How To Win Awards

So if you listen to enough award speeches, you will begin to recognize a pattern. These people usually win an award for a craft, yes — in a specific discipline — but they never speak about the craft in the speech. They speak about the mission, the purpose, the destination they wanted to reach. The craft, whether it be film, books, or music, is the vessel, but what is the message?

Take a watch of the video above, those are the last 10 Academy Award winners for Best Original Screenplay. Listen to what the winners have to say about their victory. They are not bragging about how they sat there and wrote a specific scene. They are talking about their purpose: the reason why they wrote the story in the first place.

You will never win an award for great art if you never find your message. If you never have something meaningful to say. If you’re writing, painting, filmmaking simply to be the best you can be, without a greater purpose, you will never impact the world.

Find your message. Find that and use your craft to communicate it. Communicating for the sake of being a better communicator accomplishes nothing. But with a mission, you have a reason to improve.

This has been something I’ve been trying to figure out ever since I stood on stage and performed stand up comedy. Now that you have an audience, what can you tell them? What can you share with them? How can you change them?

Buy me a beer, it helps to keep me inspired.

White is the new black, yellow, brown, and all the other hues, really

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It’s 2015, and still whitewash casting in movies exists

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Dec. 9, 2015

Ethnicity in the film industry has always been a problem. In an attempt to reach the broadest American market, the film industry often omits the idea of diversity and simply casts well-known (white) actors. Think of an actor, any actor—odds are, that person is white. The Jake Gyllenhaals, the Johnny Depps, and the Christian Bales dominate the industry. It’s not a bad thing. They are phenomenal artists and they deserve to work. However, when they are taking the role of some Middle Eastern, Asian, or Aboriginal actor, then there is a clear problem.

I would also understand if these actors were stretching their acting chops. But they aren’t. They are just wearing a costume. So a movie that depicts Egyptian gods now has American actors with spray tans. And it’s all because the studios fear people of ethnicity with power, even when it is in the fantastical realm of film.

This problem is rotting the core of entertainment. It eliminates whatever artistic value the film actually has, discredits all the hard work thousands of people do, and makes it a power move that keeps the minority outside the gates of legitimacy.

There are so many struggling ethnic actors working their asses off for minor roles. They are as skilled in the craft as any Academy Award nominated actors. All they need is a break. Change cannot happen from the outside. Criticisms about casting choices have almost zero effect on the overall decision of the film.

In Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, he perfectly illustrates the fight ethnic actors have with the industry, and how powerless they feel. In an episode entitled Indians on TV, Ansari’s character, Dev, combats the decision to take on a role that would further his career, while also furthering the stereotypes that hold other Indian actors back. It’s a conversation about race, but more prominently, it’s a conversation about money and success. If he doesn’t do it, someone else will.

So it goes in the film industry. Someone else will always sink low enough for the scraps, and they’ll call it luck. It doesn’t matter what race the actors are, the studios will follow through with their plans. It’s not the actors that need to change. It’s the overall way of thinking. But the movement needs to happen internally. White actors need to stop accepting roles that are clearly not designed for them. And ethnic actors need to stop being swayed by the power of money. They need to band together and condemn stereotypes with the same discrimination the industry has shown for them.

National egotism and propaganda

Photo by Keith Bernstein - © 2014 - Warner Bros. Entertainment

‘American Sniper’is an encapsulating project rooted in pride

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. January 27, 2015

When Seth Rogen and Michael Moore voiced their opinion on American Sniper—the number one movie in January with over $100-million in box office over the long weekend—it was targeted at the machine that was America.

Rogen, accustomed to controversies, compared the highly acclaimed film to the third act of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. One may remember the scene in which Hitler and his posse sat in a theatre, watching a movie with a sniper on higher ground taking out Allied soldiers. He said it without saying it; Rogen was pretty much comparing Clint Eastwood to Leni Riefenstahl and the American public to animals akin to Nazis.

