April 06, 2022

Insights from director Lee Isaac Chung

Last week, filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung visited the Film & Media Arts Department here at the University of Utah. Chung is an alum of the U’s MFA In Film and Media Arts. His first film, Munyurangabo, premiered at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival to great acclaim. His most recent film, Minari, was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, and he was nominated for two Oscars in Screenplay and Direction.

During his visit, Chung sat down with students for a Q&A over lunch, where he offered valuable insights into filmmaking.

Here are some key takeaways from the Lunch Q&A with Lee Isaac Chung:

Every journey is different!

Chung’s undergraduate degree is in Biology, and he originally planned on going to medical school. It wasn’t until his senior year that he began considering going into filmmaking, and a couple years later he attended the U to get his MFA in film.

Chung made several low-budget independent films, worked as an independent producer, and worked as a professor at University of Utah Asia campus before he made Minari. In fact, if it wasn’t a success, Minari was going to be his last screenplay.

Chung said that each success was exciting, but he won’t deny that there was also a lot of hurt and waiting along the way. 

Chung says it was his family—especially his wife— that kept him going. Anchoring your goals and self-worth on success doesn’t work!

The hustle doesn’t end.

After Minari’s Oscar nominations and wins, many people in the industry told Chung that he only had a small window of time to capitalize on the momentum and make his next film. 

The industry is tumultuous, so it’s good to be flexible and have realistic expectations.

Chung is now directing some episodic television and writing his next feature film.

Even with his success, making his own original films is still a lot of work!

Build relationships.

When asked about his advice for aspiring directors, Chung said that the most important thing is to collaborate. He depends on the expertise of his crew, and trusts his actors to know their characters and bring out a good performance.

Reach for the next step up— you aren’t going to go from PA to Director with no steps in between. Be a good worker along the way.

Network with the people around you! Friends, classmates, and crew members will likely be your best connections later on

 

Chung closed his talk by reflecting on his own philosophy as a filmmaker: to try and see goodness. He said that he is a romantic at heart, and that he believes there is good in the world and that people have the power to change things. Chung doesn’t do cynicism. Instead, he believes that art is about bringing beauty to all things, especially pain.

Thank you, Isaac, for your honesty and advice, and for spending time with our students!