mentor Christine Chen is the founder and CEO of Moth to Flame Films
, a full-service production company based in the vibrant film community of Austin, Texas. Her company takes on a wide range of projects, ranging from commercial work to music videos to video blogs to feature films. As such, Christine offers a unique take on “making it” in the industry, and her apprentices have access to a broad base of experience under her mentoring.
We caught up recently with Christine toward the end of South-By-Southwest (SXSW) in Austin. During our conversation, she offered insights into the importance of having passion for the work, and what it takes to make it in the business today. She also talked about what she looks for in an apprentice, her unique perspective on parents’ concerns for their kids who want to get into film, and even bragged a bit on some of her students. Highlights from the conversation are below!
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RRFC: How is SXSW? Is it strange to watch the whole thing just blow up at the same time in Austin every year?
It’s fascinating, it’s not strange. It’s great actually to meet new people that come in. It’s very nice here in Austin…it’s one of the cities to watch, not only for business but also in film itself. It’s very exciting…I try to volunteer every year. It is the best way to meet other filmmakers and watch some good movies.
RRFC: Tell us a little bit about Moth to Flame, how you guys got started.
Moth to Flame I started about four years ago. I had made films for awhile and decided [to] try and see if I could make a stable business out of it. Coming from a pretty traditional family who was all about, “You can’t make money doing art and stuff,” I had to go to business school. While I was in business school, I started Moth to Flame, and it was sustainable within a year, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
RRFC: So when students come to you for their initial interview, do you find yourself sort of empathizing with the parents, and you can tell them the story of “Hey, I was in the same boat but it worked out”?
Yeah, definitely… It is hard, this industry is very difficult. [My parents] were just scared I would have to deal with all the hardships and stuff—and you know, I keep telling students it IS hard. This is not an industry that will just give you a nine-to-five. You gotta work your butt off, and if you love it, then it’ll be okay…I like to tell them that this is a program that lets you do it hands-on, and this industry is perfect for that, you need that. But it is also a program that is what you make it, so what you have to do is bother your mentor. Try to show your mentor that you’re excited, that you want to do more. Those are the people who succeed because those are the people who are always on my radar that I always give stuff to. This is all about initiative, and about the people who stand out and the people who take the risk. I think parents gravitate towards that.
RRFC: So when a potential student comes in to interview with you, what’s the biggest quality you’re looking for?
Honestly, there’s a few. Enthusiasm is one of them, a clear passion for it. Someone who is proactive, someone who does not—who isn’t going to sit there and think that someone’s going to hand them something. Who’s there, who’s willing to take the chance, take the initiative to get what they want out of the program. Actually, those two [things]: If you are passionate, and if you have the guts and the drive to get what you want, it’s really all you need. The other stuff you can learn right on the set. When I walked on the set, I didn’t know what a “slate” was but now I’ve probably made more films than some people who have gone to film school. You just have to have that drive, and that’s what I look for.
RRFC: Do any of your current apprentices stand out for you?
Kellie [Koford] is great…She was excited about a new chapter in her life, and she didn’t know what to expect, but she came in with an open heart with the mentality that she would do whatever it takes to try to give her dream a chance. I love people like that. I don’t need someone who comes in saying they know everything. She came in saying, “I will do whatever,” and she was very enthusiastic…Kenny [Horton] is really great as well, he’s great because he actually came in with some experience so it was really easy to get him to jump in. I like people who are proactive, and they’re excited to learn. Those two stand out at this point, definitely.
RRFC: What do you particularly enjoy about being a mentor?
I enjoy mentoring a lot. I think mentoring helps me learn as well, because students have questions on what I always took for granted…I just watched a documentary [here at SXSW] on Michelin-starred restaurants, and one of the chefs said, “Hey I want my mentee to pass me because that means I did a good job.” I kind of feel that way, too. I think if you can get other people to love it just as much as you do, in the end it’s all good for everybody, because we all brace each other up.
RRFC: Why do you love making films so much?
For me, it is the ability to affect people emotionally in telling a story. That’s the part I like the most. I wouldn’t say I’m an introvert, but I can be at times, and I just keep to myself, so it’s a way for me to feel like I’ve touched someone or affected someone in an emotional way, and I like that. I think people will remember things more if it’s affected them in an emotional way, and I think media is extremely impactful because of that…I also love the process of it, being able to work with a bunch of different people who also have their own ideas as well. Finding how you all mesh together.