The following was my interview with AARisings.com back in 2009 in their A Profiler section. The site has since, unfortunately, moved on. The interview was conducted with Nelson Wong, the founder and creator of the site. I was able to get a copy of the interview from Nelson, and placed it here.
This A-Profiler we bring you new filmmaker Ray Hom. Find out how Hom’s college English class started him writing, how his current short film Hubris evolved, and why he wants aspiring filmmakers to “stop making excuses.”
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In 10 words or less, who is Ray Hom?
I’m one of a few billion people. Competition is fierce.
You have been primarily working behind the scenes in film for many years now. How did you get started and was there anything in your childhood that inspired you to have a film career?
I’ve dreamed of doing films for quite a long time. Of course, like a lot folks, I had no direction during my youth. (Some could argue that I still don’t.) Despite a few people’s reservations (there’s always a bunch of those), I am lucky to have a lot of support from friends and family, which I believe is a major factor in the psyche of pursuing what you dream to do. No man is an island to himself, as is said.
I grew up during the 80s & 90s watching a lot of movies, esp. since the access to films boomed because of VHS and DVD during those decades. Like most male film geeks, I watched a lot of action, sci-fi, and horror films. But, it was the merging of visuals with great storytelling of Kubrick, Cameron, and Tarantino films, which caught my imagination pushing beyond the shallowness of just another night on the town spending ten bucks to escape.
Upon entering my 20s, I was going through a Pro-Asian phase seeking a balanced identity between the polarities of being both Asian and American. (Every Asian-American goes through that in some form or another, no doubt.) The popularity of films by Spike Lee and John Singleton involving racial identity sparked inspiration in me to write & direct films about coming of age in the U.S. But, how and where do I start? I was a clueless but patient man.
My break wasn’t until about a year-and-a-half ago, when I met stuntman & actor Danton Mew, who got me a spot as a script supervisor on a low-budget martial arts flick titled Hand to Hand: The Art of Combat. On set, I had the opportunity to network with various industry people. And that’s where I met Joy Lam, who changed my life, by being the cinematographer for my first short film Hubris.
From camera work to script supervisor to directing and more, what aspects of film gives you the most satisfaction and why?
Writing. ’cause that’s where I express my most creative input. I grew up quite a reserved kid, and while attending an English class in college, I was given an assignment to keep a journal for the semester to write whatever I wanted. Even though the semester ended, I never stopped keeping a journal. I possess about 15 volumes of writing “whatever I want” to this day, and I hope that’s enough material for more screenplays and stories in the coming future. When in doubt about yourself, get a pen and a blank journal. It’s the best survival kit. It helps save a lot of money from having to visit a psychologist.
We’ve heard (and often experienced) the stereotypical Asian parents not really wanting their children to get into any aspect of the entertainment business. Were your parents any different? Have they been supportive of your endeavors? Were they inspirational?
My parents have become more liberal since they immigrated to the U.S. over 30 years ago. Yes, in my youth, I did mention to my mom that I wanted to be a filmmaker, and, yes, she told me it was an impractical career choice. And, yes again, I was disappointed with the lack of support from my parents, and I had gone through phases of low confidence not believing that I will actually ever get into filmmaking.
But, on the flip-side, I do credit my mom for having dragged me to the library a lot during my youth. In a subtle, quiet, and patient way, reading & writing nurtured my creativity. And with the advent of the Internet, I blogged to keep my sanity at rayhom.com (sorry, shameless plug), which led to some freelance writing gigs. I guess my parents couldn’t argue that I made a (however tiny) reputation being literate, that I can read and write. So, in some subtle, quiet, and patient way, they have grown more supportive these days, no matter how silly they think my dreams are coming true.
I know it’s become cliché for Asians in America to be speaking of the (stereo)typical Asian image – the financially successful, practical career, model minority, and showing obedience to the parents. If to be such a person makes one happy, then I have no argument against being such a person. It’s the ones that aren’t happy, but only pursue that path in life to please others for acceptance and seeking external validation. It was Mark Twain that said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” For me, it gets boring to be a predictable follower; no direction. You’re chasing your tail in a sea of clichés.
Currently your latest film, Hubris, has been shown at film festivals. How would you describe Hubris? How did the concept evolve?
It started when I had a conversation with my brother, Stan Hom, about how during most horror movies the victims always tend to run away from the evil supernatural beings or whatever monster is chasing them. What if, instead, the protagonists turned around to catch the scary unknown instead? What will they discover? Although it has its visual scares, Hubris is more a psychological horror than a straight horror. The film does deal with the consequences of the belief in the supernatural also. I’m not a believer myself, but I do enjoy a good scary flick. My tastes in films contradict my own reality. And that reflects what Hubris is about, if that makes sense.
As an avid horror fan, what are your top 5 all-time favorite horror movies and why?
