#67 "One Family" Director John Alan Thompson
Director John Alan Thompson joined us to discuss the film project we worked on together, “One Family,” how Sharon introduced him to Bruce Lee’s philosophy, and his journey working as a filmmaker.
John discovered he wanted to be a filmmaker at 15. Growing up his family moved around often, but the high school he finished at had a video production class to put on the daily announcements. That same month he saw “Apocalypse Now” which was the first movie that truly affected him. This movie and this class inspired John to borrow cameras from his production class and he began experimenting with lighting, editing, and content. His teacher told him about a competition that AFI was hosting for students under age 18, and his senior year John created a short film that ended up placing. Francis Ford Coppola was one of the judges and John was told Coppola liked a shot from his short. After that first taste, John dove into filmmaking.
Now, John still mostly works in short formats, creating music videos, commercials, and short films, including the short film he made with the Bruce Lee Family Company “One Family.”
Sharon has worked with John before, and when the “One Family” project came up, she immediately thought of him, but wondered how much he knew about Bruce Lee. He shares that it was only a few years ago he first watched “Enter the Dragon” and “Fist of Fury” with his family and they were all mesmerized. John immediately appreciated Bruce’s presence and physical prowess, but it wasn’t until Sharon approached him for this project and gave him some Bruce Lee books that John learned more about Bruce’s philosophy.
This project came to John during a time when he was feeling creatively depleted and filled doubt about some life choices. When he started reading Bruce’s philosophy, it immediately resonated with him and was exactly what he needed to hear at that moment in his life. What stood out to John was how Bruce said that you need to find your own voice, work on developing that voice, and how that leads to self-expression. That you need to get in touch with whatever is inside of you and then you can be fully present in whatever you do. John loved how Bruce worked to get his philosophies into “Enter the Dragon,” how it starts with a great fight scene and then its six minutes of Bruce saying how you should live your life. What John took away from Bruce’s teachings is that the fundamental part of living is finding that true essence inside of you and expressing it to the world.
When John first came to LA, the first couple years were like a dream come true. A small film he made his first year of grad school made it into Sundance and screened well. This was the first film where John discovered what his voice was as a filmmaker. He got an agent and manager quickly, and started going to a bunch of meetings. John’s agent got him involved with horror films, but he wasn’t getting any scripts he wanted to work with. He felt like this was his chance to do something, but he couldn’t fit into these Hollywood molds and couldn’t write his own feature script despite many attempts. John felt really run-down and uninspired, so he backed out of all of that and starting making some experimental films by himself. He moved out of his apartment and lived out of a camper for 10 months and only worked on editing his projects. Now, two of those experimental films are going to be screening in the National Museum of Taiwan.
John has a new team around him and they don’t push him in any direction, instead John pursues what makes him excited and they help him get it made.
At the Bruce Lee Family Company, Shannon always tries to work with people who have a personal connection with her father. For the “One Family” film, Shannon wanted to share this story of the fight between Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man, a pivoting moment for Bruce that hasn’t been told well. Shannon wanted to connect that story to the larger message of her father’s life, his point of view, and his message of inclusivity. This fight was a pinnacle moment for Bruce because even though he won the fight, it changed his approach to martial arts and to life. Shannon wanted to tell the story in an authentic, artistic, and powerful way. This included having her mom, Linda, share the story since she witnessed the fight firsthand. Shannon also wanted to share this store because this year is the 50th anniversary of Jeet Kune Do, and if this moment had not happened in Bruce’s life then he might not have moved towards creating JKD.
The biggest challenge with creating “One Family” is that we didn’t have any footage we could use. The Bruce Lee Family Company doesn’t own any of the Bruce Lee films. This challenge of recreating the fight through non-traditional means intrigued John. He pitched the idea of using old photographs and animating them, which proved to be complicated since we didn’t have an animation budget. No one moves like Bruce Lee, so the creative puzzle was how to represent the energy, movement, and flow of Bruce’s fighting.
