Rebecca Norris interviews Jane Park and Wizeman Khnum Khensu of ASIAN ROCKS, a new webseries that faces Asian cultural stereotypes head-on and turns them on their heads.
I always admire web series creators who let nothing stand in the way of their dreams, and particularly those who like to get their hands dirty and self-produce. Two such inspirational do-it-yourselfers are actress Jane Park and writer/director/producer Wizeman Khnum Khensu, the creative team behind the new web series Asian Rocks. In Asian Rocks, Jane plays Alex, a young Asian-American woman living in New York, who faces cultural stereotypes head on in every episode, providing a glimpse into what minorities often deal with on a daily basis.
I had a chance to chat with Jane and Wizeman about their experience creating their web series, how they made it all happen with no budget, and what they would say to inspire other artists who are thinking of creating their own work.
R.N. Asian Rocks sheds light (and humor) on many of the stereotypes that Asian men and women face on a daily basis. What was your goal in highlighting these experiences? What is the message you’d like your audience to walk away with after watching the series?
W.K. We wanted to raise awareness of the Asian-American experience from a young female's point of view. Too often their stories are neglected or ignored. The message is that the Asian community is a minority that has its own unique stereotypes and struggles that it goes through. Just like with any other minority, it's an uphill battle for the Asian-American community. The more that America is exposed to their community, the more that America can learn. Hopefully, one day we can all just be Americans without any more stereotypes.
R.N. What was the writing process like for the series? How many writers collaborated on the scripts?
W.K. The concept of the series was inspired by Jane Park and written by me. The two of us are really good friends. I thought that Jane had a great story to tell based on the things she has been through living in New York City. I thought that telling the story of a mid-twenties Asian female would be something interesting and different that would bring in a new audience. I had many conversations with Jane about her experiences.
J.P. To be honest, this really wasn’t my original vision during the writing process. We had two entirely different ideas for the series. I originally wanted the concept to be more adult oriented, which was closer to my real life, but Wizeman said he had a gut feeling that told him that we needed to have a family-friendly approach. Then it would not only attract our target audience of Asian American millennials, but also be appropriate for a broader audience that would come across it as well.
I trusted his judgment, so we went along with his creative approach during the writing process. It initially started off as five episodes, and even though we received mixed reactions about our scripts when we showed our family and friends, we still decided to film it anyway. During the filming process, we decided to take a month hiatus. During that time, Wizeman told me he watched Issa Rae’s web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl and noticed that her first season consisted of thirteen episodes, so he decided to improve his writing skills and write eight more episodes to shoot after we resumed filming.
R.N. What was your production process and budget range? Did you wear multiple hats, and if so, which ones?
W.K. The production process was very challenging because we had no funding. Jane and I had to use our own money to produce this project. So, because of this, we had many different hats such as Producer, Writer, Director, Location Scout, Craft Services, and many more.
We found our cast and crew using various websites like Craigslist, Backstage, Facebook, and NY Casting, but at the end of the day, the people that worked with us believed in our concept and wanted to be a part of something special. The process took us ten months in all, and those ten months I will never forget. Many nights I would only have enough money to afford strawberries to eat for dinner. My choice was eat a good dinner or pay my camera guy the next day. All of the sacrifices were definitely worth it! The project came out great, and I'm one step closer to accomplishing my dream of being a professional writer and director.
J.P. While Wizeman was going through that, I had to get a side job bartending so I could assist him in paying the crew, paying for our red carpet premiere event, as well as affording my trip to France that I already had planned so I could decompress from the mental fatigue of balancing my real life struggles and being there for Wizeman to finish the series. I could see there were many times he was stressed out just like me, but we both kept our composure and remained professional at all times.
R.N. You shot in New York City—what were the advantages of shooting in the city, and what were the challenges?
