On a routine work-related google images search, I ran across an intriguing pic of two very handsome, well-built, topless young men in a confrontational pose (the one below). (No, I wasn’t looking for porn.) One was Asian the other Anglo (my preferred word for white). Upon clicking on the image, it turned out that it was a still photo from the trailer of a short film called, Squared (2013), about what happens when an Asian guy and an Anglo guy get together for a one-night stand. (Hint: the Anglo guy gets schooled.) I shortly discovered that I could purchase the short film by clicking the link for the film’s web page in the description section of the trailer for $1.99 (or more if you want to donate to the film’s production). So, I watched the less-than fifteen-minute movie and by the end I was quite impressed. It was well-written, well-acted, beautifully shot, and very well-directed. Most of all, it concerned a subject with which I could very much identify – racial stereotyping.
I then did a little research on the writer-director, Hieu Tran, and from his Facebook page I found out that he is a young man who two years ago graduated from UC San Diego with a BA in Visual Arts Media and a BA in Human Development. Exploring his YouTube page, I uncovered two more short films, Scripts (2011) and Traffic (2013), both gay-related, along with a collection of various skits, music video covers, and live music recordings. His latest one-minute 8-second video is a very cute and touching tribute to “Dads,” aptly called, Thanks, Dads (2014) where an eleven-year-old boy thanks his two adoptive fathers, in an all-Asian cast.
His film Squared personally struck a chord with me in another way because I used to live in San Diego and was delighted to see that a small part of it may have been filmed in the city’s gay district of Hillcrest. The high quality of the film is evidenced by its official selection to appear in the Filmout San Diego 16th Annual LGBT Film Festival 2014, Outfest Fusion LGBT People of Color Film Festival 2014, Viet Film Fest 2014, Boston LGBT Fest 2014, and the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival 2014, and many more. (A full listing below.)
If the work Hieu Tran has produced so far is any indication, this young writer, editor, director has a bright and prosperous future ahead of him indeed. On his Facebook page under “Personal Interests,” he writes, “I like to defy mainstream, heteronormative media.”
We are fortunate that he has agreed to be interviewed by peppii.
peppii: Hieu, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by peppii. Let me ask you, how long have you been interested in films and filmmaking? When you enrolled at UCSD did you know that’s what you’d be majoring in?
Hieu: Thanks for having me! I originally majored in General Biology for plans on becoming a science teacher or a pediatrician. But after my second quarter of chemistry, I realized science was not appealing to me and I wanted to do something else with my life. I signed up for “Intro to Media” as an elective class and I quickly got into it. I love having the ability to tell a story. I started out on YouTube in 2008 and now I am branching out to film festivals.
peppii: When did you come out? Were you already out in college? If so, did that make it easier to base your film projects on gay-related topics?
Hieu: I came out to my friends during my freshmen year of high school. I came from a small high school so I did not really get to explore my sexuality until college. I was open about myself in college and wrote scripts for class assignments based off my own experiences. My short films are like video journals. All my short films have Asian lead actors because I wanted to be able to relate to the characters.
peppii: Would you tell us a little about Scripts and how it came about?
Hieu: Scripts was a short about some dates I have been on. I had a lot of social scripts in my head during my early years of dating about how I should behave on a date, such as who pays for dinner, who initiates the conversation, etc. It is one of my very early first comedic gay shorts.
peppii: Would you tell us a little about Traffic and how it came about?
Hieu: Traffic was a short film about a guy trying to please everyone after getting a new car. The message is about people not always having to please everyone in their lives. I believe there will always be problems and things holding us back from our goals – the traffic in life – but it is always nice to have people who I can trust by my side.
peppii: Would you tell us a little about Squared and how it came about? How does the word “squared” fit into the story?
Hieu: Squared is a short about a one night stand getting competitive when two guys find out they are both tops. The title Squared came from “Top x Top = Top^2.” SQUARED was inspired by the racist experiences my friends and I have been through. Society often objectifies Asians, especially gay Asians, and portrays them as submissive, feminine, and passive. With SQUARED, I want to show that not all Asians fit into the stereotypes that society has constructed.
peppii: What inspired you to put together the very short, but touching tribute to fathers in Thanks, Dads?
Hieu: Around Father’s Day, I usually see advertisements showing dads in straight families. I wanted to recognize gay dads and I took it a step further by showing two Asian dads. There are many kinds of fathers in the world and I wanted to depict a commercial-like video that I never see on television.
peppii: What would you like to see yourself having accomplished at the pinnacle of your career?
Hieu: I would like to make a feature film at some point in my career. As for now, I am perfectly happy with making short films. I just turned 25 and I am still trying to figure out where I will be in the next ten years. As of now, I am not sure where I will be, but I want to continue to make films and learn more about video production.
peppii: What legacy would you like to leave in the film business or the LGBT community, or both?
Hieu: As a kid, I could never relate to the heteronormative, Caucasian-dominated television shows and movies. And if there were any Asian and gay roles, they typically were the nerds, martial artists, or the hyper-effeminate and passive. So in college, I decided to make my own short films to defy these stereotypes. Many of my shorts are on YouTube. Sometimes I get demeaning comments about my work but other times, I get really nice ones. I get true joy when a viewer sends me a message telling me how my videos have impacted them. This means my efforts are worth it.
peppii: Finally, what message would you like to send to other gay-Asian and/or LGBT people who are thinking about going into film-making?
There are three lessons I have learned as a filmmaker:
- Shadow people in the film industry or apply to be a production assistant on set. You’ll learn so much more than from a book or online video.
- Have the courage to say hi to other filmmakers. Getting a job and support is truly about who you know in the industry.
- Don’t be afraid to tell your own story. Your story is worth telling.
peppii: Thank you, Hieu, for telling us about yourself and your career thus far. We appreciate your great talent and look forward to your future endeavors.
peppii readers: Please check out Hieu Tran’s work on the highlighted YouTube links in the introduction above. All except for Squared ($1.99 or more) are free to watch on youtube. For his YouTube profile with links to his work click here.
Full listing of film festivals for which Squared has been officially selected to appear:
1. FilmOut San Diego Film Festival, San Diego, CA (January 2014)
2. Outfest Fusion Film Festival,, Los Angeles, CA (March 2014)
3. CinemAsia Film Festival, Netherlands (April 2014)
4. Boston LGBT Film Festival, Boston, MA (April 2014)
5. Vietnamese Film Festival, Irvine, CA (April 2014)
6. Miami LGBT Film Festival, Miami, FL (May 2014)
7. Feast Film Festival, Australia (July 2014)
8. CMG Shorts Film Festival, Los Angeles, CA (September 2014)
9. Chicago Reeling LGBT Film Festival, Chicago, IL (September 2014)
10. Tampa LGBT Film Festival,Tampa,FL (October 2014)
11. San Diego Asian Film Festival, San Diego,CA (November 2014)
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