UCLA freshman Billie Chang is part of the next generation of screenwriters. As a member of the Film and Photography Society (FPS) at UCLA, she has been practicing her craft and recently won awards at the Campus Movie Festival (CMF) for her short film “Lookalike,” which explored the importance of Asian American voices. Her Campus at UCLA was able to interview her about the process of making the film and her opinions on the current media industry.
HC: In a nutshell, tell me about yourself?
BC: I am a first-year English major, and I am from Dublin, California, which is in the East Bay.
HC: Your most recent short film is titled “Lookalike." For those who haven’t seen the film, can you tell us what is it about?
BC: It’s basically about an Asian American girl trying to find her identity and understand where she comes from with the help of generational females in her life like her mom and her grandma.
HC: Right, and it was produced completely virtually? What was it like making a virtual film?
BC: I’ve never done a film in-person before, so my only experiences have been online. So far, it’s been really great. Everyone is so supportive, and I think FPS does a really great job at organizing everything, so there wasn’t much that I felt was difficult about it.
HC: That’s awesome! And “Lookalike” recently won a CMF Jury Award, which is a really great honor. What was that like?
BC: I didn’t really know what CMF was, so I had to research it going into it. I’m a freshman, and this was my first time really doing anything. I just thought that it was really cool that people thought that the film was something that should be recognized.
HC: What was your inspiration behind the film and the script?
BC: I remember we had a deadline on a Friday, and I couldn’t think of anything to write for the whole week leading up to it. I kept trying to write comedy scripts, and it just wasn’t working. Friday morning, I was just like, “I should just write something that I know about, and then that might be easier.” So, that’s just what I decided to do. It was easy for me to write because it’s something I've always thought about—not knowing how to communicate with my grandparents or not knowing a lot about my culture. It was easy putting it into words.
HC: What do you hope people take away after watching the film?
BC: [...] I just want to show that this is a common struggle that a lot of immigrants or children of immigrants may have. Especially as a minority living in America, I think that it’s important to recognize the struggles that we are going through. I think that the media doesn’t shed as much light on minority stories as they should, so I think this was a great opportunity for me to do that.
HC: Definitely! This is the second film you’ve directed this year. Is this something you want to pursue in life?
BC: [...] I never really got into film until quarantine happened and I started watching a lot of films. Directing isn’t something I’ve always thought about, since I am more of a writer. But, since FPS usually has joint writer/director positions, I’ve been doing that. It’s been fun, but I don’t know if I would pursue it outside of school. I think I’m more of a writer.
HC: Cool! So I know you just said that you may not necessarily want to pursue directing outside of school, but do you have any more goals with film?
BC: I would totally like to further my film career. I think going forward I would love to do something that has to do with film or work in the film industry. I would love to have the opportunity to write for shows or movies that have the same mission as I do, which is to uplift minority voices and uphold those stories.
HC: [...] What are some things you can reveal about your future projects?
BC: I would totally love to write more about Asian American stories. I don’t have any projects in mind right now, but I know that in the future, I will most definitely write about Asian American voices.
HC: How would you say Asian American representation in film has impacted you? What are your thoughts on it?
BC: I think especially with all the anti-Asian hate that is going on, it’s important for people to see Asian representation in the media because it’s such a great way to relate to a lot of people. It’s accessible, people watch it, people know it, and I don’t think that representation has been achieved to the level that it should be. There are a lot of Asian American writers and just people in general that I look up to, and I think they are doing a great job paving the way for future Asian American writers, actors, directors, or anyone who wants to work in film. I’m continually seeing more and more, and that’s making me really excited for my future. I’m just excited for what the future is holding because I think we’re on the right track.
HC: We are! And who are some of those people that you look up to that you mentioned?
BC: I look up to Mindy Kaling, Randal Park, Ali Wong, just Asian people in the media that I think are so funny and are so sure of themselves. They’ve definitely established a name for themselves in the industry, and I think that’s really admirable.
HC: It is. How powerful do you think film is in creating change and inspiring people?
BC: I think film is a great medium for people to relate to and to spread messages because it takes less time than reading a book and it's accessible. A lot of people these days have streaming services, and the internet is continually providing us with more opportunities to watch movies. I wouldn’t say it's necessarily easier, but in this digital age, it is more accessible and more important than it was before.
HC: What was the first film that inspired you?
BC: I would say Juno is probably still my favorite movie. When I first watched it, I loved it; the screenwriting is so different. It’s unique. If you hear a piece of dialogue from Juno, you know it's from that Juno, and I think that’s something I want to do. I want to write a movie that people know and people recognize just because the script or the dialogue itself is so unique.
HC: Because this profile is for Asian American Pacific Islander week, what does Asian American pride mean to you?
BC: I grew up in the East Bay area, so I’ve always had a large Asian community that I can turn to and can trust. I know that’s not the case for a lot of people, and I’m so grateful to have that community. But, especially with the rise in anti-Asian hate, I think it’s really important that we shine a light on these issues. I know so many people that have felt discrimination or have suffered just because of their race. My parents and my grandparents have all faced that when they immigrated. To me, having Asian American pride is so important because people often discredit us or see us as a model minority. They don’t feel the need to give attention to the suffering we have been going through. I think it’s great that people are finally recognizing everything that has been going on.
HC: Definitely. So we are approaching the end of our interview, and I would like to wrap up on a light note. What is a fun fact about yourself?
BC: When I was little, I memorized the rap in Lemonade Mouth, the one that Wendel does! I can still do it.
HC: Lemonade Mouth is a classic! My last question is, what is something you want people to know about yourself, whether you as a director or you as Billie?
BC: I guess that I’m open to everything. I’m so excited to try new things and further my college career, especially when we go back to campus. This year especially, I’ve been trying to broaden my horizons and try everything new.
After our initial interview, Chang and I continued to communicate, and she shared with me that the casting for “Lookalike” was definitely an eye-opening experience as to the need for more representation of Asian actors. Chang and the casting team were unable to find an actor to play the character, Ama, and ended up asking Chang’s own grandmother to be a part of the film. Chang said, “It worked out fine because she was a trooper and made the whole filming process even more special for me.” While it’s so sweet that she was able to have that experience with her grandmother, Chang hopes that in the future there will be more diversity in the entertainment industry as it is not traditionally a space for minority actors. Her Campus at UCLA wishes Chang all the best with her career, and I have a feeling that her scripts will continue to uplift Asian American stories and create more opportunities within the industry.