In no particular order, The Shining, The Exorcist, the Evil Dead Series (I count this as one). Hmmm…then it gets tougher on what else I would consider in my top 5; probably Jacob’s Ladder would be amongst the list. Five is a bit constraint, as I like horror films about zombies, werewolves, killer kids, killer cars… But the fifth one would probably be an obscure b-horror flick called The Food Of The Gods, which was based on a HG Wells novel, about giant mutant rats, insects, worms, and chickens. To this day, that film gives me nightmares because of a scene involving a giant chicken pecking a character’s eyes out in a dark, shadowy hen house.
What is the next project you are working on? What lessons did you learn from Hubris that you’ll remember on your next project?
My brother, Stan Hom, was the action choreographer on Hubris. His background is character animation for video games, so he has experience in understanding the body movement and making an action sequence work. So, with me as a co-writer, we just finished writing an action/drama short. Stan will direct the film, and it consists of a bunch of elaborate action sequences utilizing stuntmen. We will start shooting the film sometimes in early Fall of ’09.
My biggest lesson is – be prepared in preproduction; have knowledge of what you’re getting into. There is now an infamous story of how my cinematographer threw me in the fire in the first film, without me having ever directed a film. In a lot of ways, I believe it’s because she trusted in the story I had written. And, she no doubt, pushed me to get it done. It was speed Film 101 for me. Despite being rushed, the film came out well and has gotten a lot of good reception. So, the other lesson is to be resourceful.
Where do you see yourself in 3 years, 5 years, 10 years?
In 3 years, hopefully, if all things work out, I’ll be writing & directing a feature film, even if it’s a low-budget one.
In 5 years, more writing and directing, but more seasoned. But, also, probably producing films where I won’t be directing. By this time, I will possibly write a novel or a collection of short stories. Maybe even a comic book. Pretty much, I will be writing a lot more as the years progress.
In 10 years, assuming everything has financially worked out well for me, I will be investing my time and money into scientific and technological areas of R&D. Although, I do have strong opinions, I’m not much of an outspoken political person. My interest lies in the advancement of civilization in areas of science. I don’t have the motivation to be a scientist; but the fascination of what scientist can do for/to humanity intrigues me. Trust me, tho. It’s not as scary as it sounds. I will probably just be doing movies about the subject.
All this to appease the mid-life crisis that will eventually befall my future.
Outside of film, what other interests do you have?
When I’m not watching the latest films in my Netflix queue, I’m an obsessive reader, as the written word is important in keeping me literate and cultured. I am entertaining the thought that I will write a novel one day, so my writing journal is full of ideas as I continue to jot stuff down daily. Otherwise, I live a normal life – eat, sleep, hit the gym, attend to friends & family, and over-exposure to Facebook.
What advice do you have for others who are interested in writing/directing their own films?
Everyone has heard this a million times, but – just do it. It won’t be perfect this first time. But, at least you got the gall to throw yourself in and experience, learn, observe, make mistakes, and create. But, another thing, in my own observation about people’s work, is to be learned and cultured about all kinds of stuff. Read a lot. Make a lot of friends. Do a lot of different things. Write about what you read, friends you meet, and stuff you did. Make a movie using a cheap $200 camera out of what you wrote. People are boxed in their own environment, and spend too much time preaching what life is all about, updating their social network statuses, and worrying too much about the attributes of life & death.
And stop being a critic about life. I know. It’s not fair. Life won’t be fair ’til the day you die. So, the only option is that you fight to make it fair. If it’s still not fair, what else, but to continue fighting to make life in your favor? Isn’t that what empowerment is?
Therefore, stop making excuses.
Everyone has an excuse. Work, family, children, bills, fatigue – all valid excuses. But, they are still excuses. You only live once, unless you believe in reincarnation (but even then, you’ll probably carry-over the same excuses in the next life). But one thing, esp. relative to the Asian American community, is to do something a bit different, to break out of your comfort zone, and take the risk. If you believe in hard work for your family or getting your bills paid, why not work hard the same way towards what you dream of?
You do not want to be that dime-a-dozen person that always says, “I got this great idea.” But, it never manifests, because you got a dime-a-dozen excuses. Too busy? Not enough time? Bitchin’ and moanin’ about how someone stole your ideas ’cause you didn’t took the initiative to implement that idea? Complaining about your work, complaining about your bills, complaining about your loved ones… and when you find the free time to relax, you complain about how bored you are. Look over to the person next to you, s/he probably could relate to your unhappiness.
And don’t feel guilty that it’s not a practical gig to be a filmmaker or a writer. Impracticality can make you unique. And don’t give that “fear of failure” excuse; it’s not a courageous thing to say. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do. Especially not yourself. ’cause if you’re not doing it, someone else is. Most great writers, directors, chefs, schoolteachers, etc. dealt with the darkest moments of their lives and survived it, lived to tell tales.
Because of some innate primitive, survival instinct, humans love to tell stories. The worst case is that you can be that gossip mongering relative sitting at the dinner table that everyone in the family cringes at the sound of his/her voice. Or you can be a filmmaker, writer, and/or producer.
Or you can allow that gossip mongering relative to live on for generations to come.
This issue of A-Profiler is brought to you by Nelson Wong.
Special thanks to Ray Hom.
Copyright retained by original copyright holder(s).