Interview#41 Maria Tran #actress #writer #director #producer

Maria Tran is an Australian-born Vietnamese actress, writer, producer, director and not to mention martial artist too. With a stack of credits under her name on IMDb, I am honoured to have Maria’s interview as part of the collection here on The Mighty Dragon.

I was keen to ask how this ambitious filmmaker made strides in the industry as a woman, what drives her and how she juggles her personal and creative ambitions. A big thank you to Maria for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer these questions for me, especially at 4 am Aus time! Big thanks go to the mighty Mike Leeder for the intro.

As a side note, I intend to grow the Australian Film section on The Mighty Dragon exploring the Indigenous Australian films mentioned by director Phillip Noyce in our previous interview which will be uploaded soon on The Mighty Dragon as a podcast.

Vikki: How did you make your first steps into acting, writing and producing?

Maria: Growing up, I’ve always had an over-the-top, energetic and performative nature that worried my parents. My first attempt at acting when I responded to a local newspaper ad looking for a volunteer production admin person on a no-budget community youth-led feature kung fu comedy called “Maximum Choppage” made in Cabramatta, a suburb west of Sydney, Australia. One of the main male action cast had to withdraw his commitment so it was offered to me and it was rewritten as a female action-based character who had a kung fu challenge down with the protagonist in the movie. This movie was made over the course of 4 years, shot on the weekends and in between my full-time study of a degree in Psychology and working as a market researcher and at the local Donut King. After developing my own interest in filmmaking, I naturally experimented on my own films. My first script “A Little Dream” that I wrote in 2007 got commissioned by Metro Screen and I received a grant to direct that short film. I also developed an interest in documentary filmmaking and travelled to Vietnam and made short docu-drama “Happy Dent”; a brief snapshot into the life of a street kid. The film won “Best Film” and “Achievement in Directing” at the 2008 Shortcuts Film Festival and led me to meet with an executive at the ABC. From that meeting, I was commissioned to produce an action micro-series which led to my first broadcast producing role called “Downtown Rumble” which I also acted in the action role of “Apprentice”.

Vikki: I read on your IMDB page that you have wanted to challenge gender stereotypes through your work. As we see more and more female action stars do you feel this has been addressed as a whole or do we still have a long way to go?

Maria: There’s still a lot of work to do beyond just having more female action stars. Women are not only there for visual representation or tick boxing, but to contribute in all areas of filmmaking, especially in the writing, directing & producing departments. In addition, women themselves need to support each other, work together, build confidence in female-led narratives. In theory, it sounds great, but in practice, it is possible if one were brave enough to face the challenges. There’s a lot of systemic sexism going on, but at the same, not enough women rising up and speaking out against it, especially those in the industry already. I can only speak on behalf of myself, but to challenge gender stereotypes and sexism, we need women to be diverse in their abilities. Through my documentary “Femme Fatales: Seen & Unheard”, with the assistance and support of industry leader Mike Leeder, I’ve been able to connect with powerful women filmmakers across Asia such as Barbara Wong, Truong Ngoc Anh, Sarah Chang, Lauria Wu, Winki Lai, Sharon Pan Yeung Yeung, Mandy Ho. They are all doing very well, despite facing challenges within their geographic locations. However, there is still so much more work to do.

Vikki: Actresses such as yourself provide a great example to young girls, who inspired you as a child?

Maria: I grew up watching a mix of sitcoms such as I Love Lucy starring Lucille Ball to watching a lot of Hong Kong cinema movies starring Michelle Yeoh, Cynthia Khan, Moon Lee & Cynthia Rothrock. I definitely watched and re-watched a lot of the female-led movies from the Hong Kong cinema era as it was so much more exciting to see women in kick-ass roles beyond the traditional stereotypes.

Vikki: If you had to select a piece of your work as your most creatively fulfilling – which would you choose and why?

Maria: Hit Girls would have been a fulfilling on-the-fly creative project that I pulled together at speed lightning when I heard action actress Juju Chan and film director Antony Szeto (Directed “Wushu”) was in Sydney for a holiday.

