Lin. His most notable work is LINSANITY a documentary about the rise of Jeremy Lin.
Thanks for taking the time to chat! So what was it like before the film industry? What were you doing and how did your Hollywood journey start?
I was a student at UCLA and I met a graduate film student that was shooting his thesis film. This film student was Justin Lin and this movie was Better Luck Tomorrow. I was green but I had a camera. Justin took me under his wing and my filmmaker journey began. This is a testament to having a mentor, everyone needs advice.
What inspired your past few documentaries? Also, what inspired the name ‘Arowana Films’?
I’ve been fortunate to walk the path of separating paid projects and passion projects. Every documentary I ever worked on has been a story that I needed to tell. When passion fuels a project there is no stopping it from getting made. An Arowana is an ornamental Asian fish that is similar in presence to that of the Japanese koi. I picked the name when I was 18 and it has stuck since!
What’s your next project about?
Every director gets one chance to make a first movie. SNAKEHEAD is a story that I’ve been working on for over 10 years and its finally coming to fruition. Through crowdfunding, credit cards, and a whole lot of sweat/blood equity we have a movie in the can. SNAKEHEAD is a story about one woman’s rise in the underworld of human smuggling in New York Chinatown. Inspired by true events, she must not only survive but also discover what it means to be a mother.
We just spent 6 months filming all over the place and now we’re knee deep in post. We have a Kickstarter campaign to help us get our film finished. I hope folks might take some time to read about it and consider a pledge! Please click through here to visit our: KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN.
Not many directors can successfully go-between the scripted and unscripted world; any pitfalls you’ve experienced?
I think the fundamental foundation of storytelling is the same in every medium. Whether it be music, pictures, film, docs, music videos, or books, storytelling is always the same. The ability to draw emotion from receivable sensory formats is the essence of storytelling and this is found in every art. The method changes but the fundamentals stay the same. I think scripted and un-scripted are very different but also very similar. Overall, making an independent film is quite difficult.
What advice would you have for others looking to make their first feature?
I spent 10 years on this project and after all that time I can confidently say this is still the story I want to tell. I cared a lot about this project and the test of time proved it. There is a lot of resources involved in making a movie and you can’t take that lightly. Respect the craft and tell a story that means something to you. If you make the movie for the right reasons, nothing can stop you.
What’s your worst finding a location horror story?
Finding a cargo ship. These kinds of boats are the hardest to find, especially if you have a limited budget. Took us almost a year to find a willing boat till we got lucky with the film commission in West Palm Beach helping us out.
What do you like the most about Wrapal?
Wrapal is genius! Thanks for thinking of it! At the indie level, we need all the help we can in finding things given the size of our budgets. Locations are one of them for sure! And so to have a platform to go to in order to find locations at affordable rates, dealing directly with the owners or managers, that’s a win in my book.
Change doesn’t come overnight but if you could snap a finger and change anything about this industry, what would it be and why?
I want to see more diverse stories. Not because of diversity, opportunity, or racism, but because I think the art form deserves new perspectives. With new perspectives the form can be elevated to the next level.