Episode 102

Christopher Naoki Lee ·  Promoting Social Change and Diverse Representation With “Dinner Party”

Christopher Naoki Lee is a Los Angeles native, with a BFA in theater from New York University, and has been working in the industry for nearly 25 years, recently wrapping up a season-long arc as Ken Uehara on the critically acclaimed AMC series, The Terror. He’s recurred on Amazon’s Too Old To Die Young and Jean Claude Van Johnson, Apple TV+’s Mythic Quest, among others.


Chris has written and directed digital series to pilots, but his feature film directorial debut, Dinner Party, is far more personal. He wanted to tell the story of a group of diverse friends, not dissimilar to his experience, that has to grapple with the changing of their current times, where issues of race, gender equality, and classism have come to the forefront of the modern conversation. His aim for this film is to help facilitate that dialogue even further, showing that there is always more than one side to a story and that we can become a beacon of positive change if we so choose to be. As a person of color, it’s an honor for Chris Naoki Lee to depict such a diverse ensemble on screen with these incredible collaborators on Dinner Party. It truly takes a village.


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Podcast Transcript

Intro: (00:00:00) Hey guys, welcome to Asian Hustle Network Podcast, my name is Bryan and my name is Maggie. We interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals. We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.

Maggie: (00:00:23) Hi everyone. Welcome to the. Well network podcast today, we have a very special guest with us. His name is Christopher Naoki. Lee. Christopher is a Los Angeles native with a BFA in theater from New York University and has been working in the industry for nearly 25 years. Recently wrapped up a season-long arc as Ken Yohara on the critically acclaimed AMC series. The tier he’s recurred on Amazon’s too old to die young and that John Claude, van Johnson, apple TVs, and mythic quest among others. Chris has written and directed drill a series, two pilots, but his feature film, .directorial debut dinner party is more personal. He wanted to tell the story of a group of diverse friends, not dissimilar to his experience that has to grapple with the changing of their current times where issues of race, and gender equality. Classism has come to the forefront of modern conversation. His aim for this film is to help facilitate that dialogue even further, showing that there is always more than one side to a story and that we have become a beacon of positive change if we so choose to be a person of color. It’s an honor for Chris Naoki Lee to depict such a diverse ensemble on screen with these incredible collaborators at dinner parties, it truly takes a village. Christopher, welcome to the show

Chris: (00:01:44) Thank you for having me in both arms, so excited to be here.

Bryan: (00:01:49)And of course, that is an amazing introduction. And the movie dinner party, I just want to hop right into it, right, because it’s yeah. I mean, when Maggie was bringing up the intro, I feel like this movie can or cannot come at a better. And coming at a time where we were recognizing our cultural heritage, how to find allyships, how to find partnerships. And I just want to have you talk about the movie and how it related to your upbringing. What, and how did you get inspired to create this?

Chris: (00:02:19) Yeah, lots of impacts there, Bryan, but I’m going to do my best here. I would say. Yes, the dinner party has a lot of shades of kind of my own life of my, a lot of influences that have come from that direction, along with my co-writer Daniel Weaver as well. And when we put our heads together, we came up with this story. I first reached out to him and I had this idea. It was all happening during the times. Back in 2018, there was a very divisive hearing that was happening in America. Y’all might’ve heard about it. It was when it was during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings and it was fairly divisive, across all states of America. Although I had a very specific point of view that was something that was a bit of an impetus in some ways where there was so much dialogue happening about it. And at the same time, I was thinking about this story that I wanted to tell about all my childhood friends that I grew up with with a very simple logline. It’s funny movies can, sometimes their ideas can happen from the character. It can happen from a line. It can happen from a theme. It can happen from like a story beat. For me, it started from a simple, simple pitch, like a logline pitch, which was. If you met your childhood friends today, would you still fuck with them? And that was, to me, it was like so simple because I grew up in this, this little small thing and we just talked about it as this small little town outside of LA called Calabasas. I’m a very different version of that. The city way back in the day where I grew up. But still, it was a very predominantly white or white-passing community. So a lot of my friends were as diverse as they were but it also reflected the demographic of Calabasas. So my upbringing certainly shaped how I viewed race, how I viewed classism and sexism, all of it. Right. And not to mention. The time that I grew up 20, 30 years ago is a far different time than the time that younger people are growing up today. Right. The things that they can talk about, the access to information and technology that they have, that we didn’t have in those times so all that to say, uh, we just, we were very different people back in those days. So what happens if, you meet up today for like a reunion dinner and all these things are happening, how do you have that conversation? But then on top of that, we added in this very specific story element, which was what happens an inappropriate act, something that is black and white, wrong done to one of your female friends. And then you have to talk about it in real-time. So versus like you look at something on TV, you look at something that’s happening, like a core case versus something that’s happening in your tribe. And how do you have that dialogue? How do you have that discourse? That was, to me, the, the very, the most engaging thing about this. It kind of feels and reads like a play. And I give such a shout-out to my actors due to my crew. We shot this film in four days. I can’t stress this one enough. It was kind of crazy to shoot it in four days, but I couldn’t have done it without the stronger actors or a cast like that day stepping up to the plate. I’m, I’m so humbled to even just be here and talking about it because it’s from their fruits of labor that I get to be here and talk about this great accomplishment that we did and an altar, ultimately, hoping that kind of like your reaction, Brian was, it can insight something. You can insight, just a form of dialogue that, that doesn’t feel too heavy-handed, but makes you want to be like, Hey, should we just talk about that for just a second or what we just watched? And if he can do that, then.

