Berkeley Beacon: How did you first hear about the contest, and what made you want to enter?
Hearin Ko: Emerson sent a mass email to VMA [visual and media arts] students about it, and that’s how I knew. There was a very small section of the email advertising it. I never usually open the emails from school, but this time I opened it.
BB: With your video for the contest, you had to answer the question, “How will you contribute to the future of movies?” What was your idea for that?
HK: When I was little, I liked watching movies like Matilda or Disney movies. I like those types of movies that have magical elements to the reality. I didn’t know what kind of genre it was — it just said “fantasy,”— but to me it seemed different from just calling it a fantasy. I was always curious about how it was made. In high school, I took a theater class, and we had a project where I had to pick a movement or genre I was interested in and create a play around it, and I found out about magic realism. That’s how I found out that all those movies that I really liked, like Mary Poppins, are magic realism. I’ve made movies around magic realism, so it was pretty natural for me to answer the question that way.
BB: In your video, you talk about establishing magic realism as an official genre. In your own words, what is magic realism?
HK: The general definition is basically a story where there is a reality and it incorporates a magical element into that reality. For example, the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It is set in real time, but there is one thing that is different. The term is vague and not fully defined, which is why I want to study it. The boundaries are not straight. It’s a mixture of surrealism and fantasy. It’s very different.
BB: You got to go to the Academy Library, take a studio tour, and meet with the nominees from the Short Film category. What was that like?
HK: Going to the library was great because you got to see all these different things from history. There was a personal letter from Marilyn Monroe, there were all these storyboards that were used for a Chris Alice film. But one of my favorite places we got to go to was the Disney animation studio — we got to see the oldest one where Snow White was created. It was interesting because they decorate the office and hallway with the animation they are working on, and the whole reason that they do that is because they want the artists in the studio to be inspired by the other creativity.
BB: Were you particularly starstruck by anyone at the show?
HK: I was starstruck when I shook hands with Meryl Streep and had the stage manager introduce us to her. And Daniel Radcliffe, definitely. He was so nervous backstage because he performed. He was practicing his tap dancing. He was really nervous. It was just like Harry Potter right in front of my eyes.
BB: How did your family react?
HK: My family is in Shanghai, but they all watched the Oscars. It’s on in the morning there, because of the time difference, so the night before they went out to dinner with friends. They were very excited.
BB: What is your biggest takeaway from this whole experience?
HK: The Oscars and Hollywood all seemed very vague to me. So to see them alive and in front of my eyes made it all seem so real. It was a fun and honoring experience and could be a once in a lifetime thing. But I do want to revisit the Oscars. And next time, as a film director — not a student.