We had the good fortune of connecting with Samantha K. Tan and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Samantha, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
Growing up in Worcester, MA, I was exposed to all different types of people and cultural backgrounds. I saw a lot of people who looked like me or shared similar values as me. As a Vietnamese-American, that meant a lot. I didn’t have trouble fitting in or embracing my culture. I wasn’t embarrassed by the food I ate, and I could freely speak in my language to other Vietnamese students. My peers and I were open to learning each other’s languages and culture. There was a sense of community, and I loved it; I felt like I belonged.

When my family and I moved to Pennsylvania, everything changed. Like every 11-year-old, I started caring more about what I looked like and how I presented myself. It was important for me to keep up with trends and to adapt to a community that wasn’t so open or welcoming of my culture. Yes, there was a large POC community and there was plenty of great opportunities for me to grow, but I didn’t have any role models. Because I didn’t see much of myself in this new environment, I no longer wanted to embrace my Vietnamese culture and eventually felt like “other.” I did anything I could to seem more “American.” That meant changing the clothes I wore, how I spoke, what I looked like, and what I talked about. It was very disheartening.

It wasn’t until I got into college where I rediscovered my cultural identity. During my sophomore year, I produced a web series called “Ambitious.” This series follows a Vietnamese-American college dropout and her journey as a stubborn adult. “Ambitious” represents the following themes: identity, (multiracial) relationships, friendships, college pressure and family expectations. Believe it or not, but this was the first time I was exposed to a film — a student film, where the lead character was Asian, and in this case, Vietnamese. This project helped me remember how important my culture was — and should’ve been while growing up. It was very eye-opening to me. It was also upsetting that I spent most of my childhood and early adulthood pretending to be someone I’m not. I shouldn’t have tried to change who I was. I shouldn’t have acknowledged those “harmless” jokes about being Asian. I had a lot of re- and unlearning to do.

Ever since I produced “Ambitious” in 2019, I made a promise to myself to bring more diversity on and off screen. As an emerging producer, I create opportunities for new voices in the industry and build a safe and positive working environment on and off set. That means giving people the chance to tell their own stories, to be mentored and to learn about a position they’re interested in. As someone who constantly work on projects, I also value and practice self-care in the workplace. I strongly believe that this goes hand-in-hand with communication and accountability.

Since “Ambitious,” I’ve produced more POC web series, short films, music videos and documentaries. All of them have one thing in common: a diverse cast and crew. I see women and women of color as head departments, LGBTQ and people from different backgrounds all around. Every project I’ve worked on had a sense of community — that same feeling when I lived in Worcester, MA. I plan to continue running all of my productions like this — to build a colorful team and to bring honest and heartfelt stories onto the big screen.

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.
I often freelance as a Production Assistant (PA) or COVID PA. I’ve worked on music videos, commercials, short films and feature films. I plan to eventually work as an Office PA and on my free time, I produce my own projects.

As a Spring 2020 Graduate who moved to LA during the pandemic, I’m very grateful to have already produced 2 music videos that have a large POC cast and crew. I’m currently producing a short film called “My Monster and I,” which is about a 10-year-old Asian-American girl who confronts the monster under her bed and uses her newfound bravery to face her abusive father. Our goal is to spread awareness on domestic violence and to represent AAPI filmmakers. We’re currently in pre-production. Please follow our Instagram @mymonsterandi for any updates and behind the scenes. Meanwhile, I’m also reworking my web series, “Ambitious,” with a production company.

Getting to where I am today has not been easy. There were a lot of self-doubts and challenges along the way, but I was lucky to have such a great support system. My family, friends, professors and mentors were always there for me. They offered me advice, introduced me to people, and gave me opportunities I never thought I’d get.

As an emerging producer, I’ve learned that I want to give back. So many people have helped me and believed in me, and I want to offer that same support to upcoming seniors and aspiring filmmakers. Since I’ve graduated, I’ve guest spoke for a lot of my former professors’ classrooms, and I’ve scheduled 1 on 1 meetings with their students. A lot of these 1 on 1 calls were at least 2 hours long. I know how intimidating the film industry can be. If I can make it somehow less scary and more tangible to people, I will do it. During my stages of self-doubt, and even during these phone calls, I always tell myself, “there’s always someone who’s going to want to bring you down or say ‘no’ to you. You can’t be that person to yourself.”

One thing that I learned these past few years is to never give up, to be grateful and to be genuine. I know, that sounds super cheesy, but it worked for me. I went against my family’s wishes of going into business school and secretly switched my major to film. That wasn’t fun but it was worth it. I actively worked on set and connected with cast and crew members during college. I was always producing different projects and mentoring aspiring producers (also while in school). I approached everyone with gratitude, enthusiasm, respect and honesty. In this industry, as a lot of people have told me, that’s very hard to come by nowadays. I want to be the type of producer who practices self-care while emphasizing accountability and communication. I strongly believe that a mentally and physically healthy cast and crew brings the project forward. We’re all working long hours together. We have to be able to communicate and understand each other. And let’s not forget, we should be having fun!

As a lifestyle, brand and boudoir photographer, I also practice self-care and self-love. I break beauty standards by encouraging my clients to dress however they want. They’re not required to do their hair and makeup, wear fancy clothes, and so forth. I want to capture people for how they see themselves. I want to capture people’s own definition of beauty and happiness.

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.
There are a few places we could go! Los Angeles is a great place for views. I’d take my best friend to Laguna Beach and El Matador Beach. These beaches are absolutely beautiful. The sunset takes my breath away every time. I’d also like to take them to El Mirage. It’s about a 2 hour drive from Los Angeles, but it’s worth it. It’s a large dry lakebed. People go there all the time to camp, ride on their dirt bikes, watch the sunset, and so forth. Again, it is BEAUTIFUL. The land just seems endless. I haven’t done this yet, but I’d love to book an airbnb around Joshua Tree. I also heard that’s a view you wouldn’t want to miss out on.

I’d take my friend to a cafe shop called Bopomofo Cafe. It’s a cafe run by my favorite YouTubers, WongFu Productions. They have the best drinks and sandwiches there. They have this one tater tot dish with tofu on it…. unheard of but amazing and to die for! I’d also take my friend to Little Tokyo and Chinatown to get dim sum and hot pot.

What I find most exciting about a city is the people and the food. What’s amazing about Los Angeles is that there are so many different places you can go to for different things. Whenever it’s safe again, I’d love to go to a poetry slam or a comedy show.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are so many people I’d like to thank… I’m grateful for my mom. I know we didn’t always agree on everything, but she has worked so hard to financially support me and my dreams. Without her love and support, I don’t think I’d have the courage to do all the things I’ve accomplished these past few years.

I’d love to thank my high school teachers, Ms. Tinsley and Mr. Berger, for encouraging me to go into film. They’ve always believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. When college applications came around, they were there to reassure me that I did the right thing by applying to film school.

I’d also like to thank all of my friends who have supported my films or who have worked with me on films. You all know how hard it is to stay creative and to actively work in the industry. Your love and support kept me moving throughout college.

I want to thank my mentors, Rea Tajiri and Sowon Sawyer, and my professors, Doug Claybourne, Kelly Thomas and LeAnn Erickson for offering me guidance whenever I needed it. You all helped this young and aspiring producer face “the real world,” and I’m so grateful for it.

Lastly, I want to thank my boyfriend, Percelle Howell, and one of my best friends, Kemi Jackson. You both were my rock during the pandemic and during my strange and stressful move to Los Angeles. Thank you all for everything!

Website: https://samanthaktan.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/samanthaktan

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

Image Credits
Photo credits to Ryan Leddy and Jenny Choi.

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