We had the good fortune of connecting with Justin Tang and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Justin, do you disagree with some advice that is more or less universally accepted?
As creatives, we’re often praised and envied for being able to “do what you love”, to “pursue what you’re passionate about”. And while I am immensely grateful and elated for being able to do what I do, I believe that the complexities surrounding this piece of advice make it difficult for me to throw it around to others.
“Doing what you love”, especially within a creative industry, is a blessing and a curse. There’s a certain notion of intensity that you have to hold, a “fueling” of grit and ambition that exceeds just being passionate. Because once you take that hobby of yours and try to make it a career it becomes a different story. If you enjoy baking in your downtime, that may not necessarily mean you’re willing to wake up at 4 am, proof the dough, work the floor, meet with suppliers, and do it all over again the next day. You have to love the process, and who you’re doing all this for. And lastly, as much as I hate it, you need to know how money factors into all of this. Though I have a lot to learn, I’ve realised the entrepreneurial and social mentality needed to make this career sustainable. While I’d love to sit and wait for jobs to come by with my camera in hand, that’s simply not the case.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I love stories. And when I say that I don’t necessarily mean one where the protagonist has to rough it out to fulfil their character arc or any of that. I mean real stories, about real people. I’ve recently worked on some character driven-pieces including a documentary about a movement advocate/artist and a dance film set within the diegesis of old Hong Kong and the shared identities of two strangers. The former is currently in production, still scheduled for a few more days of production and the latter we’re hoping to get into more rounds of local festival circulation. There’s something extremely eclectic with capturing the narratives and using my capacity in terms of visual imagery and direction to convey a mood that is true to their experiences.
I honestly don’t think I’m very far into my journey, but I’ve had a wonderful time this year discovering the type of work that I want to do. In the beginning, I took on a “jack of all trades” approach, shooting weddings, restaurants, kick-starters, assisting on small commercials, government PSAs, etc… But the one thing that kept me going is the connections I’ve made along the way. Obviously, it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies, especially when it came to working with veterans in the industry, but there was always something to learn from it, whether that be technical advice or about myself.
Being a learner, and going at it with an open mind, I’d say, is the key to overcoming the challenges and also the main takeaway from my freelance journey at least. I’m genuinely curious, albeit scared and confused when working with older and more experienced people. There was one shoot recently for an airline company, where I was so fixated on learning a specific rope-tieing technique from the key grip that I had missed the lunch call.
I’m a real advocate for being invested in the projects you’re part of. If there’s a story out there that I feel strongly acclimated towards, I’d happily do it just so it gets out there and reaches those who feel the same way I do. That’s the kind of mentality I hope to bring to everyone I work with and something that I hope sticks out like a sore thumb. Filmmaking should come from the heart, and if I ever wake up one day and simply hope to “get through the shoot” then it’d be a good time for me to re-evaluate what I’m doing.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Outside of filmmaking, I’m a huge foodie. And coming from my Asian roots I’d say there’s really nothing I’d be afraid of trying, well, within reason. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to explore LA but the one place my friends and I keep going back to is Sawtelle. The bustling atmosphere there reminds me a lot of my home – Hong Kong. We’d have trips there with a routine itinerary of grocery shopping, an awesome dinner and great dessert afterwards. I highly recommend Tsujita LA, nothing quite beats the bold flavours of their Tsukemen broth after a long day. If you stick around, there was also a band that busks right outside B Sweet, it’s a nice wind-down and they are insanely talented at what they do. Food aside, there are lots of great museums scattered across the city. Generic I know, but The Broad had an awesome infinity mirror exhibition by Yayoi Kusama. Its immersiveness (iPhone flashes and long queues aside) made for a great time. Oh, and Disneyland. Loved Disneyland.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Ah, so many people that deserve a shout-out! Well to start off, I’d definitely want to shout out to all my friends as well as family, William and Wendy, for their ongoing support. I was lucky enough to not have much friction when choosing this path and in fact, have received a lot of support from having a family that is always inquisitive about the projects I’m working on, to friends that are extremely understanding and accommodating to my schedule, even volunteering to help out on set from time to time.
I’d also want to shout out my girlfriend, Syuen. Moving back home to Hong Kong during the pandemic was quite unnerving at first, but she’s able to ground me and provide a lot of moral support and film-centric feedback whenever I’m feeling unsure or anxious, which is a lot of the time. Asides from that, I’m extremely grateful for my boss Eugene, and colleague Shaan, not only for all the wonderful advice and mentoring that they’ve provided but as creatives/friends I can turn to whenever, wherever.