Bryan: (00:05:54) Well it’s there, there’s a lot of stuff to do, sort of break down that just there, the first thing is four days. . That’s pretty crazy.

Chris: (00:06:04)  Oh gosh. Shout out to Imani my partner, she held it down for me. She was also a co-producer on the film, I broke down one or two times right before shooting because it was very. Very stressful and, and like all things, right. They always just come together at the very end and you just don’t know if it’s going to and it did and stressful as hell but again, I, I have to say that if it wasn’t for those actors, if it wasn’t for that crew, I don’t think it was POS.

Bryan: (00:06:35) I honestly can’t even imagine what kind of stress they all went through to make this happen. Right. I think the hardest part is in the forties communicating a vision for what you wanted. It was like, you must, must’ve been very extremely difficult. And this is just all like my guests. Right. Cause I’m not familiar with the film industry. Right. How did you cast these members for your movie? Did you talk about their childhood experience? Do you talk about their personal? experience? What was that one thing where you’re like they had to be in script?

Chris: (00:07:05)  Oh, great question. I would say that. I had, I had about half of the cast already in my mind when I was writing it. So that was, that was helpful. I have a lot of great friends who are actors who are phenomenal at what they do. They’re on different shows or different films right now. I was just basically crossing my fingers that after I finished writing it, I can pass it to them and say, Hey, I would love for you to do this. Cause I was thinking about you for it. Unfortunately, everyone that I did pass it to was 100% down and they all took very significant pay cuts because it’s a very low indie budget film, but they resonated with that project. So that was so humbling. I was super grateful for that, but there were about, I would say. Three to four other roles that we didn’t necessarily have people ready to go. we certainly were looking for the right people. And thankfully again, I have great just people within the network. A great example is my friend Mayan. He is a casting director, but I also know these are great actors, so we were able to get him for the character of Rish, but for the character of Jen who plays his girlfriend in the film, It was tough for us to find it. Cause we didn’t have somebody in our Rolodex that we can just immediately reach out to. We knew that if we went through specific channels, like an agent or a manager, it’s, it gets a little bit trickier because it’s just more hoops you just have to jump through more hoops. Like they don’t know me. They’re going to be like, Hey, you’re going to read for a film that is of the lower budget. Do you sure you want to do that? There are more ears. Like there are more people talking into your ear, right? So it’s better if we can get it directly to the source in my category. Connection with this, with this actor named Casa Mohamad and passed along to her. And she was 100 we had a conversation she was interested. She was down. As you said, we had that talk before, and then we did as a table read essentially, and that kind of locked everything in, but like those. situations happened where I had to sort of trust another person to essentially find, that right connection. Right. In some ways, we can’t be too picky about it either because it is an indie film. It is a low budget. It’s not like we can go off and start asking for like Priyanka Chopra already a thing and be like, Hey, do you want to just hop into this? So we understood that we had some limitations and challenges, but. Gosh, we were so fortunate that even costs, right. I just saw her last week and I was so excited to get her just because she’s such a phenomenal actor. And we had, we had the conversations during the rehearsal process. she’s the one actor who is American but plays British. So she was even talking about her accent and stuff and, and just even that character development was something that was very, very important to us and long story short already, too late. It’s a little long, I know. But essentially we wanted to make sure that we gave enough agency and authenticity to all the actors playing these roles. because straight up it’s two straight people writing a film about all these diverse perspectives and sexual health. You need to make sure that we’re doing our due. Like, we need to make sure we were doing our due diligence with everybody involved to have diverse points of view, and that it is feeling as authentic as possible. Full-stop so that’s that, that was something for us that was important. And we’re so happy that the actors all came in with they had ideas of how they wanted to approach the characters, but it still fell in line with the vision of the film. I trust had to trust them so much because like we just said, Four days are simple, but you don’t get a lot of coverage. A lot of takes in four days, you pretty much get one or two on one coverage. So you gotta just trust that what you’re doing in that time is going to be as good as we can hope it could be that’s and that’s again, a kudos and a, and a Testament too.

Bryan: (00:10:56 Yeah, definitely, definitely kudos to you guys that is not an easy feat, and listening to input and trying to incorporate that back into the vision. You started a company IPO in four days to break it down for our business. People listen to the podcast.

Chris: (00:11:18)  It’s funny that all the, like the business stuff too, it it’s truly attractive to me. I’ve, I’ve gotten way more into sort of the business side of things. The older that I’ve gotten, I came into this business very, wide-eyed very green, and just want to do it for the love of it. And because of sort of the, of the times, back in my twenties, when someone liked me, wasn’t being cast as much, I had to take a pretty heartbreak, but I then reapproached it about four to five years later. Very specific business mentality. Like I’m a product that I’m selling. Right. And if I don’t want to make it sound so superficial right now, but it’s like, there’s a part of you that has to let go of some of that ego as an artist. Right. . Because from a business point of view, it’s business, right. It’s X’s and O’s, you’re just trying to figure out how to. Get that dollar value of how do you stay in the black? It’s like the same thing with the business of you as an actor, as an artist, as a storyteller, as a writer, as a director, and as a producer there are all those avenues to think about. And I’ve got into the weeds of that over the last five to six years, because it’s really important, especially for someone as BiPAP, like myself to be in a position to help facilitate more work for other people like myself in the future too.

