We had the good fortune of connecting with Yongkai Lin and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Yongkai, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Being a filmmaker, an artist, and now a production designer, these choices I made were incredibly risky and challenging. We have all heard artists starve, and it’s not an easy route, but just like everyone, the fuel is my creativity and passion. I enjoy the process so much, and I never regret my choice. I still remember the first short film I made in college, with an iPhone, a basic tripod and microphone, and a lens kit. Something just clicked, I never liked schools and learning, but I had the strong urge to learn about filmmaking from that day. Photography, and videography, I started taking on school projects and making commercials for the college provost’s office. After undergrad, I decided to go to Hollywood and go to a film school. Before grad school, I was only interested in being a director or cinematographer. Still, I learned about the magic behind the stage, the production designer who needs to craft the world around the actors to make it look realistic. Production Design is so overlooked, yet it combines art, science, and math. It’s intriguing, and I love it instantly. Studying from zero knowledge, I was willing to take on the challenge and hungry for the knowledge. Along the way, I met many passionate filmmakers who are writers, directors, cinematographers, editors, and sound designers. They are all inspirational in my journey. We come from different backgrounds but are joined by one idea, love of cinema. For that, the risk is worth it.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Pursuing a career in film with no connection is a risk. My parents are not in the business, and I am studying abroad by myself in California, learning from scratch. I know I must try harder than others to make a career. The positive side is that I love what I do, and making films is magical. Whenever I watch a great movie, recently, I watched Good Time, and I also revisited Tokyo Story. These films are so good that they inspire me to make movies. They remind me of our beautiful existence and our appreciation for people from different cultures and backgrounds. A good film is like a piece of classic literature, and it stands in history. People still read Shakespeare or go to MoMA to look at Van Gogh’s Starry Night because the response coming from the art provokes emotions across time and space. That movie magic gets me all the time and pushes me going forward. After Chapman’s MFA program in Production Design, I have worked on many shorts, music videos, and commercials. From learning and failing, I have seen my growth. I was accepted into the Art Director’s Guild’s Production Design Initiative program, leading to working in the industry. I just finished a Netflix Feature and met many professional art department people who have taught me things that schools don’t teach. Now I am working on a Showtime TV series. I am glad that I took the risk to pursue my dream. I am focusing on working on more projects, eventually being able to take on a feature as a production designer with a team of the most talented and passionate art department, making a great film.
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?
I remember the first time came to L.A. with a summer film program in college. This trip opened my eyes and cemented my belief to move out to L.A. because I know this is the place for filmmakers. It has ocean, desert, mountains, and the best weather you can ask for. I’m not too fond of cold winter, which works out perfectly for me. Sure, the traffic is terrible, the homeless are growing, and the rent is expensive, but they don’t sway me and my passion a bit. I am optimistic, and I believe L.A. will change for the better. The places I would take my friends are Venice Beach, Santa Monica piers, and Zuma beach. No doubt about that, Venice beach has the most exciting people, Santa Monica Piers has that romantic vibe, and Zuma has the Zen. I do yoga there. For some cool architecture, I would drive by the West Adam Blvd. There are different architectural styles from Arts and Crafts movement, Tudor, Mission, Storybook, and Colonial. You name it. They have it. In a way, these houses are expressive and embody the diversity of Los Angeles, which I love. Hollywood and Sunset boulevard are also a must for not only the visitors. It’s cool to walk and see some legendary old cinemas, like the TCL Chinese theater. Take a hike behind the Hollywood Sign, and watch a sunset at the Griffith Observatory. You may even recognize some movie scenes that take place there. Chinatown, Ktown, and little Tokyo are also fun to visit for the nightlife or food. Los Angeles, the City of Angles. I love it.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are two early projects I have worked on with a naturalist filmmaker Emily Timmer. I have been the production designer for her short film Latchkeys and her Chapman thesis Smokescreens. Her style is unlike your everyday filmmakers who write extravagant scenes filled with lame actions to attract viewers’ attention. She writes stories about the hidden gems in society. Latchkeys is about a first-generation American-born Korean girl’s journey based on her friend’s true story. Based on Emily’s real life, Smokescreens is about an OPCD patient’s road trip with her estranged childhood friend. These human stories are subtle and poetic. The human struggle speaks to people from different cultures and backgrounds. My job, for example, in Latchkeys, is to research Korean American culture and the main character’s living environment in the 2000s. I will go through the photographs and source the right era’s props. In a way, I am experiencing the journey along with the characters in the script and finding the right interior design items or hand props to show the characters’ personalities. Latchkeys has won the official selections for the 14th KAFFNEY Festival, Tacoma Film Festival, San Diego Asian Film Festival, and Ojai Film Festival.
Yongkai Lin, Emily Timmer