Here’s a quick overview for those unfamiliar with the fight between Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man. When Bruce had a school in Oakland, he was challenged by the San Francisco Chinatown community because he was teaching his martial arts in a very brash way and teaching it to anyone who wanted to learn regardless of gender, race, or background. That was not done. The Chinatown community wanted him to stop teaching to non-Chinese and to stop being so vocal about it, so they challenged him to a fight. They picked their champion, Wong Jack Man, and came down to the Oakland school for the fight. Shannon’s mother Linda was at the fight and was eight months pregnant with Brandon at the time. Bruce won the fight in about three minutes, but the take away for him was that his traditional kung fu training didn’t prepare him for actual combat outside of a competition environment. This opened Bruce’s mind to needing to look at Kung Fu and his approach to combat as well as to training and being in the right kind of shape. Bruce won the right to continue teaching whoever he wanted and continued to do so. He really believed that we are all one family, all of us humans, no matter our backgrounds, ethnicity, gender, or orientation. This is why the film is titled “One Family.”
This film wasn’t just about a fight or the winner of a fight, it was about this birthing moment of Bruce creating his own art and pushing his bigger unity message. It’s about the power to take a stand in uncomfortable situations.
Bruce’s childhood was difficult. He grew up in Hong Kong when it was occupied by the Japanese, but it was still a British colony, so the Chinese were looked down upon by two different occupying forces. Also, because his mother was half German, Bruce was looked down upon by other Chinese for not being fully Chinese. Bruce pushed through all that prejudice and fought against it.
As he was working on this project, John was personally affected by Bruce’s philosophy. In the beginning of the project, when John was reading all of the books about Bruce and his philosophy, he became inspired by not only Bruce’s philosophy, but by how Bruce actually applied those ideas. During the filming, John found interviewing Linda to be inspiring because of all she’s been through and how well she’s shaped Bruce’s legacy into such a positive force in the world. That day of filming was very intense and made John felt ultra alive.
You can read Bruce Lee’s energy on screen, it’s not about what language you speak or whether you study martial arts, just as a human you can feel it. John went through Bruce’s movies and each moment he felt there was an emotional energy conveyed, he took a screen shot. By going through those films in that way, John saw that in Enter the Dragon, Bruce was “on” in every scene, making it still one of the most electrifying films ever.
Creating Enter the Dragon was a realization of a dream for Bruce after struggling in Hollywood. Bruce took it very seriously, and trained extremely hard. The Hollywood producers didn’t want to incorporate the philosophy into the movie, and Bruce refused to come to the set for two weeks until they put it in. This is why this movie still stands today, it’s more than just an action movie. “Enter the Dragon” was meaningful to Bruce because it was his chance to share his self, his art, and his philosophy.
By interacting with Bruce Lee and the philosophy, many people, including John, have said that it reawakens in them a childhood sense of wonder and play.
John considered the “One Family” film to be one of the most important projects for him. He thinks this is the most socially important film that he’s ever made and that the message of equality, while always important, is particularly important right now.
(Awesome Asians and Hapas)
This week we have a nomination from listener Manson, #AAHA Paul Kariya:
“Hi Shannon and Sharon, I would like to nominate Paul Kariya as an Awesome Asian and Happa. He was recently elected (26 June 2017) to the Hockey Hall of Fame for the Class of 2017 inductees
Paul Kariya is a Japanese Canadian hockey player that play in the NHL from 1993-2010. He played for four NHL teams, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators, and St.Louis Blues. He still holds a few team records for Ducks and Predators.
Kariya's hockey resume includes being named Canadian Junior player of the year in 1992, a Hobey Baker (Top NCAA hockey player) award as a freshman and lead University of Maine to an NCAA title in 1993.
In 1993, the Mighy Ducks of Anaheim selected Kariya fourth overall as the franchise's first ever draft pick. He would play for and captain the Might Ducks for nine seasons. In his last season with Anaheim, he lead the team to the Stanley Cup Finals. He would sign the Colorado the following season. Later, he would play and captain the Nashville Predators for two seasons, then play his final three seasons with St. Louis. He averaged a point a game with 989 games played, 402 goals, 587 assists, for 989 career points. Kariya average just under a point a game in the playoffs with 16G, 23A, 39 points in 46 career playoff games.