Maggie: (00:12:34) I love that. You’re also mentioning all the different diverse, cultural backgrounds that you’re trying to incorporate into this movie, which is important during this time. Right? Like all about bringing more representation to minority groups. And I just want us to take a step back. The plot of this, because I think you start having people talk about it as well, because like, just personally thinking about it, like if I were to, you .know, hang out with the people that I met back then, it’s, I feel like it’s a lot harder to talk about like things in terms of like politics and ethics and stuff like that. It’s easy to talk about that stuff for people that use it. To this day. Right. Because that’s all that’s going on right now. But for people that you’ve met like a long time ago, like in elementary school, you never really talk about that with them when you were growing up. If you were to see them today in this day and age, like, would you still talk about politics? How would you approach those conversations with them? So I think you, you start having people talk about that. I know that you’re I know you mentioned that you were trying to partner up with like companies and advocacy groups to push for social change and diverse representation. So like, I want to know how you’re planning to do that. And what do you hope for viewers to take away from this movie Dinner Party?

Chris: (00:13:47) That’s a great question, Maggie so much there. I want to say the first thing is the theme of this. I don’t take the theme of this film lightly, not just from the diverse aspect, but from the. avenue of sexual harassment, sexual assault. Because that to me is that that’s, that’s the real backbone of the film in a lot of ways, right. Then that in those conversations that. So the first thing, when it comes to advocacy groups and places that we’d love to partner up with is specifically in that, in that realm. Right. We want to make sure that we’re, we’re putting out a film that not to say honoring but not to say that we’re completely disregarding, right. But specifically for survivors as well, like for, for a story where. Again, two straight males are talking about a story about sexual assault. I 100% know how that can come across without the proper kind of context. So for us, even myself as a producer, that’s why bringing on Imani as a co-producer to help inject certain specific points of view. Very early on in the scripting process, we do a very first table redraft with all of our actors, and we ask them to stick around for 15 minutes, but they ended up sticking around for two and a half hours afterward. to talk about the filming, give us their insights and their stories. Stories that we took and implemented into the second draft of our film. Right. So the same kind of way in the way that we would want to push the film outward through distribution, but through partnering with groups that can. Help us in a way that like puts this on a platform that also says that we’re trying to do this the best way in the right way possible. And there’s no, there’s no real right way. Honestly, it’s all perception. It’s all like how you view it. But to me, that’s important because I do understand as a consumer, how it could come up. So, I want to make sure that, Hey, we’re doing everything we possibly can, even, if I just mentioned costs or she runs an at-risk advocacy group. And I believe it’s called shifting the culture, I believe. There are people that we’ve talked to as well, just regarding how can we potentially partner with you when it comes to advocating for you as part of the film. But as long as it makes sense to both of us. visions, right? Same thing. If it comes to Asian hustle networks or another Asian-American types of platforms that are out there, that’s pushing for stories that are of that isn’t necessarily Asian. If that makes sense. Like it’s, it’s an American story at the end of the day just happens to have all the diverse cultures that you tend to might see in America so that’s why that was another thing where it’s not like we’re making race a thing of the film. It just happened to be a lot of the conversation because you’re looking at that’s how my conversations tend to go. And just naturally at dinner parties or hanging out at a bar with a friend, like you just, it’s naturally coming. So being able to partner up, with those kinds of groups, whether it’s Asian or South Asian, or a black organization groups, like those, would be ones that we would love to target and work with. But again, so as long as it works for the both of us in, in the, in the best way, right. There’s always going to be a little give and take, but I want to approach this film as honestly as I could and as authentically as I could, but still, I’m not denouncing the fact that it’s coming from. One point of view as a director, it’s my point of view. So I do own that and I understand that as well. So it might not be for everybody. And that’s okay.

Bryan: (00:17:13) I mean, we start to give you a lot of credit because this speaks volumes to who you are as a person. And I guess the conversation that you brought up just now, it’s like, it’s not an easy conversation to have, right. Because everyone will have different takes on this and different opinions. I guess my question is like, how do you. How do you navigate these conversations internally? Because I’m pretty sure like we all right. Here are social media, right. I’m going to see a lot of heated debates about race and people blaming and taking credit and all that stuff right. To bring that and to. A movie. Right. And with this movie, obviously, there’s going to be one big takeaway that we all go away meal. Wow. That makes a lot of sense. Like how do you .navigate these conversations internally? Cause I’m pretty sure that some of that, some of the stuff that you spoke about with your cast and team and your elders and your scriptwriter and yourself, it’s like, it’s, you can get pretty heated for so long. Like basically what, the way I see it. You found you’re a politician that found a solution to this, to this race problem. That’s the way I see it. He asked you a lot of questions on that because it’s not a hard topic.

