06 Apr Q&A w/ Rachel Tan // Jesus & Entertainment
We met our friend, Rachel Tan, in Hong Kong back in 2010. She was leading an amazing small group of young professionals who were seeking or new to faith. We quickly built our friendship and became like family as we all navigated living in a busy city like Hong Kong and following Jesus. Since then, Rachel has been living in Los Angeles, working in the entertainment industry both as a lawyer and film producer with her husband Dan. We love sharing Rachel’s story because it’s a wonderful example of stewardship – being faithful to the passions that God has called her and her husband and trusting in the Lord to lay their path out in front of them. Their story is amazing and we are so blessed to know them!
I’d love to start off with a little introduction. Would you be able to tell us a bit about yourself in a few sentences?
My name is Rachel Tan. I live in Los Angeles with my husband Dan and 4-year-old daughter Sophie. I was born and raised in Malaysia and then I went to England for university. After that, I worked in Hong Kong in the entertainment industry before I moved to Los Angeles 8 years ago.
One of the passions God put on your heart is for the entertainment industry. Could you tell us a bit more about how you discovered you had this passion?
Being raised in Asia, I was one of those students who would only strive for straight As and perfection in everything I do. That’s where I found my worth. There was one year where I failed to get the top spot which would have secured me a scholarship to a prestigious university in London. I cried for days and days and was on the couch watching TV the whole summer. There was a TV commercial for Miss Malaysia that would play over and over again on our cable ASTRO. My dad who was worried about my mental state, suggested that join it to “get free lessons on self grooming, make up and catwalk”. He even filled in the form and sent it in for me.
Unlike many other contestants, I never had any experience on stage or in the industry. I would get really nervous at the backstage but somehow, when I get on the stage, all my fear would disappear. When the crowd responds to my answers and jokes, I would get a very deep sense of satisfaction. It was as if I found a sense of belonging on the stage with the audience. I ended up winning the entire pageant and was crowned Miss Malaysia. After that, I represented Malaysia on the international stage in Hong Kong and won the international pageant too.
Malaysia had never won any international pageant before so I was given many opportunities to attend several press conferences, host TV shows, act in dramas, do interviews and cover shoots for magazines and newspapers, travel the world as the spokesperson for brands and be the goodwill ambassador for charities.
Even business and financial magazines would interview me and put me on the cover. I never thought they would be interested in what a 20-year-old would think about politics, the economy and social justice. I began to see how powerful the media is and how the entertainment industry has the influence to change cultures and attitudes around the world. It could either uncover the truth and give voice to the voiceless or it could create illusions and spread lies that causes division and strife among the people across nations.
The more roles I took on in entertainment, the more I was drawn to it. Like a moth to the flames! Fully knowing how dangerous and fleeting any fame or influence can be but unable to stop myself from moving closer to it.
What did your journey in pursuing your passion in the entertainment industry look like? Was it smooth or was it rocky?
What I can say is that the journey was anything but boring and mediocre! I went from complete obscurity to overnight sensation on every cover of the national newspapers. I was flown business and first everywhere and had everyone’s attention. I even secured a scholarship to England and ended up at Sheffield and then did Masters of Law in University of Cambridge.
Then, I was signed by Jackie Chan Group in Hong Kong and felt like I was on top of the world. I packed my two suitcases and moved from England to Malaysia to Hong Kong.
However, it was in Hong Kong when things went awry. I went for audition after audition and I could not land anything big. I was promised the world but never got a piece of it. Every opportunity I was offered turned into dust. I could not even count how may auditions I failed over the years. Soon, Jackie Chan Group even dissolved and I was out of work. I could not pay my rent and was devastated. At one point, I was even sleeping on my friends’ couch! I couldn’t accept failure and could not rise above it.
The entertainment industry was truly a shiny but dangerous place. Many people lose themselves to it. I was basically wandering around lost and depressed. That was when I met a group of wonderful believers in Hong Kong and was baptized. In the midst of my mess and ugliness, God found, accepted and loved me. He gave me a group of people who embraced me and was eager to disciple me when I was a nobody and had nothing to give.
After that, I found my purpose in God. We founded an international platform OurWitness that shares testimonies around the world with my then future husband and Christine D! Looking back, I think God that really trained us to be producers through OurWitness. Everyday, we had to search for good testimonies, edit them and find the greater purpose and meaning for each experience. Before we published each testimony, we were trained to have an eye for beauty to capture the audience with art, images and marketing strategies. We had conference calls and with international teams from 8 cities around the world. The whole experience helped us become the producers we are today though we have much to learn.
Could you tell us more about how you and your husband, Dan, became producers?
Dan and I eventually got married and I moved to Los Angeles. We were both entertainment attorneys. Dan was working with Warner Bros. but he went to Stanford back in the day because he wanted to be a writer.
One day, one of the producers I worked with in HK contacted me for help to shoot a movie that would be distributed in the US. Dan and I would work on it at night and during the weekends. The experience reignited our love for storytelling and filmmaking.
What are some of the favorite projects that you have worked on?