Moore, the director of Oscar-winning documentary Bowling for Columbine, added in a tweet: “Only a coward will shoot someone who can’t shoot back.” A Japanese sniper killed Moore’s uncle almost 70 years ago.

The story of US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, portrayed by Bradley Cooper, was a haunting one. Were we watching a film about a national hero or an international murderer? Either way, I believe it’s an honest war movie.

Of course, movies with a patriotic undertone have been a popular genre in cinematic catalogues since the existence of filmmaking. The original purpose of motion pictures was not just to entertain but also to persuade. How is American Sniper any different from the rallying war and disaster movies that made regular civilians feel empowered?

The criticisms aren’t directed at the performance or the movie itself, but the encompassing scenarios. Why is America hell-bent on murder, enough so to transform a normal man into such a weapon? What does it say about the current system of politics and recovery? How are we helping those transitioning from normal life to a life of war and then back again?

Although I agree with Rogen that the movie comes across as enemy-murder porn, and I understand where Moore is coming from, saying that heroes don’t gun down people from a hiding spot, I don’t believe that the movie is anything more than a reflection on the way we ourselves react to war.

Honestly, I enjoy movies that focus not just on the event, but also on the repercussions. I want to see the brutality of it. I want to see the broken relationships and the torturous anguish. I don’t want to see it glamourized like in many action movies. I want to watch a war movie and feel fortunate that there are those participating in such duties. And then I want to feel disappointed that I live in a world where we require people to participate, to enrol, to risk their lives, and to end the lives of others.

American Sniper, like many other Hollywood-produced war movies, has a clear identification of the enemy, but know this: not everything in movies is real. In fact, none of it is—they’re movies.

Sacred cinema

The bible shouldn’t be Hollywood’s only source for religious inspiration

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. April 8, 2014

I belong to a growing demographic of non-religious North Americans. Although I came from a Buddhist heritage and live in a country with a large Christian population, my curiosity stems further than my beliefs, my family’s beliefs, and my neighbour’s beliefs.

I have always been a sucker for stories, even if they have a moral at the end, and some of the greatest stories ever told are locked within sacred text: the Bible, the Qur’an, Sanskrit, Torah, etc. Tapping into these ancient texts will open our eyes to a world we are often ignorant of, and I believe that will be a significant step toward global tolerance.

We North Americans enjoy watching comforting movies, stories that we’re familiar with. But exploration is equally as entertaining. Noah offers a lot of epic scenes that make the job for the marketing team easy, but I also know that there are millions of other stories based in other religions that could contain the same amount of drama, special effects, and even Russell-Crowe-in-sandals scenes. As someone who has no defined religion, I’m more inclined to see a movie about an unfamiliar story than one constantly used in analogies.

I don’t believe religious movies are meant to convert someone’s beliefs. I believe that they’re simply created to entertain, earn a profit, and start a conversation about something that is losing effect in Western culture.

Religion turns a lot of people off these days, which is upsetting since religion is a significant part of the human identity. We should embrace it. Not just one religion (Christianity), but all of them. If we want to be a global community, we should explore all cultures, heritages, and of course, religions.

Harmony needs to start at home, and movies have always been a medium to bring people of all classes and beliefs together. Hollywood has made many weak attempts in telling stories from foreign sacred texts; that’s because they always try to find a Western perspective. It’s true, casting Keanu Reeves in a story about Buddhism is a recipe for chuckles. The key to adapting a story properly is honesty. Instead of catering to an audience, the filmmaker needs to simply tell the story the way it’s meant to be told, while finding the cinematic appeal.

Hollywood needs to team up with those of other cultures to create these impactful movies. They have to find the soul of it—the heart of the religion. By communicating the essence of those stories, the audience will be able to see how unique tales can shape so many different people from all reaches of the world. In our own comfortable way, we will be enlightened. It might not change our mindsets, but for a brief moment we can see from another’s point of view, and isn’t that what filmmaking is all about?