Chris: (00:18:30) Internally now you, there that’s a piece of my mind. Just the back and forth in my mind is kind of always going through because even the person who plays miles Charles is a phenomenal actor and, and his point of view, right. That we could sort of say the antagonist right. In the film, but there are certain things that he might say that me as, as objectively, as I possibly can be, can be like, Well, I guess I kind of get that so I try to approach it from that way too. Now. don’t get me wrong. These people may have sort of a gray point of view on some of the nuanced conversations they’re having because we don’t live in a black and white world, but the act right is the actual act of sexual harassment, that’s wrong, black and white full stop. That is an absolutely wrong thing to do. But when it comes to then speculating about something that’s happening on TV, Speculating about race and how it’s affecting the country. All of that is just based on nuanced conversations that I’ve had a lot with a lot of different friends. A perfect example is again, growing up with friends who don’t necessarily who don’t look like me, but we’re still great friends and we can have conversations but even one of those subtle, racist statements that were made in the film happened to me in real life. And to a point where you’re cringing and being like, I can’t, I couldn’t possibly happen. Yeah. Us three sitting here. Right. Not going to be like, you’d be surprised at the things that should have been said to us just very micro, aggressively and stuff that we just complicity let go of particularly when we were younger, because that T during that time, we might’ve been a little bit more. Okay. So I think that to better answer your question here through this word salad that I’m giving you is I noticed that my love of films started very, very early on, but my knowledge of the world was still so small when that, at that time. And it’s just so happening that right now in my life, both of them are coalescing at the same time. Right? My love for film and my strength in doing it still want to get way better. Cause I can get way better at it. But then also the same thing, the knowledge I can, I can know a lot more, but I’m starting to understand. And, and I say starting like from years ago from like four to five, six years ago of understanding how the world is shaped, right. And how, how we’re being treated and how we need to kind of push that, push that conversation. Through how I know the best that I can, which is art through film, through writing, through acting, and through bringing the best people that I know involved to tell the story because like you said, in the end, the hope is that you can finish the film and you look at Maggie and be like, So, which one do you feel like you kind of resonate with? I mean, cause I do feel like there’s, there’s a character that anybody can resonate within this film. It’s not, it’s not a perfectly diverse, I don’t have all the cultures out there that would be just impossible, and pretty much you’re just it’s, it’s more platitude by that point. So you shouldn’t be doing it anyway.  I wanted to find that right balance that allowed us to have those conversations first in a very, more intimate and open and okay way. But then also in a, perhaps more heated and boiled up and like, I can’t fucking hold back my anger kind of away, because we are fed up and there’s plenty of that shit in our world right now that we can say exactly that.

Maggie: (00:21:50)Yeah, that’s amazing. I love that you kind of painted that picture for us too, because I think that goes for anything, like, in terms of our love, if it would be like, what, what business or what industry that we’re. passionate about in your case, it’s your passion for film and media, right. And then kind of like corresponding that with our understanding of the world. I think that. Applies to everything in our life. Right. Just kind of meeting where we get to meet in the middle and like, understanding from both perspectives is just so, so crucial and just speaking about your love for a film I want to take it a step back and talk about just a little bit about your upbringing and like how you kinda got into this world of producing and writing and filmmaking and. What was your upbringing? Like how what was your family like? What kindled you into getting into this opportunity of writing and producing.

Bryan: (00:22:40) That’s hard. It’s hard for sure. And being be honest, there being Asian-American and not in the entertainment space is extremely difficult. It’s like gatekeeping going on back to you sort of feel you sort of just pushed in and made your own space. We love it, right? Yeah. How was it, yeah. 

