Rachel Chen

Interview with Rachel Chen

Interview by Jill Sioson

After working long, hard hours, Rachel loves to unwind with a good rom-com and escape- preferably with Matthew McConaughey. With passion and grit, Rachel looks to the future of our film industry with hope, encouraging others to enjoy the journey and to say “yes!” more often.
Tell us a bit about yourself; what you’re doing at the moment, role in industry?

My name is Rachel Chen, and I’m a Film and TV graduate from Swinburne University. At the moment, I am a production assistant for an upcoming ABC/BBC Children’s TV series, which I am enjoying.

What’s a film/TV series you’ve come to enjoy recently and why?

I’ve just finished the Australian series Heartbreak High. It’s such a great show, and I was just so invested the whole time. It’s got an amazing diverse cast and a super fun storyline.
I also rewatched Pride and Prejudice (2005) recently, and it’s one of my faves; it still hits! I tend to watch anything rom-com, or with Matthew McConaughey! I also like sci-fi; I think they’re also great fun. Matthew McConaughey is also there too with Interstellar. I see movies as a way to kind of escape and just turn off my brain, and those genres are the best for that.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the industry?

I studied media in year 10 after having nothing else to fill in my elective spot and fell in love with it immediately. What’s not to love? The whole period was filled with a movie (or half a movie), and I just couldn’t believe it. It was the first time that I saw movies could be taken seriously, and that movies during school weren’t just treated like ‘wasting time’ or ‘wet weather only’ activities. I think the biggest driving factor in me wanting to work in this industry is how dynamic it can be, it’s not a traditional office job, you’re sometimes in the office, sometimes in the field – constantly meeting new people, some of those are super famous – it’s great. Every day I have those good butterflies in my stomach!

How did film school impact your career journey?

The first year of my bachelor’s degree was a hard one for me because I was a bit shy and found it hard to approach fellow classmates. I remember, for one subject, we had to make a 90 second film. I wrote, directed, edited, and sound designed it all by myself. That’s one thing I regret. If I could go back to uni, I would put myself out there more.
I knew I wanted to be a producer because I hated writing (haha), and I found the math and technical side of working the camera to be quite difficult to wrap my head around. And you only had limited time with the equipment, as well as sharing it with the other people in your group. I did a bit of editing and sound, but there was something about producing class and the role that fit me so well. I loved the organization and paperwork aspect of filmmaking. I also liked bringing people together to create a story. Maybe I’m just bossy, but I loved being able to take the stress and make everything work. There’s a weird adrenaline rush I get when I fix a problem on set or behind the scenes, and then see the result after.

There weren’t many producers in my cohort either, so I felt like I was always needed.

How did you find volunteering in Film Festivals, and how did it help you career-wise?

I first discovered I wanted to volunteer at film festivals when I was 18, attending my first ever MIFF movie – which was ‘Call Me by Your Name’. I just wanted to scan tickets and look important. Volunteering at film festivals like MIFF and AIDC have helped me build networks, connections, and bring me closer to people who have experienced exactly the same as me, whether that be the stresses and drama of short film creation or just venting about the latest good/bad film on the social media cycle. Being at these industry events are also GREAT opportunities to meet new actors (to star in your next film) and meet the hottest and up-and-coming figures within the industry.

It was also a tiring experience because for the two weeks, you’re just running around, starting around mid-day and then ending around midnight. You go home, eat, sleep, and do it all again the next day. But I loved it and I really recommend it to anyone who’s interested in this industry to apply to volunteer at film festivals.

What has it been like for you working in the Australian film/tv industry?

I absolutely love it! They are extremely long hours, but the adrenaline and excitement really keep you alive. You’re meeting all of these beautiful people and you get to chat with them and work/interact with them every day you’re at work – it’s not like the directors and producers are locked in their office like a fortress you can’t approach, they ask you what your hopes and dreams are, and it really feels like anything is possible. I am loving life in the aussie film and tv industry and can’t wait to see what exciting thing comes around the corner!

Why isn’t there much diversity in the industry?

The biggest thing about the industry is networking, and so people tend to recommend people they’ve worked with. A lot of times, for larger scale productions, the more experienced people on set are usually white men who have been in the industry for a long time. They also tend to work with the same people over and over again because they’ve already seen their skills and are confident about them. This in itself isn’t bad, it’s a given. But the problem lies in the lack of attention towards up and coming, diverse workers in the industry. It’s almost like a Catch 22, where bigger projects and companies are looking for experienced people, but for the new creatives to gain experience, they need to be given a chance to hone their skills and gain confidence. However, there has been progress, and hopefully we’ll see more voices and representation in the future.

