An Interview with Tze Chun  | RES IPSA - RES IPSA

An Interview with Tze Chun | RES IPSA

Los Angeles, California — Tze Chun is a story-teller. You may already love some of his most recent work. Some people know Tze is the executive producer and showrunner of the HBOMax series GREMLINS: SECRETS OF THE MOGWAI (renewed for season 2..and..releasing this fall) and a co-showrunner and Executive producer of the Amazon show I’M A VIRGO. Tze's first feature film, Children of Invention (2009), screened at 50 film festivals, including its premiere at Sundance Film Festival. Tze's entire body of work is expansive, diverse, and...confusing—exactly how he intends it to be.  

We sat down with and interviewed Tze, a very loyal and excited customer, about his ideas, wishes, and journey through self-discovery and story-telling.

Photo by Jessica Haye & Clark Hsiao

Tze has style. Tze has stories. Tze has questions. Tze has answers. 

We both share a love of style and stories, questions and answers. This story is all about Tze: his personal journey to discovering his self-described style as a 'modern Asian American person', his playful, behind-the-scenes process to spark his creativity, and his joyful desire to tell stories unwritten and untold. 

We interviewed Tze from his home in Los Angeles. Read on for our full interview with Tze.

Photo by Pete Lee
Photo by Pete Lee

Res Ipsa: What stories you're working on? What projects you're working on?

Tze: For sure. So, I had two shows come out last year. Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai, which I, you know, adapted and wrote the pilot for the show ran. And then also another show that I co-showran with the creator Bruce Riley, who is a musician and filmmaker. And since then, you know, ended up being like... the shows came out kind of around the strike and then that ended.

Basically, I've been jumping back and forth between features and TV. And just kind of like, they call it developing, meaning, you're working on material and you haven't gotten the green light yet. I'm in a phase of figuring out a bunch of projects that hopefully will go forward.

Res Ipsa: One of the things that in Res Ipsa we love are stories. And we know you're a storyteller. You tell stories in so many ways. We just wondered, generally, what about story-telling excites you? What stories excite you to tell?

Tze: You know, what I've tried hard in my career is... I think the thing I've succeeded at most in this career is confusing everybody, especially my agents about what I want to do next. Part of it is that, you know, I love jumping around from genre to genre. I really never want to be pigeonholed. I would love to just work in a variety of different types of stories, and ideally, tell stories that we haven't really seen before.

The things that excite me are kind of like character driven, emotional, new takes on established genres. And that's really could be anything — horror, sci-fi, action, adventure.

In the TV industry, everything is separated. You know, even in TV, I've only X on our long shows, but I've only show ran half our shows, one of which was animation. So, I really like jumping around so I don't get bored. And there's always something exciting about learning new genre, or a new way of story-telling.

Res Ipsa: How TKO is doing? Your publishing company.

Tze: It's good. You know, the last couple of years, we've published some really great books. And we have a couple of adaptations in film and TV and it works. It's been really exciting. We've published around, I think like 50 titles in the last six years since we launched. I think that my business partner, and I, we're really excited to be telling stories in that space, in that format.

We don't have any superhero books. We haven't had authors write multiple titles for us, like I've written a couple, and my business partner has written a couple. And, you know, it’s kind of the same thing that I'm excited about, which is character-driven, emotional new takes on established genres. And we're really excited when we work with authors that, you know, are really AAA authors I was a fan of like, you know, Jeff Lemire, Garth Ennis, and Roxane Gay, but also discovering some newer authors as well.

Res Ipsa: When it comes to telling a story, are you thinking about an audience? Are you just writing for yourself?

Tze: That's a good question. When I start working on a project, I do sometimes think, like, you know, what is a project that I personally, am so excited to write for myself. But also, what I do, I think, this is going to have an audience because, you know, there's the story that you're telling, there's the things that you're trying to explore and figure out. And there's also the message that you're trying to put into the movie or TV show. And I find that thinking about an audience and trying to communicate with them is definitely helpful.