Chris: (00:23:00) It wasn’t easy. I can’t tell anybody right now with a straight face to say like, oh yeah it was just, just keep going, just keep going. It’s such a generic kind of advice, right? As you do, you’ll be fine. No, there were, there were plenty of times that I felt like, should I hang it up? Should I like it doesn’t seem like there’s a space for me right now there in this world and I did write, I, I did it in a way that stepped away from the acting side of things, but that opened the door up to, to go after producing and directing and writing professionally. And that was a. And it’s in its own thing, a blessing in disguise, but to take it back a little step further my, my mother was, my mother was born in Osaka and my father was born in Hong Kong and they met in Lewis and Clark College in Oregon. And they were, had nothing to do with art. As they had, they were, uh, more business-oriented. My father was a business consultant for a pretty big firm accounting firm. And I was just like, Like a small little Asian guy who just like I watched, I watched Jean-Claude van Damme because I watched fresh prince of Bel-air and I’m like, oh my gosh, this is so cool. This is what I want to do very naively and, that was sort of my world at the time. Performing was my thing. I love to dance. So that was my, first real love of acting and performance. Right. That was the first thing that drive me toward the storytelling world and it was only until. Started to just pick up a pen and a pencil somewhere around, like, I dunno, probably my T like early teens, like my 12 or 13, I just started jotting stuff down writing stories. And I remember writing a very, very, very terrible script when I was a freshman in high school, thinking like, this is so cool. I wrote like a 30-page script. Like, look at me. Y’all had a, had a pretty cool font that I used on the word art and made up a title page. I was like, SIG yeah, look at me gosh, I want to pull that somewhere else. It had to do with. Asian gangs versus white gangs. Keep in mind Calabasas y’all Calabasas. This is where I came. from. Just like a simple middle-class neighborhood. I had no idea what I was doing. But from there, yeah, like I, I got far more into, like, I got my sad card at a very early age for sag is the union that you joined for, for actors. And so I was doing that for a good while. I took a break during high school and then I went to New York for college. And as soon as I came back, I went right, right into it. I went right into the acting and got an agent, but I couldn’t get like a theatrical agent. That specifically means that I can’t, I can only audition for film and TV stuff if I have a theatrical agent. I only had a commercial agent, so a VA can only audition for commercials and it did. It didn’t feed my soul. It was soul-sucking honestly. And I got it, got to a point where I was sitting in a room in a casting office with a bunch of people who look like me. And I was like, I do not want to be here right now. And, and that was a huge telling thing. Right. And in, especially in your twenties, these . moments can feel so big. And so like, they can feel so much weight on you. And not only that in your twenties, Particularly for me. And I don’t want to project that, but from what I’ve talked to, who I’ve talked with, this is kind of true too, but we’re often looking to our left and our right. A lot in our twenties, seeing what other people are doing, see how my friends and again, my friends who are all where we all grew up together, none of them are in the business. So they’re all like succeeding as, as lawyers, as, as doctors, as nurses, like they’re getting their RNs like they’re getting all this stuff. Right. And all I got was a callback. So I’m like, okay, this is I don’t know what I mean. So I took that heartbreak, and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me because I started to view the business as a business. I started to look at the things of how I take more control and agency over this business that doesn’t want me right now. Right. And like you said, it is because of those gatekeepers. So how do I find a way to get access. Gatekeepers, how can I . potentially be one of those gatekeepers? How can I open those gates potentially? Right. That’s the big goal and that’s where that sort of stemmed from and full circle. I said this to Maggie last week during our pre, but my father was inspired in a lot of ways. He quit his job when I was off pursuing my dreams. My sister became a music teacher. He quit his job because that didn’t feed his soul anymore and he went off to go write books. And now he’s like a motivational speaker for, for Japanese companies in Japan. And he gets to go to travel there and gets to work there for like a few months and then comes back gulfs and gets to see the grandkids goes back to Japan for a few months. I was like, dude, that’s a great life in a lot of ways, I think it’s interesting how like my father he had creative bones in him. He did. He wanted to be a disc jockey when he was younger. He wanted to run radio shows, run podcasts. If it was today, this is what he would probably want to be doing. That artistic flare certainly kind of trickled down and, and fell onto me a little bit. And that was, it was just cool to be able to kind of reciprocate that and ultimately hope that he’s happy too, cause I’m sure he is. He gets to see, his grandkids all the time and he gets to work on that.

Maggie: (00:28:20) That is amazing. I’m that just goes to show that anything can happen to you at any moment. I feel like a lot of the time people want to be creative, but they think like their cards have been dealt and they’re at the age of 40 and they still haven’t done anything creative, but you just never know. And it seems like your father found a lot of inspiration from you. And I think that’s just such an amazing story.

Chris: (00:28:45) It’s now the shout-out, but a great thing. You said that like, honestly, shout out to the people who aren’t afraid to take those leaps and bounds whenever they are at a stage in their life.  I have a friend of mine Bushra. She quit her corporate job just like last year, two years ago to pursue. acting and this world full time. And she’s starting to see like, just even levels of success there and it’s, and she’s pushing for it. So again, it’s like, if you love it, if you want to do it, it doesn’t matter when just. Yeah, there it is. I said that generic do a thing again. Oh boy, I did it. Which has Nike is sponsoring you for that reason. I will, for that reason I’ll happily take that.

Bryan: (00:29:26) I liked the fact that you brought up, like, this is a blessing. This guy. Most of the time when we face adversity and failure, we’re just like, oh man, a lot of us just give up. Right. But the fact that you took some time to reflect upon yourself, is super important. Right, right. Cause it’s the thing with any sort of form of success is that it’s, it’s not a linear path. It’s, it’s an up and down path. And the fact that you were persistent enough to realize that this is still something that you want to do. And now look at what you’re doing. Right. You’re creating space for more people to get into this world. . Because of certain experiences that you felt before. So I just want to highlight that moment that regardless of how bleak things look in life, you can always change it around and flip it around. It just depends on your perspective.

