You may or may not have heard of producer and director Julliet Pan, who just signed a huge production and distribution deal with LA Beijing Studios in Los Angeles. Shanghai-born Pan is a powerhouse in China, a prolific producer of content, including The Amazing Race: China Rush, who has been snapped up by LA Beijing Studios to bring content to US audiences.
Pan’s formal education was at the prestigious NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Film & TV Department, and it has given her a multicultural and language edge many native-born Chinese and other Asians do not possess.
She is capitalizing on that insider dual cultural knowledge to create some compelling and highly watchable projects, some for television and some on film.
Understanding the nuances between the American and Chinese cultures, Pan has created a production shingle, SHE & JUL Media U.S. with Los Angeles Beijing Studios (LABS) distributing Pan’s upcoming six-episode lifestyle series Steamy Kitchen, which she created and stars in.
She is also producing a sci-fi comedy series called The Zone and plans to expand an idea she had about a relationship series called The Lane that featured expats abroad in China and their complex and varied love lives.
We spoke to this up-and-comer about her amazing leap from one country to another and what we can look forward to from her production house.
Monsters and Critics: When did you first come to the United States and when did you know that you wanted to work here?
Julliet Pan: Well, I came to the U.S. when I was a teenager, as a tourist. I came over to N.Y.U. to study film. And then after that, I returned back to Asia to work. About… I’ll say, a little over three years ago, I decided I wanted work in L.A., in Hollywood.
M&C: And you were a producer and an editor on Amazing Race. Did you deal if any of the American producers or was it was an entirely separate production?
Julliet Pan: It’s a different production, but the Chinese TV channel purchased the format from the U.S. producers. So you got a [production] bible and everything.
M&C: How does it make you feel when you see a film like Crazy Rich Asians do so well at the box office and Americans go to see it because they like the story? And they don’t see the actors as Asian, they see it as a great story; How does this make you feel for your future productions?
Julliet Pan: I feel great! I feel it’s a really great thing. It’s an icebreaker… in the sense that, you have Asian stories which are told and the Asian casts and the Asian director… and it all works.
So that success makes me feel very energized and encouraged as an Asian filmmaker, basically, by seeing that the Asian themed stories are very welcomed here in the U.S. film markets.
M&C: What are some of the unusual things about Chinese culture that you think will or will not translate to American audiences? And why?
Julliet Pan: To be honest with you, I feel that China and the U.S. have had so many years of a trade relationship, that as a result, the American culture has very much penetrated Chinese culture in many ways.
So, I’d have to say Chinese people become, actually in a way, quite Americanized. I think if the story is well-told, the American audience should like it…yeah, just like [the film] Crazy Rich Asians… the American audience would accept a Chinese story very easily.
But, of course, even me being a Chinese person and going to certain areas of China… it’s so different because China’s a big country with so many cities and farm areas and there are a lot of variations, some specific cultures, you know, people might find exotic or interesting. So, that’s the thing that probably that interests the curiosity of the American audience.
Would they [Americans] take it well? I don’t know. It depends how they look at it. But, at least there’s a, something new, something interesting and even exotic. Yes.
M&C: We watched your trailer for The Lane and it seems like the Hills a bit…pretty, rich people. And you got a really interesting cross-section cast. You’ve got an African-American guy, an Englishman, you’ve got a blonde lady…you’re covering a lot of bases.
Julliet Pan: Thank you. Yes.
M&C: And it feels like that in that I really like how you interplay the Chinese and American language, so, seamlessly as non-Asian characters will speak Chinese and the Asian characters will speak English and I find that interesting. Can you talk about The Lane?
Julliet Pan: Of course. Yes. So, I had this concept of this show actually about 10 years ago where I lived in Shanghai as an adult and working there. Because of my personal education background as well as my life, I lived in Singapore, lived in New York. So, I have a lot of friends who are expats, that either pure, I want to say pure Caucasian or Chinese-American, you know, they’re expats.
