An Evening with Director Jon M. Chu

An Evening with Director Jon M. Chu

December 10, 2021 A DGA Asian American Committee Virtual Event

On December 10, the DGA Asian American Committee (AAC) hosted the virtual event, An Evening with Director Jon M. Chu. In an online conversation moderated by AAC Co-Chair Kabir Akhtar (The Sex Lives of College Girls) and illustrated by clips, Chu discussed the making of films from his career including Crazy Rich Asians and In the Heights.

The event kicked off with a welcome from AAC Co-Chair Kai Kim (The Young and the Restless) who said, “The objective of the Asian American Committee is to promote and serve our members in achieving the highest possible level of success. And that is why it is so fitting that we are here today with Director Jon M. Chu, who will discuss his prolific body of work and unique style of filmmaking.”

After inviting the attendees to attend AAC meetings and events and share in the benefits that come from cooperative activity, Kim turned the proceedings over to Chu and Akhtar.

After viewing a clip from the film, Chu recalled the challenges of the complex opening shot he created for his recent feature, In the Heights. “All these things have to come together for a moment like that to actually work. I’m big process person. We all believe in the process and trust the process even if we’re stuck. I’ve learned that over the years. At least for me — and maybe other Directors are great at just dictating what to do and they’re very smart like that, I am not — I like to work with everybody and work it out and try to find a way.”

Although a veteran of dance-themed films like the Step Up series, Chu explained how the dance sequences for In the Heights taught him something new. “The dance stuff that I was doing were basically dance-icals. We had dance numbers in the spots that you would have musical numbers, and I honestly didn’t think it would be that different getting into In the Heights, but the reality is lyrics, words are a totally different language. I’m used to: ‘You’ve got to express it by movement.’ ‘You’ve got to give room.’ ‘You’ve gotta step back from it and let the dance speak for itself.’ But with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music, his lyrics are so important to the plot, to the emotion, to the rhythm of everything. So that was new.”

Chu revealed that the clip from Crazy Rich Asians, where Eleanor confronts Rachel for the first time, was not in the original book but derived out of the challenges of finding the heart of the film. “We kept coming back to, ‘What is this movie about? It’s not about wealth-worth it’s about self-worth, so what is the most devastating thing?’ The approval of your own mother or somebody who represents that of your own culture, actually. And that’s who Eleanor represented. So why can’t we build a scene around that idea? And that’s where this came from.”

He also reminded the audience that part of the art of directing is being able to change course as needed. “The magic happens on the day. We have all these elements that are ready to go and if something’s leaning somewhere else, we go and we leave it all behind. And there’s no problem with that and I actually really love that, that’s really fun.”

A DGA member since 2007, Chu most recently helmed the critically acclaimed adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning musical, In the Heights, for Warner Bros. Studios. He is perhaps best known for directing the worldwide phenomenon, Crazy Rich Asians, the first contemporary studio picture in more than 25 years to feature an all-Asian cast. He will next direct Universal’s Wicked, the feature film adaptation of the record-breaking musical sensation. For television, Chu serves as an Executive Producer and Director of Home Before Dark for Apple TV+, which recently debuted its second season. Some of his other directing credits include the features Step Up, Step Up 2: The Streets, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never.

See video from this event in the gallery below.

About the Asian American Committee:

The Asian American Committee (AAC) was created as a networking group to provide a forum for interests and issues that concern Asian-American Guild members. Through outreach efforts in the entertainment industry that emphasize career development and skills enhancement, the committee provides a variety of networking opportunities as well as screenings, seminars and discussions with industry professionals. The current AAC Co-Chairs are Directors Kabir Akhtar, Kai Kim and Lily Mariye.

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