Chris: (00:30:14)Perspective is, is a big part of, of my life these days. Like how you view the world and how you view adversity. Right. I, I just thinking about that, there were certainly times I used to do every side hustle job. You could think of like every single one I bartended, I waited tables. I would take freelance jobs here and there. I became, and that’s the fun part is that became stronger in that world because of those freelance gigs, right. Freelance editing, freelance, videography. I just became stronger in the fields in that I wanted to work more closely in any way so those were important from the hustle standpoint, but I know I did others, other jobs too. That was just like, I was doing delivery jobs for a while. And I, I remember, man, I it’s, it’s amazing what the universe. It kind of can does in the weirdest ways, if you, if you trust and you still believe in it, and if you’re in, if you’re dedicated to it, right. And if you are open to being open to things, you’d be surprised at what the universe can offer you. And I remember sitting in my car. Doing a delivery. And I remember I was nearly about to break down because I was like, I think I got to like, keep doing this for a good while, because I don’t, if I don’t get like a gig soon, I, I gotta get more shifts or something. Right. And the next day I booked something and it was like, it was, it was a great job. Right. Um, so it’s amazing that in those moments l got, I go back to even a story with like Aaron Paul from breaking bad. I don’t know if y’all know this story. A very similar thing happened. He was so close to leaving the business, even told his mom I’m about to balance. And he’s like, the mom was like, no, just stick around for a few more months. I’ll give you some rent money, just stick around. Um, and then he got breaking bad. And even then Vince Gilligan had to fight to keep him all in that role because he . was about cause the producers didn’t want him. It’s just the universal workout in the craziest ways, but. The big, but is that manifestation does not work by you just sitting on your couch, manifesting it, manifesting comes by you waking up every day with intention and trying to do what you want to do as effectively as you can, but without, but while also trying to maintain a work-life balance because you’re creating your luck and through creating your luck. The universe will listen at some point. That’s me, that’s my thought on that.

Maggie: (00:32:32) I’m so glad that you brought that up because I feel like nowadays on social media, we romanticize manifestation so much, but then they leave out such a big part of it. Everyone says just manifest it and everything will come true. But it is on top of manifestation, you just have to do the work. Right. And it’s, it’s so important that you brought that up. Just like speaking about mental health and you, you say like the universe. working, working itself out, right. I think like, especially when we’re at our lowest of the low. It’s we tend to look for opportunities even more so than we normally do. Right. Maybe our eyes were wide enough. Maybe we’re just super focused on looking for those opportunities. So I think like for a lot of people, when we are at our lowest, those opportunities do come because we are searching for them. Yeah. Yeah. And then you talk about the mental health you feel. So you were super down during that time, especially with like a dinner party, you having those conversations about race and gender equality and classes on those are very, very heavy topics. Right. And I’m pretty sure it gets very daunting sometimes to talk about those conversations. And I want to know like how you are managing your mental health right now to just having those conversations. So often.

Bryan: (00:33:50) I get someone to say a few words about what you said earlier. Everything you said just really hits home. Truth be told any couple of days ago I was sitting. there. I was like, man, this entrepreneur’s stuff is so hard. I started questioning everything and I feel like when you’re at the bottom, like, Yeah, you’re right. If you want it, if you want enough, like the university, sorry guys, you are in the right direction. Like even today I felt like I felt, I felt funny, felt like I had like a mental break after talking to you, like my mentors and advisors. I’m like, wait a minute. This is a lot more clarity on what I need to do. Right. And it’s hard to describe this podcast, that feeling of flight desperation, where it’s like, you just want to sit there and you don’t know who to blame, but yourself. And you’re hard on yourself. Cause you’re just like, It’s not working out. Like just thinking your mind just goes wild. Right. You just start thinking about like things you should’ve done correctly, or like, I have to be, so it’s better if I had a full-time job or stuff like that. Well, at the end of the day, it’s like, there’s just this, there’s this gut feeling this far with it. Shut the hell up. Just do it. Stop complaining about if this will work out what are you waiting for? Right. And that’s when you sat down and was like, fuck it hits home for me and I felt that.

Chris: (00:35:08) I get goosebumps thinking about just that, right. I’ve just, it’s not so much like we, we we’ve idolized and, and romanticized. Hustle work. We haven’t in some or not having, I don’t know if this is true. Maybe I’m just, maybe, I’m just projecting at this point, but like, but how much have we hustled the mind? How much have we overdone that in some ways where it’s like, we we’ve, like Maggie said, right? Yo, if you just, if you just manifest the, not doing the work hat’s, that’s enough. That’s enough to do the mind work right here, but. You need to find, that specific balance that works for you now that’s different for everybody. You asked me Maggie it’s like, what, how do you deal? Right. From a mental standpoint, with all these conversations that you have, especially those that are daunting and heavy and not easy to have. I’ve for me personally, really, really started to. just count the little things. Just really just like the smallest things that, that bring the joy to you. Take stock of that, because I noticed that the older that I’ve gotten. If we’re only measuring our successes based on big successes and big failures, it’s tough. That is a tough, tough way to live because you’re going to be going up and down all the time doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t celebrate big wins. It shouldn’t mean that you should learn from big failures. It just means that you need to find what’s that balance for you that tries to keep you even as much as possible so that you can tackle those challenges a little bit more even headedly, I don’t think that’s a word, but level, head at least something. There is something like that. If you could find that kind of balance, then, I think it’s easier for, you to take on more, right? Th the conversations that we have today, it’s like, ah, look, I don’t, I ain’t got the bandwidth for this right now. I don’t have the time for this right now. I think boundaries are very, very important. Especially as Asian-Americans, we often extend ourselves as we’re known to. extend ourselves and I don’t necessarily find that to be a bad thing when it comes to like pushing yourself or seeing like in the Japanese term gang guy, like trying to get past that limit. Like, fuck it. Like, get, get, get past that Linda breaker. So then you could get to the next level because then you show yourself what you’re capable of through trauma and stress. It’s like you’re, you’re pressuring that, that, that mold into a diamond. I think if you can find something like that, then again, you can open yourself up to more nuances like these conversations that are not easy to have a perfect example is I even, you were talking about. Having these conversations, even with my close friends, from 15, 20 years ago, who, by the way, we have a group of friends here in Los Angeles, we all live in the same area. And like, like 12 of us, we’re all home, like all hometown friends. And that’s so rare to have. And I’m very aware of that. So very humbled and grateful for that, but we also have tough, tough. conversations with each other, every, every so often too. During, when George Floyd happened during when with the things that were happening in Atlanta, there were a lot of different, hard conversations that needed to be had. And the one thing that I kind of even told them was like, look, you’re. The thing is like, you might be on, you might be my ally or you of my ally, the way that you talk to me. I know that you’re my ally. I get that. But when I’m not in the room and you’re talking about it, perhaps with other people in your own demographic and nobody else, you have to be the ally at that point, you have to be the one that speaks for us at that point, because otherwise. We’re just speaking in a vacuum. The hope is again, going back to dinner parties, that the hope, the hope is that a film like this can do something like that, working inside that first kind of discourse, that kind of dialogue, the acknowledgment, compassion, empathy. And then from there, action. And how do you kind of, and how does that manifest?