We have been developing a rom com that is inspired by testimonies that we came across during our time in OurWitness. It is so refreshing to tell stories that shed light to the world. At the same time, it is so fascinating to see how God redeems everything that we have gone through.
We also worked on a movie in the fantasy feature inspired by John Bunyan’s book “The Pilgrim’s Progress”. We shot it from dusk to dawn at snowy mountaintops, volcano parks, ranches, cliffs and in the desert with international cast from Korea, Australia, Mexico and Chicago and a crew consisting of 36 people. It was truly difficult but it really refined us as producers and storytellers. Here is the trailer to our movie “Heavenquest”.
Are there any other favorite moments you’ve had recently (i.e. people you’ve gotten to know, events you’ve been able to attend)?
My favorite moments are always with my business partner and husband Dan Mark. We always encourage and inspire each other. We celebrate each milestone with our silly dance and pray for the other when the other is down. I love every single silly dance, celebration and encouraging prayer.
Over the course of our career, we met so many people who mentored us and believed in us: pastors, CEOS, founders, celebrities, seasoned producers, mentors, team members, friends, mothers and fathers. Each of them has an important part in our journey and we are grateful to God for them and for our family members who always supported us.
One recent favorite memory of mine was when our 4-year-old daughter Sophie attended the red carpet premiere for our movie “Heavenquest”. During our opening speech, she jumped up and down while shouting out loud in front of an audience of 300,
“Daddy, Mommy, I am so proud of you guys! So many people came to watch your movie!”
That moment alone made the whole journey worth it!
In your opinion, what are the greatest challenges of being a believer in the entertainment industry?
I feel that is very difficult to do so especially in the US. There seems to be a clear division in our nation. If one is Christian, then one be a conservative and therefore should not be in Hollywood and if one if a filmmaker one must be liberal and support all liberal values. It means you are either with us or against us. For e.g., if a movie champions immigrant representation, it would not be for the faith audience. If is a film that highlights our faith, it would lose the general audience outside the church. We are becoming a society that is increasingly fixated on our differences, rather than appreciating what we have in common.
The challenge would be for us to find an authentic and universal voice that can speak to people regardless of their political beliefs, faith and values. That way, we will no longer perpetuate the division but hopefully unite our people.
Who, or what, inspires you?
Jesus Christ! Real life superheroes like our frontline medical workers, people who give up their lives to protect another, people who dare to dream and chase them relentlessly, people who stand up for what they believe in and take actions to make a difference, mothers who give everything for a thankless job, parents who work so hard to make sure they build a better world for their children.
Are there any good resources you would recommend for other believers who want to enter the entertainment industry?
I am not very sure about that one. I believe many churches have a community of artists we can learn from. There are also Christian schools for filmmakers and people who can to get into film. I know a few of them in Chicago, Arkansas, Redding and LA.
Other than that, I would recommend going to a school be it NYU, UCLA or USC to learn about the entertainment business. Some of them have night classes as well. One can also apply for internships in the studios and production houses or work from the bottom up in the mailroom as agents.
Otherwise, I would say, create content and show it to the world. We live in an era where content is king and there are various platform where one can self-distribute. Someone once said “If you love what you do, you won’t work a day in your life”. Find your passion project and start working on it!
One unique advantage you and Dan have is that you are Asian Americans, and you, specifically, have a lot of experience in the entertainment world in Asia. Would you mind sharing with us how that has impacted you and your work?
Our company Kingstreet Pictures develops and produces diverse, forward-thinking independent films and television shows for the global marketplace.
I think that having the Asian American experience is key to understanding the immigrant experience and telling authentic stories. We have two fully funded features inspired by true Asian American stories. Having the immigrant experience and a network of people who champion the same cause is a key to what we do.
Having worked in Asia, I have been a bridge between the East and West when we work with directors, talent and crew from East on American movies. So glad that God also used my time (the good and the bad) in Asia nothing is wasted.
As you know, one of the things Nick and I are passionate about is rest. What are some of your favorite ways to find rest in the busy-ness of your work?
We love movies and TV shows. That is our passion. We talk and analyze the scenes, the storytelling and performances after each movie or episode and we never get tired of it. But sometimes, Dan tends to find solace in documentaries while I indulge in dramas in silence. That’s how we recharge.
We ran a house church for 8 years from our home where we fellowship and serve. I find that when I think beyond my own needs and act for the good of another, it actually puts a lot of things in perspective. Many worries of mine disappear. Bill Johnson once said something like, “If you came out from a prayer session feeling the same, then it was not a prayer but a complaint”. Being in God’s presence changes you. It really does give you rest.
Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years? What would you be doing?
We will be a family on a mission. We’ll continue to nurture our family and go after our dreams. We hope that we’ll be able to give voice to the voiceless through representation in media and produce content that we would be proud of. We’ll be making movies that we’re passionate about and that would change culture and perspective around the world so we can focus on our common ground and love one another.
And lastly, you could sum up your motto or vision statement for us, what would it be?
We want to be world builders for an increasingly diverse world. We create immersive worlds and craft compelling stories to give a platform to those previously under-represented in entertainment, to change perceptions for the next generation, and to shape culture from Hollywood to the rest of the world.