We had the good fortune of connecting with Melissa Cho and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Melissa, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
My love for the arts stemmed from my passion for theatre all throughout middle-high school. The high school that I ended up transferring to as a junior had incredible film and arts programs, and I was that kid who auditioned for every single play, musical, and did improv. I was very set on auditioning for a theatre performance program for college, but my parents immediately shot that decision down. Choosing the “Undeclared” option for my primary major of choice didn’t sit well with me when applying to colleges, so I thought, “How can I channel my love for performing into a different but slightly similar discipline?” By the time I was a senior in high school, in addition to theatre, I was writing for the school newspaper and loved my journalism class. I put two and two together and that’s how I declared a News & Documentary major in college. I ended up still declaring Theatre as a second major during my Sophomore year, but in hindsight, I’m so glad that my parents’ rejection of my initial career choice opened a new door for me. I have done so much rewarding work over the past four years as a multimedia journalist, documentarian, digital content producer and editor, and visual storyteller. I remember coming to film school with zero experience in filmmaking–I simply thought I was there to write and report on camera (and that was my career goal at first—to be an on-air talent). But being fortunately surrounded by so many creatives and learning so many skills in school in order to be a multifaceted artist…it’s been a very fruitful journey.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?

I’m currently a contract writer for the NAACP’s Communications Team, a part-time creative development executive assistant, and a freelance editor for an influencer. I know I’m not at my end goal yet and I’m hoping to settle into a full-time position by next year, but having just graduated, I’m excited to equip myself with more versatile knowledge of the industry through the work I do.
Before college, I never would’ve thought of myself wanting to pursue a career in the film, tv, and media space. My first ever filmed class project in college, I couldn’t even set up a tripod. I came in thinking that I was here to write and report—no camera finessing required. I came into film school completely unaware of what lay ahead of me, but I am so thankful that I found myself in a community of talented, driven, and humble creatives who were willing to offer help and advice. Fast forward to now, I can craft engaging pitches, produce, film, and edit. During my time in college, I have interned at Phoenix TV (a large TV network in Asia) in Beijing, NBC Bravo Media, 60 Second Docs, and NBC News Dateline. I have worked with amazing brands such as Hut Mentality (an ethical, woman-owned fashion brand) and Jubilee Media’s clothing line Humangood LA, appeared on British Vogue (this still confuses me to this day), and recently received recognition from the Society of Professional Journalists 2020 Mark of Excellence Awards for two past works I produced. And I recently launched my own podcast called “hAAPI hour,” a show for amplifying AAPI creatives. What an incredible journey the past four years have been and none of these opportunities would have been possible without the constant mentorship of my friends, professors, and family.

These milestones still give me huge imposter syndrome, and being constantly surrounded by so many talented individuals (even virtually) sometimes makes me feel that I’m not doing enough. And as still a young 22-year old professional who has applied to way too many jobs and drafted out way too many cover letters, I’ve dealt with a good amount of rejections from companies I had hoped to work for. But I am a big believer that everything happens for a reason, and that when something doesn’t pan out the way I want, it’s just a pit stop on the way towards my eventual goal.

I’m not really a quote person, but there’s this quote from my high school theatre directing class textbook that I share with my creative friends all the time: “Limitation is the springboard for creativity.” I see this quote applying to my personal life way more during the pandemic. I’ve actually been back home in Taipei since last July (I flew back to “escape” the pandemic’s worst peak in the States). I spent the latter half of 2020 feeling sorry for myself that I wasn’t close to all of my creative friends and an artistic community in Southern California. I was also mentally having a bit of a hard time trying to weather the remote school experience in a flipped timezone (plus, I had to complete two senior theses in the same semester). But in a world where we can connect beyond borders through online platforms, I started 2021 with the intention of reaching out to more creatives, both back in the States and even locally in Taipei as well. And since doing so, I’ve been able to connect with individuals who share my same passion for creating art, and moreover, have been able to participate in fun, collaborative projects. And I guess this is how my podcast came to be—simply reaching out can make all the difference in your creative journey. And despite the limitations that I have been provided with, I have simply found different ways to produce meaningful work. So if you’re thinking of pursuing a project and are looking to collaborate with someone you admire, that person is just a zoom call away.

My proudest achievement may seem like one of the brand accomplishments I’ve listed above, but I would say that it’s me finishing my two undergraduate degrees, remotely, while interning in a completely different timezone from 1 am to 7 am. Never would I have expected my senior year of college to be like this. But I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, because so much growth and opportunity have come from this spectacularly unusual experience. If I want the world to know something about me, I hope this story tells people that I am resilient, adaptable, and will stick it out to the very end.

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?
Since I attended Chapman University for college, I would be betraying the Orange County food culture if I did not mention Blue Bowl’s addicting superfood bowls. They recently opened a location right at the heart of my college town! So we are most definitely going to the Old Town Orange Circle location. You MUST order at least a 16 oz acai bowl (the 12 oz one is too small booOoooO, go big or go home). And there are unlimited toppings, so I highly recommend obnoxiously filling your superfood bowl with all the bases, granola, nut butters, and fruits you so desire.

My top 3 thrift stores I recommend in the OC region: The Savers in Yorba Linda (this location is the size of the Taj Mahal), DeeLux in the Old Towne Orange Circle (along with all the other antique/vintage stores in the Circle where you will find a ton of gems), and The Goodwill of Orange County on Tustin St. You won’t go wrong with these three.

The Orange Home Grown Farmers Market (right next to my school, so I would always just walk here) is truly a warm and welcoming community you won’t want to skip out on (I used to help sell popsicles here!). It’s open every Saturday from 9am-2pm and the samples you get to try out range from fresh fruit, juices, vegetables, pastries, and baked goods (the Argentinean lady who sells empanadas is a gift from God), yogurts…the hummus guy there is also a true homie. I always see a ton of my friends there whenever I go on the weekends. Everyone is super friendly and happy there. It’s just a wonderful microcosm to be a part of.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?

1. My eighth-grade English teacher Mrs. Szu, one of the first people who brought me into the arts. She cultivated so much creativity in the classroom by allowing my peers and me to perform in short plays and write our own original stories and skits. Despite the facility constraints my first school had—for instance, the school auditorium not having actual curtains or proper stage lights—Ms. Szu, my classmates, and I still made the most out of our theatre experiences. We strung up our own curtains and made our own props.
2. My high school senior journalism teacher, Ms. Kundel. If it weren’t for her valuable writing edits, my high school articles wouldn’t be half as good. I’m grateful that she catalyzed my curiosity to want to tell stories as a career. I’m honored to now call her my friend.
3. My mother, who attended every single high school show I was in (even the dreaded Saturday matinees) and made constructive feedback after every single performance. Even when I share some of my produced work now, she’ll screenshot and note specific timecodes in a video just to give me notes. There’s this one thrifting challenge YouTube web series I produced and my mom screenshotted all the times I touched my nose during the first episode. She told me not to touch my nose on camera. Thanks for the note mom.
4. My dad, who is always the first person to mass share my produced work with my extended family, all his church friends, his school buddies, and our apartment complex’s security guard and gardener. He is the manager that I have never asked for, but I’m not complaining.
5. None of the mini-milestones and successes I have so far encountered would have been possible without the help and guidance of Christ. He is a God who listens and responds, yet sharpens my patience time after time.

Website: www.chomelissa.com

Instagram: www.instagram.com/itschochotrain

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chomelissa/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/MelissaCho

Melissa’s Podcast “hAAPI hour”: www.anchor.fm/haapihourwww.instagram.com/haapihourpod

Image Credits
-Steven Lee -Leonard Ortiz -dolly ave

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutLA is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.