He won the Lady Byng Trophy twice, voted as the league's most gentlemanly player. NHL First Team All-Star three times, Second Team All-Star twice. Played in seven All-Star games, and was Puck Control Relay Champion four years in a row from 1999-2002 (at the All-Star Game).
Kariya's international resume includes Olympic silver in 1994, and gold in 2002 with Team Canada, World Championship gold in 1994, silver in 1996, World Junior Championship gold in 1993.
One fun trivia. One season he had a bet with the team trainer that he could score 20 goals with a backhand shot. He won that bet.
One more. He was elected to the Hall of Fame on 26 June 2017, exactly 24 years after he was drafted by Anaheim (26 June 1993). He is the first Asian to be inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame (at least as a player).
More info on wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Kariya
So please consider Paul Kariya, my favourite hockey player of all time, to your #AAHA Hall of Fame.
Thanks and best regards, Manson”
This week we have a #BruceLeeMoment from listener Dan V.:
“Hello Shannon and Sharon,
Growing up as a young child was not easy for me. Never knowing my father and only living with my mother until I was four years old, it was a very difficult time for me, as you can imagine. In 1970 I was forced to live in a shelter until I was nine years old. It was in those years that I was taken in by Bruce Lee's philosophies through his movies. Even though I was only about seven years old at that time, my heart and soul understood the sincerity of his philosophy and ways. At that time I didn't know the connection between Bruce and the TV series Kung Fu, but I was also deeply drawn to that show as well. With no kind of family support or guidance I had to search for it on my own and I found it through your father which also became a father figure to me through his work. He inspired me to take up martial arts; I loved the energy that was linked to his Philosophies. I had just moved in with my second foster home and they agreed to let me take Judo because they thought Bruce’s style was a little too extreme for me.
At that time I lived in Santa Clara, just one hour south from Oakland where he had his martial arts school, and The Bruce Craze was an uncontainable wild fire that would only be put out by his own passing. I remember feeling like my heart had been stolen from me, in which he helped me regain with a sense of hope. A couple of years after his passing, his book Tao of Jeet Kune Do was released and I felt like a lost pet that had been reunited to its master. At nine years old I studied it, somewhere in the book it said to keep what is useful and discard what is not, even this book you will no longer need after you learned what is in it. At nine years old I went over and over the book, it was like listening to Mozart’s passionate music that speaks directly to your soul In a deeply moving way. I then got rid of the book so as I could learn new things as instructed. I turned 50 this year now living in Texas and I'm still amazed at the profound truth that he lived. And as the dust of age and cobwebs of memory, I find myself in search for the book and to restart it once again.
One thing he said that stuck with me my whole life is as he quoted-“to express yourself honestly is a very difficult thing to do”- That is exactly what he did and lived, in the sense that he wanted martial arts for one and all, even when that wasn’t accepted by his own race back then. He showed how tuff he was by loving all and also by revealing inner strength and spiritualism through meditation and being present with only your breath. It is there where you become one with the universe and find that we are all interrelated. “Under the sky, under the heaven, we are all one family”- Pretty heavy stuff.“
I just started meditating this year and that is how I found my most recent Bruce Moment, “The Medicine for my Suffering” So thanks to your Dad, I have fulfillment in complete happiness now and I found it all from within.
My first Bruce Moment came when I was 9, he said “if you work hard enough to be a black belt, eventually your white belt will turn black- and if you work hard enough your black belt will eventually turn back white” What I got from that is, take pleasure in working for your knowledge and pleasure teaching all the goodness that you learn…
Footnote: I’m a little behind on my podcast and by coincidence you spoke about the medicine for my suffering at the same time I’m in the middle of writing this- I’m a 6’6”-200 lb. tuff Texas welder, but I gotta be honest- I had tears In my eyes when you spoke of your brother. You and Sharon are doing a wonderful enlightening job on the Bruce Lee Podcast. His Spirit will forever live in me.”