Bryan: (00:38:58) I mean, that’s powerful points. I just want to say, please take care of your mental health, because the way that, I mean, some of the things you said is like, you started to look at the world differently and you started to understand like how the world works and you break it down. Like, what is the status quo? The power dynamics. What is anything society would mean? Right?

Chris: (00:39:24) Break it, but break it down. But I mean like you said it is the best tool, but what you had to do this morning was talking to mentors, to your friends, to advisors, right? The people that know you and look after you, when push comes to shove, when your mental health feels like it needs a break, are the people that you want to rely on. Those are the people that you want to be able to just hit up and talk to and feel like you’re in a safe space. And even if it means going to therapy, like my therapist is like, Just talk to her last week when we were talking about boundaries and I’m like, yeah, I do need to have more boundaries because I’m really open. I want to get to know everybody and I want to find the opportunities as much as I can, but sometimes you just, you don’t have that time. You don’t have the bandwidth for it. So you have to set up those boundaries and you gotta be aware of that. So again, like give yourself that time, allow yourself to talk to the people that allow you to just breathe. Be calibrated, and re-energize. Let’s go on. Let’s go get this day and not every day is going to be perfect. I think that’s why. Okay. Now, but I think what’s important is this is some well, I could talk about this at the end, cause I only have this one question that you always like to ask.  I have been listening to them. Your podcast just heads up FYI. I know you like to ask, like what kind of advice you might want to give. So there’s something I certainly would love to share but it all kind of revolves around what we’ve just been talking about anyway.

Maggie: (00:40:47) That’s amazing. I’m so glad to hear that you were listening to our podcast before we get to that last question. I do want to know aside from Dinner Party and also you can talk about the goals that you have for dinner .party as well, but. What are your goals, Chris for the next year? And what’s, what’s next for you in the next three to five years.

Chris: (00:41:09) I’m excited and nervous. I’m anxious in a lot of ways, but I have a few projects in the pipeline as I mentioned my partner and Umami, now we are working on a project together right now, a feature film.  I’m also working with James Hong legendary Hollywood actor we’re working on a little project and animated feature as well.  I have another animated series that I’m working on and I’m still very pre like the very development stage is right now just writing the script. So beyond that, those are like the three things that I want to do. Dinner party. I would love in a world. Where distribution, like we’re going through a festival run, we’re going to scat Savannah film festival next week, which we’re excited about. Hopefully, get to that place of distribution to get it to a . wide enough audience. So then people can talk about this and generate its buzz. It would be so awesome. If this film became sort of something, what like dear white people did, which was to create something that could be more anthological, but sort of revolves around again, just simple settings with simple conversations that have very, very deep and, and kind of,  profound type of dialogue that can kind of happen out of it. Right. so that would be cool if that did happen, where we have some ideas of it and then acting. That’s the other rat race. Right. Just trying to go through that.  I do have, an episode of MCIs Hawaii. That’s coming out in November or December. I’m on the Asian Hustle Networks which is my current hustle right now for the next few years. Perhaps from a more, I guess like a deeper philosophical state, I would just love to be able to keep doing things. Not only just matter to me, but can be helpful, whether that’s providing jobs and opportunities or providing discourse and, and exposure and conversation.

Maggie: (00:43:13) Love it. Thank you so much for sharing that. And we’re just so excited about all the upcoming plans that you have. And we have no doubt that this dinner party movie will start those conversations. So we will have. Question that you’re so excited to answer. Yes. If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring entrepreneur or someone who is trying to become an actor or a writer or producer, especially in spaces like these, where they’re trying to start very hard conversations, trying to promote good social change, positive change. What would that one piece of advice be?

