INTERVIEW: Hannah Ngo

Last weekend, Yoshika sat down with film producer Hannah Ngo over coffee at the ABC to chat about her craft, working in the WA Film industry and Asian Face in film. Currently working at The ABC on The Heights, Hannah studied Communications and Media at UWA and Masters of Screen, Producing and Cinematography at WA Screen Academy. Her latest project Tribunal (2019) commissioned by SBS and Screenwest is coming out 15 September.

Hannah Ngo. Photo credit: Tim Palman.

Hannah Ngo. Photo credit: Tim Palman.

With your past projects, you’ve worked on Carnal Privilege (2017) as a Producer, You Me & Karen (2017) as a Cinematographer and Single Ladies (2019) as a Production Manager, could you elaborate on these roles and what you liked about them?

I feel like when everyone starts out in film, they try to explore all sorts of roles across the industry. Cinematography is actual filming while I guess Producers deal with more of the business side. I was deciding between cinematography and producing, and after trying out both, I felt like I fell more naturally into a Producer’s role, especially with my background in Communications and Media.

 

How did you get into film?

I think doing media at uni, I had always known I wanted to do film. But I felt like I really repressed that side of my wanting cause of security, parents’ expectations, you know that sort of thing.

On set Carnal Privilege (2017). Photo credit: Hannah Ngo.

On set Carnal Privilege (2017). Photo credit: Hannah Ngo.

Can you elaborate on the security (a steady job or income to support yourself) aspect of your career?

I feel like there are so many people in Perth that do freelance or part time work, so there’s not much security. The past two years have really been up and down which is why I ended working in the retail industry for a year. And I really gave it a shot, I really tried. But I knew I wasn’t going to be happy there, so right now I’m really trying to pursue film, and it seems like it’s paying off.

Right now, I work full time at the ABC for the second season of The Heights. The Heights is a bit like Neighbours but more diverse and realistic, kind of like a soap but without falling into soap tropes. I’m a Producer’s Attachment, so I get to shadow the Producer and learn from them, and I’m also coordinating the extras castings.

 

It seems like working in the film industry takes up a lot of your time, not just office hours but off location shooting, meetings, interviews like this, how do you balance that seeing as you’re still considered a fresh graduate?

You don’t balance it, you just give it your all. You work hard and give it your all because you don’t know when you’re going to stop working. People can be quiet for like three months before their next project comes. Everyone I’ve talked to has had this doubt about security, it would be nice to get to a point where we don’t have to worry so much. Any job can be your last, so when you’re given a project, you work!

You seem really focused, driven and very energetic about your projects, and I really admire your approach to your craft and work.

I mean that’s what we get for being fresh right? I mean ask me in ten years, my response will probably be different but I hope it never fizzles out.  

I’ve always assumed that there are always more opportunities – especially in the Arts – over east, so when you told me that WA has the most film funding, that really surprised me.

Yeah, there’s a lot of work coming out of WA, because the incentives are a lot bigger. That’s why an ABC show like The Heights is being filmed here in WA. So if you’re an emerging film maker this is the best place to be. You have a much higher chance of getting work here than you are anywhere else in Australia.

On set Tribunal (2019). Photo credit: Liang Xu.

On set Tribunal (2019). Photo credit: Liang Xu.

What project has been the most important to you so far in terms of your own aesthetic or style?

The biggest thing I’ve ever done as a Producer and the project I’m most proud of is Tribunal which is being released on 15 September on SBS. A friend and I put in a request for funding and it was commissioned by SBS and Screenwest.

 

Tribunal is gaining a lot of attention, you mentioned doing interviews with RTRFM, The West and The Subi Post about it, what’s it about and where does it get its hype from?

I think it’s because of the content, it’s based on a true story and is about an Iranian refugee seeking asylum in Australia on the basis that he’s homosexual. When he gets to the Tribunal, they start asking him things like whether or not he knows who Madonna is, trying to prove that he’s gay. It’s premiering at the CineFestOz Gala next weekend (Saturday 31 Aug) in Busselton.

 

Generally speaking, what are you thoughts on Asian screen representation in general and in WA?

In general I think there are Asians like you and I who proactively seek out opportunities and give opportunities to others, so it comes off as something that is more consistent than what it really is. Crazy Rich Asians was a huge movie and is referenced a lot but that was just one movie out of thousands. The Farewell, which is coming out soon is also another movie that’s gained a lot of talk. I feel like I actively consume a lot of media with Asian screen representation, but how much other people are exposed to it, I’m not sure.

I think it’s a good time to be an actor with an Asian Face because there’s a demand for it. For example, I actively try to cast diverse actors in The Heights, because that’s the reality of the setting of The Heights and Australia.

 

When you said it’s a good time to be an actor with an Asian Face, do you think it’s restricted to a certain Asian look and more specifically, a typical East Asian look?

That was really bad wording but yes exactly, like how Crazy Rich Asians solely focused on the Chinese population of Singapore. In every culture, those with darker skin always suffer more from shadism/colourism.

  

Many organisations push the idea of diversity, but at times it comes off as something done just because it’s trendy or they don’t want to come off as racist. What is your opinion on this?

I feel like a lot of organisations try to push the agenda of diverse stories but when you read it, you can see you’re being shoehorned into a particular necessity or filling in a quota. When I brought this up with a mentor, I mentioned that the stories they decided on were chosen because they were ticking the necessary boxes and then she said: I know you feel like this way now, but if these people don’t have these opportunities to tell their stories now, how is the industry going to evolve? These opportunities give rise to people to change the current way of things.

I think it’s not going to come organically at first, it’s about letting diverse people into these places in the first place to break down those stereotypes that they aren’t good or worthy enough. While it feels awkward now, you just have to push and persevere through it, so that it’s better for those who come after you. Because it is what it is, now you just have to work out how you deal with it.

Hannah Ngo. Photo credit: Tim Palman.

Hannah Ngo. Photo credit: Tim Palman.

What’s your dream film if you had no limitations in budget, time and resources?

That’s so hard, because that’s what you always work towards right? I’m really obsessed with this English show called Fleabag, it’s really, really good and I love it. And my friend has said this as well so if she reads this she’s going to be like “Hannah…”, but I would love to make an Australian version of Fleabag. There’s two seasons and it’s a comedy drama about a nameless character navigating after her friend’s death.

 

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What can we expect from you?

I just want to be making movies full time, doing what I love. But then again I can’t really say what I’ll be doing in 6 months, who knows? After The Heights, I’m going to work on developing a slate, write down what I want to make, what I want to tell,  and then work on getting that funded and moving up and up.

Look out for Tribunal when it comes out on 15 September on SBS On Demand. You can catch more of Hannah’s antics on her Instagram.