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Meet Olivia Wong

Today we’d like to introduce you to Olivia Wong.

Hi Olivia, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
Ever since I was 14, I knew that I wanted to be a filmmaker (specifically a writer and director). I’ve always aspired to enact positive social change in the world, through the medium of cinema. A big reason for this is because I was essentially given a second chance at life. I was adopted from Hong Kong when I was 9 months old and grew up in Sacramento, California. Every day, I reflect upon how blessed I am to simply be here and I try to live my life to the fullest.

After graduating from UC Davis, I was accepted into the MFA program at USC School of Cinematic Arts and moved to LA at the start of 2020. It was always my dream to attend USC for its reputation as the top film school in America. Especially since I wasn’t accepted for my Undergraduate degree, I was beyond excited to attend at the graduate level. However, the funny thing about “dreams” is that they don’t always go as planned. Two months into the program, we were moved to a fully online/remote structure during the pandemic. Moreover, I had several negative experiences with the program’s faculty and administration in which I felt blatantly discriminated against. Therefore, I decided to leave USC and take myself out of an environment that was not only bringing me harm, but also causing me to lose my passion for filmmaking.

Even though it was a difficult decision to make, it was the absolute best thing that I could have done for my career! Since leaving USC, I have written/directed 3 films that were all shot in 2021 and I’m currently gearing up to shoot 6 more projects this year that I’ve been hired to direct. I have been working harder than ever to ensure that my time away from school is well spent.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing. In fact, ever since moving to LA, I’ve faced more discrimination than ever before. As a queer WOC, I’ve found that others often misjudge me and underestimate my abilities. Even though the entertainment industry has made some great progress in repairing its inherently sexist, racist, and homophobic status quo, there is still a lot of work to be done.

There have been plenty of times where I’ve been blatantly disrespected, devalued, and even harassed in the workplace (whether that be on set, in Zoom meetings, or etc.). Especially as a director, I’ve had to learn how to navigate uncomfortable situations while still keeping the integrity of the project intact.

The ability to lead a team effectively, while experiencing these types of problems, is not always easy. Especially because, as a director, you typically pour your whole heart into your projects. In a way, your film is an extension of yourself and reflects your character, values, and morals—if you’re brave enough to be that vulnerable in your work. I’ve had to learn (and am still learning) how to take something incredibly personal and translate it into a professional environment. Simply showing up isn’t enough; you have to put in the work and typically, the work starts from within.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
Being adopted has played an integral part in my life and my filmmaking aspirations. I can’t even begin to describe how grateful I am for my parents and their unconditional love and support. On one hand, I view myself as incredibly blessed and constantly take appreciation in simply being where I am. However, I sometimes see myself as undeserving of my privilege, fixating on the age-old question, “Why me?”

Instead of wallowing in my survivor’s guilt, I attempt to channel it in a productive way, using it as motivation to live my life for more than myself alone. Since I can’t do anything to help those in my past, I want to do everything possible to help others in my future. This is the fundamental reason behind why I am a filmmaker. The ability to inspire people to live their lives to the fullest and take advantage of their opportunities is the fuel that propels me to enact positive change in the world, through the medium of cinema.

Furthermore, my film work is inspired by a lot of topics close to my heart—such as mental health, racial and gender inequality, and body positivity. I aim to bring the stories of marginalized groups of people to the light and advocate for more inclusive voices. Over the past year, I’ve often been asked, “What does visibility mean to you and your community?”. As a queer, cis-gender, Asian-American woman, I thought it was a bit of a trick question because it’s not about visibility; we don’t want to simply be seen—we need to be heard.

I think there’s a lot of content out there that tries to satisfy people’s impulse to escape the world around them. However, I want to inspire people to become more self-aware and reevaluate their own lives, through connecting and empathizing with the material presented on screen. My life is a unique story, but my goal with filmmaking is to showcase that every single person has their own unique story with the ability to inspire others as well.

Can you talk to us about how you think about risk?
Leaving USC was definitely the biggest risk that I’ve taken in my career, thus far. I wouldn’t normally characterize myself as a risk taker, but I definitely value the importance of pushing past your comfort zone to soar to new heights.

My favorite quote of all time is, “If you don’t build your dreams, someone else will hire you to build theirs”. I refer back to this sentiment whenever I’m at odds with a difficult decision. I remind myself of my personal “what”, “why”, and “how”:
—“What am I trying to achieve in this given circumstance?”. This is usually something concrete with a time-table (i.e. showcasing the art of local artists who have been underrepresented).
—“Why am I doing this and why is it important?”. This typically is something more abstract and open-ended, (i.e. fostering safe spaces that aim to support and empower creatives)
—“How do I make this happen?”. This last step is normally where the planning comes in (i.e. booking a space to host an event where all of this can take place).

The “how” stage is where the majority of my risk-taking happens. Do I invest my personal savings into this project and risk my own financial security? Do I attempt to crowd-fund the project and risk not reaching my goal? Do I postpone the project and risk passing up potential opportunities in the present? These are all questions that I ask myself constantly—whether it’s a short film, music video, screening event, or etc..

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Image Credits
-Drew Gayner -Cecily Lo -Joaquin Cintron -Sunrain Wang

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