What are some of the joys and setbacks working in the industry?

The long hours are a consideration for sure. You’re averaging at least 50-hour weeks every week and eventually you’re a zombie. I’m yet to figure out my office energy, trying to dip in between ‘realistic-exhausted beyond belief’ and ‘vibing but struggling’ personas hahaha. The joys are definitely the laughs, because you’re so exhausted everything is hilarious, if you know you know. Also implementing the skills you learnt in uni (which I never thought I would implement anywhere – no offense Swinny!) has been a really gratifying experience and it really makes me feel like uni was worth it and paid off in a sense – I don’t feel like I’m on the back foot, and learning the basics when I first started my first production job – and I just get to learn new things, and that’s what it’s all about!

Do you think your culture and background impact your career or creativity?

Definitely, my culture and my career journey have a deep connection. Whether I like it or not, being a CALD & POC within the Aussie film and tv industry is a huge deal. You’re either battling the under representation, or you’re rolling your eyes and screaming at the top of your lungs about tokenism. You can’t really win. I just want to be Rachel, wannabe Bond film producer (Barbara Broccoli, please call me). Throughout film school, I felt pressured (and was pressured) into making films that related to my Chinese heritage – even though that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I am always feeling like my ideas aren’t deep enough if it doesn’t have something to do with my culture, my heritage or the POC/CALD experience. And that’s very limiting. The sky’s the limit is what people say, and that applies to me too!

In school, did you do the Asian 5 (Methods, Specialist, Chemistry, Physics and English? And how did your parents react when you wanted to pursue arts?

I didn’t do the Asian 5, and I never wanted to do the Asian 5. I always wanted to do whatever interested me, and I was so happy I listened to myself, because I ended up doing subjects wholly unrelated to each other.

My parents have always been supportive (albeit cautiously) which I am incredibly grateful for. In typical parental fashion, they still give me lots of advice which I hear every day until I can recite it in my sleep! They’re just movie related!

What type of stories or work would you like to produce in the future?

Honestly, I just want to produce content that makes me happy – not just the final product, but the development and production side too. I want the whole journey to be amazing and fun, and at the very end, a film pops out! I love 90’s rom-coms (the ones shot on film), and I love food content as well, cooking shows, traveling and cooking shows, etc. I don’t like the competition shows (no top chef, iron chef, ready steady cook mumbo jumbo), but otherwise I love it all. I’m not kidding, I love the food videos we have to watch in school on the tiny TV. I have to make mention of sci-fi as well. That’s a love of mine – anything space related!

What advice would you give someone who’s wanting to get into the industry?

Say yes to more things, especially in film school
Make a lot of connections, they don’t all have to be your friends but try to introduce yourself and know the people at your year level! Always introduce yourself to anyone you meet; you never know, they might call on you for a future job! Be lovely, not mean – people who are mean are always remembered (and blacklisted!!!) from any job recommendations. Don’t give up, and try to upskill in areas related to film and tv, whether that be marketing, advertising, entertainment law, business, etc. If you want to be in film, you’ll always find your way back on the path you’re meant to be on!

Any film/tv show recommendations for the aspiring creative?

I don’t know about recommendations for aspiring creatives… But I do love Pride and Prejudice (the Keira Knightley one) – it gives me so much joy and it’s just so ridiculous! Definitely watch the big directors, they are big and famous for a reason – and people are studying them for a reason! I’m thinking of Spielberg, Nolan, Scorsese, Tarantino, Bigelow, Kubrick, Hitchcock, Cameron (James Cameron, Avatar Cameron yes).
If your career or life had a logline, what would it be?

To realize her dream of becoming a Bond producer, a-still-aspiring-Australian film producer applies to as many film related jobs as possible

Where can people see your work?

My grad films that I produced:

‘Love Cut Short Film’: https://sites.google.com/view/love-cut-short-film/home?authuser=0

‘Ostrich Short Film’: https://sites.google.com/view/ostrich-short-film/home

  • My first short film, which won the Encouragement Award at the Victorian Multicultural Commission’s Film Festival in 2019.

‘One, Two’: https://www.zoomingin.org/copy-of-invasion-of-the-hybrid-babies?fbclid=IwAR3QrogJnlMcf4a2XqxLyyChNZICUdDo5fVly6Lhp4Nbr4ZJ23QAiTqOAbY