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Bron Studios Lends a Helping Hand To AAPI Creatives Networking Group: ‘It’s Not A Risk’

Zosimo Maximo/Brenda Gilbert
Nicholas Brilla/Anita Lee

Bron Studios is lending a helping hand to AAPI Creatives, a networking group started by Zosimo Maximo to amplify Asian American voices working in the industry.

Maximo used Clubhouse to form a group of AAPI filmmakers who are inspired to change the narrative in Hollywood and build new opportunities for themselves. The group consists of Becky Baihui Chen, D.J. Jiang, Serena Rasoul, Diane Paragas, Jay DasGupta, Ashwini Prasad, Dinh Thai, Soma Helmi, Ruth Du and David Moriya.

Brenda Gilbert, the co-founder and president of Bron Studios, said it wasn’t until this year that she realized how much power Clubhouse had in terms of “getting people together and having open conversations with like-minded people that you wouldn’t generally have access to before.” Gilbert said she wants to make herself accessible to the members of Maximo’s networking group.

“We’re having open dialogue in terms of what can we do to provide the AAPI community with opportunities,” Gilbert said.

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Bron has a diverse leadership staff making decisions for the studio and overseeing a robust slate of content. Former Lionsgate executive Brady Fujikawa was hired in January as the executive VP of film, where he oversees all creative development, production and distribution. The studio also recently hired Jason Chen as the executive VP of Bron Digital, which is creating quality animated series using the Unreal game engine. Chen said he is using technology as a platform to celebrate different ethnicities and cultures.

“It is important that we embrace stories from our Asian American Pacific Islander community and all communities to encourage the next generation of creatives to explore their past, fight for the present and make waves for the future,” Chen added.

Maximo said the goal of this new partnership is “to get more people on the phone” and have important conversations. Gilbert will meet with the AAPI Creatives over Zoom in the coming weeks to brainstorm some of the projects that they could work on together as well as the resources each individual filmmaker would need to get started.

Gilbert emphasized the notion that giving these opportunities to AAPI creatives is not “a risk or taking a chance,” but a way for them to showcase their talents and potential.

“All of us are willing to put the hard work in as individuals from these communities and they’ve done it,” Gilbert said. “They’ve done it behind the scenes. It’s also thinking about what can we do in terms of getting them much more visibility, and visibility gives us access as we all know.”

After connecting with more executives like Gilbert, Maximo plans to create more pipelines off the original group. Additionally, he is getting ready to launch a BIPOC fitness-streaming TV channel called “Groove Me TV,” which is slated to release this summer. Since the pandemic struck, the other members of AAPI Creatives have been actively working on their own projects.

Chen is a Chinese cinematographer based in Los Angeles. Last year, her feature film “I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking)” premiered at SXSW. Helmi directed all 20 episodes of the third season of Snapchat’s original series “The Dead Girls Detective Agency,” while DasGupta is attached to direct his debut feature written by Michael Peterson (“Bones”).

Paragas is Filipino American and best known for writing, directing and producing “Yellow Rose” for Sony Pictures. The 2019 films follows the journey of an undocumented Filipino teenager who longs to be a country singer while facing deportation. Paragas said it took her over 15 years to make the film “because I kept asking for permission from white Hollywood.” She said her career “started to take a shift” once she connected with the Asian American community in the business.

“It was only when I actually started going to my own community when I went to Filipino investors and film companies, did I get financing to make my film,” Paragas said.

Jiang, a producer and entrepreneur, founded a TV and film development accelerator last year called Giant Leap Media (GLM) that seeks out new Asian/Pacific American (APA) stories. Taking a page out of Silicon Valley’s playbook, Jiang’s incubator program pairs writers with a one-on-one seasoned industry mentor and gives them 12 weeks to pitch a fully-developed script. Jiang is close to selecting seven candidates for the first screenwriter cohort. At the end of the 12-week session, those writers will get the opportunity to pitch their projects to Warner Bros.

“It’s our way of fixing the bottleneck of Asian American writers and getting projects actually made,” Jiang said. “For representation to happen, it has to be on the screen.”

Moriya is the founder and managing director of Strong Asian Lead, a nonprofit marketing agency that challenges Hollywood to rethink the Asian American audience and create new marketing strategies. He’s also a TV writer of Asian historical dramas related to racism and wartime moments in history.

Prasad has a podcast called “Inclusive Storytelling” where she touches on the intersections among diversity, inclusion, belonging and the arts. Maximo appeared on the ninth episode of Prasad’s podcast and said that the AAPI community is stronger when they’re together.

“First and foremost, it’s realizing that you are a part of this struggle because it’s very easy to say, ‘that doesn’t apply to me. We don’t face racism where I live, we’re totally accepted within our community,”‘ Zosimo said. “You have to look at all of us together.”

Rasoul is currently building a database of Muslim and Southwest Asian/North African talent with her agency Muslim American Casting (MAC). She told Variety back in March that she started this agency to go beyond advocacy and into action. “No more stories about us, without us,” she said. 

“We need to humanize underrepresented communities,” Rasoul said. “Not just to paint positive stories about them, but actually paint them as complex characters going through the same trials and tribulations as everyone else.”

Du, who was the executive director of AT&T’s Hello Lab Mentorship Program and working multiple production positions in Los Angeles, is screening her short film “Yugen” at Film Independent next week. Others like Thai, a commercial director whose clients include Adidas and T-Mobile, is pursuing multicultural film and television projects while developing a series based on his short film.

In addition to meeting on Zoom every two to three weeks, the members of the networking group speak online every day. On those Zoom calls, each member of the group shares an upcoming project they’re working on and then the group sees where they can bolster support. While the group already consists of talents such as writers and producers, Maximo is looking to connect with professionals from other corners of the industry. 

“We’d love to bring somebody on the PR side into the group, maybe somebody on the marketing side or from the development side and the agency side to try and keep forming this mastermind group,” Maximo said.

Bron Studios recently posted a video on their Instagram page titled “Awakening,” which features several AAPI entertainers and people within animation speaking up about the impact they’ve had on Hollywood thus far. The simple jingle, “that was me!” was repeated while each creative shared a special project they helped bring to life. From creating the heartbreaking opening minutes of Pixar’s “Up” to directing the beloved “Kung Fu Panda” sequels, these filmmakers shined a light on the impactful films they have worked on. 

“I wish that all people were less afraid,” BD Wong said. “It’s fear that causes people to mistreat each other.”