Chris: (00:43:54)     Just one, right? Just one. I only get one. This was, it’s more, this is like really recent and it’s a very generalized and unknown theme that I think we all kind of go through, but I sort of found a way that really made sense to me at that moment and particularly of this time. And it was when I was filming in Hawaii as I was, it was on an off day and I was just walking outside the hotel. It was like walking towards the, get something I remember. And I just had my AirPods in and I was listening to this song and I looked at this next song. I was like, oh, I think this is the song that I, I think I need to hear this song. Right. And I played it and I was like, oh no, I don’t want to hear this. This is this, isn’t the song that I want. But in those five seconds of deciding, I thought to myself, hold up, hold up. Just, just, just go through the whole song. Maybe you need it, just go through it. And they did. And I was, I was so happy that I did. I was so happy that I did. And it kind of made me think about. In a very simple way, right? Like this idea of what is it that you truly want versus what is it that you truly need. Right. And then you always have to be able to discern those two things.  wanted to, I wanted to just walk and listen to a different song because my mood wasn’t that kind of. But I needed that song because it was going to help shift just a little bit of something inside of me that told me, Hey, my perspective has now changed on this and that’s okay in the same kind of thing can be said about like, man, I just want to go home and take a bath and self-care today because that’s, that’s what I want. Right. But. Is that what you need right now, because if you can push past this part that you might not know the legends just only two feet away, but you don’t see it, but it’s just two feet away and you don’t know what if you just take those extra two steps and if you get past it, what does that tell you about your own resilience? How many characters that you’ve built off of that? Now I’m not discounting anything when it comes down to your own self-care and what you specifically want for yourself. But I think that’s something that I felt there was something really important for me of like, oh, I’ve been getting, I’ve been at this place where like, oh, I just want that. And I just want this and it’s okay, because it’s what I want. But I didn’t think about it. from that place of like, what is it that you need to grow a little bit? And then the third thing that I kind of add to that. What you want versus what you need versus what people expect of you. Now that third one can kind of tie into either one that they’re not mutually exclusive or inclusive to any of those two, but sometimes they can be right. What you want. Kim can be what people are expecting of you, what you need can be what people are expecting of you as well.  Kobe Bryan is one of my, if not my, biggest motivator in a lot of ways, when it comes to just, a real-world celebrity who truly changed my life, And he would say something where it’s like there are fans out there who are all the way up in the nosebleeds who saved all their money all year to come to a single game to watch me play. And I got like a broken foot or a broken thumb, but it’s like, no, fuck that. I’m going to go there and play because that’s what, that’s what I need to do for them. Right. I can stay back. Cause I want it. But so like so that kind of point where it’s like, there’s that expectation versus the need versus the want. If you could find that right. Little Venn diagram of where it fits within your vision of what you need right now, not what you need tomorrow. Doesn’t have to be next week. Doesn’t have to be a week from today or two years from now. Just be present to where you are right now. And ask yourself that because then you might be able to have you, you have all the information in front of you and you might be able to make perhaps a stronger decision that could possibly yield to another strong decision to.

Maggie: (00:47:30) Wait, that was so beautiful. You said that so eloquently and that made so much sense. And I mean, I, I definitely agree with you just finding that right. Balance. I mean, it’s, it’s not easy, but you really have to go find that right. The balance between those three things and just, just do it. Just, just do what you believe is right.

Bryan: (00:47:52) You have definitely been listening to our podcasts and prepare an answer.

Chris: (00:47:57)It’s funny. I haven’t actually said that really anywhere elsewhere either. So it’s cause it’s honestly, it was so fresh. It just happened to me like a few weeks ago and I was like, whoa, this is not so Keanu Reeves, like, but like, wow, just. At a moment there and it’s so simple. We all go through it every day, but I felt like it made a little bit more sense today when we are prioritizing things to take care of ourselves, which is very, very important. But I also think that. Don’t lose yourself in the process of, this business, because this business will not wait for you either. The business does not necessarily care. If you are self-care right now that’s, that’s just, that’s just cold, hard truth in a lot of ways, but you can certainly find people within the business world that will care about it. And those are the people that you obviously want to be gravitating towards because you’re still, you’re still trying to get out. You’re still trying to come up but if you could do it with the right people, with the right mindset, nothing’s going to stop you.

Maggie: (00:48:55) Absolutely agree. I love it. Thank you so much for sharing that, Chris. So where can .our listeners find out more about you and how can they support dinner parties?

Chris: (00:49:05) You can follow me at Chris Lee, that’s just from across the board from Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Sadly, I don’t have a chick talk out there from people at their side. By that time I was thinking about getting a TikTok for my dog. Is that. Is that. Okay. All right. You’re like just do it, just start with the dog versus see how you go from there. Yeah. You’re gonna fall deep into a heart. It’s a great distribution. Great and also for Dinner Party, you can follow it on Instagram at Dinner Party movie and yeah, we got some festivals lined up. We have, again in, at the end of October, we’ll be in SCAD, Savannah film festival the week after that we’ll be in Portland film festival and then we have a couple more as well about to announce as well.

Maggie: (00:49:58) So amazing. Thank you so much, Chris. It was awesome having you on our podcast. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us today.

Chris: (00:50:04)Thank you so much for having me and keep hustling.