“In Hollywood, the assistant always rises.” So says Writers’ Program instructor and 2009 Outstanding Instructor Award winner Keith Giglio. “The same is true for talent like Chae Ko,” says Keith. “I have no doubt that someday we’ll all be working for him.”
Last Monday, Chae Ko officially became the Writers’ Program’s Program Representative in Screenwriting with a portfolio of more than 200 annual onsite and online courses.
If you’ve ever called the Writers’ Program with questions about screenwriting, you know why this is a very good thing. Chae’s willingness to go the extra mile for every student is legendary in and out of the office.
Online student Mike Murphy recalls that, “during my time taking classes with the Writers’ Program, Chae was always quick to respond to any question I had and he was extremely patient with me.” Liza Olson concurs. “Chae isn’t just an adviser. He’s an advocate for the student. Chae regularly goes out of his way for students and is always quick to answer questions, take suggestions, and offer advice tailored to each of us.”
Writers’ Program staffer Corey Campbell, the Program Representative for Creative Writing Online courses, had this to say about Chae’s screenwriting advising abilities. “Listening to Chae advise a student is like watching Yoda instruct Luke on the ways of the Force. I don’t always know what he’s talking about, but I have no doubt that he’s right.”
I recently sat down with Chae to talk about his new position and where it all started for him.
Writers’ Program: How does it feel to be taking over as program rep of screenwriting?
Chae Ko: I’m really excited to take the reins for the screenwriting unit. It will be a challenge for sure. But I have the amazing support of my fellow Writers’ Program colleagues to help me through the transition.
WP: What can students expect now that you’re a rep? How will things be different?
CK: As program rep, I will be planning courses each quarter and working more closely with instructors to make sure the Writers’ Program offers the best possible experience for students. It’s a lot more responsibility but I’ll use my experience as a writer and a student to help move the program in positive new directions. I’ll still be available anytime to answer questions and give advice to my fellow screenwriters. And I won’t let the new title go to my head!
WP: You take classes in the Writers’ Program. What’s it like being both a student and a rep? How does it make you a better advisor?
CK: Taking classes in the program is a great experience. Not only does it enrich my understanding of the craft, but it helps me relate to students at a personal level. I’ve gone into the trenches with them and faced the agonizing struggles and excitement of breaking a story. When students come to me with their questions, I’m better equipped to help them with their specific needs.
WP: Do you find it difficult to balance your full-time job with evening classes?
CK: After a full day’s work, it can seem daunting to have to go to three hours of class. But once I get there I’m recharged. There’s nothing more exciting than having a group of creative minds coming together for a collective goal. Meeting other writers and having a community of support helps me get through the writing wallows. And I go to the theaters a lot.
WP: What’s your favorite movie/TV show?
CK: One of my favorite movies of all time is Castle in the Sky. Hayao Miyazaki is my number one inspiration. The world he creates is unlike any other and the man can do no wrong. By the way Daniel, when are you going to watch the Castle in the Sky DVD I lent you?
WP: What made you want to be a screenwriter?
CK: It all started when I was four and becoming obsessed with Legos. I would spend days and nights playing with them and crafting stories. My favorite was about the four mystical heroes who gallantly faced an evil army of block headed warriors bent on the destruction of the land and its lady princess.
Fast forward two years when I moved from Korea to California. Not being able to speak English when I started school was like “Lost in Translation”. I’ll never forget the day I got there and saw fairies, vampires, zombies, and ninjas — I thought I was in a nightmare! I learned later that it was Halloween, but at the time, I panicked. From that day forward, I was determined to learn English so I would be able to ask people things like, “Why do you have scary teeth?”
Fast forward through puberty and I discovered Hayao Miyazaki.
To sum it all up: obsession with Legos plus a desire to learn English times Hayao equals screenwriter. I think I’ve become a more sophisticated storyteller since then. I still do the same kind of day-dreaming but now I get to play with words rather than blocks.
WP: What’s the best piece of advice you can give to all those students looking to you for help?
CK: Learn the craft and persevere. Classes are great for honing your craft and you make valuable connections along the way. You never know who can open that door for you. Also, do everything you can to increase your exposure. Submit to competitions, festivals, diversity programs, etc. Keep writing and re-writing. It’s all of the above. And of course watch a Miyazaki film.
Daniel Sanchez is the Program Assistant in Creative Writing onsite. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WriterDaniel