We had the good fortune of connecting with Josh Leong and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Josh, how do you think about risk?
I think almost all of my early career has involved some portion of risk. Whether it was the crazy idea of applying to film school, the (crazier) idea of figuring out how to pay for it, or making a movie 7,000 miles away in Ethiopia as a freshman in New York City. Risk-taking has produced amazing projects and relationships because risks always require me to put my trust in something or someone else. I had to put myself out there and believe that we’d pull off numerous unbelievable things: raising $30,000, signing a Netflix actor, or shooting in a country where we don’t even speak the language. But in every single circumstance, things came to pass as a result of others – and always in an outrageous manner.
– At the last minute, we had a German humanitarian aid organization complete our funding on our drive to the airport to Ethiopia.
– We signed Ethan Herisse after we discovered his manager’s friend adopted children from Ethiopia.
– We filmed for 7 days in Ethiopia with the help of local NGOs, translators, and ministry partners who generously volunteered their time.
At the end of the day, it became clear that every risk was an opportunity for something BIG to show up and prove to me that I am NOT the product of my own hard work. I owe all of my success to others and to God. In many ways, “taking risks” has meant “having faith.” And it that’s the case, I want to take risks for the rest of my life.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My first love is directing, and I’ve had the privilege to tell some incredible stories – most recently, THE OTHER SIDE, a narrative short filmed in Ethiopia and starring Ethan Herisse from Ava DuVernay’s Emmy®-winning Netflix series, WHEN THEY SEE US. The film raises awareness for the ongoing Ethiopian orphan crisis and is inspired by the life of a 16-year old orphan boy I met in Ethiopia on a missions trip in 2018. The film ultimately helped raise $50K for vulnerable children in Ethiopia affected by COVID-19, and has played at 10 major film festivals across the world, including 4 Academy Award®-qualifying competitions. Our team is now in development for the feature-length version of THE OTHER SIDE, and we’re always seeking individuals in the industry who support stories like these. I think a large part of who I am today has been informed by what I’ve experienced and discovered around the world. Throughout high school, I was part of several missions trips with my church. Standing side-by-side with local communities in the Dominican Republic to the Philippines has given me perspective on how I should use my talent for others. And so while I love to entertain and tell exciting narratives, I’ve recently fallen in love with being inspired by untold, true stories from around the world. I’ve seen THE OTHER SIDE as an incredibly unique opportunity to make a difference in one boy’s life, and I want the world to know that this short (and this upcoming feature) is not just a fictional story – it’s the real life of an orphan boy 7,000 miles away, living a life that most of us will never understand.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Back at NYU, if a friend ever came to visit – I’d always love to show them the side of NYC that tourists never see. (Hint: anything BUT midtown.) Whether it’s a walk through the beautiful West Village to see the FRIENDS apartment or a CitiBike ride along the Hudson Pier, there’s always something amazing to do. Washington Square Park on a beautiful day is the perfect place to people-watch, and coffee at Oslo is the only place you need to get your creative juices flowing. We’d have dinner at my favorite Italian restaurant, Bar Pitti – and if we could find an East Village rooftop to see friends or just stare at the skyline, that’d be perfect.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I want to dedicate my shoutout to my elementary school computer lab teacher, Kurt Kohls. In fifth grade, he encouraged me to submit a LEGO stop-motion class project to a local video competition. I would go on to win the competition for my age group – and it was then that I realized that I wanted to pursue making films. Had it not been for his support and encouragement when I was 11 years old, I would never have been where I am today. Support art and technology in schools. Teach kids to explore and pursue excellence in non-traditional fields. You never know who the next Steven Spielberg might be.
Website: www.joshleongstudios.com AND www.theothersideshortfilm.com
Instagram: @josh_leong AND @theothersidefilm2020
Other: VIMEO: www.vimeo.com/joshleong
Olivia Fournier, Olivia Crutchfield, Tom Ingwersen