I feel like you know, I came up with the film and, you know, those stories were kind of smaller, and they were tailored to be very personal. But at the same time, I always felt like, you can make a personal story, but at the same time, you're still trying to communicate something to somebody and that could be you know, 200 people in a movie theater at a film festival or it could be a few million people watching a TV show that is kind of like being directed to their iPhones.

At the end of the day, thinking about how story is conveyed and communicated, knowing that there is somebody who is going to be watching it — that's part of the excitement to me.

Res Ipsa: That can kind of segue us into this. Why or when did you know you wanted to become a writer, producer, and author—a storyteller?

Tze: I started off wanting to be a comic book artist when I was in lower middle school. So, like, draw comics, and then like, photocopy them, and like, try to sell them to my friends for 25 cents. And as I was drawing these comics, I was like, Oh, well, somebody's got to figure out like, what words to put into the speech balloons. And then I was like, well, actually, this is kind of fun. Like, it's fun to come up with, like, what people are saying what happens in the story. And that's how I kind of transitioned from just wanting to be a visual artist to wanting to tell stories and to write.

And then when I got into high school, I started thinking, well, if I'm going to be a comic book artist, I really have to be drawing a lot. It's kind of also like a solitary existence. And I really liked, you know, communicating with people and spending time with people. In high school, I started making these movies with my friends and writing and directing them. And that continued all through college and after. That was kind of the indie film model. After graduating from college, I did this crazy schedule where I made a no budget short from every six months and wrote a feature film every nine months. I did that for three and a half years and my 11th short film got into Sundance, and the two years later, I went back to my feature.

I also started feeling if I was lucky as a director, I get to make a movie every four years. I want to be writing every day and TV at the time was kind of like picking up and I could tell something cool is happening there. I came out to LA to do more TV and make it as a TV writer.

Res Ipsa: You were born in Boston?

Tze: Yeah.

Res Ipsa: Did you grow up there?

Tze: I grew up in Boston, then I went to New York for college. I stayed, and I was in New York for about 14 years. I moved out to LA in 2012.

Res Ipsa: Growing up, did you have a favorite movie?

Tze: There were so many. I really just watched everything. One of the things about my mom was she always loved movies and loved going to movies with us. We really watched everything. I think that was really formative.

Like a lot of kids, I grew up on Spielberg and Amblin movies, Goonies, you know, Raiders of the Lost Ark. The big adventure movies that everybody in the family could watch. As I got into high school and college, I started getting into international movies.

I tell people that Chungking Express by Wong Kar-wai was the movie that made me want to make movies. And I watched it again recently, and I do know every frame and camera movement of that entire movie which is really crazy.

I think part of the excitement about jumping around in different genres is I spent so much time as a kid watching different types of movies and TV shows that it's exciting to be like, Oh, yeah, I haven't done, you know, an action comedy before. And then I'm like, oh, yeah, I do love those movies. And like thinking about what made them exciting for me when I was a kid. That's always really fun.

Res Ipsa: Do you still go to the movies?

Tze: Less and less now. I mean, I think it's one of the hardest things about working in movies in the working TV and and working in comics is now a lot of that stuff feels like work. I really watch cooking videos on YouTube and play video games.

Res Ipsa: What are you playing?

Tze: Right now? I'm playing—I'm trying to play Elden Ring. I'm failing. I'm just so bad. It's so hard. I can't get out of like the room that you spawn in. I keep getting killed the second I walk outside.

Res Ipsa: If you could take a first-class flight anywhere tonight, where would you go?

Tze: First Class flights anywhere? I think I would go to Paris.

Res Ipsa: Why Paris?

Tze: I love any city that's walkable and has history. It's honestly one of the hardest things about moving away from New York to LA. I lived in New York, and I would walk across the Brooklyn Bridge like once or twice a week. Even in college, I would just be in the city, and I would just be like, I'm just going to start walking, I would walk for like, two, three hours.

I like any city where you can kind of get lost in it, but at the same time, the city makes sense. And you're always seeing something interesting and new every 5 to 10 minutes.

Res Ipsa: Paris is that city. Paris is the fashion capitol. It is also home to our newest Res Ipsa store.

