Woman Crush Wednesday: Courtney Loo
Interview by Andrea Farr
Courtney Loo is a filmmaker and co-founder of Thrice Cooked Media based in Brooklyn, NY. See more of her work here.
Andrea Farr: You’ve talked about being a self-taught artist, and I want to hear more about that process. I feel like pursuing a creative field, especially as women, we struggle to achieve a sense of validation in our work, and I’m wondering if taking your creative education into your own hands interacted with this?
Courtney Loo: I feel personally that not going to film school has helped me as a filmmaker, and a creative, because I think it allows you to just work and be inspired and go after things, and not necessarily feel like the industry is constricting you, or feeling like you need to have a 20 person crew, or you need to have a huge team to make something. Because, in this day in age with even just an iPhone you can make something amazing. And I think that had helped me in the beginning to just build my portfolio and not really have too many people in my ear, and then through those low-budget projects, you’re able to make opportunities for yourself just by networking in New York and putting your work out there. I think social media has been a huge outlet for somebody who didn’t really go to a school with a huge filmmaking network, so, in that regard I feel like being self-taught doesn’t—I think it also allows you to be able to search things you are genuinely passionate about, whereas in school, it might constrict you to be learning techniques that you don’t necessarily enjoy or are inspired by. So I feel like I was able to hone in on what my style was a bit faster.
AF: Because maybe you felt unburdened by these industry restrictions?
CL: Exactly. I also think that when you’re 18 and you’re going to film school, and again it’s completely different for everybody, but I think that it’s a little bit intimidating to be with people who maybe know more with you, and that constant comparison. I definitely think that film school is an amazing place for a different type of artist, but I just think for myself, I like just diving into something head first, and not really having anybody hold my hand in a way, just because I think that with experimenting with the camera you can find crazy techniques you never would think would work out.
AF: What was the moment you realized this was what you were going to pursue, with no chance of going back?
CL: I think the first project where I felt that way was a music video I did with a friend [Alex Mali]. Her music just completely inspires me in general to be an artist, and we really had no budget, we just had a camera and her, and she invited a ton of her friends to her friend’s house and threw a house party. It was for her song “Hoity Toity,” and what we caught on camera was completely genuine; it was a bunch of friends partying together. Not that it was our most developed narrative or story concept, but just visually it allowed us to capture really raw, genuine moments and it allowed us to also realize that how I thrive as a film maker is a vibe on set, and I think having a ton of energy on set and making people feel comfortable and making people feel like they’re contributing creatively—you get the best outcome out of that. And that project, particularly, is when I realized that. That is was how I liked to operate.
AF: Some of your most notable work has been working with musicians and producing music videos, like your recent one for Pink Sweat$’s “Honesty.” What about working in music video production excites you compared to your other production work?
CL: I think music videos are very special because as a filmmaker and director, you are really creating a brand for that artist, or helping that artist put to life a vision they didn’t even realize was possible. So, my favorite part is definitely sitting down with the artist, getting to know them, and figuring out what their style is, and what they want their brand to be, and then coming up with a storyline and a narrative to help bring that brand to life. And that’s really special because, I think it challenges me creatively, like—for me, as a narrative filmmaker, what I gravitate towards is dark thrillers and dark dramas, but in my music video work, and I think Pink Sweat$ is a perfect example because his brand is like a modern Fresh Prince, and that is very bright and colorful and pop-y and surreal, but that’s what makes it fun. Is to play with that, and then come up with the creative, unique narrative that goes along with his brand.
AF: You have also worked in the narrative realm, and made narrative short films like Shrimp Chips and Chocolate Milk, which confront your identity as an Asian-American living in a kind of liminal space between identities. How did it feel to make this?
CL: So Shrimp Chips was interesting because I had like two weeks to make that short film, and it was for a gallery that was hosted by Afropunk. I think my goal as a filmmaker is to tell stories from a female Asian perspective. I think it’s an amazing time right now to be a Chinese-American and female filmmaker, specifically because we’re at a point where people are interested in hearing that voice, and it still isn’t out there fully, but at least I feel like there is some support from Hollywood. Shrimp Chips was the first film that I had ever made that was about my Asian-American identity, and it felt very freeing. Who wrote it was this woman Cherry, who is amazing and we met and we spoke about what it was like to grow up as an Asian-American, but after making that I did feel like I was really excited to write something of my own, and so I wrote MoneyCat this summer and made MoneyCat. That film is inspired by my experience working in the hip-hop industry as a Chinese-American woman, and the blurry line between appropriation and appreciation, and where Asians stand in pop culture today. It’s a story about identity, not really feeling like she fits into the Asian community, or feeling like she’s a potential culture vulture in the hip-hop community, and then kind of in the end she has this meeting with a potential manager, and everything that she is trying to hide or is embarrassed about is exactly what he’s trying to exploit.
AF: What are you looking forward to pursuing more in the future?
CL: In terms of commercially, I still love working in music videos and I definitely am excited to continue doing that. But my big dream is to be doing more narrative and make a narrative feature. Again, I definitely gravitate towards dark, twisted, psychological thriller-esque things, so I’m really excited about that. I just think it’s a great time and there’s a lot of opportunity for women in film right now.
AF: How so?
CL: I think there’s a much bigger community, and I think more young women are being inspired to actually pursue filmmaking, because there is a greater initiative to do so, and the community is more welcoming. I definitely think there is room for a lot of progress specifically behind the camera. When I first started out, people assumed I was David’s assistant right off the bat, people assumed that I couldn’t use a camera or even carry it. So I definitely had my fair share of feeling pretty low, or like I would never make it, especially in the beginning when I didn’t have as much work to prove that I could do it. But now I do see—I think it’s all about more and more women being production designers, and gaffers, and grips, and cinematographers, and directors, and the film community realizing through practice that women are able to do all of these things. It’s about creating casts and crews that are full of diversity, and honestly, full of women. We produce all of our projects in house, and I do try and find as many women as I can to fill in roles that aren’t just in front of the camera.
Describe your creative process in one word.
If you could teach one, one-hour class on anything what would it be?
CL: How to launch a film career without going to film school.
What is the last book you read or film you saw that inspired you?
CL: The Handmaiden by Park Chan-Wook. It’s my favorite film.
What is the most played song in your music library?
CL: “Honesty” by Pink Sweat$ [haha]
How do you take your coffee?