Columbia College graduate Michael Goi on filmmaking: 'Dreams are not enough'

Michael Goi doesn't want to hear your movie idea.

“I wouldn't get into a conversation with someone if they started with ‘I have a great idea for a movie,'” says the veteran Hollywood director and cinematographer. “NO. Go out and make the movie and show me the movie.”

He told young people trying to break into the film industry: You don't need fancy equipment. Everything you need is right between your ear and back pocket.

“You live in an era when there is no reason not to make films,” said Goi. “You said you wanted to be a filmmaker; go out and make a movie. You can take a picture on your phone. You can edit on your tablet. You can post it on social media platforms for the whole world to see. All these things will no longer be a hindrance to you.”

Talk about a drag. Goi was pitched to me by his alma mater, Columbia College, as an Asian-American filmmaker. He worked on “Glee” and “American Horror Story”. He is the executive producer, director and cinematographer for “Avatar: The Last Airbender” on Netflix and just Saturday finished filming the next season of ABC's “The Rookie.”

But as much as I try to focus on the first part of the equation, she being Asian American, we keep coming back to the second part, the filmmaker part, a reminder that real life individuals don't always easily accept the job of being their role model. ethnic identity.

For example, Goi was at the Dolby Theater for the Oscars Sunday night.

“That's good,” he said. “I think the show is doing well.”


“The diversity is better than in previous years.”

Goi works better as an example of a true professional.

“First and foremost, this is my job,” he said. “Directing and shooting movies and television shows is my job. It's what I chose to do to support my family.

All those things the winners at the Oscars keep saying about holding on to your dreams? A dream and four dollars will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

“This industry attracts many dreamers,” said Goi. “It was always emphasized that you have to be a dreamer. You need to dream big. But just dreaming is not enough. You have to be a doer. You have to be someone who actually does the things you say you want to do, or have it in your heart to do them. That's still a small percentage of people.

Goi's dream started early.

“I grew up in Chicago,” he says, “My parents were both born in California and put in internment camps with lots of other people in the 1940's. For being Japanese-American. My father wanted to study to be an engineer when he left the camp. They would not allow him to do that. They say you can be a janitor or a cook. He chose to be a cook because he thought, ‘At least I know there will be food.'”

And again.

“Even through all of those trials and tribulations, when my parents started having kids — my sister and myself — they always told us, ‘This is America. You can be whatever you want. What do you want to be?'” recalls Goi. “They asked me that when I was 8 years old. I said, ‘I want to go to Hollywood and I want to do a movie.' It was so far from being realized by anyone in my family. But they said, ‘Then that's what you have to do.' You have to go to Hollywood and make movies.'”

For years, Goi hardly thought of himself as Asian.

“For a long time. I really never realized I was Asian until someone else pointed it out to me,” he says. “It took me a while to understand and appreciate what my culture and heritage can represent in my industry Alone.”

There is more to the tight-knit community of being Chicagoan in Hollywood than there is to being Asian.

“There wasn't much of a Chicago community when I moved to Los Angeles,” he says. “A group of us from Columbia College really make up that community. We try to get together and have lunch together. Eventually when Joey Mantegna and (his wife) Arlene opened a Chicago Italian beef joint, we made it our Friday hangout. All of us from the Chicago film community would go there for three hours and eat Italian beef sandwiches and talk.

While this year's Oscars spotlighted Asian actors and filmmakers, the bottom line has not changed.

“In this industry, everything revolves around money, and what will bring the money,” says Goi. ”Things get the green light because there is potential profit in it. So the Asian subject, or films with Asian characters or Asian actors will continue to grow as long as the film is making money and getting an audience. ‘Everything Everywhere at Once' is sure to find an audience. It's bold enough but accessible enough for the public to embrace it. Whenever it happens, it helps break down whatever mental barriers the industry thinks there are for Asian films to make money.

Besides money, movies and TV shows touch people in unexpected ways. You never know how something might affect the viewer. Even a simple aspirin commercial.

“I vividly remember when I was a kid, in the late 60s, early 70s, watching TV,” said Goi. “An advertisement for Bayer aspirin came up. People who talk about Bayer aspirin are Asian. It has nothing to do with the fact that he is Asian. He didn't do the accent. Usually at that time if a character is Asian, it's because he's Asian. He's just a spokesman for Bayer aspirin. The ad stuck with me. It doesn't have to be because of my appearance. That's what we ultimately want to achieve. We want to dissolve this artificial barrier.”