How did your style develop?

Tze: For a long time, I kind of just did the simplest thing possible: hoodie, leather jacket, and jeans every day. I don't want to make decisions about it whatsoever.

Then it was interesting. Once I started getting into TV writing, specifically, I felt that I had come from Indie film, and TV writing, and it's you know, the work you're doing is creative, but you're going into a corporate office every single day. I think that the default also was like people are dressed relatively conservatively. I was starting to get a little Groundhog Day where I'm like, I'm going to be the same office every day. I'm not used to it coming from Indie film where I used to be able to make my own schedule.

I was like, you know, I kind of feel like, a way to express myself would be to dress a little weirder every day. And I did that for five years. And that's now how I dress.

It was kind of entertaining for me. It was also something that I think looking back on it, especially because I do have a lot of clothes that look more Eastern whether that's like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, you know, things that are things that look you know, more international. Part of it was also that, especially as I started rising up the ranks and especially when I became a showrunner—the traditional show runner looks really different than I do.

I mean, this profession, it has typically been historically dominated by a certain demographic, and I wanted to show people that like a showrunner can look different. So that was kind of the impetus for it. And I also felt like it was interesting. It was fun getting into what clothes I felt comfortable in, and what clothes didn't feel like I was kind of trying to fit in necessarily to a mold. I think people expect you to look a certain way and dress a certain way in every job. It's nice to kind of like, go against that, and say you don't have to do that. It doesn't change my work at all. And it's fun, it's fun to have conversations about..about that particular piece of it.

Res Ipsa: Do you have a way to describe your style?

Tze:  Yeah, I mean, it's trying to dress like a modern Asian American person. I think that one of the things, especially when it comes to events and award ceremonies, there's definitely a default normalcy of dressing, in a tux, which looks great, like, men look great in tuxes. That's why tuxes exist. At the same time, why should that be the default normal? You know, why? 

As opposed to something that comes from a different culture? We should be able to bring that flavor to any event and have it feel normalized. As opposed to like, Whoa, that guy doesn't have a collar? 

Photo credit: Jessica Haye & Clark Hsiao

Res Ipsa: Absolutely. We love being unconventional. That's why we're here. We imagine that's what drew you to us. What do you like about our brand? What draws you back to us? 

Tze: The first store I went to was the one in Malibu. And I feel like I walked in and I was like, Oh, this is the store that has all the clothes I would wear. And I remember, I think I was there for like, 15 minutes, and I got the patchwork jacket, and a handwoven kimonos

I think I had the feeling of when you put on a piece of clothing, and you're like, Oh, this feels like I was born in it. You know, like, it feels like it fits really nicely, and it feels comfortable. I mean, those are the two things I want. I also just want something that I know will be like interesting and exciting to wear. It doesn't take me a long time when I go shopping. I'll just put something on, and will be like “Yes or No”. I'm relatively decisive.

I think the next week I went back, and I got a white one (quilt jacket) that I've worn now to a couple of premieres. I wore it to our premiere for Gremlins and we did this like a premiere for the pilot of Gremlins at Comic Con. 

Res Ipsa: Is it your favorite piece from us that you have?

Tze: It's hard to choose. I also have three pairs of shoes from you. I think the two patchwork jackets are the ones that I probably wear the most that people have liked and that I have pulled out the most.

Res Ipsa: Thank you so much for your time and your insights.

Tze: Thanks for creating the brand. The brand is great. I love the clothes. You know, it’s such a it's such a cool vibe. I wish you guys the best.

Res Ipsa: Thank you, TZE. Thank you.


You can watch Tze's latest work this fall and streaming live now on HBO Max and on Amazon. 

Tze is the executive producer (with Stephen Spielberg) and showrunner of the Gremlins animated prequel GREMLINS: SECRETS OF THE MOGWAI (renewed for season 2..and..releasing this fall) on HBOMax and as co-showrunner and Executive producer of the Amazon show I’M A VIRGO. 

Photo credits: Jessica Haye & Clark Hsiao (cover photo)



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