Hit Girls was everything I wanted in a film and a take on an over the top version of the sub-genre girls with guns and violently killing a dozen of oncoming henchmen without flinching. I loved making this film because I had full control from script to co-directing this with my fellow long-time collaborator Adrian Castro. I even had to make the explosive squibs, mix up the syrupy batch of strawberry and chocolate sauce blood and help create a wireless detonation system. It was a full Macgyver experience.  

Vikki:  I’m a fan of Australian film, especially the real grittiness and rawness about it that is refreshing to view. Do Australian martial arts movies have this edgy quality too that distinguishes it from the rest of the world?

Maria: I can’t really think of any other “Australian” martial arts movies besides the indie one I produced “Maximum Choppage” and of course, the classic “Man From Hong Kong” directed by Brian Trenchard Smith. If there were any, its either not marketed very well for the rest of film lovers to get their hands on. I just think Australia and screen agencies need to invest supporting filmmakers to martial arts films. There’s such an international appetite for this genre of film that it would make sense to fulfil that demand.

Vikki: Are short films the best way to break into film and get noticed?

Maria: Making short films helped me with understanding the process of filmmaking. From writing, producing, directing, editing, making props, wardrobe and devising fight choreography, I’ve pretty much explored these roles and more through a dozen of short films I’ve created in the past decade. I often juggle with multi-roles, and or co-share them with my budding filmmaking friends. Some films that I made were terrible, but it never deterred me to learn from my experiences and keep on making more films. Eventually, my work got better and other stakeholders would commission me on projects from promos, documentaries and now drama based series.

Vikki: As a high achiever how do you ensure you have balance in your life especially when writing or preparing for a film?

Maria: I’m not necessarily a high achiever, I just live with this notion that time is precious and life is be explored and enjoyed and I do so in my artistic endeavours. Sometimes it is chaotic when it comes to life balance as I can’t have a normal social life, I decline all parties and general chit chats to writing, create, film, act and teach my practice.

Vikki: The trend for streaming movies has had a big impact on the more traditional ways to enjoy film, as a filmmaker what are the pro’s and con’s?

Maria: Stream movies are more so a threat to the box office than filmmakers. Audience’s urgency to see a film in the cinema is not the same as it use to be. The positive note is access. People from all over the world can access your films with the convenience and comfort of their own homes. For myself, I’m still the new kid on the block independent filmmaker hustling on the side of create films that I want to make as well as tell unique and untold stories that deserve to been seen through the screens. Filmmakers will also now need to look into other developments in creative video technologies such as virtual reality. There’s more demand of the creative to do more with less time as the embrace of these new technologies have created much efficiencies. In addition, there’s a huge demand for high quality content.

Vikki: What advice would you give anyone wanting to get into the film industry?

Maria: You don’t have to go to film school to become a filmmaker and get work in the industry. Skills can be acquired by working in the field and establishing industry contacts. You definitely need to be able to move and create with confidence. A big key is knowing how to collaborate with others, manage egos and build on the strength of your team, inspire and motivate all personnel on the project. Do your research and know the industry. Find out who’s who and do your research and be respectful to those in the industry when you approach them. Don’t expect opportunities to be given out without you having a quality showreel and track record. Be humble. For aspiring actors, respect the craft and always strive to improve your acting ability. Don’t be lazy and sit and wait for an agent to find you work and complain about not landing an audition. For the emerging filmmakers, learn the art of visual storytelling, watch movies, break down scenes and recreate them. Overall, there’s so much you can do to improve your chances of getting into the industry, what will keep you there is your reason for doing so, which needs to beyond yourself and for the greater good.

Don’t expect opportunities to be given out without you having a quality showreel and track record. Be humble.


Maria Tran: Official Site 
Maria Tran: TEDx: We need to embrace conflict (TEDxYouth@Sydney)
Maria Tran: Facebook
Maria Tran: Twitter
Maria Tran: YouTube
Australian Film Industry: Wikipedia

The Mighty Dragon Australian film collection:

Phillip Noyce: interview
A call with Phillip Noyce – part one

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