W.K. The advantage of shooting in New York City: Huge market, so there are plenty of actors and filmmakers that you can collaborate with. The challenges of shooting in New York City: Many locations are really expensive to rent out. Insurance can be expensive as well.
R.N. What made you decide to create a web series, as opposed to shooting a pilot or feature?
W.K. The series is for millennials, who are known for having short attention spans. We thought that as long as we keep it short and sweet, we would be able entertain and educate our audience. My saying is, "If you fill the audience up they will be full and won’t come back for more, but if you give them a taste they will stay hungry and want more and more.” I also believe that there is a market for an Asian-centered TV show with Asian female leads. I have just completed a pilot that I am looking to pitch to different showrunners and networks for pilot season. I want to use this web series as an introductory taste of the diverse content that I want to create moving forward.
J.P. Creating the web series was really Wizeman’s idea, so I had no problem with doing a web series. This being my first time being the star of a show, I didn’t know what to expect going into the process. I was strictly focused on my performance as an actress, so it could be a good project that I could show my friends and add to my demo reel when I did other acting auditions. Asian Rocks has actually helped me book a few roles, so I’m happy that we were able to get things done and finish it.
R.N. What’s the most pressing thing you’d like the audience to come away with when it comes to the Asian experience in America?
W.K. We want the masses to realize that society has often conditioned us to have pre-conceived notions about every race, including Asian Americans. But they [Asian Americans] also have relatable universal situations that they deal with just like everyone else. We should take the time to learn from each other instead of just assuming things. Then we will start to notice that we aren’t as different as we originally thought.
J.P. Just like Wizeman was saying, we would like for Asian -American voices to be heard. A lot of times our stories have been told through someone else's perspective, and have been whitewashed, ignored, marginalized, and neglected for many years. We want to see more representation of ourselves in lead roles too. We also want our series to embrace diversity and demonstrate cultural awareness through entertainment. Most importantly, we would like Asian American men and women to be proud of who they are. That is why it’s inspiring to see movies like Crazy Rich Asians coming out at the same time as our web series. We’d like to keep the momentum of having consistent mainstream Asian-American representation out in the media and for it not to be just a seasonal trend.
R.N. Wizeman, what is the mission behind your production company Peace, Joy, and Harmony Productions? What kind of content do you want to put out into the world?
W.K. Our mission is to produce stories that bring peace, joy, and harmony to families and cultures around the world. We would like to Motivate, Educate, and Inspire our viewers with all of our content.
R.N. What would your advice be for writers out there who are thinking of shooting their own web series?
W.K. This is my motto: “See, Believe, and Achieve!” Have a vision! Know what you want completely and thoroughly. "You can't follow a parked car." Believe in your vision! Go out and do everything in your power to make it a reality. You will achieve it! Everything you need will come through the “power of attraction.” It's not going to be easy, and there will be bumps and bruises along the way. When it’s finished, it will all be well worth it. There’s no better feeling than seeing what you have created and written going from that piece of paper to reality.
J.P. I agree with Wizeman; I’ve learned a lot from this process as well. You have to be persistent and have consistency when it comes to finishing goals and following your dreams. Don’t be afraid to fail and make mistakes. We had plenty of setbacks trying to finish this project, but if it’s your passion, don’t allow anything stop you or discourage you from completing what you’ve started.
Also, take the time to thank everyone that has helped you along the way. We truly appreciate everyone that helped us make Asian Rocks a reality; they truly are our “Asian Rockstars.” Every great writer that inspires you had to start off looking at a blank page. I know everybody has a story to tell, and it’s up to you to fill in the blanks one letter at a time.
Watch Asian Rocks on YouTube!
Asian Rocks also has a distribution deal with Asian Culture Television (ACTV) in Las Vegas under their Asian News Banner program. It will air six times daily in various time slots as a standalone interstitial on ACTV Channel 30.6 in the Vegas Valley. It will also be simulcast globally on their platforms in western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Japan, and the Philippines through the ACTV app and social media outlets.