An End Run Around Hollywood: Eugene Park ’96 on Making Films that Matter and Connecting with Audiences - Concord Academy
An End Run Around Hollywood: Eugene Park ’96 on Making Films that Matter and Connecting with Audiences
An End Run Around Hollywood: Eugene Park ’96 on Making Films that Matter and Connecting with Audiences 1

 

Eugene Park ’96, founder and executive director of Full Spectrum Features, answering a CA student’s question.

 

“We make films Hollywood won’t,” said Eugene Park ’96 of his film production company, Full Spectrum Features, when he spoke at an assembly on March 29. In Concord Academy’s Performing Arts Center, Park showed clips from recent films, including the lesbian romantic comedy Signature Move, which has recently won a host of film festival accolades. CA hosted a special on-campus screening of the movie later that evening.

Park founded Full Spectrum Features, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to diversity in film and media, in 2015. So far it’s put out eight feature-length films, all directed by women. As a matter of principle, the crews behind the camera are also diverse.

A nonprofit film production company with a social justice mission, Full Spectrum is notable for not making documentaries. Park values nonfiction work, but his focus is on narrative films. “I’m more interested in how, through comedy, art films, and story, we can get people to think differently,” he said. “Laughs are often the first step to opening a broader conversation about diversity and inclusivity.”

While he was a student at CA, Park’s interests shifted from math and science to literature. He didn’t study film in high school, and he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a major in English. It was after college that he got into the film industry and worked for a time as a script analyst for Focus Features. He became deeply frustrated by the lack of diversity and opportunity in the business. A breaking point came when he was shopping a screenplay he had written for an Asian American coming-of-age story; several producers told him the only way to get it made was to make the main characters white.

So Park returned to academia, earning a master’s degree in philosophy at California State University–Los Angeles and then beginning a doctoral program at Indiana University Bloomington. “I spent so long studying philosophy that basically the entire digital revolution in camera technology happened during those nine years,” he says. Production barriers to entry had collapsed. Low-budget filmmaker friends who had been working with film before he went back to school now had access to affordable digital cameras that could shoot at quality high enough to allow them to enter films into competition at Sundance or SXSW. For the first time, Park saw being a filmmaker as a viable option. After five years, he quit his Ph.D. program to found Full Spectrum.

An End Run Around Hollywood: Eugene Park ’96 on Making Films that Matter and Connecting with Audiences 2

An End Run Around Hollywood: Eugene Park ’96 on Making Films that Matter and Connecting with Audiences 3

 

Film teacher Justin Bull introducing the assembly. Eugene Park ’96 speaking in the P.A.C.

 

In the last few years, Park has spent less time writing and directing and more time producing, as his company has grown. Although he said the first time he produced, he did it “kicking and screaming, “ he described producing as incredibly creative. “I’ve played an integral part in so many creative decisions,” he said. “Now I come up with ideas for films and hire directors. I have even more of a sense of ownership.”

“Laughs are often the first step to opening a broader conversation about diversity and inclusivity.”

Eugene Park ’96

A unique part of Full Spectrum’s approach is what Park called “transmedia projects,” or films that build community beyond the screen. To illustrate the concept, he showed a clip from Full Spectrum’s most recent feature film, Freelancers Anonymous, which will have a sneak preview on April 5 in Boston at Wicked Queer, The Boston LGBT Festival, and a world premiere in June at the Frameline Film Festival in San Francisco. This comedy giving, which gives visiblity to the LGBTQ community as well as women in tech industries, was written and directed by women and boasts a a cast with all-female leads. The main character quits a corporate day job and joins a group of freelancers who are creating an app for women who work in STEM fields. Full Spectrum has actually created that app and is working with employers who want to attract more women for jobs in tech.

Three years ago, Park wrote the script for another movie, The Orange Story, about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Funded in part by the National Park Service, the film has become another transmedia project, or as Park also described it, “cinematic digital history.” The movie is embedded into an educational website, which was developed in collaboration with leading historians and is being distributed within high schools for students to discuss with their history teachers. Park called it an example of “using narrative film to create empathic learning experiences.” He is hoping to attract additional funding to further develop the site to cover the entire history of Japanese internment and also tie it to contemporary events.

“To break out beyond niche audiences is a tremendous challenge,” he acknowledged, one that he writes about in the many grant applications he submits. He has found support for reaching more mainstream audiences through institutions such as the Chicago History Museum, where Full Spectrum recently had a sold-out event.

Park isn’t holding his breath for change through traditional channels. Hollywood simply won’t make many films, he said, because because their market segments are very narrow and tied in with merchandising. “Hopefully the success of films like Black Panther, which was shot by my classmate Rachel Morrison, will begin to change that,” he said. “I’m hopeful but skeptical. But we’ll see.”

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