I find their lives mingled with local Chinese people…just many very interesting dynamics… and they had a lot of funny but meaningful stories, you know?
A lot of misunderstanding, due to the cultural differences but also a lot of heart-warming stories…The locals helping, the expats because they’re totally like a fish out of water landing in a brand new country and with no contacts, and no cultural references.
So, these locals help, just helping them to get familiarized with the new environment. And then there are also love stories and there are stories in various job situations.
So, I thought, “Wow, this is something not everybody knows, not even Chinese people.” Because when I start to conceptualize this show it was originally made for the Chinese audience. I thought, “they need to see those stories.” Because not every Chinese person knows those stories. So, that’s how The Lane concept started.
Then I did many rounds of interviews with various expats living in China. And wrote a few drafts of scripts. So, eventually, I decided to just go ahead and film it.
So, I filmed the pilot episode even though I knew, back then in Shanghai, in China, that the TV channels are not totally ready for a foreign language show. But, it created a huge awareness.
Once it was done, I did a premiere for the other news media [who] came and reported. They really mocked it in China and said [esssentially] “kind of the same stories” as well as [criticize] the way because I filmed it pretty much in an American quality style.
That’s the whole history of The Lane. And now, I really want to make it the story for the American audience to see…how their folks [are] living overseas. The way their lives are like [in China]. So, I’m contacting Netflix, Amazon…I am hoping that they take an interest in this show.
I’ll only use American actors this time for the cast to make an American show, but my idea is to still do the filming in China, so there is still authenticity, basically.
M&C: Well, I saw a bit of Steamy Kitchen. For a lifestyle cooking show, I think that’s a really interesting concept.
Julliet Pan: Thank you so much. Well, for Steamy Kitchen, I signed a deal with this company called L.A. Beijing Studios. So, they are more well-versed and more mature in distribution like overseas.
So, I thought, you know, to team up with people who already have the expertise in business. So, yes, hopefully, they will not only distribute the six episodes I shot but also come up with a new deal with the channels here.
Likewise, I don’t have to be the host because at this point my main focus is really making film and TV in terms of narrative, feature film or a TV series.
But I really hope this format can be taken over by networks, by having local food hosts [serving] as the host and cast with local celebrities or chefs that would work really well for the North American market.
I do see a huge commercial value in this show. That’s what I originally planned for. It’s not only just a show but also it has a lot of by-product around it.
M&C: Have you connected, at all, with any other Asian-American producers like Daniel Dae Kim or Ellen Yang, yet? Have you connected on a professional level or in any way?
Julliet Pan: My yes, I would love that. I would love that. I would love to connect with Asian-American producers. But, yeah. I would love that. But I also feel, just like you said, for Crazy Rich Asians, people don’t see it as an Asian film. It’s just a good story, well told.
That’s my goal as a filmmaker.
I think whatever, regardless of cultural differences, a film is all about story. So, a good writer/director should be able to master that craft to tell a good story.
And whether its cultural or other things…I use analogy as like the fashion you wear. You wear silk, you wear fur, you wear boots, you wear flats but, you know, it’s the packaging basically for the person or people, you know?
M&C: Tell me, in your opinion, who is the most under-appreciated Chinese-American or Chinese actor that you wish American audiences knew better? Someone you would love to work with and get American audiences to know.
Julliet Pan: There are actually a couple. Hong Kong is also Chinese…Hong Kong actor Chang Chen, he’s a very, very good male actor. He’s in his early forties. He has amazing acting skills but he has never been that… he’s famous but not like a huge celebrity.
But I know that he can do really well in the American market because he’s from Hong Kong. He can speak English and Chinese very well. Yes.
M&C: What do you look forward to in the next 10 years, professionally? What do you hope to have? Do you hope to have more television work or more film work under your belt?
Julliet Pan: I would say more film work. I feel, even though I have not produced a feature film, I did two short films, but I feel that film is my strength.