Pursuit of Happyness, Hitch, and Life or Something Like That are just some of the films that are credited to Teddy Zee, who has more than 30 years of Hollywood experience under his belt. The International Examiner caught up with Zee to talk about the business and the future for Pan Asians in the entertainment industry.
Maureen Francisco: What made you want to go into the entertainment industry?
Teddy Zee: I grew up very poor in a rural part of New York. Film and TV were my tickets to see the world and my finishing school for popular culture. The media was probably the greatest asset I had in my goal to assimilate into American society. I learned the power of media and entertainment first hand and it was my dream and passion to work in Hollywood.
MF: You’ve been an executive producer of many blockbuster films. What exactly does an executive producer do?
TZ: My role as a producer or executive producer on a film will vary from project to project. It might include initiating the project from idea phase, developing the project into a screenplay, packaging the project and/or bringing in financing for the film.
MF: When you read a screenplay, how do you know you have a blockbuster in your hands?
TZ: You don’t. You just know it when you read a well-crafted script that transports you to another time and place. There are a million miles, a ton of collaborators, and lots of time between the potential you see in a script and the actuality of a blockbuster.
MF: The entertainment industry is a competitive and tough business to get into. What recommendations do you have for anyone wanting to break into the industry? What specific advice do you have for Pan Asians?
TZ: Hollywood is tough no matter your race or gender. It might be particularly tough for Asians. But I think the biggest problem facing young Asians trying to break into Hollywood is within their own minds. So many aspiring creatives put a cap or ceiling on their own dreams and ambitions assuming that people in power define them by their race. That’s a huge mistake. It’s up to you to define how people see you.
MF: With that said, do Pan Asians have more opportunities in film and entertainment today? Why or why not?
TZ: With the growing importance of foreign markets, Hollywood has become more reliant on revenues from outside of the United States. China now has become the number two box office territory in the world. With the growth there, it will eventually overtake the United States at number one. Hollywood always follows the money. Thus, films featuring Asians are becoming more prominent.
MF: Then how come we’re still not seeing Pan Asians in leading roles in film (unless it’s an action film) or TV?
TZ: You will … in time.
MF: You’ve worked with many talented actors such as Will Smith and Angelina Jolie. What characteristics do you look for in an actor/actress?
TZ: I don’t believe people are magically good actors. But great actors make things magical. I think it’s probably 20 percent instinct and 80 percent skill. Like anything in life, it requires hard work. But great actors make it look effortless.
MF: As an executive producer of a film, you may oversee the creative side, but also the business aspect. What stereotypes in business, in general, do you find Pan Asians still have to overcome?
TZ: I think it’s important for aspiring creatives to think less about overcoming stereotypes and more about creating unique characters and stories.
MF: You’ll be speaking at the Seattle Ascend Chapter’s annual gala “What is your legacy?” What would you like to be remembered for?
TZ: My job is to help others make their dreams come true. I hope that I can inspire others to aspire. America and Hollywood are built on dreams. Dream big!
To meet and listen to Zee’s keynote speech, the Seattle Ascend Chapter’s gala is on October 25 at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $75 for non-Ascend members, $40 with a Professional Ascend membership, and $20 for students with an Ascend membership. (Ticket includes dinner and a beverage of your choice.) To register, visit http://goo.gl/OqcY1e.